December 7th is one of those dates that I don’t easily pass over. I have no real personal connection to it, but I know that our country was suddenly and deliberately attacked on that day 74 years ago. It lead to our involvement in World War II. I don’t do much to commemorate that day specifically, but it is a yearly reminder of what the costs of war are. It is December 15th, so why bring this up?
I was really shocked by the amount of people who were posting about Pearl Harbor this year. I saw it all over the various news feeds I skim daily. Everywhere people were posting about it, saying things like “Never Forget”. Since I notice the day every year, I can clearly remember that there have never been this many people posting something about it. I wondered if my friends list had changed significantly, but I don’t think it really has. I haven’t been on a patriotic friend recruiting frenzy. It was so surprising a change that in the back of my mind I’ve been questioning the sudden interest all week.
In a flash of insight last night I think I struck on an answer.
I think that we as a nation have forgotten how to forgive.
It hurts to be attacked. It seems far worse when it is a surprise. Whether we were attacked by Japan more than 70 years ago or by terrorists in the last 15 years, we are shocked by the gruesome realities of war. It never gets easier. As a nation we remember the pain forever. Remember the Alamo, remember the Maine, remember Pearl Harbor, remember 9/11…the list goes on and on. And we should remember, because these events are catastrophic and we want to do everything in our power to avoid them. We want to honor the sacrifices of the brave people who died that day. We should never forget the people who ran towards death in hopes that they could help someone else. We should never forget the lives of those who had so much more to offer.
At the same time, we must forgive. We can not hold what happened 70 years ago against Japan forever. We can not hold on to the desire for revenge any more. Revenge has such bitter fruit when it is harvested. During Pearl Harbor more than 2500 brave lives were lost, most of that number were soldiers. These are terrible numbers, but they pale in comparison to the end results. At the end of World War II, nearly 500,000 American lives had been lost. Of that number, 12,000+ were civilians.
Am I suggesting that those lives could have been saved by refusing to enter the war? I don’t know. I can’t know. No one can really know what would have been if we had chosen another course of action.
In one fateful day in December, thousands of lives were lost. One fateful day in August of 1945, it is estimated that more than 70,000 were killed. 3 days later, at least another 40,000 lost their lives. 2 bombs dropped on civilian cities in Japan. With no warning. The costs were incredible.
This is where war leads. To escalation. To staggering costs.
This is where unforgiveness can lead. To war. To a staggering cost.
I know that we were attacked by terrorists 15 years ago. It happened, and the costs were high. The costs for our enemies were even higher. It is estimated that at least 26,000 civilians were killed in the time we were in Afghanistan (many of them killed by their own people).
If we are ever going to find peace, we must defend ourselves against attack, but not pursue revenge. We must seek reconciliation and forgiveness. This cycle of violence will never stop otherwise.
It seems too simple, and too impossible.
Can we ever find peace?
Japan and the United States have found common ground, and have committed to an alliance together. This would be impossible without forgiveness.
(Disclaimer, this is a DRAMATIC oversimplification of incredibly complicated conflicts. We could argue all night about the choices made by all sides in any war. I didn’t want to get bogged down in who was less evil. Essentially that is all the argument could have hoped to be. I also want to state that in no way am I passing judgement on those who have fought in any conflict, I simply want us to find a better way out in the future. Maybe there is no better way, but I hope we are at least willing to try.)