For my junior year history class in high school I interviewed a Navy veteran of Pearl Harbor by the name of John McElroy.
(Mr. McElroy and I were not closely related, as far as we could tell.)
I asked him a series of questions about that day, where he was, what happened and how he survived.
It was harrowing for me, 50+ years later to hear him recount the details of that day from the safety of his well furnished home. I can only try to imagine the sheer terror of that day.
Worse still (and I cringe to this day to recall it) but the tape recorder I used to document our interview somehow malfunctioned. When I got home, I tried to play the tape, only to find that it had not recorded a single second of our conversation.
I had to meekly call Mr. McElroy and ask him if we could re-do the interview! I was mortified beyond words.
I won't go into details, but as you can probably imagine, the act of recalling these events was extremely emotional for Mr. McElroy, and it's a testament to his strength of character that he was willing to do it all over again a few days after our initial interview – re-opening old wounds so soon after putting the bandage back on.
From a military viewpoint, Mr. McElroy made it quite clear that everyone on his battleship was aware that the Japanese bombers were trying to block the exits to the harbor so that they could pick off ships at their leisure – and hopefully completely cripple the Pacific fleet.
The Japanese failed in their goal – but only because of the hard work and bravery of American servicemen – and probably more than a little luck.
Will I forget Pearl Harbor? No. Not likely. Perhaps after participating in two consecutive one hour interviews with a Pearl Harbor veteran will do that to you.
But what is the lesson from Pearl Harbor? Is that we should always be prepared for the unexpected? Is it that we can't prepare?
1) War is terrible. The worst of the worst atrocities are always committed when two so-called civilized sovereign states engage in warfare. Civilians are, as a rule, caught in the middle. Regular folks. Kids. Babies. Women. The elderly. The innocent. I despise war. Every individual person should despise war. War murders people abroad and whittles away at domestic freedoms.
2) America is not invulnerable to attack, failure, death, destruction or deceit. If we act as though we are invulnerable, we're welcoming even greater calamity.
Today, a headline in The Wall Street Journal said "Pearl Harbor Vets Fear Attack Will Be Forgotten."
I too fear that Americans will forget Pearl Harbor. I also fear that they will forget the charade of 2008 that transferred wealth from the American taxpayer to corporate banking interests. I also fear that Americans will forget what they had for breakfast.
We seem to have a short memory for the most painful events of our past – and to completely misunderstand the causes and consequences.
The lesson to be learned is that the problems in Europe are not likely to stay in Europe – just as the events of World War II did not stay in Europe or Asia. If you think we live in a bubble that protects us from outside influence, and you invest under that delusion, then you are stacking your ships at the exit of the harbor. And when the attack comes, you won't be able to get out to defend your portfolio effectively.
Remember the lessons of that day. Be proactive – don't hope that you'll have the luck or ability to maneuver quickly when crisis occurs. Prepare now. Make sure you have your affairs in order. Keep your gold, silver and other cash close at hand.