Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011 | 2 a.m.
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Today is the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, which stunned the nation and drew the United States into World War II. Across the country, events will commemorate the day, and that is important given that the country is more than a generation removed from the attack, and there are few people who remember it.
Fewer than 1 in 10 Americans living today were alive in 1941, and just 2 in 100 Americans would have been old enough to serve in World War II.
The group of Americans that fought the war and went on to build modern America, dubbed the Greatest Generation, has largely faded away and has taken its place in history. That generation’s role in shaping this country can’t be overstated. It transformed the nation, pushing the United States into a position of prominence internationally.
As we look back and remember Pearl Harbor and honor the sacrifices of those who died, were wounded and fought on that day — as well as those who fought in World War II — we can’t forget the sacrifices of the entire nation.
After Pearl Harbor, the country staged a unified and prolonged war effort. Everyone sacrificed. Food, fuel and goods were rationed to support the war. People planted “victory gardens” to increase the food supply.
Such an effort hasn’t been matched, and it arguably hasn’t been needed, since then. But what’s noticeably absent today is any larger sense of sacrifice.
A decade ago, the 9/11 attacks seared current generations of Americans, rallying the nation together. Like Pearl Harbor, America embarked on a war. Although it is a very different type of war — it blurs national lines and runs along ideology — it is arguably far more dangerous because there aren’t clear battle lines, nor are there clearly defined enemies.
However, Americans have far less direct involvement in the war effort than they did during World War II. In World War II, there was a military draft. Today, the military is an all-volunteer force, and only a tiny percentage of Americans have actually fought overseas in Iraq or Afghanistan, much less been in the service.
And the sacrifices of scrimping and saving to pay for the war effort? Americans haven’t been asked to sacrifice this time. Instead, the war on terrorism has been added to the nation’s debt.
As well, the sense of unity that once existed in the days and weeks after the 9/11 attacks is long since a memory. It has been replaced by partisan bickering and ideological divides that have done little to solve the nation’s problems.
Each generation has its own challenges and problems to face, and each generation leaves its own legacy. If there’s a lesson to be learned from the Greatest Generation, it’s that Americans hung together in a difficult time, sacrificed and made the United States and the world a better place.
We can honor that generation by emulating it today.