The Empire of Japan launched a surprise attack on the United States Navy’s Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941, which prompted President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to call the attack as a day that “will live in infamy.”

The Empire of Japan planned to conquer and control the South Pacific and the western United States, and the primary threat to their plans was the United States Navy’s Pacific Fleet, which was based in Pearl Harbor in Oahu, Hawaii.

Therefore, the Imperial Japanese Navy sought to destroy the United States Navy’s Pacific Fleet when it was at anchor in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

The Imperial Japanese Navy dispatched aircraft carrier borne aircraft to attack the United States Navy’s Pacific Fleet early on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, and their attack completely surprised American forces.

Japan had been in negotiations with the United States to diffuse tensions between the two nations, and Japanese diplomats were in Washington, D.C., to meet with representatives of the state department at the time of the attack.

The Empire of Japan had hoped that the attack on Pearl Harbor would cripple the United States’ ability to resist the Japanese conquest of the Pacific Theatre of Operations. In addition, the Empire of Japan hoped the attack on Pearl Harbor would force the United States to agree to their terms in regards to their plans for dominating the Pacific Theatre of Operations.

The United States reacted in the exact opposite manner. Americans rose up as one and mobilized for war and declared war on the Empire of Japan, Germany and Italy, all totalitarian dictatorships that were called the Axis forces.

United States citizens marched off to war with a patriotic spirit that defeated the professional military Axis forces during World War II, and they defended freedom. Americans on the home front of all ages mobilized to support the troops. Food and other items were rationed by all citizens, and Americans by the millions went to work in defense plants to make the United States the “Arsenal of Democracy.”

The World War II generation is justifiably called the “Greatest Generation” because they literally saved freedom in the world via their patriotism, courage and sacrifice. The Totalitarianism dictatorships of the Axis powers sought to suppress freedom for oppression and uniformity, but Americans in the military and on the home front united to defend freedom, and defeated the Axis forces.

Sadly, America is losing the World War II generation by the thousands on a daily basis today, and we forget their sacrifices at our peril.

The legacy of freedom that the World War II generation gave us can still be extinguished if we forget the history of World War II and another set of dictators arises that wish to force a dictatorship on Americans and the free world today or in the future.

The World War II generation gave us the gift of freedom, and we must cherish and remember their courage, sacrifice and patriotism.

Grady Atwater is site administrator of the John Brown Museum and State Historic Site.

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