WASHINGTON, D.C. -- On Saturday, May 29, President George W. Bush will dedicate the much-delayed World War II Memorial on the National Mall between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. The site is fitting, for both Washington and Lincoln led the nation through wars of national survival.
On Monday, May 31, Memorial Day, the president will place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery -- an annual rite honoring the nation's war dead. The following week, the commander in chief will travel to Normandy for the 60th anniversary of Operation Overlord -- commonly known as "D-Day" -- the event that marked the beginning of the end for Adolf Hitler's Third Reich. These three commemorations invite some reflection on the war in which we are now engaged.
Though Memorial Day recognizes those who made the ultimate sacrifice in all our country's conflicts, most of the focus for the next several months will be on World War II, the 16 million Americans who served and the 400,000 who perished in that bloodiest of struggles. Now, in the midst of another war, the sacrifices of the "Greatest Generation" beg the question: Can we as a nation repeat what those warriors accomplished six decades ago?
There are some similarities between the outbreak of the two wars. For most Americans, our current war for national survival began on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, with the surprise air attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It took the lives of 2,948 Americans. In fact, terrorists declared war on the United States long before that terrible Tuesday. The bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania as well as the terrorist attack on the USS Cole were all acts of war by radical Islamic jihaddists. Unfortunately, they were treated more like bank robberies than acts of war.
In 1941, it wasn't much different. Despite German, Italian and Japanese aggression on three continents, the American public showed no appetite for war. On Aug. 12, 1941, legislation to create the Selective Service to facilitate military conscription was bitterly debated and passed the House by only one vote. Hitler's U-boats attacked and sank the U.S. freighter Robin Moor in the summer of 1941 and the USS Reuben James I (DD-245) that autumn. Attacks on both vessels resulted in substantial loss of American lives.
But it wasn't until the morning of Dec. 7, 1941 that World War II began for most Americans. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto's sneak air attack on Pearl Harbor on that "day that will live in infamy" resulted in the death of more than 2,400 of our fellow citizens and awakened a sleeping giant.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.
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