Much of the world was at war in November of 1941, but the United States remained decidedly isolationist. While there were many in the USA who were convinced that such a stance was untenable, the prevailing feeling was that the war in Europe and the Pacific was not our business and so our nation warily watched from afar, feeling protected by the two oceans that seemingly insulated us from harm. On December 7, 1941, all of that changed with the brutal attack on American naval installations at Pearl Harbor. Suddenly we were thrust into a war for which we were far from ready to enter.
The first American forays served to illuminate just how ill prepared we were for the conflict. The Japanese forces outdid us on the seas in quality and number of ships and aircraft. The troops of both Germany and Japan were far better trained than our hastily thrown together soldiers. Our initial battles highlighted all of our deficiencies and many believed that we might be defeated before we even got seriously started.
Six months after Pearl Harbor there appeared to be little hope of stopping Japan’s dominance in the Pacific. Then an American intelligence force believed that they were hearing the heavily redacted and coded plans of the Japanese. The analysts felt certain that Japanese forces were headed for the American airfield at Midway.
If their beliefs were true and the Japanese were victorious there would be no line of defense between Midway and the west coast of the United Sates. Cities and citizens there would be vulnerable to attack, and the old view that the oceans protected our nation from harm would no longer hold. It was a tense moment in history with no assurances that the analysts were right.
With little more than a wing and a prayer the American naval forces surprised the gathering Japanese fleet with attacks that were devastating. Midway was saved, Japanese warships were lost, and the tide in the war turned to genuine hope and belief that the United States would not only hold its own but might even be able to defeat the powerful nation of Japan.
Fittingly a movie about this battle began showing in theaters the weekend before Veterans’ Day. Midway is a stunning view into the raw courage and sacrifice of our troops in a time when our very freedoms were being challenged by powers intent on dominating the world. Our country was in murky waters without the equipment and training of our enemies, and yet through the sheer will of young men who would rather have been home with their families the Japanese were overcome.
The movie is a wonderful historical piece that honors the men and women who endured that dark time of long ago. It reminds us of the horrors of war and the glory of fighting for a worthy cause. It shows how the once “sleeping giant” of the United States came together to join the fight for freedoms across the globe.
We take so much for granted these days, often doing more complaining about what we don’t have than showing appreciation for the wonderful things about our country and our world. While we enjoy our hundreds of television channels, our four dollar cups of coffee, our sports teams and our vacations there are still American troops at the ready to defend our shores at a moment’s notice. They are a volunteer force trained to go into harm’s way wherever they are needed. We don’t always take note of them or truly appreciated what they are doing for the rest of us.
The world is still a very dangerous place in many corners. War is a way of life for some nations. There are children who have grown into adulthood with the specter of violence ever present. Our troops are often sent to try to help. They go to parts of the world so unlike our own and see horrors that will give them nightmares for the rest of their lives. They witness violence and loss as a matter of their jobs. They see things that we are able to ignore. Sadly some of them lose their lives or their health with little fanfare or glory.
We honor our troops and our veterans now and again, but we also tend to forget them in the times in between. We don’t always have a clear understanding of how difficult their tasks can be. When a movie like Midway comes along we get a visual and emotional look at the frightening world of war. It’s something that we must never underestimate or forget. We are safe for now only because we have courageous individuals who do the hard work of protecting our nation. We can never forget how important they are.