70 years ago today, Japan launched a not so surprising surprise attack on the United States’ territory of Hawaii. 2,402 Americans died, most aboard the USS Arizona; 57 civilians also lost their lives. 64 Japanese lost their lives on the most daring attack in American history. Later that day, the United States entered the greatest war the human race had ever seen, amounting in 50 to 70 million dead worldwide, making the war the single most devastating event in human history after the Black Plague (approx. 100 million dead) and the Spanish Flu (approx. 50-100 million dead).
Men and women from many nations fought and died valiantly for their countries. The seeds of the modern world were planted in WWII, and many call the generation which endured such suffering the Greatest generation. Advances in aviation, rocketry, physics, radio technology, food preservation and production, and many other industries jumped light years from the primitive to the modern. We split the fundamental pieces of the universe to create the most devastating weapon imaginable.
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I wanted to take the time to comment on the men who dedicated their lives to destroying my countrymen. Few realize how important the behavior and ethos of the enemy shapes how soldiers behave, develop, and fight. I want to acknowledge a couple of mythic and epic personalities that helped shape the United States into one of the most powerful nations on earth.
First, I raise my glass to General Erwin Rommel. Probably one of the most respectable Germans ever to serve in the Nazi regime, General Rommel distinguished himself through his constant disregard of Hitler’s orders to exterminate POW’s, Jews, and civilians. A brutally efficient officer, Rommel’s speed and aggressiveness often contributed to lower casualties, earning him the begrudged respect of his enemies. Rommel committed suicide to save his family from the ramifications of a plot to depose Hitler in attempt to save the German people from a fate worse than the Versailles Treaty.
Second, a toast to the brutal General Korechika Anami, War Minister to his imperial highness Emperor Hirohito of Japan. General Anami was responsible for helping to instill the fanatic drive behind the Japanese war machine, and decried the idea of surrender, ordering the arrest and even execution of those who did so. Devoted to the Emperor to the last, General Anami vowed to win the war even if he had to sacrifice every Japanese man, woman, and child to do it. When Emperor Hirohito sued for peace, General Anami refused to take part in a coup against the man he thought a god, and instead chose to preserve his remaining honor by committing seppuku, without the traditional Kaikashunin to ease his suffering by removing his head.
One may wonder at the respect I have for such brutal men who went along with some of the most horrific regimes in history. I respect them as I would respect the hero Hektor; all three men faced doom for the home they loved in the face of overwhelming violence. All three brought honor to their enemies, even if they were denied it themselves.
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Please join me in pouring a libation to all the blessed dead, be they the enemy or the ally. Remember the terrors and joys this war brought to our planet. Reflect on the heroism of the millions of soldiers who lost their lives, and those who came back hollow. Salute the valor of those that served. Show sorrow for the horrors we have inflicted upon our enemies, and forgive the horrors of our enemies.