War and hatred are close cousins. Even if the cause is just, hatred can become a powerful motivator as young men and women are called upon to take the lives of others.
But the power of hatred, even if it manifests itself through the awesome strength of a surprise air attack or an atomic weapon, is nothing compared to the power of forgiveness, understanding and reconciliation.
Sixty-nine years ago today the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. A total of 353 aircraft launched in two waves from six aircraft carriers pummelled the U.S. Naval fleet, killing 2,402 and wounding 1,282. Four battleships, three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, a minelayer and 188 aircraft were destroyed. Four other battleships were damaged. It was the beginning of four years of intense and heroic fighting that eventually stretched U.S. forces from the Pacific to Europe and Africa. Because of the attack, the Japanese were objects of a particular hatred by many Americans. The war didn't end until the United States developed and dropped two atomic bombs on Japanese soil, killing an estimated 300,000 people.
But if that is all a person studies about the history of World War II, he would be missing the bigger picture. All of that mayhem and destruction cannot compete with the power that post-war reconciliation put into place. That power was displayed both officially and personally.
In Europe, the United States decided to adopt the plan of Secretary of State George Marshall, which was to spend billions of dollars in reconstruction, in establishing the institutions of democracy and in promoting capitalism. Hatred turned to compassion. The result was a quick rebound in Western Europe that spurred long-term growth and goodwill, contrasting sharply with conditions in Eastern Europe under the hands of the Soviet Union.
In Japan, U.S. occupiers launched a similar campaign with similar results. The United States set aside animosity over Pearl Harbor and created an important ally.
The stories of personal reconciliation are too numerous to recount in their entirety. But they are more powerful because they involve men who were in hand-to-hand combat with each other, and who saw colleagues suffer and die.
Many of those stories are recounted elsewhere in this newspaper today. These are men who taught themselves to hate the enemy, then learned powerful lessons after discovering their enemies had the same human qualities, the same dreams and love of family, as they did. Crit Killen, an 81-year-old who was a naval officer during the war, may have summed it up best. "...we got to know them, found out they're not different from us. During that time my feelings changed and I didn't hate them any more."
When hate fades, healing begins; progress and prosperity are possible.
World War II holds a lot of lessons for each successive generation. It was a time of national unity and common purpose; a time of willing sacrifice for the cause of freedom. But its aftermath was a time for understanding that wars are caused by ideologies, dictators and regimes, and that enemies can quickly melt into friends when the conflict is over.
comments on this story
That is a lesson worth remembering today. During the heat of World War II, many in the United States were certain the war would not end until every Japanese citizen was vanquished. Japanese suicide bombers dived their aircraft into U.S. ships, they seemed ready to fight to the death rather than to surrender, and Japan had plans to turn all civilians into suicide fighters in the event of an invasion.
Parallels can be found in the way Americans view today's enemies in the Middle East. And while the current conflict is ideology driven and doesn't involve a nation state, it can't be as hopeless as it seems. We hope for a day when the story of 9/11 ends with friendly, prosperous governments in the Middle East as tyrants and terrorists are defeated.