Christian Reflections on the 80th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor

The brutality of war, the value of people, our common ancestry in Adam, and need for a Savior on this 80th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

by Stacia McKeever on December 7, 2021
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Editor’s Note: This December 7, 2021, we commemorate the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. As most of those who survived the attack are now rapidly approaching or have passed their 100th birthday, it is important for younger generations to learn what they can about this infamous day. And for the few survivors left, it is even more critical that they write down or share their experiences and memories with others so that their accounts are preserved for posterity.

When our piano teacher let us know she would be having knee surgery on December 7, my 10-year-old son said, “That’s Pearl Harbor Day. ‘The day that will live in infamy.’” Cael has taken an interest in World War 2 history lately, and we’ve tried to encourage him because we know that “those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”1

As we reflect on the 80th anniversary of Pearl Harbor and help him process the events of the war, there are several lessons we want to ensure he has learned.

All people are made in the image of God.

World War 2 had officially begun in September 1939 when Adolf Hitler and his Nazis invaded Poland. It’s well documented that Hitler’s “ethnic cleansing” was motivated, at least in part, by the idea that some people had evolved more than others. The idea of molecules-to-man evolution was influential in justifying his “final solution.”

In contrast, we’ve been pointed in teaching our boys that all people are made in the image of God and have value because they are image-bearers. In fact, this is the reason God gave in forbidding the taking of another innocent life (Genesis 9:6). Later, Jesus’ half-brother James applied this truth to what we say about others (James 3:7–10). We’ve been especially careful in instilling this message in our sons because God created our older son with a genetic difference called Williams syndrome. In Hitler’s regime, Kieran would have been considered one of the arbeitsscheu (work-shy) who weren’t able to contribute anything meaningful to society and would have been sent off to the death camps. Even today, there are those who mock people with disabilities, considering them somehow “less than” or unworthy of respect. Yet, in God’s society, Kieran’s (and every human’s) life has value, not because of what he does or doesn’t contribute or what he can or cannot do, but because he was made in the image of God, full stop.

All people are part of the same family.

Throughout the beginning of the war, the United States attempted to stay out of it. In July of 1941, President Roosevelt seized all Japanese assets in the US, restricting the flow of oil to Japan in response to the Japanese occupation of French Indo-China. A little over four months later, on December 7, 1941, at 7:55 a.m., the Japanese retaliated by bombing Pearl Harbor. Nineteen US Navy battleships, destroyers, cruisers, and auxiliary ships were destroyed or damaged, and 2,403 individual image-bearers were killed in the attack.2 Cael reminded me that the USS Arizona, one of the ships sunk in the attack, continues to leak oil into the surrounding ocean even today. Some have called this the “black tears of the Arizona.”

Throughout the beginning of the war, the United States attempted to stay out of it. In July of 1941, President Roosevelt seized all Japanese assets in the US, restricting the flow of oil to Japan in response to the Japanese occupation of French Indo-China.

Japanese culture had been inculcated with an extreme form of nationalism that resulted in the hatred of all things foreign (xenophobia) and provided an impetus for conquering other nations. Even in America, there was simmering distrust of “others,” and Japanese-American citizens were sent to internment camps and deported.

In contrast, we’ve taught our boys that we are all part of the same family—descended from Adam and Eve and more recently through Noah and his family. The event at Babel initiated the development of different tribes, nations, and language families. No matter what shade of skin we have, what language we speak, or where we live, every human is made in the image of God and part of our family. Instead of fearing those who are outside our “tribe,” we can celebrate cultural differences and work to overcome language barriers as we reach out to others. Even with more recent worldwide conflicts, we want our kids to see the “others”—including those we may want to see as the “enemy”—as part of our extended family.

All people are in need of the same Savior.

As part of learning about Pearl Harbor, Cael read the book I Survived Pearl Harbor. While it’s a fictionalized account, the author accurately portrayed the horror of the attack and the terror felt by those who endured the attack. War is ugly, and it’s terrible and sickening, and we recoil at its hellishness.

And as Cael asks the inevitable why question—“Why did they do this?”—we point him again to the fact that we are all part of the same family, and we all have inherited the original sin nature from Adam, no matter which side of the war we are on.

And as Cael asks the inevitable why question—“Why did they do this?”—we point him again to the fact that we are all part of the same family, and we all have inherited the original sin nature from Adam, no matter which side of the war we are on. Each of us chooses our own path of destruction through rebellion against our Creator. The attack at Pearl Harbor offers a graphic picture of the result of sin. And lest we think that our own sin pales in comparison to the sinful atrocities carried out during the war, we remind Cael and ourselves that Jesus likened hatred to murder. There’s no difference in the darkness of our hearts in the eyes of the all-good Creator. And we point him to the need for repentance and faith in Jesus, the Creator of us all who came to provide salvation to any who believes in him.

What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. (James 4:14)

It’s sobering to ponder that 2,403 image-bearers were sent into eternity that day by an attack initiated by distant family members. Even more, when we talk about the atrocities committed against millions of people during that war and are staggered by the sheer numbers, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that “millions” of dead breaks down to “one” person at a time. Each person killed was an image-bearer, made with great care and purpose by their Creator, who had an eternal soul. Some of those killed at Pearl Harbor had likely received the gift of eternal life through repentance of their sin and belief in Jesus as their Savior. And likely that even more were ushered into an eternity worse than the attack they suffered. We remind Cael and ourselves of the urgent need for sharing the gospel to those around us—near and far—so that they may know their Creator as their Savior before it’s too late. As the apostle Paul wrote, today is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2). May we prepare ourselves for the time—sudden or not—when God calls us home.

As we reflect on events of 80 years ago, we also look forward to the time when there will be no more war or suffering or pain or disability or death for those who are children of God—a time when God makes all things new. We long for that day, and while we wait for it, we share that hope with others. What we believe about the past shapes how we live in the present and our hope for the future. May our belief be anchored in the God of the Bible and the truth of his Word.

Footnotes

  1. Quote attributed to Winston Churchill, see “History Repeating,” College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, https://liberalarts.vt.edu/magazine/2017/history-repeating.html.
  2. “Remembering Pearl Harbor: A Pearl Harbor Fact Sheet,” The National WWII Museum, https://www.census.gov/history/pdf/pearl-harbor-fact-sheet-1.pdf.

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