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In 110 minutes, our nation learned a devastating lesson. Over the
past 58 years, some of our nation’s elected officials, and their
appointees, seem to have forgotten the lesson.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941, was the most
disastrous blow our nation’s military ever suffered. After 110 minutes
of bombing, 2,403 civilians and service members lay dead; hundreds more
were unaccounted for; 1,178 were either burned, had limbs amputated or
were otherwise traumatically wounded; 19 ships and scores of warplanes
were lost.

Ultimately, the United States entered World War II through the
scorching crucible of an event that lasted as long as a typical feature
film.

In less than two hours, a formidable adversary taught America the
intractable link between war and weakness; the relationship between
military-disarmament policy after World War I and disembowelment of the
Pacific Fleet and the enormous bloodshed that followed during the Second
World War.

Retired New York Army National Guard Maj. Daniel S. Fruchter of Mount
Vernon, N.Y., who survived the Pearl Harbor attack as an Army corporal,
recently schooled a Gulf War member of my American Legion staff on the
contemporary relevance of Pearl Harbor Day: “History forgotten will have
to be relived,” he said.

America’s military strength — for which there has never been a
diplomatic substitute — razed the Berlin Wall and brought about a U.S.
victory in the Cold War. Similarly, America’s military strength has
remained the key to preserving the freedom endowed by God and codified
in the Constitution by the founders of our nation. Simply put: To
compromise America’s military strength, and to treat China as a mere
trading partner rather than as a potential adversary, is just plain
wrong.

A Department of Defense-proposed reduction of 20,000 Guard and
Reserve personnel is wrong.

The continued carving of the active-duty force, already down from 2.1
million in 1989 to fewer than 1.4 million today, is wrong.

Spreading a downsized military force over 134 countries, at the
expense of the troops’ preparation for battle, is wrong.

Paying active-duty entry-level troops the civilian equivalent of less
than $6 an hour, particularly when at risk of being shot on a
peacekeeping mission that has no bearing on U.S. sovereignty, is wrong.

Mercifully halted in the U.S. Senate, a recent movement in the U.S.
House of Representatives to scrap the Selective Service System is wrong.

Teachers instructing our young people on the U.S. bombing of
Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ended World War II, devoid of the context of
the attack on Pearl Harbor and the aims of Japan and Nazi Germany, is
wrong.

Bottom line: Ignoring the overriding lesson of America’s entry into
the Second World War is wrong.

Fortunately, it is not too late for you and me to do what is right:
Register to vote. Study carefully the track records of candidates for
Congress and the presidency. Pull the lever for only those candidates
who understand that a retread of the post-Great War disarmament policy
will not preserve our freedom.

If enough Americans vote with history in mind, then those who lost
their lives on Oahu 58 years ago — in a bloody, 110-minute lesson on
the dangers of shortsighted foreign policy — will not have died in
vain. Moreover, our lives, our children’s lives and the lives of our
troops will be saved by America’s military resurrection.

Al Lance is national commander of the 2.8-million member
American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans
organization.

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