Eighty years have passed since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which triggered full U.S. engagement in World War II. Sixteen million Americans subsequently served in that war. A couple hundred thousand are still alive, but their ranks are thinning rapidly. The country lost one such veteran — one of prominence — recently in Bob Dole, the longtime U.S. Senate party leader and Republican presidential candidate who died Sunday at 98.
Eighty is a juicy round number, and the anniversary of Dec. 7, 1941, will reflect that. But what breadth of attention will be sustained after 81 years, 82 and beyond to an event so thoroughly commemorated and analyzed, as direct memories vanish and as new infamies supersede?
Perhaps the constant, common thread is the individual histories that are altered — and the examples they set.
As a young man, Dole had intended to become a doctor. The war and duty to his country called, and he was gravely wounded during one of the last battles in the European theater. It took multiple surgeries and years of therapy to restore his general well-being, but he never regained the use of his right hand. "If I can't use my hands, I can use my head," he thought, and he entered the field of public service.
In short, he had contradictions, as people do. His didn't invoke his better angels at every turn, but they were with him.
It's this thought of promise amid imperfection — at a moment of looking back, during a new era of churning dread — that sustains our hope in America's future.