63 years ago today, 361 Japanese warplanes attacked American airfields and shipyards at Pearl Harbor, disabling 19 ships, destroying 200 planes, and killing over 2300 men. The pre-emptive strike prompted this country to plunge headlong into the most destructive war in history. It was a defining moment, to be sure; one which ultimately marked the turning point in a war of unprecedented scale.
I find it interesting to compare/contrast our involvement in World War II with the current climate and its “War on Terror.” In both instances, a first-strike was directed against the United States to which we responded. I’m not going to delve into the issue of whether or not such attacks were provoked and, if so, to what extent; no web log is sufficient in size to contain the entirety of that controversial discussion. That said, it could be (and has been) argued that Pearl Harbor and 9/11 were, in part, a result of U.S. policy toward Japan (e.g. oil embargo) and the Middle East (e.g. you name it), respectively. Perhaps that argument holds water, perhaps not.
Also common to both wars is the fact that this country responded with overwhelming force. In the case of the recently ousted Taliban, a combination of superior firepower and superbly trained personnel led to a somewhat quick and decisive military victory. The victory in World War II was at least as decisive, though the price paid was far more substantial.
Thinking back to December 7th, 1941, how clear the objectives must have seemed to the military powers-that-be planning America’s entry into the war. Japan is a country, Japan attacked us; therefore, we attack Japan. Japan is allied with Germany and Italy, Germany and Italy are attacking our allies; therefore, we attack Germany and Italy. Though the fulfillment of these objectives proved devastating to Allied forces, the objectives themselves seemed clear, no? There were hard, tangible targets. We knew our enemy and we knew where to find him, and vise-versa. Both sides played their traditional roles as makers of war.
In today’s War on Terror, vague objectives guide efforts to thwart an equally vague enemy. This enemy does not assume a traditional role in this war. It does not acknowledge any formalities or “rules of engagement” (part of me thinks it ironic there are actual rules of war to begin with). It has no capitol in which to march troops and demand immediate surrender. No, on the contrary, it is precisely this decentralization that the enemy depends upon for survival. Fueled by hatred, it spreads like a cancer to surrounding communities and nations, finding sanctuary within the very local population it will use as human shields when the time comes for bullets to fly.
Two very different wars; one a test of military might, the other….well, what exactly IS the other? Is the War on Terror a war that can be won with brute force? I am skeptical. But history has shown that this country does tend to rise to the occasion, though sometimes in a round-about sort of way. Considering the years that have passed, I wonder how many Americans realize the sheer magnitude of effort their homeland put into World War II. By that I don’t simply mean the sacrifices by those in uniform, either. While many of the men took up arms, women went to work in the factories that would provide essential equipment and materials for troops. So much copper was being exported in the form of bombs and bullets that even the steel/zinc pennies of the era reflect the national undertaking of World War II. This country literally became a war machine; there has been nothing in history like it. Factories were built practically overnight. What was once a depleted military became a force able to effectively confront an enemy on multiple fronts in two hemipheres. The resolve and dedication with which even ordinary citizens tackled the singular goal of victory is astounding. Perhaps nothing more succintly states American fortitude at the time than the infamous words of the enemy himself, in this case Admiral Yamamoto of the Japanese military: “I fear all we have done is to awaken a slumbering giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” And that they did. We HAD awoken, and we WERE strong.
The point of this web log entry isn’t to espouse a flag-waving “our country could kick your country’s ass” mentality. My point is that the United States, with its collective effort, has the ability to do amazing things, and that’s not exclusive to our military capabilities. Despite the fact that much of the world has the not-entirely-inaccurate impression we are self-righteous boobs (think “freedom fries”), I am optimistic we will awaken from our self-important, complacent slumber to find once again that we are strong. I believe (hope?) the day will come when we will see beyond our gas-guzzling SUV’s and super-sized fast food and heed the call of working together toward the greater global good and, in turn, the good of our country. I think when that day arrives we just might win this latest war, and perhaps that victory will be no less decisive.