Friday, December 07, 2007

December 7, 1941 - A Perspective

"Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of American was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan."
---President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

66 years ago the Empire of Japan attacked the United States military bases in Hawai'i and dragged our country into World War II. With those words above as the preamble, President Roosevelt asked Congress for a declaration of war for that dastardly deed. The rest, as they say, is history. I don't remember that date - I was four months old at the time - but I've studied World War II throughout my life and today, on this anniversary, I cannot help but compare that sneak attack on Pearl Harbor to the attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001 and the resultant conflicts.

World War II - which for the United States lasted four months short of four years - took more than 400,000 American lives. More than 16,000,000 Americans participated in that war. As terrible as those numbers are, worldwide the loss of life totaled more than 70 million. While no war is "popular", World War II was a unique time in this country - a time when most Americans pulled together, sacrificed much in terms of lives and treasure and united to fight the common enemy - and were successful.


That generation of Americans - my parents generation, which Tom Brokaw has defined in his books as "The Greatest Generation" - is passing on at a rate of around 1,000 per day. A few continue to try to give us some perspective on what it was like for them - like Daily Pilot columnist Joe Bell, who served this country as a Navy flier. He wrote another moving piece in the Pilot yesterday, which can be read here. That generation's story has been chronicled in many books, motion pictures and television series, like "Saving Private Ryan" and "Band of Brothers", but despite those excellent portrayals, I'm not sure many of "The Greatest Generation's" children and grandchildren really understand what they went through to defend this country more than a half century ago.

There was no American life that was not disrupted during World War II. The bloodlines of thousands of American families were severed at the roots with the death of so many young men in the flower of their youth. Fathers, sons and brothers were buried on foreign soil, thousands of miles from home. Those who survived came home very different men than those who volunteered to serve our country at the outset of the war. They came home with the ghosts of war in their heads, but also brought with them a resolve to make our country a better place - a place where their children wouldn't have to face the same horror of war that they experienced. Sadly, that was not to be.

In the six decades since the end of World War II the United States of America has experienced prosperity in such a short time unmatched in human history, but she also fought and lost two divisive "wars" in Korea and southeast Asia.

Today we face an enemy that is every bit as dangerous as were the Axis powers in 1941. On September 11, 2001 those extremists snuffed out more lives than the Japanese did at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Since President Bush declared a "War on Terror" more than six years have passed and, as I type this, nearly 4,000 young Americans have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. Every one of those brave young people volunteered to do what they perceived to be their duty - to protect this country from all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Today this country is far from united about the War on Terror. This is probably due, at least in part, to the bitter memories of the unsatisfactorily-resolved Korean and Viet Nam conflicts. I'm deeply troubled by our apparent lack of resolve and unity regarding our battle against those terrorists who seem determined to exterminate us and our way of life. I find myself wondering just how many more "9/11" events it will take for the anti-war proponents to realize what this is all about.


Of course, it doesn't help that we have a federal election staring us in the face - a time which, under the best of circumstances, we see candidates routinely lie and misrepresent their opponents positions on every issue. This war will be the most contentious and emotional of issues this time around and some of those politicians will use it to further divide our country. Some of the current crop of candidates seem more than willing to yank our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, abandoning our allies in the area, to be slaughtered as our troops dust off for the last time.

Progress is being made in this war and no one who gives serious consideration to it expects our country to withdraw form either venue soon. In the meantime, we must continue to be vigilant to prevent other catastrophic attacks on our soil.

This is going to be a long battle, one not fought in the hedgerows of Normandy or on the decimated islands of the Pacific with visible and clearly defined enemies. No, this one not only pits us against Muslim extremists, but has many of those factions fighting among themselves for control - particularly in Iraq. There are some who think we should just pull out and let those factions fight it out among themselves. Others think we should abandon the arbitrary political boundaries established for that region at the end of World War I and re-align the area into their historic "tribal" areas. Most informed observers of the area know this would likely create an opportunity for even more instability in the area, with Iran, Syria, Turkey and maybe even Russia, all vying for partial or complete control. No, we can't leave yet.

So, on this anniversary, let's try to keep some perspective. 4,000 American lives over the past six years is a terrible loss, but it doesn't come close to the losses in World War II, or Korea and Viet Nam, for that matter. Regardless who ends up in the White House in fourteen months, we Americans must unite on this issue and give our leaders and military men and women the support they need to succeed. To fail to do so will only encourage our enemies to continue to plan our annihilation. The future of our country and our very way of life depends on a successful resolution to this war.

It doesn't seem as though negotiation will accomplish much in this conflict. We have no entity with which to negotiate, only ethereal bands of jackals - some of whom are likely to be state-sponsored - who seem more than willing to die in order to defeat us and be greeted by those 72 virgins promised to them. Until we can convince those states in the region who provide support for the terrorists to stop, we should use every resource and tactic available to us to help the terrorists find those virgins as quickly as possible.

In the meantime, we, as a nation, must strengthen our resolve. We need to reach deep and try to find the courage and determination that The Greatest Generation found to defeat the enemies of World War II.

Never Forgive and Never Forget

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Anonymous Anonymous said...


What a concise encapsulation of one facet of our national struggles. That was very thought provoking.

This statement in particular jostled the old grey matter: “This is going to be a long battle, one not fought … with visible and clearly defined enemies.” Please forgive the edit as I wanted to focus on this one idea that our enemy is not clearly defined.

As I think about military conflicts I can’t help but think that very few were really defined as purely acquisitive. I imagine that there is always some measure of expansion through conquest involved in every conflict for material or real estate gain, but that is just one component. I believe that many conflicts also had some basis in an ideology or conflicts in ideologies.

So, when Hitler was defeated, did we really win the war or did we just take out the most prominent figurehead? We still have white supremacist gangs and racist authors. Anti-Semitism is till alive and thriving in the world. I don’t think we really beat back an ideology that was part and parcel of the German aggression.

I see the war on terror as being very similar without the geopolitical state as the centerpiece, but the ideology is still there to propel the antagonists into the fight. I also strongly believe that we never win in ideological conflicts. One ideology is simply repressed for some period of time and perhaps represses another at a later date.

I don’t mean to sound defeatist, as I believe that we can promote the high road and if we maintain superior economic, military and political might we can even prevail periodically. I just keep remembering that our country is younger than many of the long term conflicts that have been waged in the world. Islam versus the non-Islam is just one of them.

12/07/2007 10:00:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

The war is bankrupting our country. Have you taken a look at the value(or lack thereof) of the dollar? We need to kill the people responsible for 9/11, we didn't need to start WW3.

12/07/2007 10:47:00 AM  

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