Before there was 9/11, there was Pearl Harbor. Both attacks had their similarities. In both cases, we had a deadly enemy arrayed against us, but most Americans remained — or better put, willfully ignored — the threats both enemies posed. Only after thousands of Americans died did the US awaken to the true nature of those enemies.
Sixty-eight years ago today, the Japanese Empire attacked our naval base at Pearl Harbor without warning or a declaration of war. Within hours, their navy attacked American positions throughout the Pacific, including the Philippines, destroying our outposts and claiming the entire Pacific Ocean as their possession. With the fortunate exception of several aircraft carriers that had been on an exercise that morning, the US had almost no Pacific Fleet, and many feared an invasion of the West Coast.
It took hundreds of thousands of American lives to defeat both Japan and Nazi Germany in the war that followed — a war that had already enslaved China years before on one side of the US, and half of Europe on the other side. We thought we had learned a lesson on December 7, 1941 ,which was that we had to be prepared to fight a war in order to keep from getting surprised like that again. Of course, we shouldn’t have been surprised at all by Japan’s attack in the first place. They didn’t suddenly become warlike and aggressive on December 6th, 1941, as the Chinese, Manchurians, and Koreans could attest. They had been attempting conquest (and succeeding) for several years in the Pacific Rim. We just preferred to keep our eyes closed in order to keep from doing anything about it. When we attempted to cut off oil to Japan, we discovered that negotiations and sanctions don’t keep war-drunk, expansionist powers from increasing their expansionism.
The lesson from that war is that appeasement and complacency doesn’t keep one from having to fight a war. It usually forces one to fight from an extreme disadvantage. That’s a lesson we have not remembered in dealing with expansionist powers in our own time, even after a second shock like 9/11 after years of complacency in dealing with al-Qaeda. We’re falling back to treating radical Islamist terrorism like a Law and Order episode, and allowing one of the main drivers of radical Islamist terror, Iran, to arm itself with nuclear weapons with no consequences whatsoever.
On what date will the next “sneak” attack occur?