Monday, December 07, 2009

The Lessons of Pearl Harbor

Today is December 7th, the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

It was an undreamed of assault on our country that cost 2,403 American lives, mostly servicemen. And in response, our president galvanized the nation, put us on a war footing and channeled that anger where it belonged..right at our enemies.

Whatever one wishes to say about President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, three things become obvious from his speech to the American people and Congress, delivered December 8th, 1941. He understood the evil nature of the people that attacked us, he wasn't worried about offending them, and he understood what total victory meant.

Less than 4 years later, Germany, Japan and Italy were in ruins, their militaries destroyed, their capacity for evil extinguished. And a great darkness passed from the earth.

America was not free from politicking or dissension during World War II, but it was kept to a minimum...because the American people knew that to let the evil of fascism continue, to not achieve victory,would be unthinkable and a sin against their posterity.

Sixty years after that grim December morning in Hawaii, there was another sneak attack on American soil. 3,000 Americans, mostly civilians this time perished in the flaming ruins of the World Trade Center, in the Pentagon, and in a field in Pennsylvania.

It's been over eight years since that happened, and we have yet to defeat these enemies who pose no less of a threat to our civilization and our freedom.

Why is that?

Our military is not less competent or less courageous, we are far richer and more powerful than we were in 1941 and our enemies are much weaker than us, compared to how strong the Nazis, Fascists and Japanese were then.

What has changed is our leadership.

On December 8th, 1941, President Roosevelt went to Congress and asked them to declare war against specific enemies. He called on his fellow citizens for sacrifice and support, in eloquent words that expressed the shock of the country and girded it for the struggle ahead. Once Congress declared war, he immediately put the nation on a war footing. He put together bipartisan commissions to mobilize the nation's labor, industry and manufacturing for the war effort. He called on his fellow citizens for shared sacrifice and instituted rationing of food, gasoline and strategic materials.

Aside from jump starting the nation's war effort, his first priority was to secure our borders and safeguard the country from sabotage and fifth columnists. Roosevelt, aside from incarcerating and/or deporting anyone who was a known security risk or might have potentially been one gave the FBI carte blanche to intercept all overseas phone calls and cable transmissions, to put any suspicious domestic institutions under surveillance and to intercept any domestic mail within the US that it deemed necessary. I've personally seen the citation and medal given to one elderly woman who steamed the stamp off a domestic letter and found some microfilm under it...which resulted in the destruction of a Nazi spy ring and sent 6 spies to the gallows.

He didn't tell the American people that America was now involved in The Great War On Aviation, that we should all calm down, that Bushido, the creed of our enemies meant peace and that it was just a few fanatics who had somehow hijacked a noble creed that were responsible for Pearl Harbor. He didn't say that the goal of this war was `safety and security' rather than victory, and that everything would be all right if we would just go shopping. He certainly wasn't interested in telling the country that captured enemy combatants were going to have a right to remain silent and to get lawyered up for a trial in civil courts.

One can only imagine what the response of Congress and President Roosevelt's fellow citizens would have been if he had.

Another problem Roosevelt and his fellow Americans of that time didn't have is the continued denial about who our enemies are. I don't think it's any coincidence that in the hugely popular Harry Potter novels, JK Rowling has some of her characters refer to Voldemort as `you-know-who' or `the One we do not name.'

They could definitely be members of the current administration,who aren't even ready to admit we're at war, let alone whom we're fighting.Is it any wonder we haven't won this war yet?

We're not fighting al-Qaeda, and anyone who thinks we are is merely deceiving themselves. Take a hundred or so reasonably well-informed Americans into a room and ask them to write down the countries who are actively involved in waging and supporting jihad against America. Does anyone doubt that most of them would come up with pretty similar lists?

But our own government and influential elites tiptoe around this reality, and continue to spout the fiction that this is a different war, that we lack clearly defined enemies.

We are not fighting `terrorism'. That is merely a tactic used in this war, and every time that turgid phrase 'war on terror' slips out from between someone's teeth I want to scream. There has never been a terrorist or `insurgent' movement that has survived for long without a safe haven to train, regroup, recruit and finance. The Weathermen, the Baider-Meinhof Gang, and the IRA in its latter days are good examples of this principle. Destroy the enablers and the havens, end the terrorism. And more importantly the threat to our freedom.

Unlike World War II, we have put limitations on our war-making and our military that are self-imposed, and often counter-productive.After Pearl Harbor, anyone talking about `limited war' or `rules of engagement' and `exit strategies' would have been laughed out of the room at best and scorned as a coward or traitor at worst.

In that kind of climate 'victory' becomes a controversial word.

Is it any wonder that the war continues when our own commander-in-chief has consistently refused to even name correctly whom our enemies are?

Most Americans today, deep down, are not less patriotic or less unified then they were 66 years ago. Anyone who was in America after 9/11 knows that.

They were merely allowed to go back to sleep, and deliberately lulled into the idea that this was another limited war without a significant effect on their personal lives.That is a dangerous fallacy.

It may take another Pearl Harbor type strike on America to harness the nation's energy again, to convince people that this is the existential war that it is, and that it must be fought accordingly.

I hope not.

Pearl Harbor is thought to be a tourist attraction today, a peaceful monument to the men who died there.

It is, but it's more than that. It's a monument to the Americans who defeated the enemies of freedom, the monsters that attempted to enslave them and their Republic.

It's a monument to victory.

And something that's a living example of lessons from the past that we need to revisit and act on. By doing so, we honor not only the Americans who died at Pearl Harbor but all of our countrymen who've given to our beloved Republic what President Lincoln aptly called `the last full measure of devotion.

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