PEARL HARBOR: Compare the day of infamy to 9/11
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The Day of Infamy: The Truth About Pearl Harbor

PEARL HARBOR: Compare the day of infamy to 9/11

Detroit Free Press | December 7, 2004

In contemporary language, this date 63 years ago would have been described as a "defining moment" in American history. Back then, they called Dec. 7, 1941, a Day of Infamy -- and took it as a call to arms.

That Sunday morning dawned with disaster -- a sneak attack by the Japanese on the U.S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. More than 2,300 Americans died, and they were only the first of some 300,000 who would perish over the next four years as the U.S. plunged into World War II in Europe and the Pacific. Another 670,000 would be wounded in battles from the hedgerows of France to the rocky terrain of Tarawa. Countless more lives were altered by loss, fear, deprivation and by the work that had to be done for the sake of victory.

That was the price of defending freedom, paid in blood and sweat by a generation determined to make sure that the Americans who came after them would be strong, secure and independent. They knew that the staggering price could be exceeded only by the cost of doing nothing.

The attack on Pearl Harbor was supposed to cripple U.S. forces in the Pacific and remove a major obstacle to Japan's imperialist plan to rule the globe in an evil alliance with Nazi Germany. Instead, the attack riled a nation that had been cautious about re-engaging the world after going to war in Europe not 25 years before. A determined, resourceful America overcame the losses at Pearl Harbor to rescue Europe from the Nazis and Asia from the Japanese.

When 9/11 happened, the comparisons to 12/7 were inevitable. Sixty years later, the shock, loss and outrage were similar, but the course of action was less clear against stateless, ill-defined enemies who prefer killing civilians to battling armies.

As Pearl Harbor called a generation of Americans to arms and decisive victory, 9/11 brought another generation to vigilance and uncertainty.

We need a Pearl Harbor mind-set to face terrorism
But even latest technology may not shield us from threat

Houston Chronicle | December 6, 2004

ON the mainland, people were going about their midday Sunday activities, but in Hawaii, the day was just beginning. Soldiers and sailors at bases scattered around the islands were still rubbing Saturday night out of their eyes on Dec. 7, 1941. What started as just another lazy Sunday would forever after be known as the date that will live ininfamy.

The United States was surprised by a well-planned naval and air attack executed by the well-trained, disciplined sailors and aviators of the Japanese empire, and in the attack's aftermath, our political and military leaders worked not to be surprised again.

Development of the nation's human and electronic snooping ability — from the alphabet spy agencies to satellites equipped to capture images of the tiniest details on the ground — was a direct result of that ghastly Sunday morning. But even the most foresighted of defense planners in 1941 couldn't have dreamed of the nation's contemporary capability to detect a threat.

Pearl Harbor became associated with grainy black and white photos and film of U.S. warships issuing black plumes of smoke that served as metaphors for the widespread death. Lives, ships and planes were lost, but also dying that Sunday were notions of honor expressed by Secretary of War Henry Stimson, who sniffed in 1929, "Gentlemen don't read other people's mail." It was a remark aimed at discouraging the budding art and science of crypto-analysis.

After Dec. 7, 1941, all bets were off. Allied codebreakers worked around the clock to read the other guy's mail, and we know now that they succeeded with deciphering technology we would consider quaint now.

Never again, vowed those who followed Franklin D. Roosevelt into the Oval Office. No more surprises. Then came Sept. 11, 2001.

Ever since the breakup of the Soviet Union, the threat from a uniformed foe advancing in massed formations has dimmed. The war in Vietnam gave us a taste of battling an enemy who made hit-and-run into an art. Though enemies and their tactics were rapidly evolving, it was not clear that U.S. intelligence-gathering capabilities were evolving as quickly.

Because the activities of the Central Intelligence Agency, the best known component of the nation's spy apparatus, are shrouded in secrecy, it is difficult to assess just how good — or bad — the intelligence situation is. The glimpses that emerged from testimony delivered earlier this year during the 9/11 commission hearings were not at all reassuring.

Witnesses told of the federal government's vast intelligence network, which could do just about everything but communicate effectively within that network. That was, and remains, the primary challenge facing the Bush administration in a post-9/11 world. How the president and his advisers meet that challenge will be key to how history judges him.

It is much too early to tell whether Bush picked well in naming a former undercover New York cop to head Homeland Security, but the pick is theoretically wise. After all, it takes someone who was trained to think and act like a thug to catch thugs.

Bernard Kerik, who started out his law enforcement career as a military police officer in Korea, will have to be tough as well as creative in the balancing act he must master as secretary of homeland security. The foe is clever, resourceful and creative.

Kerik and his troops will have to match that resourcefulness and creativity while being careful not to further trample the rights and privacies that Americans treasure. The job is much more art than science.

After Pearl Harbor, Americans willingly surrendered some civil liberties, and we have again. But many of us resist writing the government a blank check to restrict those rights, probably because the shock of Sept. 11, 2001, is wearing off.

The shock is dissipating, perhaps, because there hasn't been another attack on that scale. (Coincidentally, one factor that doomed the Japanese was the failure to mount follow-up attacks immediately after Pearl Harbor.)

So either we've been good or we've been lucky. When you get right down to it, Kerik's biggest job is to keep the streak alive.

It's not going to be easy, because Sept. 11 taught us that all those satellites that would have detected a fleet of warships steaming toward Pearl Harbor couldn't detect a small band of fanatics moving through an airport jetway.



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