Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Pearl Harbor: 64 Years Out

Pearl Harbor: 64 Years Out

Today is the day of remembrance for the attacks on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941 - 64 years ago.

There seems to be a tendency to equate Pearl Harbor with 9/11. However, they ain't quite the same. As the official history of Pearl Harbor states, "A single carefully-planned and well-executed stroke removed the United States Navy's battleship force as a possible threat to the Japanese Empire's southward expansion. America, unprepared and now considerably weakened, was abruptly brought into the Second World War as a full combatant."

This was a deliberate attack on a domestic military base by a foreign military power that led to the U.S. finally entering the long, bloody war that had started in Europe more than two years earlier, when Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939.

9/11, meanwhile, was also a deliberate attack -- but not by a foreign country. It has much in common with large-scale terrorist attacks over the years, particularly since the 1970s, in Europe and the Middle East, as well as the U.S.

Whatever you want to argue about 9/11 and its implicit sponsorship by various states, it was not explicitly an attack by any particular nation-state. It was an action by a non-state actor, al-Qaeda.

Clearly 9/11 was a defining moment for this decade, and maybe (although it seems unlikely) for the entire 21st Century. But you can think about today - 2005 - as being like 1945 in relation to Pearl Harbor. It's only been a few years since 9/11, so our collective judgment is still clouded. Our view of Pearl Harbor is clouded, too, but because of the passage of time the actions taken by individuals that day somehow seem more heroic.

Anyway, as we know, nearly 2,500 people were killed at Pearl Harbor. Nearly 3,000 were killed on 9/11. These numbers, though, do not even begin to fully account for the scale of human suffering that both events engendered -- not just on that day, but in the years following.

For the most part, the U.S. has long ago reconciled its differences with Germany, Japan, Italy and the other Axis powers. Even Finland!

Let's hope that, someday, the U.S. government can normalize relations with the countries whose regimes are identified under the simplistic rubric "Axis of Evil."

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