SAN JOSE, September 11, 2011—The attack against the naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii by the Japanese Empire is recognized by historians as one of the most successful surprise attacks in military history. It shocked America and the world.
On a calm Sunday morning beginning at 7:55am, bombs and torpedoes began to fall and explode into military targets on Oahu. When the attacks ceased shortly before 10:00am, the dead and wounded were strewn everywhere and smoke from destroyed machines and wreckage spewed into the December sky.
When the news hit the mainland, Americans found it hard to believe and had to grapple with the reality of the death and devastation at Pearl Harbor. Over 2,400 Americans had been killed, 1,178 military personnel and civilians had been wounded, 188 aircraft had been destroyed with an additional 159 more aircraft damaged, and approximately 20 ships had been either completely sunk or severely damaged.
In stark contrast, Japanese casualties were negligible. This had been an extremely effective and deadly act of war.
The shock and disbelief gave way to pain of loss and anger, and the anger gave way to resolution to get back at those responsible. President Franklin D. Roosevelt went before Congress the next day and delivered his “day of infamy” speech to declare war on Japan. Although he had tried to maintain American neutrality as much as possible during the first few years of the war, this single event propelled the United States into World War II.
In a similar sinister act of terror, the simultaneous attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, as well as the defeated attempt of a fourth terrorist-controlled jetliner, sent shockwaves around the country and throughout much of the world. For almost two hours during the coordinated attacks, Americans stared in awe upon scene after scene of video clips, or listened in disbelief to the frightening descriptions via radio of the mounting horror and death and destruction.
The final death toll took a while to determine due to the difficulty in identifying victims, but the final number was over 2,800 dead and approximately1000 more injured or wounded.
For a long while after this deadly day, Americans wrestled with disbelief and suffered in grief over those who lost their lives. Much of the world seemed to mourn with us. However, once again, disbelief comingled with anger. And again, a diverse America fused together in an informal unity transforming into a resolve for retribution.
Sadly, unity eroded into political wrangling during the years leading to the presidential election of 2004, as the Democratic Party developed a political strategy to pin mismanagement and a misguided focus in the War on Terror on President George W. Bush.
It is not crystal clear, but the logic may have been that if any political party should handle such a war, it should be the party with the most experience with major wars, since U.S. involvement in the last three major global wars had been handily managed by Democratic presidents.
But the enemy that the United States faced on September 12, 2001 may be more complex and sinister than the one faced on December 8, 1941.
In comparing outcomes and assessing fallout from each attack, it is possible to obtain some historical perspective. On December 8th, when F.D.R. went to Congress to ask for the declaration of war, there was no doubt that the Japanese government was responsible. When Bush went before Congress, he had preliminary intelligence reports that had linked Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden to the suicide attacks, although both denied direct involvement for years.
While both acts of war involved months, if not years of planning, the Imperial Japanese assault involved hundreds of military personnel, 33 ships and 360 attack aircraft dropping an ample number of bombs and torpedoes. The 19 Al-Qaida operatives were far more efficient in using commercial American airliners as weapons.
Ironically, such apparent insanity is eerily parallel to the Japanese kamikaze tactics employed toward the end of WWII.
As the Japanese had lost several critical battles and the Allies were closing in on their homeland, high-ranking leaders became too stubborn to surrender. In these final months of the Pacific campaign, the U.S. Navy encountered seemingly insane suicide pilots using their aircraft as manned missiles by crashing them into enemy ships to inflict as much damage as possible upon the enemy. The motivation of kamikaze pilots was to honor the tradition of the samurai who would rather face death than the shame of defeat or capture.
The kamikaze pilots gave their lives to guide their planes into military targets which was the primary goal involved in bombing Pearl Harbor: to severely cripple the U.S. military. But the Al Qaeda terrorists took the kamikaze concept to an unprecedented level of carnage.
They intended to ram jetliners filled with innocent men and women into civilian occupied buildings in order to maximize the death toll. They justified their atrocities as a way to fulfill their religious convictions.
While it is not clear whether Osama bin Laden was a devout Muslim, he certainly used Islam to obtain his sinister objectives. It is known that he taught that by way of jihad, and especially through martyrdom, a devout Muslim gets everything desired in eternal life.
It is likely the 9/11 terrorists sincerely believed it.
Whether it was a war for global domination, or a religious jihad, the agents of destruction on each deadly day, in short time, successfully incited terror and inflicted as much harm as possible upon an enemy.
History provides perspective and after ten years of waging the War on Terror, the U.S. response to Japan’s deadly aggression may have been an easier conflict to manage than the battle against a sinister international terrorist network.
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