Kent Bush: 9-11 similar to but different from Pearl Harbor

Kent Bush

The attack on Pearl Harbor, 66 years ago today, was a turning point in U.S. history. The similarities and differences between that attack and the attack on the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001 - and the reactions to the attacks - expose the similarities and differences in the world then and now.

They show the differences in acts of war and the policies of war and they disclose the differences in the nation as a whole.

On Dec. 7, 1941, the Empire of Japan carried out a sneak attack on the U.S. Naval bases in the islands of Hawaii. Submarines, ships and aircraft were employed in an all out attack that resulted in the death of more than 2,400 people - mostly military men and women.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed a joint session of Congress the next day and said, "Yesterday, December 7, 1941 - a date that will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan."

At the time, the two countries were not at war with each other. In fact, Japanese leaders were falsely negotiating issues with America - even while the multi-faceted attacks were being planned across the Pacific Theater.

FDR went on to say, "No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through absolute victory."

With that, America declared war on the Japanese empire.

The Pearl Harbor attack unified a divided country. It ended a contentious battle of opinions on whether America should choose sides and join the fray in World War II.

Pearl Harbor changed all that.

Not only was the country ready to go to war with Japan and all her allies, people were ready to make sacrifices to ensure the Allies would win the fight.

This country's entry into World War II saved Europe from an authoritarian regime and established America as a superpower with few true rivals.

The Sept. 11 attacks were very similar yet very different from Pearl Harbor.

Both attacks were similar in the number of lives lost, although the World Trade Center event claimed mainly civilian lives. There were also similarities in that both attacks were shocking to a country that did not expect them.

But the differences in the attacks show the differences in America and the world.

The Sept. 11 attacks unified Americans in the sense that they wanted to take action, but that was as deep as the unity reached. Even George W. Bush recognized that fighting this "enemy" would be difficult.

In 1941, Japan was clearly the focus of derision. They also announced their affiliations in the fight. We had a country, and its alliances, to fight against. But whom would we fight in 2001?

"Americans have many questions tonight. Americans are asking: Who attacked our country? The evidence we have gathered all points to a collection of loosely affiliated terrorist organizations known as al Qaeda," Bush told a joint session of Congress about a week after the attacks.

Al Qaeda is not a country. It is a loosely organized group that has representatives in almost every country in the world. So where would we fight this enemy?

"The leadership of al Qaeda has great influence in Afghanistan and supports the Taliban regime in controlling most of that country. In Afghanistan, we see al Qaeda's vision for the world," Bush told Congress.

So the war was on in Afghanistan. But it couldn't stop there if the problem was to be resolved.

"Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated," Bush said.

We entered a war without a predictable end. Too few people are required to become an army in the battle. Less than 20 men carried out the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Most of the time, these new "soldiers" take their own life in carrying out their attacks leaving no one to fight after the results are felt.

"These terrorists kill not merely to end lives, but to disrupt and end a way of life. With every atrocity, they hope that America grows fearful, retreating from the world and forsaking our friends," Bush said.

When America dropped two nuclear bombs on Japan, it was obvious the small nation would capitulate or face more consequences of dragging America into the fray.

When the Nazis were defeated, peace was restored to Europe.

Who do you defeat to bring peace when the fight is against terror? Terror isn't a regime. It is an idea. Terrorists can't be defeated, but they can be overcome.

A national resolve to stand against countries that harbor terrorists is a start. That resolve is built on unity. Unity is almost impossible to imagine when both parties called the Sept. 11 attacks "an opportunity."

Some saw the new War on Terror as a means to maintain power in upcoming elections. Other saw it as a chance to dethrone those in power.

No one saw Pearl Harbor as a political opportunity. It was a tragedy that drew a country into war.

Politics and public sentiment have devolved into cynicism since the end of World War II.

Our experience in Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf War in the early 1990s - along with polarizing domestic policies - have taken away the ability to achieve that national resolve.

It will take selfless leadership from the White House and Congress to restore the solidarity needed to win the battles we fight now.

Will the 2008 elections be a step toward rebuilding the solidarity the nation felt after the attack on Pearl Harbor? We'll see.

Augusta Gazette