Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Day in Infamy

I have tried several times to write something about the 65th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

There seem to be many correlations, connections or comparisons that I could make between Dec 7, 1941 and Sept 11, 2001. However the thoughts rumbling around in my head just don’t seem to make it onto the page.

I don’t personally remember Pearl Harbor or the subsequent world war. But I was raised by parents and grandparents who all lived through both. I digging through my grandparent’s stuff I have run across a plethora of WWII memorabilia - Gas rationing stamps, postcards reminding us to recycle rubber, aluminum, and steel, practically everything.

This got me to thinking about the differences in our generations. My grandparents’ generation was brutally attacked and they responded with a strong national identity and overall national sacrifice. It cost over 400,000 American lives but they went to war and defeated Germany, Japan and Italy.

My parents’ generation fought a much different world war - the cold (third?) world war. There were regional conflicts in Korea and Vietnam that we believed would have world wide impact if we did not fight. We lost over 100,000 American soldiers in those conflicts. While we got to see the downfall of the Soviet Union without an armed conflict, the wars we fought had much different results. World War II ended with costly but obvious victories for the Untied States and our allies. Korea ended with the nation split and the communist north 50 years later, testing nuclear bombs. Vietnam ended when congress denied funding for out troops, and we pulled out leaving our allies to die by the millions when the communist north over ran their country.

My generation has to fight the Global War on Terror. This was has been waged against us for over 25 years. It just took the Sept 11 attacks on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania to jar our complacent nation into action. Now, 65 years after Pearl Harbor and 5 years after 9-11 we are positioning ourselves to once again walk away from a war without defeating our enemy. The reasons for this are many. Some people still don’t believe that we are in a war. They think that this can be handled with diplomacy and police enforcement. Some people think that holding hands and singing KumbyYa will make the world a better place. Many of our politicians on both sides of the aisle are willing to sacrifice what is good for America in order to gain what is good for themselves. Far too many Americans don’t like where or how the war is being fought or they don’t understand who we are fighting. And that is the main difference in our generations.

In World War II the enemy was clear – Japan, Germany, Italy and anyone who supported them. In the cold war the enemy wasn’t quite so clear cut. The enemy was Communism which was represented by the Soviet Union and China. But in the Global War on Terror, who is our enemy. Muslims? Radical Muslims? Sure, most terror attacks against the United States were carried out by Muslims. Does that mean we declare war on all Muslims?

We went to war in Afghanistan. We overthrew the Taliban there who was supporting Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden. Then we went to war in Iraq and over threw a murderous dictator there that had been funding terrorists for years. Now we are dealing with a violent insurgency in Iraq that is being inflamed by Iran and Syria. So we go after Iran and Syria also. Or do we pull out and concentrate on capturing one man, Osama Bin Laden? Do we crush the insurgency in Iraq regardless of the loss of innocent civilians? How do we tell the innocent civilians from the insurgents? How much do we spend? How long do we fight? What is victory? Can we ever defeat an enemy that will never surrender? Are we fighting a nation, a religion, an ideology, a ghost?

In browsing the blogosphere last night and this morning I ran across several dedications and memorials about Pearl Harbor. But one of the best things I read was Our Pearl Harbor By Victor Davis Hanson. Mr. Hanson does a much better job contrasting our generation with the greatest generation than I ever could. Give it a read; it’s not very long and certainly worth a mouse click and three minutes of your life.

So far the United States has encouraged its citizens to shop rather than sacrifice. The subtext is that we can defeat the terrorists and their autocratic sponsors with just a fraction of our available manpower - ensuring no real disruption in our lifestyles. That certainly wasn't the case with the Depression-era generation who fought World War II.

And after Pearl Harbor, Americans believed they had no margin of error in an elemental war for survival. Today, we are apparently convinced that we can lose ground, whether in Afghanistan or Iraq, and still not lose either the war or our civilization.

Of course, by 1945, Americans no longer feared another Pearl Harbor. Yet, we, in a far stronger and larger United States, are still not sure we won't see another Sept. 11.

No comments: