[written September 21, 2001]
It didn't take long for the comparisons of 9/11 to Pearl Harbor to come out of the mouthes of people everywhere. My generation's Pearl Harbor, said the big-mouthed slashdot pundit Jon Katz, who is one of those guys that no one in his community respects but nonetheless gets interviewed in the mainstream media because they think he IS a respected person.
Not that there isn't some truth in it. While I don't know if it will necessarily be a galvanizing effect for the US economy given that this isn't about modernizing American production and outputting all sorts of good for a war on many continents like it was in World War II. And, as has been much discussed, the homeland of the enemy does not lie in one place, but many small violent and desolate places.
But I think most of the similarities arise not so much from the actual results of the attack, but in the psychology of the United States before and after.
Consider this. In World War II, the Japanese were looking at the Pacific Ocean and could see a tremendous advantage for their side: they possessed more carriers than the US, more planes of a higher quality, better pilots, and for a long time, many islands. The decision to strike Pearl Harbor was one that must be taken once the plan was conceived, for it would be simple, relatively safe, and would cripple the American presence in the Pacific.
Regardless of whether the attack had to be taken or not, some like Admiral Yamamoto had reservations about the effect of attacking Pearl Harbor. Being an alumnus of Harvard University, he was well-educated not only in naval warfare, but also in the resource and industrial capability of the US. His famous quote, "I fear that all we have done is awaken a sleeping giant, and fill it with a desire for vengeance," is one that has been much ballyhooed in the wake of the most recent terrorist attack.
From that point on, despite a large disadvantage, the US would go on to not only figure out how to bomb Tokyo using mid-distance bombers in the Doolittle Raids (crushing Japanese morale even though little actual damage was done), but would almost demolish Japan's fleet at Midway (establishing the aircraft carrier as almost the basis of modern warfare), and later led to the conception of the atomic bomb. (which as you know obliterated two Japanese cities) Yamamoto was right, but he would have been a fool to not have done Pearl Harbor.
My point being that sometimes you are forced to make a hugely beneficial move, knowing in the back of your mind that it might lead to your downfall.
For the US, Pearl Harbor could arguably have been the turning point, the catalyst, that led to 60ish years of history-breaking growth concluding with the NASDAQ bubble in 2000.
So here we are, a week and a half or so after the terrorist attacks on the east coast, and so far nothing much has happened except political alignments, speeches, and, on the civilian front, a HUGE outpouring of support towards the people who were directly affected. What people want now, after being completely surprised and violated of their national safety, is tighter regulations and more safety in every respect. There are a lot of different opinions, but most of the pro-safety ones agree that we need to make sure intelligence is stronger (which is ironic because it probably is doing okay financially), we need to have safer transportation systems, and we need better anti-attack measures at important locations in the US such as nuclear power plants and skyscrapers and even the Hoover Dam.
I agree with such considerations. I think it is far too easy to violate the security of the United States. With numerous embarrassments like discovered spies, stolen laptops, ease of cracking into important computer systems, and the whole fiasco with the nuclear secrets being stolen, it's obvious that security in the US is next to none.
I just doubt Americans' resolve in making our country more secure. Americans seem more willing to point fingers and blame at Arab Americans, cryptography, free press, and other things than actually changing their own local environments to make them more secure. I doubt that we'll see funding for serious protection of important installations by means of no-nonsense shoot to kill instructions to fighter jets and anti-missile defenses.
But don't you see? Fellow patriotic Americans, we have a HUGE opportunity here! One as big as Pearl Harbor was to the US! We have the opportunity and the support to turn our country back into the proud, hard-working country it gained its success as!
For too long, as Roosevelt said in one of his famous speeches after Pearl Harbor, "This theme has been that Americans are admittedly rich, (and) that Americans have considerable industrial power -- but that Americans are soft and decadent, that they cannot and will not unite and work and fight."
He said, "From Berlin, Rome and Tokyo we have been described as a nation of weaklings -- "playboys" -- who would hire British soldiers, or Russian soldiers, or Chinese soldiers to do our fighting for us."
Once again, we have become a nation of playboys, more concerned with which backstabbing middle-class American can go to an isolated part of the world, starve for a month, and survive the rest of them, all for our entertainment, while in many parts of the world, people do that on a daily basis, under fathoms more severe conditions. We're more concerned with catching our flight that we arrived late to than the fact that someone else may have arrived late...with a briefcase full of ceramic weapons. We write off the Middle East as a quarrelsome family, yet try to meddle with it, much of our public unaware of both sides' concerns. Many Americans work meaningless jobs which involve bothering other Americans and annoying them, and then we go home, sit in front of the TV, eat pre-processed fatty food, and gain lots of weight. I am by no means blaming the attack on the US, but we can take this event as a reminder not to be soft and decadent, but efficient, hard-working, and strong.
Imagine if Americans gained more self-respect, not merely laughing off any dip in the stock market or talk of recession, taking reports of national safety seriously and not dismissing internal reports of security weaknesses, and starting with our own neighborhoods and homes, securing our computers from Code Red and Nimda and whatnot. Imagine if going to the airport meant going to a serious place where the military were always in place with heavy weapons to intimidate wrong-doers and keep activity serious, like in Europe. Imagine if no security guidelines were ever violated, even in the name of convenience. Imagine living your life in the US knowing full well that you had the highest security protecting you. Imagine knowing that you could watch the President speak to Congress and other leaders of the world in one building without fear that the whole place would blow up, leaving the entire fate of the country in the hands of a guy who has a history of heart attacks and a pacemaker. Why do they do that, anyway? Like it wouldn't be a devastating blow if everyone was dead except for the one guy they keep outside of the building?
Now, I am not talking about curtailing rights guaranteed to citizens. Roosevelt said, which could refer to today's free press, "Your Government has unmistakable confidence in your ability to hear the worst, without flinching or losing heart. You must, in turn, have complete confidence that your Government is keeping nothing from you except information that will help the enemy in his attempt to destroy us. In a democracy there is always a solemn pact of truth between government and the people, but there must also always be a full use of discretion, and that word "discretion" applies to the critics of government as well."
Also, I am not talking about taking away your right to live your life the way you want to, and to have a right to privacy. Banning crypto is dumb. Terrorists already have it if they want it (and apparently bin Laden doesn't even use it anymore, whichever way intelligence figured THAT out), and disarming American citizens of their privacy is hardly a shining example of democracy. I'm not talking about getting rid of warrants, and in fact I believe the approach the FBI is taking, warrantless spying of peoples' data over the Internet using Carnivore is extremely unsettling. Why are they not required to get warrants for THAT but they are for searching your house, or going through your other property?
It seems to me that we now have the impetus to create a new nation that has the best security procedures and systems available in the world on a large scale. When security is to the point where we can honestly try to think of weaknesses in security and can't come up with any significant ones, and when that pride in our own security is perfectly tempered with the humility of citizens' right to privacy, then America will be the strongest and greatest country we've ever known. To combine the principles and values of an open society with the precautions needed to protect against even the most modern, determined terrorist organizations would truly be a great feat. And I feel it is entirely possible to obtain this dream.
Furthermore, and Roosevelt would agree, saying, "Those Americans who believed that we could live under the illusion of isolationism wanted the American eagle to imitate the tactics of the ostrich. Now, many of those same people, afraid that we may be sticking our necks out, want our national bird to be turned into a turtle. But we prefer to retain the eagle as it is -- flying high and striking hard," we would have the feeling of security needed to make our nation even safer, by "[rejecting] the turtle policy and [continuing] increasingly the policy of carrying the war to the enemy in distant lands and distant waters -- as far away as possible from our own home grounds."
What we need now is to take some responsibility for our faults, both in security and in past policy, so that we can begin fixing what is broken. It requires admitting we are not perfect, even though we're trying to help, and trying to see why people hate the US so much. We need to strengthen our own infrastructure while at the same time we need our own version of the Doolittle Raid, an attack so demoralizing to our enemy that it throws them off guard and confuses what right now is a very simple campaign for them right now, so that we can stamp them out completely and still have the humility to help negotiate (a task we have become unavoidably entwined in at this point in Israel, no matter how much people think we need to stop meddling internationally) peace between those who actually want all people to live together without violence.