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"People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf." - George Orwell

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Days of Infamy 

In the first six to twelve months of a war with the United States and Great Britain I will run wild and win victory upon victory. but then, if the war continues after that, I have no expectation of success.

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto
Commander in Chief
Imperial Japanese Navy
1940
The Admiral knew what he was talking about, for the war turned out almost exactly as he said it would. The first seven months following Pearl Harbor saw a series of defeats for the United States. Almost of our bases west of Midway were overrun and captured. Thousands of Americans were captured or killed. Thousands more of our allies, especially in the Philippines, lost their lives as they fought alongside us. Corregidor, Guam, Wake Island and the infamous Bataan Death March will be etched into our memories forever.

We all know, or are vaguely familiar with, the mistakes we made prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Anyone who has seen Tora Tora Tora knows that we picked up the first wave of Japanese aircraft on radar, for example, but believed that the planes were a flight of B-17s due in from the mainland. What is perhaps less familiar are the ones we made in the months to follow. We weren't ones to learn from our mistakes at first. General MacArthur allowed most of the aircraft under his command in the Philippines to be destroyed on the ground just as they were at Pearl only a few days before.

Further, many of the weapons that we had developed in the years prior to war failed to work as advertised. Most notorious were defective torpedoes, which suffered up to an 80% failure rate. Our aircraft were inferior to those of our enemy. Other pet theories, such as using high-flying B-17s to bomb moving ships, were shown to be unsound.

It's not that we didn't plan for the war. Quite the contrary, we had theorized about a war with Japan for almost fifty years. We even had a blueprint for it,called War Plan Orange, which was updated periodically. Interestingly, although the technology used during the actual war was different from what the authors of the plan envisioned, the plan still served as "... the foundation for the US response...."

President Roosevelt asked for a declaration of war from the Congress the day after the attack. The declaration, however, was only to involve Japan. Nazi Germany declared war on the US on December 11, before the Congress had acted. Presented with a fait accompli, Congress included Germany and Italy in it's declaration.

This series of events has always somewhat puzzled historians. Germany was under no obligation to come to the aid of Japan. Their Axis treaty was strictly defensive in nature, and since Japan had clearly initiated hostilities, it's provisions did not come into play.

Be that as it may, the events of early morning Sunday, December 7, 1941 was one of two defining events of the century for our country. The other was the redefinition of the role of the government that took place as part of Roosevelt's New Deal.

Prior to Pearl Harbor, we alternated between involvement in foreign affairs and isolationism. After the attack, we realized that we had not choice but to become involved. The world had changed, and we needed to keep up. Even those today who are called "isolationists" have little in common with those who bore that name prior to December 7.

We are now in a new war in a new century. The simiarities between September 11 and December 7 are many. But Admiral Yamamoto's words of so long ago are still relevant today. Now, just as then, the enemy would not only strike the first blow but would keep us off balance for some time. Our current War on Terror did not start September 11 2001. We only became aware of it's magnitude on that terrible day. The war started much earlier; perhaps as far back as the 1983 attack on our Marines in Beriut, certainly by the time of the embassy bombings in Kenya (1988) or the attack on the USS Cole (2000). Once roused from our slumber, however, our counterattack is both ferocious and unstoppable, as Admiral Yamamoto knew it would be then, too.

Our enemies today would do well to read our history.
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