Pearl Harbor Day: What Are the Lessons?

The usual cries for vigilance, as well as nostalgia for a time when America's enemies were clear

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December 7 is the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, prompting a mixture of historical reveries and analogies to the present day. Conservative commentators are taking the occasion to upbraid President Obama over foreign policy, while others stress the differences between the threats of 1941 and the threats America faces today.

  • Will the Next Pearl Harbor Come through Computers?  Kevin Coleman at Defense Tech emphasizes the lesson of vigilance, arguing that the next attack could come electronically: "For nearly two decades now," Coleman writes, "cyber war­fare capa­bil­i­ties have been rec­og­nized as a strate­gic power and many believe this power is on par with weapons of mass destruction." Many governments have begun incorporating cyber warfare into their military activities. But, writes Coleman, "while there is move­ment, the bot­tom line is an elec­tronic Pearl Harbor might be what hap­pens before appro­pri­ate level of action is taken."
  • A Potshot at Obama  Michelle Malkin recalls fellow conservative blogger Ed Morrissey's Pearl Harbor post last year, in which he corrected President Obama's historical inaccuracies regarding Pearl Harbor. "Those who mangle history…" she writes, suggestively.
  • The Dangers of Complacency  Hot Air's Ed Morrissey takes a different route this year, but still uses the anniversary to criticize the president's approach to foreign policy. "We shouldn't have been surprised at all by Japan's attack," he argues. "They didn't suddenly become warlike and aggressive on December 6th, 1941, as the Chinese, Manchurians, and Koreans could attest.  They had been attempting conquest (and succeeding) for several years in the Pacific Rim.  We just preferred to keep our eyes closed in order to keep from doing anything about it." But the lesson of the dangers of "appeasement and complacency" appears to be ill-remembered, Morrissey concludes, even in the wake of September 11.
  • You've Got the Story Wrong  James Bradley, author of Flags of Our Fathers, argues in The New York Times that it was not Franklin D. Roosevelt's complacency but rather President Theodore Roosevelt's coaxing that turned Japan into an imperial threat. Theodore Roosevelt  "approved the Japanese annexation of Korea" in 1905. In encouraging the imperial ambitions of the island nation, he helped set the stage for the even more radical bid for the takeover of the Pacific in 1941. The irony: Theodore Roosevelt received the Nobel Peace Prize for his "efforts to end the war between Japan and Russia."
  • Infamy Has Gotten Harder to Fight  Robert Stein, a college student at the time of Pearl Harbor, compares the clarity of knowing who America's enemies were then to the obscurity of now. "Infamy," writes Stein, "comes in more subtle forms this century, and fighting it is like flailing at smoke." His lesson on the anniversary:
Part of remembering Pearl Harbor today will be nostalgia for a time when we could identify our enemies and confront them head on, instead of becoming lost in the thickets of counterinsurgency and finding ways to "narrow the mission." If we ever reach V-Day in this war, will we know it when we see it?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.