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The Link Between September 11 and December 7

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 29, 2001 – In the days immediately after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, Americans groped to find ways to describe the event.

Time and again, commentators, politicians and just plain folks called the attacks "another Pearl Harbor."

Dec. 7, 2001, marks 60 years since the Japanese attack on the main bastion of American strength in the Pacific. The attack precipitated America's entry into World War II. On Dec. 8, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan. He called Dec. 7 "a date that will live in infamy."

Sept. 11 and Dec. 7 are now linked in the public consciousness, though the attacks on those days aren't that similar, save their furtiveness. On Dec. 7, 1941, the nation of Japan attacked military bases on the then-remote U.S. territory of Hawaii, killing more than 2,500 people, mostly military members, and wounding thousands more. On Sept. 11, 2001, Al Qaeda -- an amorphous, stateless terrorist network -- hijacked four U.S. commercial airliners and used them to attack targets in two mainland cities, killing some 4,000 people, mostly civilians.

What the two events have in common, however, is the galvanizing response of the American people.

After Pearl Harbor, Americans swamped recruiting stations seeking to enlist. Others calmly waited for draft notices. Still others went back to their jobs and began the work that would make the United States "the Arsenal of Democracy."

The country was unified. Before Dec. 7, Roosevelt couldn't have gotten a declaration of war through Congress on a bet. After Dec. 7, only one representative voted against the declaration. When Germany and Italy, Japan's allies, declared war on the United States days later, the conflict escalated into the first truly global war in the history of mankind.

The American generation that struggled through the Depression stepped forward to save the world. Americans hadn't started the war, but they knew how to end it, knew exactly where to go and who to thrash.

After the attacks of Sept. 11, Americans felt unity. They displayed that solidarity by flying the flag, donating more than a billion dollars to help victims' survivors and aid groups, and showing support for the nation in many other ways.

They felt as did President Bush, who, visiting the Pentagon shortly after a hijacked airliner had hit the building, told photographers, "I'm sad, but I'm angry, too."

But there was also frustration: The enemy is stateless yet state-supported and is nontraditional and unconventional. America's typical responses were not options.

In his Sept. 20 speech to Congress, Bush said, "We are a country awakened to danger and called to defend freedom. Our grief has turned to anger, and anger to resolution. Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done."

Polls show the American people support the actions of the government to date. Support for military action in Afghanistan to destroy Al Qaeda terrorists and their sympathetic Taliban government hosts is also high. These same polls show Americans are willing to be patient in going after terror groups.

Dec. 7 and Sept. 11 may have another thing in common: They are dates when the world changed.

"Dec. 7 was a turning point for the world and Sept. 11 should be no less so," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said Nov. 14 in a speech. "On 9-11, our generation received one of history's greatest wakeup calls. Like the 'Greatest Generation,' we must answer that call. As we do, we have the chance to make sure that the world that emerges will be better for our efforts."

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Related Sites:
President Bush Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People, Sept. 20, 2001
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz Remarks as Delivered at the Fletcher, Washington, D.C., Nov. 14, 2001


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