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Pearl Harbor Attack Presents Parallels, Lessons for Terror War

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 6, 2006 – Sixty-five years ago tomorrow, the United States endured an attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, that for the next 60 years -- until Sept. 11, 2001 -- stood as the most devastating enemy attack on U.S. soil.

Like the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor has been called a defining moment in U.S. history. It caught the country by surprise, rallied its people against their attackers and thrust the nation into a long, difficult war against tyranny.

On the 65th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks, they present more parallels, and possibly lessons, for today’s global war on terror.

Within hours of the surprise attack in the early-morning hours of Dec. 7, 1941, more than 2,400 Americans were dead. Five of the eight battleships at the U.S. Fleet’s Pearl Harbor base were sunk or sinking, and the other battleships, as well as ships and Hawaii-based combat planes, were heavily damaged.

By crippling the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Japan hoped to eliminate it as a threat to the Japanese Empire’s expansion south.

The Sept. 11 attacks, in contrast, were more symbolic than tactical. The World Trade Center in New York -- which al Qaeda had previously attacked in 1993 -- stood as a symbol of the U.S. free-market economy. The Pentagon represented the U.S. military’s command center, but not its operational arm.

The other intended target -- either the White House or the U.S. Capitol, many people speculate, if the passengers hadn’t commandeered their hijacked plane over Shanksville, Pa. -- represented the epicenter of the democratic U.S. government.

When the smoke cleared, the death toll from Sept. 11 topped even the devastation of Dec. 7, 1941, with almost 3,000 people, mostly civilians, dead.

Both the Pearl Harbor and Sept. 11 attacks had another similar consequence: pushing the United States into war.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared Dec. 7, 1941, “a day which will live in infamy” and signed the Declaration of War against Japan the following day.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chief of naval operations, described what the United States was up against when it entered World War II during a late October visit to Oklahoma City. “Things were tough,” Mullen said. “Our fleet had taken a devastating blow. Japanese troops occupied Korea, China and would soon take over the Malaysian peninsula, Singapore and the Philippines.”

Nazi Germany, which already controlled a vast empire, declared war on the United States four days after the Pearl Harbor attack, Mullen noted.

Despite different challenges in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters, Mullen said, they ultimately boiled down to a common denominator. “There were clearly two competing visions of the world: one of freedom, the other of tyranny,” he said. “And tyranny appeared to have the upper hand.”

Mullen urged his Oklahoma City audience to “fast forward to today” and the global war on terror.

“If the attack on the destroyer Cole, the treachery of 9-11, if events across the globe from London to Lebanon, Baghdad to Bali, from Pyongyang to Tehran, have taught us anything,” he said, “it is that the struggle we currently face is also about two competing visions of the future and our vision of hope and prosperity and a secure future for our children (and) all children."

In his National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day 2006 proclamation, Bush noted similar challenges facing the United States today.

“In the 21st century, freedom is again under attack, and young Americans have stepped forward to serve in a global war on terror that will secure our liberty and determine the destiny of millions around the world,” he said. “Like generations before, we will answer history's call with confidence, confront threats to our way of life, and build a more peaceful world for our children and grandchildren.”

Bush recalled the resolve Roosevelt demonstrated as the United States went to war. "We are going to win the war and we are going to win the peace that follows," Bush said, quoting Roosevelt.

Speaking in October at the dedication of the USS George H.W. Bush in Newport News, Va., the president praised the dedication World War II veterans demonstrated to ensure that victory.

He called U.S. troops fighting today’s war on terror “a new generation of Americans every bit as brave and selfless as those who have come before them” and said they, too, will see the fight through to victory.

“Freedom is again under attack, and young Americans are volunteering to answer the call,” he said. “Once again, with perseverance, and courage, and confidence in the power of freedom, a new generation of Americans will leave a more hopeful and peaceful world for generations to come.”

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Related Sites:
White House Proclamation
DoD Web Special: 65th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor Attack


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