Monday, December 07, 2009

Infamy, Then and Now

Sixty eight years ago today, Americans suffered a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor that suddenly brought us into a world war that would last less than four years. This week, after months of debating, we took a step deeper into an eight-year war with no end in sight.

On December 7, 1941, I was a college student with a part-time job in a hospital maternity ward showing fathers their new babies on the other side of a large picture window. Those babies are on Social Security now, grandparents themselves, some of whom may have lost their fathers in World War II, but most of whose lives are not directly affected by this war compared to the one that started on a "date that will live in Infamy."

That next day, FDR declared that "since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire," promising that "I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us."

But it did--on September 11, 2001. Infamy comes in more subtle forms this century, and fighting it is like flailing at smoke.

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?

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