When the news broke across the nation early in the afternoon (Eastern time) that the Japanese Navy had attacked Pearl Harbor the nation’s attention was riveted on the radio broadcasts and the news ticker in Times Square. The Monday after, millions of young men wanted to enlist to fight the enemy. The nation was, as the current phrase goes, “All in”. The enemy was easy to identify. Not only did they look different than we did, they were citizens of a recognized nation-state. Their territory was well defined and we had a good idea of what needed to be done to defeat them. We also had the resolve to do so as a nation. Everyone agreed that the Axis Powers were the enemy and bad guys. That part was easy, identify the enemy. The hard part was building an Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Corps capable of fighting on two fronts (or more) and winning. It took almost four years, but it got done and the nation returned to peace time status.
Even the wars that happened for the rest of the 20th century followed similar, although crucially different, patterns.
Then came September 11, 2001. Suddenly, the enemy was not a nation, but an all encompassing multi national theology. Even though that concept of a non government entity waging ware is hard to grasp, most of us got it. The President was clear that this would be a long war, that we wouldn’t always know if we were winning, that we might never know if we’d won. Still it was a fight that needed to be fought. Leaving arguments about WMDs, who and what we should have attacked and when, the goal was pretty clear. Destroy the adherents of Islam who want to wage war against modern society (not America per se), and make it too expensive for the nations that provided succor to them to continue to do so. It’s a more complex concept and a more geographically diverse enemy. That enemy has a larger degree of portability because while they live on earth with the rest of us, they owe no fealty to a particular patch of dirt, but rather to an ideology. It makes tracking and fighting them that much harder.
Add to that that significant portions of our population don’t understand what the issue is. For which I blame some politicians and the media. President George W. Bush failed to communicate what was going on with the war to the American public. While he clearly stated why we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, much of the rest of the war was fought in other places and the public generally didn’t hear about them. He failed to make his case to the American public for continuing the war after Saddam was caught and after the Taliban was driven from Afghanistan. It’s a complex case and it doesn’t lend itself easily to sound bites.
That dynamic continued into and through the 2008 Presidential election. Afghanistan was the where the “real” enemy was, Iraq was a waste of money, time, and lives. President Obama won on that platform, helped along by a financial collapse not seen since the Great Depression. He was going to end the war in Iraq, win the war in Afghanistan, and treat acts of terrorism much the same as the law did bank robberies. Reactive, not proactive.
Which is the moment where it all changed. Iraq is a mess, Afghanistan is a mess, there are no civilian trials for foreign terrorists (a good thing) and the last four years have been spent convincing us that the whole Islamofascist War on Western Society is a figment of our imagination.
As a nation we’ve lost our will to fight and win against an enemy more dangerous than the Japanese or the Germans. You only need look to Iran, Egypt, Syria, Libya, and most of the rest of the Middle East to see the results of not paying attention to what the enemy is doing and the cost attached thereto.
This post started out as a remembrance of a day in the last century when America was attacked without warning and determined to destroy it’s enemy, but like a lot of my posts, it went where it wanted, not where I planned.
First take a few minutes to remember the events so long ago on December 7, 1941. Then, reflect on that enemy we face now and a political class and media that is trying to convince us that they aren’t our enemy.
What different place we’ve become in 71 short years.