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    Monday, January 01, 2007

    Then and Now: The New Republic reprinted an editorial from a New Year of a bygone era - resolutions for the early days of World War II (subscription required). A couple of them are particularly relevant to today's ear:

    2. We must never tolerate any barrier to our utmost effort -- Today there are many such barriers--barriers of jealousy and fear of executive power in Congress; of tradition and bureaucracy in the armed forces; of selfish interest in industry; of short sightedness and incompetence in administration. In all fairness to men whose lives are at stake we cannot afford any longer to tolerate these barriers.

    3. We must never cease to be vigilant. -- Our relations with one another demand that we achieve unity; but it must be formed around ends, not men. We may hope, but we cannot assume, that forces which a few weeks ago acted on a belief in the victory of the Axis are now acting in the service of democracy. For a few hours the weight of the disaster which they have brought upon America, and which itself has united our people, has silenced them. But their voices will rise again. In every corner of America we must watch for them and recognize them.

    Many of the comments take issue with the editorial. This war isn't the same, it's against an idea (terrorism) not a state, it's a con perpetrated by the extreme right wing, theocons, neocons, and oil companies. One commenter criticized the editorial for its exuberance for war in 1941. Another commenter responds:

    With all due respect, you are off-base here. On Dec. 7, 1941, Japan reached across thousands of miles to destroy a substantial part of the U.S. Pacific Fleet in home waters. That act plunged the U.S. immediately "deep into war".

    I know this has nothing to do with medicine and that this site has readers of all political persuasions, but bear with me, because this is something that's been a great deal on my mind this past year and likely to be for the next year. It's not something that obsesses me, but it's always there below the surface, and I've noticed it's that way with my patients, too. A patient will say that they're going to do something they've always wanted to do but never made the time, and they'll say as an aside, "I figured I might as well do it now, the world's going to end soon anyway," or another will worry out loud about the fate of Medicare or Social Security in five or ten years and conclude, "Oh, well, the way things are going there won't be a Washington in ten years, anyway." There's a sense of resigned despair in the face of nuclear armed terrorist states and megalomaniacal dictators and a nation that - if the newspapers are an accurate reflection - can't be stirred to care about its own self-preservation.

    Which brings me to that comment about Pearl Harbor from The New Republic. The assumption today is that Pearl Harbor was different than 9/11, that it was a military "attack on American soil." But it wasn't, was it? Hawaii wasn't even a state, it was a territory, valued for its sugar and pineapple production.

    My son's high school band played a tribute to Pearl Harbor during their holiday concert this year. It was an arrangement of Eternal Father Strong to Save that incorporated the sounds of bombers and explosions into the traditional navy hymn. The band director played old film clips of the attack while the band played on. And I kept wondering, what would happen if Pearl Harbor had happened in today's Zeitgiest? I couldn't escape the conclusion that if it happened today, we would blame ourselves for the attack. The prevailing refrain would be that we had no business basing war ships on those islands, that our very presence in those islands was a threat to Japan, and our own imperialistic ambitions the problem, not Japan's. If Americans of the 1940's had the hearts of Americans today, we would have heard "No war for sugar!" and excoriations of "Evil Del Monte," rather than "the day that will live in infamy." There would have been a study group and we would have handed over Hawaii to the Japanese, after all 80% of its farmers were Japanese. And we would have given them Alaska to boot.

    We're a Prozac nation now. Let's hope we can stir ourselves enough to care in the year to come.

    posted by Sydney on 1/01/2007 08:59:00 AM 5 comments


    I have held my tongue a lot with the recent shift away from medical and towards political posts - not the least of which is for the simple reason that we appear to be on the opposite ends of every political spectrum possible.

    But this time I think you have it wrong, and I think you're using history to fuel your own position - and you're doing it with a piece of history that is near and dear to my family, so I'm going to say something.

    First and foremost - there can be American soil without there being a state. Take, for example, Washington DC. Or any of our Caribbean holdings, Guam, and so forth. We still have an awful lot of holdings where the people are, as some would argue, being taxed without representation. But they are all on American soil, protected by American bases (Guam, again, is a wonderful example of what Hawaii was - a Pacific Island nation of people granted American citizenship without being an American state, as they are a territory).

    I really can't imagine why we would have any different reaction to Pearl Harbour today than we did in World War Two - you simply cannot compare Pearl Harbour and the terrorists attacks of September 2001. One was a specific attack on a military institution, playing by the rules of war established at the time, by a country neck deep in war, who was not concerned about an American threat but instead was preemptively attempting to take care of America - not draw America into a war, but firmly knock it out (of which they failed). The other was an attack on a symbol of American prosperity, not an attempt to do anything other than make us notice that a particular terrorist group had the teeth to bite from across the pond.

    Yes, if you compare death rates, slightly more people were killed in the World Trade Center buildings than at Pearl Harbour - however, I think there is a difference between civilian and military deaths. One is a highly concentrated population of specialists; this is not to knock the deaths on September 11th, but simply to say it's not the same thing.

    We can look at the Pearl Harbour attack and we can see, clearly and simply, just why it happened. The reasons are there - they're outlined in numerous war plans and strategies that date back to Sun Tzu. And that clarity gave us, still gives us, the position to unify in action/reaction. It's not that clear cut with the September 11th terrorist attacks. There is no state playing by specific war rules. There is no understandable reason, there is no game plan, no way to decode what happened in any way that will cause unification behind a single goal - not a goal that isn't mired in revenge, anyhow.

    And the United States was unified, mostly, for a short time after the attacks. Americans wanted blood for blood, and they didn't much care whose blood it was, as long as the deaths of a bunch of people they didn't know and didn't give a damn about the day before were avenged. Because it wasn't about the deaths, it was about the perceived slight on American honour (now who's acting Japanese?).

    And we allowed our blood lust and quest for revenge to drag us, unthinking, into positions we could not win, or even knew how to fight in. We allowed ourselves to get into the worst possible position, attacking on someone else's familiar ground, where they have the power and position. This is not, and was never, similar to the Japanese expansion into the Pacific, of two armies fighting on equally unfamiliar grounds, until one gained the upper hand and moved in.

    We look at and wonder what we did to provoke the September 11th attacks because they were so outside the bounds of what we expect from the rules of war - those just war rules and theories we've been governed by for a millenia.

    You can have your opinions about the war, even the American people and those who are against it's response to it. But don't disgrace the memory of Pearl Harbour and those who died for and because of it in an effort to twist history to suit your own agenda.

    By Blogger BuddhistValkyrie, at 1:46 PM  

    The other was an attack on a symbol of American prosperity,...

    Umm, are you seriously telling me that an attack on the Pentagon is not an attack on a "military institution"?

    The rest of whatever you have to say is worthless after this. Begone, worm.

    By Blogger Paco WovĂ©, at 7:47 PM  

    Buddhistvalkyrie - with a great deal of squinting and charitable interpretation I can infer perhaps one rational position from your comment: you were against the Iraq War? I'm afraid I can't see anything in most of the rest that isn't verbiage in search of a point, though. It is however nice to know that terrorist acts, which I thought explicable human behaviors subject to mundane analysis and response, are actually things so mystical and incomprehensible that no active response beyond mindless revenge is possible. I guess a lot of intelligence types can quit their tedious day jobs, then.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:47 PM  

    There were some people against US entry into WWII before Pearl Harbor. Some were against anything FDR wanted. Some people, Irish-Americans for example, did not want the US fighting on the side of the English. German-Americans, Italian-Americans and others probably did not relish a US war on their homelands. There were pacifists. It was just over 2 decades since Americans had to fight in an ultimately inconclusive European war. Probably few expected war in the Pacific. The only way to defeat a military power like Japan allied with a military power like Germany, both of whom were clearly intent on conquest, was war. the attack on Pearl Harbor clarified that. Perhaps that is why the New Rrepublic felt the need for such strong language.

    For many people today the threat from Islamist fascism is more abstract. There is a feeling that heightened police and security measures can deter asymetrical warfare and that the long-term threat of Islamism can be overcome by winning over hearts and minds. For a lot of people the fight with Iraq and/or Iran and Syria is about regional issues, just like WWI. Those countries do not pose a direct military threat to the US. They do control or threaten to control most of the world's oil supply; but the answer to that is less dependence on foreign oil. The Iraq experience leaves few takers for the idea that we can, just like Wilson, bring democracy to the region at the point of a gun.

    Time will tell.

    By Blogger cokaygne, at 6:22 AM  

    Given the drumbeat of pessimism from most of the media, I think American optimism has held up pretty well. And now that the Republicans have gotten a good spanking (which, given their candidates, they deserved), liberal politicians, pundits, and most of the the media will probably stop blaming the world's ills on them. Remember, before the elections it was all about "getting out of Iraq," and now it's about sending MORE troops? The Democrats will never recover if we lose Iraq on their watch. Most people still prefer the Republicans for national security, and the Dems know it. Murtha and his ilk are a disaffected (but vocal) minority. The long-term Democratic strategy is not going to be retreat in the war on terror. I predict that the big turnaround in the "First 100 days" will be purely one of appearance, not substance.

    However, the media will, at the very least, not bash the Dems like they have the Republicans. The national mood will improve. Since politicians, pundits and the media need to focus on something, they might actually start examining the real problems out there. Look how the "Flying Imams" story played out. Not the effect the perpetrators were looking for, eh?

    For a good laugh, read the rapidly changing spin on the events in Somalia. When the world tacitly endorsed Ethiopia, and thus allowed them to win (unhindered by cries of "Gitmo," "Halliburton" and "grim milestone",) suddenly kicking out fundamentalist terrorists became fashionable again. As long as it isn't done by Bush et al. Look at what Sen. Boxer just did.

    American sense of pride and need for self-preservation never really change no matter who's in charge at the moment. Don't worry, Sidney. We are still the giant, and we are not sleeping, not even Sen Boxer. Saddam, the Taliban and Khaddahfi (don't forget about Libya) have already figured that out. The remaining terrorists out there would be fools to think there has been a fundamental change, but sadly, because of politics and spin, they might think there has been, and they may foolishly choose to test us again.

    By Anonymous Danie, at 2:01 PM  

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