The Lesson Of Pearl Harbor

The Lesson Of Pearl Harbor


Leonard Zwelling

One of the issues being batted around in the blogosphere and elsewhere is what was the truth about World War II and the American involvement therein. Books like Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation and TV shows like Band of Brothers and movies like Saving Private Ryan glorify and emphasize the righteousness of the American cause and how that patriotism was embodied in the everyday foot soldier of WW II. More revisionist historians paint a far uglier picture of a horrible war and the real sentiment of the American GI to get it over with and get home. The latter must be somewhat true given the deep reluctance Americans had about entering the European war that had begun two years before until Pearl Harbor. Then we were all in.

In his latest piece in The New York Times, Brett Stephens compares our current international situation to the one in 1941. Here’s what he finds:

First, just as there were three main adversaries for the U.S. in 1941 spread around the globe—Germany, Italy and Japan—there are three today in Russia, China and Iran.

Second, the conflicts are not just over land. There are deep philosophical and political differences between the western alliance of 2021 and the leadership and governance in Russia, China and Iran. These are all totalitarian states with autocratic centralized regimes controlling the population with violence and fear.

Third, the immediate land goals of our three adversaries are in a weak position to defend themselves whether that be Ukraine, Taiwan or the greater Middle East. The exception to the latter is Israel, but Israel is relatively small compared with Iran and its many proxies in the region in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

Fourth, the west is unfocused and uncommitted to freedom in the world. It was no accident Hitler picked on Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Austria first as the US sat on the sidelines. His mistake was taking on Russia, but even so, it was not Hitler that finally drew America into the war but the Japanese.

Fifth, we were not as strong relative to our enemies as we became after entering the Second World War. We may have the largest military in the world now but every war game scenario pitting the US against China in Taiwan has the Chinese victorious. We may be back in a Pearl Harbor moment where our battleships are all lined up and ready for destruction. The next war may well be waged not in outer space but in cyberspace. Are we prepared to win? What do we have that is equivalent to the atomic bomb in 1945? I hope it’s something.

Stephens readily admits that holes can be poked in his thesis, but there is enough scary about his scenario that worries me especially whether Joe Biden can mobilize us like FDR did should Russia invade the Ukraine, China invade Taiwan, or Iran bomb Tel Aviv.

I am reminded of that great line delivered by Sean Connery in Brian de Palma’s The Untouchables. “What are you prepared to do, Mr. Ness?”

This is a very dangerous time for America. The pandemic has weakened us and the pullout from Afghanistan has made us seem vulnerable. Mr. Biden threatens Putin with sanctions and the cancelling of the Politburo’s Visa cards. I’m not sure that will deter Putin. Chairman Xi can taste Taiwan and China has wanted to reclaim the island for 70 years. Iran is a second-rate trouble maker, but always a serious threat in the region and our allies there in the Sunni Gulf States may not be strong enough or reliable enough. If one or all of these enemies decides to invade a neighboring nation-state what is the U.S. going to do? It doesn’t matter if I know, but it matters that the President of the United States knows and be convincing enough to deter our enemies from trying to expand their territory at the expense of freedom in Ukraine, in Taiwan or in Israel.

What are you prepared to do Mr. Biden? Sanctions won’t be enough.

2 thoughts on “The Lesson Of Pearl Harbor”

    1. But we must if we are ever to get back there again. We kind of did after 9/11. We can do it. Just need some real leadership. None oon the horizon.

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