Today we mark the 75th anniversary of Dec. 7, 1941, "a date which will live in infamy," which it has, although I'm not certain we should keep hanging on to the bitterness of suffering a surprise attack. Not too many military engagements are won by announcing to the enemy where and when you are going to attack. I think what is more precisely meant by "surprise" is not that they snuck up on us but that there was no good reason they could give for doing it. (Of course they could, but that's another story.) Mostly I think it still rankles to this day, the idea that "we should have seen it coming."Obviously we didn't. The country in the 1930s was deep into isolationist denial. We didn't want to be involved in the damn world, so we pretty much ignored the atrocities the Japanese were committing in the far East and the Germans in Europe, even though to any sane person in the country it should have been obvious that things were going to get so bad that the United States would eventually have to get in. Pearl Harbor was the wake-up call that yanked us out of our self-induced stupor.
Once we were hit, the reaction was immediate. FDR rushed to Congress and demanded a declaration of war and got it in short order. The video of that short speech to a joint session of Congress has been played a lot in my lifetime, but I remember that it has mostly been the early part that gets the most play, But Ed Morrissey points out that Roosevelt made a key observation near the end about the need to recognize war when it arrives, rather than live within fantasies of peace:
I believe 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 very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.
Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.
Hostilities exist, and we must deal wth them. You don't go looking for a fight. But you always stay aware of the conditions that might be leading up to one. If the fight seems imminent, you still stay out of it unless there is absolutely no other choice. But once you're in it, you commit to winning it as quickly and decisively as you possibly can.That is the lesson of Pearl Harbor. We learned it pretty well, but we keep forgetting it so we have to relearn it over and over. 9/11 was at least as big a surprise as Pearl Harbor, in all the nuances of that word, and an even costlier wake-up call, 2,977 lives lost compared with 2,400 at Pearl Harbor. That attack should have told us we were at war. It was a war we should have seen coming but didn't. It was a war we should have committed to winning swiftly and decisively but didn't. How many Americans even still believe we are at war?
Yes, yes, I know, the war against radical Islam (not "war on terror," please) is different from the war against the Axis powers. Because it doesn't involve the usual attack and defense of borders, it can be hard to know when the war is over.
Here is Morrissey:
This is a point which we have lost in recent times, especially in the rise of non-state enemies such as al-Qaeda and ISIS. We pretended that a string of terrorist attacks in the 1990s were just a criminal issue rather than recognizing that hostilities exist after 9/11, a blindness that was not limited to one party or faction. It took us two years or more to fully realize that hostilities exist when al-Qaeda in Iraq mutated and metastasized into ISIS after our withdrawal from Iraq, and now they have spread to north Africa and even into Afghanistan.
[. . .]
December 7th, therefore, is a moment to remember those who died while valiantly trying to fight off that sneak attack, but also to remember that constant vigilance is the cost of liberty and independence. We should not seek out battles and wars, but we should not shirk from hostilities when they do arise.
Don't look for a fight. Be aware of conditions that might develop into a fight. When the fight seems imminent, still avoid it unless it is the only option. Once in the fight, commit to win it as quickly and decisively as possible.
Hope Donald Trump sees it that way.