On Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese warplanes flew out of the vast Pacific and launched a surprise attack on the U.S. naval fleet at Pearl Harbor and the U.S. Army’s Schofield Barracks. America’s response was magnificent.
A “draft” for universal military service was instituted. Even the wealthy and influential served. Graduated income taxes were raised to pay for the war. The sale of “war bonds” was vigorously promoted to help finance the war. Some things were rationed including, for example, automobile tires. Major manufacturing corporations converted production from consumer goods to military equipment. Henry J. Kaiser’s steel mills and shipyards produced “Liberty” ships in only 17 days, and Henry Ford’s Willow Run plant near Detroit sent a new B-24 bomber to the runway every 63 minutes.
Despite some “snafus,” the U.S. civil leaders and military planners managed the war very well. The U.S. accepted the final surrender only three years and nine months after the first bomb exploded in Hawaii. The United States then implemented the Marshall Plan to promote economic recovery. Our primary enemies during World War II, Japan and Germany, are now prosperous, respected, and well-governed states. For the United States, WW II was an era of cooperation, shared sacrifice, and accomplishment.
On Sept. 11, 2001, a very small group of fanatics financed by an estranged Saudi, Osama bin Laden, launched another surprise attack on the United States. America’s response was not magnificent.
The diabolical surprise attack on American civilians generated worldwide support for a vigorous American response. The world’s citizens believed that America had a right to go after bin Laden. But America’s botched response soon turned that good will into animosity. America initially went after bin Laden in his sanctuary but then abandoned the effort and launched a destructive attack on Iraq, an innocent country that had no role in bin Laden’s atrocity. The U.S. soon expanded military operations to several Middle Eastern countries and some African countries, often applying force indiscriminately, thus creating enemies where none previously existed. The U.S. stooped to rendition and torture of prisoners, acts that garnered no respect.
The U.S. government financed the war by borrowing, a debt that still exists and will be passed to future generations.
On the home front, the government amplified secret surveillance of American citizens to such an extreme degree that it now resembles the tactics of a police state. Wounded soldiers were disgracefully neglected until public pressure brought demands for reform.
Our operations have destabilized much of the Middle East and parts of Africa. There have been no victories or surrenders and there won’t be. The American response to bin Laden was called a “war against evil” or a “war on terror.” That kind of enemy cannot surrender and cannot be defeated, thus raising the possibility of endless war. Our excessive and mismanaged response made bin Laden much more successful than he could have imagined. The American cooperation and accomplishment of the WW II era have been replaced with divisiveness and lack of success in our current era.
(Stevenson, who lives in Houston, Texas, served two years in Vietnam as an infantry officer, retired from military service, and worked three years as a U.S. Civil Service employee. He also worked in Egypt as an employee of the former Radio Corporation of America (RCA). Currently, he reads history, follows issues important to Americans, and writes commentary.)