A day that will live in infamy

Seventy-Five years ago tomorrow, 353 Japanese fighter planes, bombers, and torpedo planes launched from six aircraft carriers sneak-attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor.


There were eight battleships in the harbor. All were damaged and four were sunk. The Japanese also damaged or sank three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, and a mine layer. 188 aircraft were destroyed.

2403 Americans were killed. 64 Japanese attackers died.

America declared war on Japan the next day, and less than four years later, Japan, its population and resources exhausted and its cities in smoldering ruins, surrendered unconditionally.


Uh, what was the question again?

With the help of U.S. largess in the form of the Marshall Plan and the Allied Council led by Douglas MacArthur. Germany and Japan were rebuilt and gradually became economic superpowers that rival the U.S. Neither had to spend any money on their defense over the decades, and, along with everyone else, relied on the U.S. to be the world’s policeman.

Sixty years later, there was another sneak attack on American soil.


There were 2877 Americans killed in the 9/11 attacks, hundreds more than were killed at Pearl Harbor. Unlike Pearl Harbor, they were almost all civilians. Enemy losses: the 19 attackers died.

The whole world was aghast, and, for at least a few days, supported us.  They said, “We are all Americans”.

Student officers display a US giant nati

We are all Americans

After the 9/11 attacks, again unlike Pearl Harbor, the U.S. did not declare war on anyone. No war was declared on Saudi Arabia where almost all of the attackers came from, where the poisonous ideology behind the attacks was created and spread, and where the money and support for the attackers originated. Neither was war declared on Afghanistan, where the attackers had been given sanctuary to plan and train for the attacks,  and where the Taliban regime protected them as honored guests.

The U.S. figured the response should be a surgical one since, after all, the attack was launched by a only handful of fanatics, who certainly could not represent a widespread ideology or “movement”. We’re not the bad guys, after all, and the whole world supports us. Right?

Nothing happened for a few weeks while we ruminated on how to respond. Then, with smoke still rising at the World Trade Center, an operation was undertaken to root out the plotters in their mountain hideout.


But first, we thought we should re-create the success of the Marshall plan – no need to wait until we’ve beaten the bad guys. We need to win over the hearts and minds of all the poor people in Afghanistan who must hate the Taliban and who will regard us as liberators and saviors. And who would really like a western-style democracy, like everyone else. Right?

We started dropping not bombs but food on Afghanistan. They’ll love this! But it wasn’t that simple. They didn’t love it. They found fault. They liked to eat rice, bread, and meat but we were giving them peanut butter and beans and other things they didn’t care for.

They usually eat with their hands, but each American kit contained plastic cutlery and packs of salt and pepper! The directions on each packet were printed in English, French and Spanish; but Afghans speak Dari!

And the packages were the wrong color – they looked like bombs! And one hit a guy’s roof and caused some damage! And it wasn’t enough! They needed shoes, clothing, and meat, they said.

International aid agencies criticized us for combining military and humanitatian missions.

In other words, we’re monsters.

And we didn’t get the bad guys, either. They walked over to Pakistan and lived in protected luxury for another decade, plotting, propagandizing, and stirring up trouble the whole while.

Fifteen years after the attacks, the “war” is still going on, Americans are still dying in Afghanistan, and the entire region is in turmoil. And, all over the world, the “We are all Americans” thing is done forever, an embarrassing relic like your high school yearbook picture.

Where did it all go wrong?

Well, we weren’t doing too too well in Afghanistan, so, on March 20, 2003, we invaded Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with the attacks, and whose leadership hated the people responsible for them. It’s as if, after Pearl Harbor, we had decided to kick China’s ass. This, of course, is precisely what bin Laden had hoped for.

George W. Bush has been asked many times since then whether he thought the Iraq invasion was a mistake, and has almost always answered that “history will ultimately judge”. He is a content man.

Well, George, history’s verdict is in. March 20, 2003 is a day that will live in infamy.



2 thoughts on “A day that will live in infamy”

  1. Wow! Powerful , right on, column today. So many great parts, particularly the last few words that shock the reader. Your recent juxtaposing of the 1940s with current times and recent times is a powerful analytical device that helps give us a wider and deeper perspective on what is happening now.


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