By Ryan Mulloy
December 6, 2001

Justine DiFillippie

It has been 60 years since everything changed. It has been 60 years since the United States stood on its feet and took a stand with a world at war. It has been 60 years since a day of infamy.

“Yesterday, Dec. 7, 1941-a date which will live in infamy-the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan,” President Franklin Roosevelt told Congress in an address on Dec. 8, 1941.

The world had been at war. World War II was being fought mercilessly in Europe by Germany, led by Adolf Hitler, and Italy, led by Benito Mussolini. Germany and Italy were both members of the Axis Powers, along with Japan.

While the war raged in Europe, the United States remained neutral and was seeking to keep peace with Japan. The topic of the talks was to secure peace in the Pacific, an area that Japan had been very interested in controlling in a “sphere of influence,” as Dr. Joylon Girard, professor of history and political science, said.

On Nov. 26, 1941, the United States Secretary of State spoke with and outlined the plans to secure peace in the Pacific with Japan’s ambassador. On Dec. 6, 1941, President Roosevelt sent a message to the Emperor of Japan, in an attempt to “restore traditional amity and prevent further death and destruction in the world.” It was finally on Dec. 7 that the President received a notice from Japan that found it “impossible to reach an agreement through further negotiations.” It was on that day as well that the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor.

A day of infamy like Pearl Harbor is almost impossible to imagine in this day and age. But almost three months ago, a younger generation had its own day of infamy. It is no big secret that on Sept. 11, 2001, the United States was attacked. Terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon after taking control of several commercial airplanes.

The two attacks both have their similarities and differences. “Something like Pearl Harbor happened on Sept. 11,” Dr. James Hedtke, chair of the history and political science departments, said. The major similarity is the surprise of the attack. On the mornings of Dec. 7, 1941 and Sept. 11, 2001, the United States and the citizens of the respective areas attacked had no idea what was about to hit them.

Another similarity is the way these conflicts have been fought. Both evils, the terrorists and the Japanese, were willing to die for their cause. On Sept. 11, terrorists boarded commercial flights, knowing they would be crashing them into buildings and committing suicide. Even today, the Taliban officials who surrender are still sneaking guns, attempting to continue to fight. During World War II, Japanese pilots were known as kamikaze pilots willing to crash their planes into targets in order to secure victory for their side. They had no fear of death.

Fear has remained constant though for the United States. Dr. Joseph Romano, professor of philosophy, remembers listening to the news about Pearl Harbor with his extended family. He also remembers the fear and the rumors circulating about a possible invasion of the west coast and the possibility of a German U-boat in Cape May. The fear is still in the United States. Worries continue to arise about anthrax or retaliation from terrorists, due to America’s attacks on the Taliban. Romano, who has been to New York twice since Sept. 11, was even stopped after coming out of the Lincoln tunnel on the day the United States bombed Afghanistan.

But while the list of similarities has a few notes, the list of the differences is staggering. “There weren’t many similarities,” Girard said, “except that it was a surprise. Any other comparison is ridiculous. There’s no real comparison with any other war.”

There are major differences Girard has noted. There was a different intent with the attacks on Pearl Harbor and Sept. 11. Japan had targeted a military site, to attempt to keep America out of their plans to control the Pacific. The intent of the terrorists in Washington D.C. and New York was to take civilian lives.

While surprise can be a factor in similarities, it can also be a difference. “Japan had a focus of surprise,” Hedtke said, “not terror. They had a clear cut goal.” Both incidents may have been surprises, but they were handled in two completely different manners. There was a lack of strategy in New York. Japan had planned everything perfectly as a military strike on a military target. Japan had their military objectives at Pearl Harbor. On the other hand, the terrorists had simply hijacked planes and took them into buildings.

The major difference though lies in the enemy of the attacks. “Pearl Harbor was a sovereign nation attacking a sovereign nation,” Girard said. The United States knew Pearl Harbor was an attack by Japan. It has taken some time to have concrete evidence with Sept. 11. Though that may be true, Girard said anyone who still doesn’t believe that Al Qeda and Osama bin Laden were behind it is “an idiot.”

But while an enemy can be identified and eliminated in one case, for the other it is much more complex. Japan was behind the attack at Pearl Harbor and was a country that America could go after. “There was no mask with Japan,” Hedtke said. To eliminate the enemies of Sept. 11 will be much harder work. They are terrorists. Girard compares the network of terrorism to Hydra, the many-headed serpent slain by Hercules according to Greek mythology. “It’s much more complicated and too widespread,” Girard said. “You can hurt Islamic Fundamental Terrorism and cut them off.”

Romano went as far as to say that the impact for Sept. 11 was greater, due to being on the coast that it happened. “There was no immediacy of danger,” Romano said. “To us, Hawaii was so far away.” The impact was far greater for Romano as well, since this attack was on U.S. soil on the main land.

These two conflicts have been either very similar or vastly different. Unlike Pearl Harbor, Romano says the war on terrorism is not a war that can be fought on the battlefield. And unlike World War II, there will be no V.E. Day or V.J. Day to signify the other side ending the war. There is no definite end.

Pearl Harbor was an attack with identifiable evils. It was an attack in which retaliation was not so complex. It changed the Unites States and its position in the world. Pearl Harbor was a defining moment. While there are comparisons and contrasts between these two events in history, only time will tell if Sept. 11 was as much of a defining moment. But Girard is sure to add, “If you have any friend that thinks this will be over by July 4, they’re wrong.”

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Ryan Mulloy

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