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As Long as We Remember...

September 12, 2006

Loss of Innocence

Roy Meachum

Part of Americans' charm, I've been told, is the way we retain a heaping measure of naiveté. Whatever the tragedy we put it squarely behind us. As a nation we have been called self-perpetuating virgins. We forget everything so that anything coming down the pike is new.

Monday marked the fifth anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Towers. There were ceremonies. Speeches in which politicians sought to justify themselves; a tear or two for the tragedy's victims. Nothing new. In time the commemorations will wear out. It's happened before.

No national trauma lingers from Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, a day of infamy, our president at the time proclaimed.

Matching casualty figures from Pearl Harbor with those from 2001's losses in lower Manhattan make no real sense. The United States claimed less than 135 million in 1941. Today's experts estimate some 300 million men, women and children will count as Americans by sometime next year. Even with that spelled out, fewer Americans died five years ago: an estimated 3,030 compared to 3,435 on Black Sunday.

By the way, 9/11 and December 7 both happened on U.S. soil. The real difference in that regard comes in the fact that Hawaii's out there several thousand miles across in the Pacific and New York sits in the middle of the densely populated northeast. The Pentagon, of course, is much, much closer to Frederick.

There but for the grace of God, an old saying begins; the hijacked jetliners could have smashed into the Patrick Center; after all a Pennsylvania field absorbed the last plane, its passengers and crew. You can speculate that Camp David might have been a target. Why not? I'm sure some conspiracy theorists long ago played that game.

Sixty-five years ago it was easy to place the blame. The Empire of the Rising Sun had hit Pearl Harbor to remove the threat of the U.S. Navy at its back. The Japanese wanted to be free to plunder Indonesia, Vietnam and all of Southeast Asia. Did they intend to invade the American homeland? I've never read they did. Not alone.

Hitler's megalomania rose higher than the moon. The Russian winter had yet to freeze his war machine in place. He had sent his troops east without even heavy coats. Before the spring began to melt the snow, German women were being asked to donate their furs.

When the Japanese set their Pearl Harbor operation in play, though, the Red Army had virtually collapsed. Moreover, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel's Africa Corps had Britain's Eighth Army in full retreat and seemed poised to grab Cairo and the Suez Canal.

Like Mussolini two years before, Tokyo's war lords may have been afraid to miss out on the loot that victory would bring. In the event, America was rejected by the Axis powers as incapable of fighting back.

It cannot be imagined Osama Bin Laden underestimated this nation as badly. Contrary to the politicians' charges, there has yet to be unearthed any plan for al-Qaeda's next act. They did their best on September 11. It would be difficult to imagine how their aggression against the West could ever reach those heights again. Although terrible, London and Madrid didn't come close.

Racism has very much dominated our response. That's the only explanation for why U.S. armed forces were pulled out of Afghanistan when they job was still half done; and why they invaded Iraq with approximately half the strength the Army chief of staff told a Senate committee was needed. The deficiencies in armor and other vital elements were tossed off by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld: "You fight wars with what you got."

In recent days we have been inundated repeatedly with attempts to link 9/11 to Saddam Hussein and his threat to the civilized world, despite official reports that point out there was no connection between Iraq and the World Trade Towers attack. I'm reminded of the Harvard professor's warning: He who fails to learn history's lessons are doomed to repeat them.

The United States aligned itself with Israel's policy of savaging Lebanon and its people for Hezbollah's presence on their soil. Both Washington and Tel Aviv nixed turning the country's army into a formidable entity. It remained little more than a police force when IDF tanks rolled over the border and the killing began.

George W. Bush pointedly delayed calling for a cease fire at Israel's request, back in the weeks when the invaders' announced goal was the elimination, at least totally disarming, the Muslim guerrillas. It never happened. Instead Tel Aviv managed to squander its troops' reputation as a formidable and forbidding force.

At the same time, the hundreds of innocents who fell victims to the show of overwhelming arms increased the free world's animosity towards the Jewish state, where anyone who denies the small nation what it wants becomes automatically anti-Semite. Trading on the literally millions lost to Hitler's Holocaust, the cries are now losing their efficacy.

The condemnation of Israel has absolutely nothing to do with religion, except in the sense that all faiths reject violent solutions to problems. Except in self-defense, none of them condones killing. Having dismissed Arabs for centuries as meaningless barbarians, we are demonizing them all as capable of foisting off any atrocity. We did the same thing to the Japanese during World War II.

Speaking of remembering historic events, even Abraham Lincoln had it wrong. Gettysburg's fallen have been not "little" forgotten but relegated to flashing lights on a board that show how events proceeded in early July 1863.

What a pity!

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