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TideWriters Tales
Pearl Harbor and the Twin Towers
By Don McCauley

    Not since Pearl Harbor has our nation sustained an act of aggression of the magnitude of the attack on the World Trade Center. As so many commentators and analysts have noted, the similarities and differences are striking. Both were surprise attacks that did or will change our way of life, but Pearl Harbor was basically an attack on the military establishment, not civilians, and left no doubt about who the enemy was.

    Following Pearl Harbor, those of us who were physically able and within the age limits, joined the Military Services. The course of action was as clear as the enemy’s face. This time there is no clear course of action.
Although our resolve is evident, it appears that there may never be a final conclusion equivalent to the September 2, 1945 signing of the surrender of Japan aboard the Missouri in Tokyo Bay. I was privileged to be flying in a B-29 over those ceremonies. It signified the end of a long hard battle for all of us, civilians and military personnel alike. The battle against terrorists may never have a sharp recognizable end.

    Since 1945, the Japanese have become our friends, something that was unthinkable during World War II. Is it possible to attain the same goal with the terrorists? Unfortunately, it will probably not occur during my lifetime. In World War II it was impossible to lose focus of the objective. Fighting became more intense as the war progressed, and every radio and paper kept pace. But this time, as a nation, we can not become complacent, lower our guard and let something of the magnitude of the recent attack take place again. Even if we apprehend the people responsible, others will spring up in their places. The risk is that if the terrorists go underground and hide for a year or two, we will go back to “normal” and forget the danger.

    If I were a terrorist, I would not only want to be invisible for awhile, I would be planning something entirely different than the attack on the World Trade Center. Security will be tightened on commercial airline travel, so I would use an entirely different approach; another surprise of an entirely different sort. That would not mean that smaller, annoyance attacks would not continue. All the men trained to do the job would have to be placated.

    I know first hand what the explosion of a fuel-laden aircraft can do. I was in a B-29 that crashed, the fuel tanks exploded and the plane became a molten mass of metal. Importantly, that was true even though we had used up most of the fuel flying from Guam to Japan and back. I survived only because I was in the tail, which broke off and flipped away from the main part of the plane about the length of a football field. In order to inflict maximum damage, it is not surprising that the terrorists chose flights that would be fully loaded with fuel for a long flight. Even so, they probably did not envision the magnitude of devastation they caused and are surely exalting over that success now. Except for the planning and training, the terrorists spent essentially nothing to cause us billions of dollars in damages. The airlines provided the “bombs.”

    Commentators have been using an expression that bothers me, “the cowardly attack….” A more apt description might be “dedicated.” None of us agree with their beliefs or actions, but try to imagine our roles reversed. Suppose you were trained for and asked to perform a suicide mission to protect the United States and you did it. Would your fellow Americans call you a coward? Hardly. You would be called a hero. The concept of suicide missions is not new. Remember the Japanese kamikaze pilots of World War II? Then and now, our enemies’ perspectives are different than ours, something we need to keep in mind for the future. 

© 2001 Don McCauley All Rights Reserved

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