The sleeping giant of 1941 and of America today

This editorial ran on the Opinion page of the Lewiston Tribune Sept. 13, 2001.


Not surprisingly, the terrorist attacks of Tuesday reminded many of what happened after Pearl Harbor — a stubborn, unstoppable American response that was actually forecast by Admiral Yamamoto, who conceived and carried out that 1941 Japanese attack.

When the extent of the success of his pilots became apparent and underlings congratulated Yamamoto, the admiral, who had always doubted what he had been asked to do, saw the world more clearly: “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant,” he said.

He was right, of course. The attack on Pearl Harbor enraged, united and focused the nation as never before. Japan had foolishly attacked a large, strong, wealthy nation, a nation that would win its part of World War II, not just with the bravery of its warriors but with the astounding productivity of its factories.

From Pearl Harbor forward, it was just a matter of time before the United States and its allies moved inexorably all the way across the Pacific and into Japan itself.

What happened Tuesday is far different in some respects. Pearl Harbor was the attack of one nation on another with an obvious target for retribution. Tuesday’s attack probably was the work of a small band of fanatics. Worse, it is merely one of many little collections of bizarrely hateful people in many unrelated movements who periodically attack institutions and innocent people in countries all over the world.

Nonetheless, the people of this country — and apparently in most other countries — are wide awake now, as they were in the wake of Pearl Harbor. There is suddenly a broad recognition that any number can play this savage game and all nations are targets. So the response will be multilateral, a unified sharing of information, tactics and military responses.

Nonetheless, it is not insignificant that the terrorists this week have roused a sleeping giant on this continent in particular, a nation now 10 times as strong as the America attacked in 1941. This is today an extraordinarily wealthy nation that spent Soviet communism to its knees. Perhaps more significantly in the context of terrorists, this is an educated, technologically gifted nation that, when it bears down, is capable of making the precision work of Tuesday’s terrorist attacks look like children playing with crude toys.

Once roused to the full potential of its bottomless resources, this is the last nation anybody would want on his tail. And it is now motivated in ways that should prove sobering to those who have done this and to any others who may trouble America or its friends. — B.H.