I remember the comparisons made to Pearl Harbor in the aftermath of September 11th, 2001 well, especially one newspaper headline that placed above a photo of the burning World Trade towers the word “Infamy.” A nod to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s famous words: “Yesterday, December 7th, 1941, a date which will live in infamy …”
At first glance, both events seem one and the same: an unprovoked attack on U.S. soil which caught us badly by surprise. However, I believe both events cannot be more dissimilar upon close examination. What took place on Oahu, Hawaii, on December 7th, 1941, was an act of war committed by one nation against another. What took place on the Eastern Seaboard of the continental United States on September 11th, 2001, was committed by a small band of international thugs bent on mass murder, not war.
While the U.S. Army, Navy and Marine Corps units on Oahu were caught on the jump on December 7th, many if not all possessed the means to fight back, as for example the stirring feat of valor done by John Finn at Kaneohe Naval Air Station in which he manned a machine gun out on the base’s seaplane ramp and fired and fired at the attacking Japanese Zeroes, despite being so badly exposed he suffered numerous flesh wounds.
Not only did Finn survive both the attack and the war, he won the Medal of Honor and lived to the ripe old age of 100. By contrast, only the passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 93 fought back against the terrorists on September 11th. The other passengers and crew aboard the three other hijacked planes made no attempt to resist, perhaps out of a belief that they were being hijacked for ransom or other demands like in so many other airline hijackings in the past.
Finally, December 7th saw warrior pitted against warrior; September 11th saw murderous thugs against innocents. A more appropriate WWII event that 9/11 could be compared to is, perhaps, the infamous Rape of Nanking. There too, innocents were the target, in this case Chinese civilians and POWs who were murdered by the hundreds by the invading Japanese Army in a destructive orgy that raged for six weeks after the city was captured on December 13th, 1937.
Such a comparison admittedly would rub sensibilities in Japan raw due to decades of denial about Nanking by the Japanese government, but I believe comparing it to 9/11 is a far more apt comparison than Pearl Harbor due to the reasons I have expressed above.