- The Washington Times - Friday, December 7, 2001

Ever since September 11, comparisons and contrasts have been made between the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941, that brought the United States into World War II and what President Bush has called the beginning of the "first war in the 21st century."

Although today's 60th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack still looms large in American history, its initial imprint was much different from that of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The front pages of newspapers the day after Pearl Harbor were not consumed with war news, as were those on Sept. 12, 2001. The Dec. 8, 1941, issue of the New York Times, for example, had a page-one story on the United Mine Workers and their pursuit of union-shop rights.

Americans gathered by their radios on Sunday, December 7, for news about the attacks, but President Franklin D. Roosevelt who had inaugurated "fireside chats" with radio listeners as early as 1933 made no address that day, and regular radio programming continued throughout most of the evening.

Pearl Harbor's distant location in Hawaii, then a U.S. territory rather than a state, was one reason for the wait-and-see reaction. Another factor was that FDR was busy meeting with advisers and Cabinet members on Sunday.

His wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, did participate in a live broadcast December 7 designed to calm likely fears among the public, an emotional address akin to her husband's inaugural speech during the deepening Great Depression, with his oft-quoted line "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

"You cannot escape anxiety," said Mrs. Roosevelt, "you cannot escape the clutch of fear at your heart, and yet I hope that the certainty of what we have to meet will make you rise above those fears. … I feel as though I were standing upon a rock, and that rock is my faith in my fellow citizens."

Similar to the effect of the September 11 attacks on those living on the East Coast, the Pearl Harbor crisis stirred the most fear among West Coast residents closest to Hawaii. San Francisco and Seattle immediately moved to initiating blackouts to guard against more Japanese attacks.

Other details of the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack were similar to those of September 11, 2001. In 1941, civilian air traffic throughout the nation was halted until Dec. 11, patriotism sprouted, and security quickly increased. But perhaps the most significant similarity between the two events is that both catapulted New York City mayors to positions of national leadership.

Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, like Rudolph W. Giuliani, was an Italian-American mayor with impressive credentials. Both men were born in New York City. Both worked for government at home and in Washington. LaGuardia served as deputy attorney general of the Empire State as well as a member of the House of Representatives. Also like Mr. Giuliani, LaGuardia attended New York University Law School.

LaGuardia served as mayor of New York from 1934 to 1945 and was president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors for all but two of those years. When the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred, LaGuardia was not only mayor of New York City but, from May 1941, also held the post of director of the Office of Civil Defense a situation that led to controversy in New York and the nation's capital.

However, LaGuardia was never ruffled on December 7, 1941, or at other times as a city and federal official. After news of the Japanese attack was received, he immediately ordered the positioning of security guards at the city's bridges and tunnels. The city's firefighters and police officers went on alert, as did air-raid officials. LaGuardia also made himself available to the news media, which broadcast his remarks by late Sunday afternoon.

LaGuardia's subsequent enthusiastic campaign to keep the city on alert, as well as to encourage Americans across the nation to volunteer for civil-defense work, created controversy. He was forced to share his federal power with another official, and by February 1942, to resign and head only New York City's civilian-defense program.

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