- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 22, 2001

Hooray for Hollywood. This year Tinsel Town will mark Memorial Day with a blockbuster designed to help all of us remember an event Franklin Roosevelt declared would "live in infamy."

Coming at this juncture, however, "Pearl Harbor" The Movie, promises to be far more than diverting summer entertainment. It may prove a real public service provided it serves to counteract the failure of America´s intellectual elite to recall, if not the Japanese surprise attack on the United States´ premier naval facility in December 1941, then the valuable lessons to be learned from that military disaster.

As it happens, certain politicians, pundits and editorial writers are now assuring the American people that we need not fear a surprise attack against this country. They aver that we can safely perpetuate our present unpreparedness, even though a growing number of dangerous nations are acquiring long-range ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) a combination with the potential to cause devastation in this country that would make the tragic loss of some 2,000 lives at Pearl Harbor look like a day at the beach.

Some "experts" blithely dismiss President Bush´s determination to build an effective U.S. anti-missile system on the grounds that no nation would dare to attack the United States with weapons like ballistic missiles that leave a "return address." Such attacks are unlikely, they say, because they would invite an assured retaliation from this country so destructive as to make the initial strike suicidal for the attacker.

Presumably, the film due to be released this Friday will share with the American viewing public the warning given to the Japanese high command by Adm. Yamamoto Isoroku the brilliant strategist who planned and executed the attack on Oahu. He told them that, apart from the unlikely prospect that the United States would be so demoralized at the loss of its Pacific fleet that it would sue for peace on Imperial Japan´s terms, the ultimate result would be eventual and certain defeat for the Land of the Rising Sun.

In the event, while the decision to inflict mortal harm on the U.S .in 1941 may have made no sense to us, another nation for its own reasons decided to undertake it. The attack on Pearl Harbor proved to be, as Yamamoto predicted, an act of suicide for most of the leaders of the Japanese Empire, as well as one of premeditated homicide for millions of others throughout the Pacific and Asian mainland.

The case for missile defense today is made even stronger by the fact that ballistic missiles offer nations like North Korea, Iran or Libya another option. What if such a rogue state chose merely to threaten the launch of WMD-equipped ballistic missiles in order to dissuade an undefended United States from resisting its acts of local aggression?

We should recall that it was a near-run thing when George Bush Sr. decided to ask Congress for permission to repel Saddam Hussein´s invasion of Kuwait. Even in the absence of a proven Iraqi capability to inflict mass destruction at will on the United States, the vote in the Senate was extremely close. Would we have gone forward with the build-up to Operation Desert Storm let alone the Gulf war itself if Washington ,New York or some other place in America could have been credibly threatened with annihilation?

Certainly, as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has repeatedly pointed out, we could not have counted on our allies to participate in the Grand Coalition if their capitals had been in the cross-hairs. Now that many of them are coming within range of Iranian and Libyan missiles, alliance solidarity in future collective defense actions cannot be reliably assumed.

This reality makes all the more ironic indeed, Orwellian the title chosen for a new organization reportedly being formed to fight the Bush missile defense initiative. According to Sunday´s edition of The Washington Post, "nearly 100 Democratic experts on defense and foreign policy have formed a group called Americans for Forward Engagement." Their first priority apparently is to help fellow partisans in Congress to block the deployment of effective anti-missile systems.

How, one might ask, will the United States be able to perform "forward engagement" if neither its own troops nor its allies are defended against extant, let alone emerging, missile threats? Under what circumstances will the American people be willing to engage on behalf of their own interests (let alone distant allies´) overseas if, by so doing, they invite mega-Pearl Harbor attacks against their families and communities at home, from even Third World countries?

The truth of the matter is that the "usual suspects" opposed to missile defense the Clinton team that wasted eight years and billions of dollars that could and should have been used to develop and deploy needed anti-missile systems and their friends in academe, arms control activist cells, the press and foreign capitals think the only forms of "engagement" that serve U.S. interests are trade and disarmament agreements. Most no longer admit they oppose missile defenses; it turns out, for good reason, that is an untenable position politically. Instead, they conjure up misleading and disingenuous reasons for opposing anti-missile defenses, excuses that they hope will attract more popular support from a public duped by false claims that defenses cannot work, are unaffordable or will actually reduce our security.

If, as must be hoped, "Pearl Harbor" serves to remind the American people about the abiding dangers of surprise attack and the costs of unpreparedness, the critics of missile defense should be put on notice: It is irresponsible to persist in policies that effectively ignore emerging threats and condemn this country to a posture of vulnerability a posture that may in the future insidiously distort U.S. security policies and/or cost the lives of many of our countrymen. Should such possibilities eventuate, moreover, those responsible must be expect to be judged even more harshly than were those held accountable for the disaster at Pearl Harbor. After all, the former will have known about, yet forgotten, the lessons of that first Day of Infamy.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is the president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.


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