December 7th is the day when people world wide gather together to thank the Japanese people for inadvertently saving modern civilization.
Okay, we don’t, but we should.
If the Japanese had never attacked Pearl Harbor it is likely that America might have never entered WWII or might have done so bitterly divided. The events of December 7th 1941 so united the country that ever afterward we forgot just how viciously divided we truly were. We Americans like to think that we heroically rose up and saved the world but in truth Japan’s attack shoved us into action. Until that point, most Americans happily crammed their heads in the sand while calling those warning of the dangers of Fascism warmongers motivated by greed or manipulated by Jews. (Sound Familiar?) In those days, Republicans opposed entering the fight while Democrats wanted to get more involved. Even after December 7th, Republicans and their newspapers for months called WWII “Roosevelt’s War” and blamed him for failing to prevent it by diplomacy.
If Japan had followed a more subtle strategy of making false concessions on China while slowly provoking the Dutch in Indonesia, they may have seized their pacific empire without going to war with America or by provoking America into declaring war first. In either case, American moral and willingness to fight the war to the bitter end would have been severely compromised. American technology, training and doctrine were far inferior to that of the Japanese during the first months of WWII. Only by slowly gaining experience against reduced Japanese forces at the far end of their supply lines did Americans learn what did and did not work. If the Japanese had lured the US into a massive fleet battle near their own home waters they likely would have devastated the American fleet. The Republicans of that era would have loved to lay the entire debacle at Roosevelt’s feet, drive him from power and wall America off from the rest of the world. Japan could have kept her empire and Hitler might have never declared on America without the drama December 7th to provoke him.
Liberal-democracies question ourselves and this questioning, while our greatest strength, also creates an opportunity for a devious enemy. If the enemy does not present to much of an immediate or dramatic threat, they can get a liberal-democracy to spend more time asking about its own sins rather than the enemies. There are always political factions willing to advance the argument that the true ultimate cause of the enemy’s actions is really the immoral or stupid actions of the faction’s internal social and political opponents.
The Soviet Union exploited this fault adroitly. They succeeded in conquering half the world’s population until they overplayed their hand. Following their astounding success in Indochina, they successfully subverted 3 to 4 countries a year for nearly a decade before that very success lead to a crippling arrogance. One does have to wonder if they had never invaded Afghanistan and the price of oil had remained artificially high whether the Cold War would still be ongoing. The Soviets could have just continued to nibble away at the world while many in the free-world blocked any kind of effective response.
The Islamist too might have overplayed their hand with 9/11. Until that day, most Americans viewed terrorism as an annoyance that occurred in foreign lands. Yet the Islamist can and do confidently depend on political factions within the West advancing their own self-interest by frustrating the war. They might yet win. The same people who helped the Soviets along seem quite eager to do the same for the Islamist. If they revert to a less dramatic strategy and just nibble away over time they can easily gain control of the Islamic lands.
Who knows, perhaps we can survive attack after attack while a significant segment of our polity tries to convince the rest of us that we deserve it. So far our modern enemies have largely done themselves in. Perhaps our luck streak will continue indefinitely.
In the meantime, buy your Japanese friends a beer or raise a glass to a portrait of Isoroku Yamamoto and thank them for their reckless boldness. May all the enemies of freedom and democracy have such faults.