Who will remember the original meaning of “Day of Infamy” when the old men are long gone? That was the question on my mind today as I looked at the photos of elderly veterans, now well into their 80’s and 90’s, gathered on a pier in Hawaii for the 65th anniversary of the day that once was considered the most grievous attack on the United States, the 1941 Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor that triggered World War II in the Pacific. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared December 7, 1941 “a date which will live in infamy.”
The front pages of most major newspapers today were full of headlines about another war, a war that has now officially run on longer than WWII. The report of the Iraq Study Group says that it’s time to bring the War in Iraq to a conclusion, and the report sets forth some strategies to achieve that objective. But the question debated throughout this day is whether President Bush will actually accept the recommendations of the report.
At a luncheon downtown today, I actually heard Tony Snow, President Bush’s press secretary, repeat the well-worn rhetoric about staying to achieve “victory” in Iraq, language that almost no one — from lawmakers to generals to the new Defense Secretary Robert Gates — is using today. I found myself wondering if he really had heard James Baker and Lee Hamilton speak yesterday, if he had really listened to the testimony of Secretary Gates before the Senate Armed Services Committee. In what seems to be a standard script for this White House, to make the case for this war Mr. Snow invoked images from another day that some have also called a “day of infamy” — September 11, 2001.
September 11 was a terrible day, a horrible tragedy for this nation. But unlike World War II, where the U.S. reacted with full military might against Japan after the clear provocation of the Pearl Harbor attack, the U.S. launched the War in Iraq as a pre-emptive strike, not defensive reaction, against an enemy that’s not really a nation at all, but a shadowy band of international murderers aka terrorists aka Al Qaeda. The theory was that Iraq (or at least Saddam Hussein) was somehow, possibly connected to the terrorism of September 11. No proof of this link has emerged even after four long years of war and thousands of lives lost, a culture ruined and on the brink of even worse catastrophe.
Like the days after Pearl Harbor, the American people after 9/11 were united and willing to accept war as a necessary means to defend our nation. But unlike World War II, the wars that evolved in response to 9/11 — the War on Terror, the War in Afghanistan, the War in Iraq — have become increasingly lost in their own distinctive fog of violence, chaos and deception on many fronts.
I can think of no better way to honor this “Day of Infamy” and the veterans of World War II and all wars than by embracing the possibility of a peaceful future for Iraq. With the strategy of war so clearly refuted by so many knowledgeable people in both political parties and in nations around the world, isn’t it time to give peace a chance?