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December 7, 2005 [LINK]

Remembering Pearl Harbor

Japanese naval aircraft bombed the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor 64 years ago today, destroying most of our Pacific surface fleet and killing over 2,300 Americans. The memory of that unthinkably horrific shock remained seared in the American consciousness for many decades thereafter, even for us baby boomers who were born a decade or more later. This, in turn, had a huge influence on how Americans perceived external security threats. It is also interesting to note that while there were obvious lapses in intelligence in 1941, there was not much recrimination over it. Everyone understood that we were at war, and the most pressing issue was how to win, not second-guessing past slip-ups. That is one of the universal effects of war: It forges national unity by forcing citizens to realize that they either "hang together, or hang separately."

Time does funny things to our perception of events. The 9/11 attacks killed hundreds more people than died at Pearl Harbor, and yet somehow the sense of immediate alarm stemming from that awful day seems to be fading away, as hardly any video clips of the attacks and the aftermath are broadcast on television any more, for fear of upsetting someone. This, in turn, may explain why so many Americans seem so clueless about the nature of the global struggle we are in, and the part played by Iraq in that struggle. I am convinced, nevertheless, that for all its flaws, this country is simply too great, and this conflict too serious, to let silly partisan political spats weaken our resolve. I am willing to bet that the younger generation of Americans, for whom 9/11 was the first major historical event in their memory, will soon come to resent having that episode conveniently set aside by the mainstream news media barons. Ultimately, I think 9/11 will be ranked as a more important historical episode than Pearl Harbor.

Florida professor not guilty

Sami Al-Arian, a Kuwaiti-born Palestinian who used to teach engineering at the University of South Florida, was found not guilty on charges of conspiracy to aid terrorism by a Federal jury in Tampa. The jury deadlocked on several other charges, and he may be retried later. None of the three co-defendants were convicted either, after 13 days of deliberation. A representative of the Council on American-Islamic Relations praised the verdict; hopefully most of the members of CAIR will take this as a sign that all Americans, immigrants or not, have equal rights in our court system. See Washington Post. Al-Arian was active in Palestinian extremist groups, and was once videotaped exhorting a crowd with the chant of "Death to Israel." A friend of mine who has some inside knowledge about that controversy said that Al-Arian was just speaking metaphorically, but in these times, such inflammatory words cannot be eaily brushed off. It's like yelling "fire" inside a movie theater, but what he was doing was more important than what he was saying. Free speech is one thing; sedition is another.

As for this criminal trial, if the jury decided there wasn't enough evidence to convict, I can accept that. The verdict certainly does not constitute vindication for his promotion of terrorist-related groups. More generally, this case illustrates the limits of treating the campaign against terrorism as a problem of law enforcement. Since the evidence obtained by intelligence agencies often is not accpetabe in a court of law (where there is a high standard of proof, and a presumption of innocence), there will be many situations where extra-legal means of preventing anticipated terrorist attacks will be necessary. Such tactics (including "rendition" of terror suspects and coercive interrogation methods short of torture) do expose our government to the risk that rogue agents will go too far, however. That is why we need novel institutional means to oversee such operations, so that the Executive Branch does not gain too much power as the war is being waged. The PATRIOT Act will need to be tinkered with over and over again before we can arrive at a workable balance between security and justice.

Posted (or last updated or commented upon): 07 Dec 2005, 5: 38 PM

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