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Pearl Harbor and Sept. 11

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The 60th anniversary of Pearl Harbor is upon us just as Americans are looking for some perspective on the twin shocks of Sept. 11 - the terrorist strikes against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and their heartrending consequences.

Many observers have drawn a parallel between the two incidents. America lost its sense of invulnerability when Japanese Zero fighters caught the US Pacific Fleet off guard on a quiet Sunday morning, sinking most of its proud battleships and killing some 2,500 US servicemen. Sixty years later, Sept. 11 caused many of us to lose that sense anew.

The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor was by a visible enemy, and the US Congress responded with a declaration of war on Japan. Americans prosecuted the war with grim determination until Japan's total defeat four years later. The Sept. 11 attack, though causing about a thousand more fatalities than the Pearl Harbor attack, was carried out by an enemy much more difficult to target and pursue with precision - international terrorism. President Bush has used the language of a multifaceted war to describe what he is doing, and so far the campaign against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban has recorded some notable successes.

But the future remains murky. That is where the 60-year perspective afforded by Pearl Harbor may provide an insight into what America is all about.

Some years ago, I made my first visit to Pearl Harbor. As part of the Pacific Fleet's courtesy package for journalists, I was offered a tour of the naval base and a visit to the Arizona Memorial, which is built over water immediately above the final resting place of the USS Arizona. This was the battleship that had been sunk with almost all her crew aboard. The car sent to pick me up at my hotel was driven by an Asian woman in the uniform of a US Navy sailor. We got to talking and, recognizing her accent, I soon switched to Japanese.

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