MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. — Seventy years ago this week, Japanese Cmdr. Mitsuo Fuchida led an airborne strike force of 49 “Kate” bombers, 40 torpedo bombers, 51 “Val” dive bombers and 43 “Zeke” fighters on the first wave of an attack on Pearl Harbor and plunged America into World War II. At 9:45 that terrible Sunday morning, a second wave of 167 attack aircraft added to the devastation. By the time the surprise attack was over, 3,581 Americans were dead or wounded; the largest naval anchorage in the Pacific was littered with sunken and burning U.S. warships; the best dry dock and ship repair facilities west of California were in shambles; and less than 25 percent of U.S. military aircraft based in Hawaii were still operational.
The Dec. 7, 1941, attack was but the first blow in a cascade of disasters. The following day, as imperial troops invaded the Philippines, Congress declared war on Japan. On Dec. 11, fascist Italy and then Nazi Germany declared war on the U.S. in support of their Axis partners in Tokyo. By then, nearly a half-million young Americans already had visited military recruiting stations volunteering to fight, and the phrase “Remember Pearl Harbor” was becoming a watchword. When the conflagration finally ended in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945, more than 16 million men and women had served in the U.S. armed forces.
All of that and more was recounted this week in Hawaii at what is likely to be the last major reunion of those who survived the surprise attack. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was there to thank the handful of survivors gathered near the sunken hull of the USS Arizona — a watery tomb for most of the 1,177 sailors who died aboard the battleship on that “day of infamy.”
Secretary Panetta’s remarks, praising the courage and resolve of those who were there that dreadful day, were appropriate — and predictable. It’s what he didn’t say that is important. He didn’t acknowledge the massive intelligence failures and lack of “situational awareness” in Washington that allowed such a horrific surprise attack to occur. Nor did he mention that America’s poor preparations for war resulted in the loss of every engagement with the Japanese from Dec. 7, 1941, until the Battle of Midway, which started June 4, 1942.
Absent from reflections on what happened at Pearl Harbor 70 years ago was any acknowledgment of culpability for those in Washington who dismissed Japanese communications intercepted and decrypted at Station HYPO that could have forewarned the defenders in Hawaii and the Philippines. Unmentioned in this week’s commemoration were the shortages of weapons, personnel — even searchlights — that prompted commanders to park scores of U.S. aircraft on Oahu wingtip to wingtip so they could be protected from sabotage.
No one who spoke at the 70th anniversary ceremonies explained how a paucity of spare parts, fuel and navigation equipment — the consequence of inadequate appropriations — sorely limited how many long-range patrol aircraft could be dispatched simultaneously to provide early warning. Nor did anyone address how President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his closest advisers simply ignored warnings from Dutch and British military officers and his own Pacific Fleet commander, Adm. Husband E. Kimmel, about Japanese threats to U.S. security.
Perhaps Panetta chose not to mention these matters contributing to the devastation at Pearl Harbor because they would cause Americans to reflect on what is transpiring today in Washington. The Obama administration refuses to identify the clear and present danger that radical Islam poses to the United States. The O-Team still refers to the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks on Manhattan and the Pentagon — and those who seized United Flight 93 — as “extremists.” The administration describes the murder of 13 people at Fort Hood, of which Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan is accused, as “workplace violence.”
For three years, the Obama White House and State Department have virtually ignored Iranian progress in acquiring nuclear weapons. They filed a “protest” when Iranian agents were caught plotting the assassination of foreign diplomats in our nation’s capital.
In a manner akin to FDR’s dismissing Allied alarms about Japan prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Obama White House discounts warnings from Israel about existential threats from Iran. Having claimed credit for an “Arab Spring,” the administration is now mute about the triumph of radical Islamists in last week’s Egyptian elections and the brutal Iranian-guided suppression of civil protests in Syria.
This week, while the defense secretary was in Hawaii, we learned that the White House vetoed plans by military commanders to recover or destroy an errant remotely piloted aircraft before the Iranians could get their hands on the high-tech device. Meanwhile, the U.S. defense budget is being savaged in Congress. Clearly, Washington has forgotten to “Remember Pearl Harbor.”