Pearl Harbor Day, every year on 7 December, seems to get lost in the shuffle now that we’ve got a more recent surprise attack (that would be 9/11) seared into our collective memory. But it’s hard to overstate the significance of that day’s events and how the repercussions have shaped security in the Asia-Pacific region ever since.
John Lewis Gaddis, in his book Surprise, Security and the American Experience, compares a series of “shocks” to American security, including Pearl Harbor. He says that Americans, contrary to what might be supposed to be the typical reaction to a surprise attack (drawing inward), tend to expand their influence or scope of activity after an attack. It’s not hard to see that this is the case, based on Pearl Harbor – America entered World War II and fought for the next 4 years, afterwards cementing a dominant security position in the Asia-Pacific, largely to prevent another Pearl Harbor-like surprise attack from happening.
Post-9/11 America has similarly expanded her reach once again, projecting power most notably into the Middle East, but also into places here in the Asia-Pacific region (the US Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines is one example of this, advising and assisting the Armed Forces of the Philippines in a struggle against Muslim separatists in the southern Philippines allied with the larger al-Qaeda movement via their Southeast Asian arm, Jemaah Islamiyah).
Author James Bradley, who has a new book out that explores how US president Theodore Roosevelt inadvertently set the diplomatic conditions that would lead to the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, has a companion piece in the New York Times that encapsulates his argument. In it, he says