Pearl Harbor: 6 Things We Should Remember to Avoid Repeating History (Pt. 1)

The conditions that led to the Pearl Harbor attack in Hawaii exist today, on an even broader scale.

Wallace Henley Portrait
Wallace Henley is an exclusive CP columnist. |

The United States was in a high state of vulnerability on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941 – a date President Franklin Roosevelt declared would "live in infamy." But it was also a day full of lessons vital for our times.

Enemies probe the vulnerable points and seek to exploit them, as the Japanese did. States whose strategic thinking is based on delusion are the most exposed.

Hillary Clinton was right December 3 when she said at George Washington University that the United States should use "every tool and partner" in pursuit of peace. But then Mrs. Clinton said America should try to "empathize" with its enemies, understanding their "perspective and point of view."

One can trust empathetic leaders who are also realists, but progressives are prone to romantic idealism which forms delusory policies that make their nations more vulnerable. Here are six varieties:

1—The delusion of invulnerability

America in the first half of the 20th century was still under the spell of 18th century manifest destiny doctrine (the idea of the inherent right to westward expansion), the adventurism of Theodore Roosevelt, the idealism of Woodrow Wilson, and the seemingly heroic stature of Franklin D. Roosevelt. American Christianity too easily became a syncretism of the Bible and the cultural ethos of that period (as it is now in a much different way).

Albrecht Furst von Urach was a Nazi journalist stationed at one point in Tokyo. Writing in 1942, von Urach characterized Japan's 80-year rise to "world power" status as "the greatest miracle in world history." The secret was the Samurai spirit, and its idea of the nobility of warfare, made transcendent in the Zen Buddhism and Shintoism of the era, thought von Urach. Japan's army was a "spiritual school," favoring the "strength of the spirit over the strength of the material."1

America's sense of invulnerability resulted in a lack of preparedness. Japan's delusionary confidence in her invulnerability drew her to overreach, and launch war against a foe that would guarantee her defeat and humiliation.

2—The delusion of isolation

Both the United States and Japan floated happily on the huge oceans that isolated them from combatants whose backyards bordered one another. American manifest destiny had thrust her westward, but so had the Japanese belief in its right to establish and dominate a "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere."

Both felt safe to pursue those interests because of their isolation. Wincing from the agonies of the First World War, the U.S. Congress rejected President Wilson's drive to link America with the League of Nations, and that attitude continued in the minds of many until the isolationist delusion was shattered on December 7, 1941.

3—The delusion of non-engagement

Attempts at appeasement of Hitler by Britain and France, along with American isolationism were among the factors leading to the rise of Hitler and the Second World War, says Victor David Hanson.2

Some in 1930s Britain, including members of the royal family, saw Hitler as a dynamic, progressive leader. There was no need to engage by rearming, and the warnings of Churchill were seen as the ravings of an irrelevant, spent politician. France dreamily ignored the Nazi problem, until it capitulated to Hitler. American isolationism translated to a policy of non-engagement.

Such policies create the vacuums aggressors seek to fill.

4—The delusion of neutrality

As Hitler's dominance spread across Europe, Holland initially declared neutrality. Hitler attacked anyway. The Dutch learned the hard way that enemies will recognize neutral states only when they feel they can use such countries – like Switzerland – to their advantage.

American foreign policy has gone from the activism of the George W. Bush years to reliance in recent times on isolation and non-engagement and attempts to be neutral, for example, in the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The result has been disastrous for both sides.

5—The delusion of good intentions

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain flew to Munich to negotiate with Hitler in September, 1938. And it was Chamberlain who stepped off the airplane back home waving the signed agreement, declaring "peace in our times." Hitler's surprise attack (blitzkrieg) on Poland proved his real intentions and shattered Chamberlain.

Chamberlain was part of an idealistic mindset characterizing many 1930s British aristocrats. Everyone is good at their core and wants to do good, went the mantra. Progressivism in our time is vulnerable to setting a foreign policy based on such idealism, and negotiates treaties the other side has no intention of keeping. This was the nature of the entire Cold War. It is most certainly the attitude of adversaries who believe they are executing the wrath of God on infidels.

6—The delusion of alliances

Stalin really believed he could hold Hitler out of the Soviet Union by entering an accord with him in August, 1939. On June 22, 1941, Hitler scoffed at the agreement, and launched Operation Barbarossa by invading Russia with three million troops.

ISIS may be creating some strange alliances. The United States and Iran are fighting the Sunni movement together. However, though the rhetoric might be softened there has been no recanting of Iran's view that the United States is the "Great Satan."

Thus all these delusory conditions infect contemporary American-Western foreign policy, and make the United States and her allies vulnerable to surprise attack:

• The seeming victory in the Cold War made us feel invulnerable during the presidencies of Bush 41 and Clinton.
• Obama Administration foreign policy philosophy was initially neo-isolationist, creating vacuums into which forces like ISIS would rush.
• Contemporary international doctrine has tilted toward disengagement as a reaction to the high engagement levels of the post-911 Bush 43 Administration.
• Idealists in the White House and State Department still hope to make the United States neutral, and this has been a key factor in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
• Those same idealists are too easily hypnotized into believing in the "good intentions" of people hiding behind religion and high-sounding rhetoric.
• The United States suffers yet from the delusion of alliances, believing, for example, that agreements can be made with rogue nations.

These were the conditions that lured America to sleep and Japan to attack on December 7, 1941. But they are also the conditions that bring on our own personal "Pearl Harbors". That's what we will examine in Part 2 of this series.

Wallace Henley, a former Birmingham News staff writer, was an aide in the Nixon White House, and congressional chief of staff. He is a teaching pastor at Second Baptist Church, Houston, Texas. He is a regular contributor to The Christian Post.

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