open interactive graphic in separate window / roll over event markers to see the dates they represent / multi-day battles are referenced by the first day of operations / send corrections and additions to the timelines to the address at left
On December 7, 1941, forces of the Japanese Empire attacked the United States of America at Pearl Harbor. Congress declared war on Japan the following day, beginning our part in the war that had been going on in Asia and Europe for years. US, British, and other forces drove the Nazis out of North Africa and Western Europe while the Soviets invaded from the east, and together they broke the last redoubts of the Nazis in Germany by May of 1945. In the Pacific, American, Anzac and allied forces pushed the Japanese out of Southeast Asia, China, the Philippines, Borneo, the Aleutians, and many deadly Pacific islands. The Japanese, defeated in war and facing the new threat of atomic weapons, surrendered on August 14, 1945. U.S. involvement in World War II lasted for 1,346 days.
We passed that point in the global war on terror in the middle of May. By Independence Day, September 11, 2001 will be 1,392 days in the past. At the end of September 1941 — fifty days after V-J Day — there was no opposition to American forces in the Pacific apart from isolated soldiers who hadn’t received word that the war had ended. The war in Europe had been over for four months already.
The people who orchestrated and bankrolled four hijackings and attacks on New York City and the Pentagon on 9/11, though, are still at large. Porter Goss, the head of the CIA, told TIME magazine last week that he has “an excellent idea” of where Osama bin Laden is. When asked if al-Qaeda could hit us again, he replied “Yes, it could.” But he also said “In the chain that you need to successfully wrap up the war on terror, we have some weak links.”
Why hasn’t the Bush administration been able to catch Osama bin Laden? Al-Qaeda never had the kind of forces that Germany or Japan did. Afghanistan and even Iraq were nowhere near as powerful as America’s adversaries in World War II.
The Germans and Japanese were technically on a par with the United States, although they were outmatched in industrial capacity. Both nations produced their own planes, destroyers, and submarines. German rocket engineers were considered so desirable that the Soviet and Western Allies raced each other to snap them up.
Both powers had military forces consisting of millions of troops. The Germans had huge numbers of tanks and other armored vehicles. Japanese forces famously resisted US Marines retaking Pacific islands to virtually the last man, and employed specially-designed flying suicide bombs against Navy ships in the last year of the war. As military adversaries, these countries were truly powerful, and the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt committed all of the resources of the United States to eliminating the threat, asking the American people to make great sacrifices in order to win the war.
In our present conflict, we’ve got 130,000+ troops in Iraq, where bin Laden never was. We’ve captured Saddam Hussein, who wasn’t involved in 9/11 and didn’t pose a threat to the United States because we’d had him bottled up for over a decade. In occupied Iraq, our soldiers keep getting killed and wounded (a daily average of 2 dead and 6 too wounded to return to duty since the elections in January). Thousands of civilians have died from both the actions of insurgents and US forces. The government of Afghanistan doesn’t have enough control over the country to prevent the return to opium poppy production. The Taliban is resurgent. In New York last week, conventioneering College Republicans who “support” the war in Iraq said that they felt they could do more on the political front than by defending their country in the armed services, despite the Army’s having failed to meet recruiting goals for the past several months. And even though the director of the Central Intelligence Agency says he knows where the guy who was behind the 9/11 attack is, he claims the administration still can’t “wrap up the war”.
The “weak links” Porter Goss mentioned, in my opinion, are right at the top of the chain of command. President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Rice, and everyone involved in dropping the ball on the pursuit of Osama bin Laden deserve nothing less than contempt for their execution of the war on terror.
The United States is a far more powerful nation than it was at the end of the Great Depression when World War II began. Yet this administration has not managed to neutralize the only foreign threat that has carried out attacks on our soil in more than 60 years, and it’s failed to capture the top people responsible for those attacks. Instead, it’s lost sight of the objective, bungled the planning even for the war it wanted to fight in Iraq, and consistently failed to tell the American people the truth about the war’s progress or to level with them about its costs, both human and monetary.
In mid-September, the length of George W. Bush’s war on terror will pass the length of the American Civil War.
[UPDATE 2005/06/26 12:47] Driftglass has a related post today about wartime production and serious prosecution of goals.
[UPDATE 2005/06/26 14:49] Everyone seems very cranked up this weekend. Tom Tomorrow tells the tale once again of how Democratic “hard” Zbigniew Brzezinski convinced President Jimmy Carter that funding Afghan insurgents could be used to induce a Soviet invasion, and “giving to the USSR its Vietnam war” (Brzezinski’s quote), a move the former National Security Advisor credited in an interview with the “collapse of the Soviet empire.” Of course, that interview was done three years before 9/11, so Zbig could blater on about how there’s no threat from “stirred-up Moslems.” Brzezinski’s “brilliant” strategy is precisely the kind of idiotic claptrap that passes for critical thinking among the Democratic hawk circles, and it’s virtually indistinguishable from the motives of the people who brought us Iran-contra and other grand debacles, Democrat and Republican. But at the very least, maybe Carter can take the mantle of The Guy Who Brought Down the Soviet Union out of Reagan’s clutches.