This blog, which has been kind enough to link to MO, uses this quote from a September 11, 1941 radio address by FDR on its site:
Do not let us be hair-splitters. Let us not ask ourselves whether the Americas should begin to defend themselves after the first attack, or the fifth attack, or the tenth attack, or the twentieth attack. The time for active defense is now.
The address continued
Do not let us split hairs. Let us not say: “We will only defend ourselves if the torpedo succeeds in getting home, or if the crew and the passengers are drowned.” This is the time for prevention of attack.
FDR, on a date which would live in infamy sixty years later, was discussing attacks on American ships by German U-boats. Since Pearl Harbor hadn’t been attacked yet, we were not officially at war with anyone. We supported Britain, which had by then weathered the worst of the storm, but many Americans didn’t want to get involved in what they perceived as a European war. I don’t know when people finally admitted that it was actually a World War, but, by the fall of 1941, it seemed inevitable that the US would become directly involved in the war which was engulfing the globe.
Orders had been given to engage German submarines that threatened American ships, state of war or not. The knowledgeable will know that, even at Pearl Harbor, Americans struck the first blow. When a Japanese sub tried to sneak into the Harbor hours before the air raid began, a US destroyer sank it with gunfire.
Another quote from that address that I find interesting in relation to our current war is:
Instead, we Americans are taking a long-range point of view in regard to certain fundamentals and to a series of events on land and on sea which must be considered as a whole — as a part of a world pattern.
It would be unworthy of a great Nation to exaggerate an isolated incident, or to become inflamed by some one act of violence. But it would be inexcusable folly to minimize such incidents in the face of evidence which makes it clear that the incident is not isolated, but is part of a general plan.
Those that claim our revenge for 9/11 should be satisfied choose to ignore attacks against us and our interests in the years and decades before that fateful day. There is a “general plan” at work against us and others who love freedom. How best to deal with it? Of course I’m more than willing to discuss political and cultural issues that may help defuse tensions. Pre-emptive war, with or without UN blessing, often won’t solve anything.
But when you see a rattlesnake poised to strike, you do not wait until he has struck before you crush him.
Were we wrong to sink that Japanese sub before they attacked Pearl Harbor? What if we had accidentally found the Pearl Harbor strike force on their way to Hawaii? Would we have been wrong to attack them? What if we had found them in Japan practicing in earnest for the raid? Should we have waited until the first bombs fell to shoot back?
In all honesty, as horrible as the events of 9/11 were, I don’t really liken them to Pearl Harbor. Pearl Harbor severely crippled our ability to defend ourselves from our enemies. A twenty-first century attack comparable to Pearl Harbor is almost beyond our comprehension. I don’t think we can afford to wait until the threat is imminent.
Carry on. Crush the rattlesnake.