Dec. 7, 1941, and Sept. 11, 2001

The Denver Post - - OPINION - By Greg Dobbs Greg Dobbs of Ever­green is an au­thor, pub­lic speaker, and for­mer for­eign cor­re­spon­dent for ABC News.

It never struck me be­fore, not un­til I saw The Den­ver Post’s front-page head­line Sun­day morn­ing: “Colorado Re­mem­bers. How Pearl Har­bor touched lives in ways that will never be for­got­ten.”

What struck me was, al­though most of us weren’t even born yet in 1941, we had our own Pearl Har­bor al­most ex­actly 60 years later: 9/11. That too touched lives in ways that will never be for­got­ten, but more dis­tress­ing, it prob­a­bly will touch our lives, and our chil­dren’s lives, for far longer than Pearl Har­bor ever did, maybe even longer than World War II it­self.

Think of the par­al­lels. Both at­tacks came with faint fore­warn­ings but no straight­for­ward, sin­gle provo­ca­tion. Both killed thou­sands of Amer­i­cans, on scales chill­ingly sim­i­lar: roughly 2,400 Amer­i­cans died on that in­fa­mous day in 1941, roughly 2,600 Amer­i­cans (out of 3,000 vic­tims in all) on that equally ter­ri­ble day in 2001.

And both days led to long wars. With cat­a­strophic, if not com­men­su­rate, death tolls. If you in­clude the vic­tims of famine and dis­ease dur­ing the de­pri­va­tions of World War II, as many as 80 mil­lion peo­ple died, in­clud­ing al­most 420,000 Amer­i­cans. Since our in­va­sion of Afghanistan in re­sponse to the 9/11 at­tacks, more than 100,000 peo­ple have died there, in­clud­ing al­most 2,400 Amer­i­cans (in­ter­est­ingly, that’s nearly as many Amer­i­can deaths as 9/11), and that doesn’t in­clude more than 20,000 in­jured, many with life-last­ing dis­abil­i­ties. In Iraq, roughly 4,400 Amer­i­cans are counted among the es­ti­mated half-mil­lion war-re­lated deaths there, with 32,000 wounded. But now the par­al­lels end. Be­gin­ning with Pearl Har­bor, Amer­ica’s costly in­volve­ment in World War II lasted less than four years. Four ter­ri­ble years, to be sure, but once we were on a war foot­ing, there some­times was light at the end of the tun­nel.

There is no light to­day. Af­ter 15 years we are still in Afghanistan and we are back in Iraq. And even if our uni­formed troops some­day, some­how, pull out for good, our war will per­sist. Be­sides evil-minded ter­ror groups like al-Qaeda, the ide­ol­ogy and im­pact of the Is­lamic State are spread­ing, even if its “caliphate” falls. The most con­ser­va­tive es­ti­mate puts Is­lamic State wannabes, or af­fil­i­ates, or of­fi­cial cells, in at least a dozen coun­tries. The high­est es­ti­mates iden­tify more than twice as many. They’re not go­ing away.

We knew how to fight Ja­pan and Ger­many. Then once the war was over, we knew how to turn our foes into friends.

Po­lit­i­cal blus­ter not­with­stand­ing, we don’t know how to for­mi­da­bly fight the Is­lamic State. And they aren’t ever go­ing want to be our friends. 9/11 was a sin­gle day of in­famy. Its legacy will last sev­eral life­times.

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