Image This past Thursday, December 7, I happened to look at my watch at 1:00 EST, and I realized that at that exact moment, sixty-five years earlier, Japanese planes first roared over Pearl Harbor and Hickam field, strafing, bombing and torpedoing ships. Driving and listening to the radio in the present, I heard the notes of a bugle. It was live audio from a memorial service at Pearl Harbor. Far out in the Pacific, at that great naval base, people still paused to remember "a date which will live in infamy". Only a few octogenarian survivors of the attack are still around, but Americans seem determined never to forget events of that day and the great war it started.

Yogi Berra liked to say, "Things are more like they are now than they ever were". But with wars and "days of infamy", it’s a mixed bag. An enemy who couldn’t have truly touched our homeland attacked a military target sixty-five ago, and we’re still mad about it. Yet just five years beyond the worst attack on our homeland in history – producing more deaths and civilian casualties than at Pearl Harbor – one would hardly know that attack had happened or that we are actually at war with that enemy. Years after Pearl Harbor we were still singing, "Remember Pearl Harbor" and "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition". Today, our news networks air propaganda videos made by an enemy who could strike us again, and in all likelihood will.

Yes, we held fifth-anniversary ceremonies to honor the 9/11 fallen and salute the heroism of firemen and policemen – many of whom gave their lives. The City of New York observed moments of silence at the exact times when two planes hit the Twin Towers, five years earlier. Services were held at Manhattan Ground Zero and at the Pentagon, where a third suicide plane hit. And in a field near Shanksville, PA, a ceremony honored the dead of United Airlines Flight 93, whose crash evidently occurred when passengers rushed the cockpit of their hijacked plane, thus preventing it from attacking another Washington target. (Experts now believe that target was either the White House or the Capitol.) But the enemy who caused this wreckage and death was scarcely mentioned. Someone just awakened from a 20-year sleep might imagine that these events simply "happened" – like a hurricane or flood.

Opinion pieces in many newspapers commemorated 9/11 and noted how it marked a "watershed" of American history – i.e., a date that would be a delineator for future generations in the nation’s affairs, as well as their own. Certainly, that’s true. Decades from now, people will still recall where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news about the World Trade towers – just as people of my parents’ generation recall the moment when they heard about Pearl Harbor. President Kennedy’s assassination is like that for my generation. I was just leaving Russian class at Wheaton College when someone entering the classroom said, "Kennedy has been shot." In my mind’s eye I can still see the face of that person, but his name is forgotten.

During the week of September 11, 2001, my wife and I were vacationing with friends in Ocean City, Maryland. Within hours of the attacks, "God Bless America" signs sprang up all over the city. Churches opened their doors for individual prayer and services of worship and encouragement. President Bush stood with religious and government leaders in a stirring service at the National Cathedral. Millions watched on TV as great hymns like "O God, our help in ages past" rolled out from the congregation. The nation prayed for guidance, strength and protection against the forces of darkness. Political adversaries embraced and spoke openly, with tears in their eyes, of trusting God for the nation’s future. "We shall never surrender," said one, recalling the words of Winston Churchill during the darkest days of 1940.

Missing from the recent September 11 ceremonies, though, was that defiance, that anger at the enemy, that resolve to "gain the inevitable triumph so help us God" (FDR’s words to Congress on December 8, 1941). Americans seem to have "moved on" from the searing events of that September day. We recall them, mentally, but we no longer connect with them emotionally or spiritually. God’s name was spoken everywhere, just after 9/11/2001, but during the latest memorial observances it was rarely invoked, except with respect to the universal "brotherhood" of mankind. Indeed, we now seem more anxious to avoid offending Muslims, here and abroad, than to find and destroy those who struck this terrible blow.

The Iraq "mop-up", now in its third year since our initial blitzkrieg defeated that country, is bogged down in sectarian violence – partly because we didn’t commit enough troops to destroy the enemy and totally subdue the region. No one seems to know why we didn’t, after we started out with such a bang and accomplished so much, so quickly. Perhaps it was because Mr. Bush was already feeling the heat to "bring the troops home" quickly.

The New York Times discloses our secret efforts to track terrorist finances. Network TV reporters call terrorists "freedom fighters". Reporters embedded with our troops furnish films used to prosecute our soldiers for "murder". We’re more concerned about possible mistreatment of POWs than about what they did to get caught. A major network airs enemy films of American soldiers being shot by a sniper. After a few lukewarm complaints, the issue fades. The enemy doesn’t need guns or bombs, and he isn’t just over there. He is fighting us with lawyers in our own courts and sympathizers in our news organs. It is as if our war effort were being run by Mad Magazine. Americans are confused and dispirited. A majority believes we are losing.

Some say we can’t stay "mad" at the enemy who attacked us on 9/11 because we don’t exactly know where and who he is. We can’t seem to put a face on him. My wife (whose counsel I value and trust) suggests that we really are afraid to say the enemy is a religion with violence at its core. We don’t mention it because we might offend the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims, Besides, it’s just not something you say (unless you’re trashing Baptists). Mr. Bush made himself look idiotic by going around calling Islam "a religion of peace", until third-graders started arguing with him about it. When anyone comes close to the truth, 10,000 Muslims jump up to accuse us of bigotry. Attempts to control our borders, spy on the enemy, and establish airline travel security are met with noisy protests and threats to sue everyone from the president to the White House janitor.

In 1941-’45 we knew who the Japanese were. They had a face, and a religion, too. Being less sensitive about such things then, we sometimes depicted them in ways we should consider embarrassing now. As late as the 1950s, World War II "comics" caricatured Japanese soldiers as grotesque, leering, buck-toothed, monsters. Caucasian GIs sent them "to their ancestors" – a crude reference to Shintoism – in hails of shells and bullets. People of my parents’ generation hated Japan with a rage that burned far beyond the war. My grandmother spoke contemptuously of "the Japs" until her death. A friend (now 80) who served in Europe still hates the Japanese because they killed a friend of his in one of the Pacific battles, sixty-two years ago.

Few radio talk-jocks will touch the Islam-angle, but I heard a local host ask his callers if we will ever be able to get mad enough to win a war again. The informal verdict was "NO". Callers said with the country in its present frame of mind, we couldn’t have defeated Japan and we certainly would not have dropped The Bomb on anyone. One caller said we’re a nation of wusses now – too "kind and gentle" to wage serious war against a dangerous enemy who has grievously hurt us and wants to destroy us. If Osama gets The Bomb, he’ll roast Baltimore or New York without turning a hair. We’ll just accept it and move on. What is our problem? Can it be solved? Or will we just roll over and die after hanging the "Welcome, religion of peace" banner on the Capitol?

Democrats recaptured Congress last month by running against President Bush, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and the war. A special Iraq Commission – whose report Dems have anticipated with near-orgasmic excitement – contains no military person except Leon Panetta (who served in Vietnam as a junior officer, circa 1965). President Clinton’s "pussy galore counsel", Vernon Jordan, is a member. So is former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. (She was, after all, a kind of judicial field-marshal. I wonder if she resigned to run for president in 2008?)

The Commission – said to be much smarter than either Mr. Bush or Mr. Rumsfeld – supposedly has proposals that will bring the situation under control so we can "redeploy" our troops. (As if that two-dollar word means something different than "withdrawal".) Some members say we can "succeed" (not necessarily win) in Iraq if we can just get the right combination of violent, thuggish nations talking with us. Am I the only one who puts no stock in this rubbish?

Many politicians today, including both Republicans and Democrats, treat war as a mere extension of policy – a kind of violent "diplomacy" you use when more conventional diplomacy has failed. This is essentially German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck’s Realpolitik – i.e., politics based on material or practical factors rather than on ethical considerations. Bismarck practiced it through the late nineteenth century, fighting a series of small, successful wars to build the German empire. Each war had a different enemy and a different practical objective, but no fundamental issues of evil or danger to Germany were at stake. It was all strictly "business".

Americans have always looked at war more seriously. To fight well and successfully we have to believe a moral or survival issue is at stake. (Actually, survival is a moral issue.) We have to believe the enemy is "evil" so we can hate him enough to destroy him. This explains why we fought the Japanese so fiercely in World War II. Japan had made a treacherous surprise attack, and we believed her a danger to our security and way of life. We threw our whole energy into the war, and we brooked no nonsense. We even rounded up 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry – many of them second-generation citizens – from the West Coast and moved them to inland internment camps. (Try to imagine us doing that today with Muslims or Middle Eastern people.)

So what happened to us in the sixty-five years since the Japanese struck on that Sunday morning? Did we really become so "wussified" that we can’t win a war? It’s hard to say. It’s easy to say we’re not tough enough any more, but each person must look inside himself and ask: what am I willing to do? what am I willing to sacrifice? At the end of the day, the nation’s resolve is the sum-total of the individual resolve of each one of us. If there are too many individual zeroes in that total, we wouldn’t be able to defeat Sri Lanka.

This is a war without sacrifice for most of us. Consumer products have not been curtailed. There are no meatless Fridays. We have sugar, cars, refrigerators, gas and all of the many commodities that were scarce in World War II. The stock market is up. People are working and making good money. Even gas has gone down in price since last spring. If you don’t watch the evening news for a few days, you can forget there’s a war on at all.

How many of us even know a family, personally, that has lost someone in the war? In World War II, almost everybody knew a family who had. Those gold-star banners were everywhere – far into the 1950s. Our gruesome victories in Europe and the Pacific had a high cost – over 400,000 dead. That’s 8,000 a month for four years. In this war we have lost only 3,000 in four years. That’s not nothing; those were real young people from real families. Each death was a life cut short – it’s own particular tragedy. But the losses are really very small, considering what is at stake. In a way, the efficiency of our armed forces has allowed the nation to ignore the war.

In earlier articles I noted other reasons why we are having difficulty waging war against our present amorphous enemy. Not least of these is politicians’ inclination to use the war to divide us. Many Democrats seem willing to have us lose in Iraq if that will hurt President Bush and the GOP. New Democratic majorities in the House and Senate dampened that impulse a little, but it’s still smoldering beneath the surface. A visceral hatred of George W. Bush by the political left is another factor. Politicians with decades of experience say they have never seen such vitriol toward a president of any party, including Richard Nixon. Uncontrolled illegal immigration is also a war-waging obstacle. Another is a preoccupation with diversity which makes it difficult to profile possible spies, terrorists and provocateurs. The list could go on and on.

The bottom-line is that the enemy doesn’t seem very dangerous because he has hit us only once and nothing much has happened since. Our national memory spans only two years (maybe less). We have convinced ourselves that a "religion" cannot be a serious enemy – and even if it is, it’s not polite to say so. The war is far away and seems to be no immediate danger to us. An all volunteer army is doing the dirty work, so we can concentrate on what "holiday" presents to buy and how to lose some extra pounds. It’s not your grandfather’s war. Dangerous times might lie ahead, however. Over there, the enemy from "the religion of peace" thinks he has us on the run. We’ll see if he’s right. By the time another Pearl Harbor Day rolls around, we might know.