Pearl Harbor and September Attacks

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 25 September 2016

Pearl Harbor and September Attacks

The Pearl Harbor and the September 11 attack are two events that changed the United States to a great deal. December 7th 1941 and September 11th 2001 are two dark days that will never be forgotten in the history of the United States. They are the two major attacks against the United States that have occurred in history. Although the intentions of the enemy in both cases were to tear the United States apart, the responses by the administration have resulted into the opposite.

Although many innocent lives were lost in both attacks, it is important to note that the attacks left the people of America more united and more prepared for future attacks. However, the most important issue that has come into the picture as a result of the two attacks is the effectiveness of the United States intelligence. Immediately after the infamous 9/11 attack, many commentators linked the attack to the Pearl Harbor attack. There have been arguments that there are similarities in intelligence failures when the two attacks are compared.

Commentators have claimed that just as the United States was not prepared for the Pearl Harbor attack in the Second World War, it failed to defend itself against attack by terrorists leading to the infamous September 11 attack (Griffin, 2004). It is not a surprise that the two events are similar in many ways. They were both surprise attacks which had far reaching national and international implications in relation to the United States intelligence community. This is despite the fact that the happening of the two events took place over half a century apart.

However, the actors in the surprise attack, the motives, sequence of events and the consequences of the two attacks are different. In both attacks, the United States intelligent community has been accused of ignoring signs prior to the attack that could have been essential in protecting the Americans against the attacks. Despite there being visible warning signs, the intelligence has maintained that the two events were unanticipated. There is no doubt that before the Pearl Harbor attack, the relationship between Japan and the United States had gone sour.

President Roosevelt’s administration had placed embargos against Japan and had supported China against the Japanese. The economic sanctions had affected the Japanese economy and they had no option but to destroy the American fleets. The Japanese intention was to seize American lands in the Far East which would force Roosevelt’s administration to negotiate a settlement. Although the American administration recognized the magnitude of the crisis with the Asian power, they did not anticipate any danger of attack until it was too late.

The intelligence made a wrong assumption that the Japanese did not have military ability or economic power to attack the United States. Unfortunately, the Japanese proved them wrong by attacking Pearl Harbor and shattered the United States plans in the pacific (Borch, 2003). In the September 11 attack, the warning signs were even clearer. There were various studies that had concluded that the war against terrorism by the United States towards the end of the 20th century made it clear that it was certain the United States would have a major terrorist attack.

In the 1990s, the United States was involved in war against terrorist groups such as al Qaeda and retaliation was not unexpected. The 1995 and 1996 attacks in Riyadh and Dhahran respectively and the august 1998 attacks on American embassies in East Africa by the al Qaeda were clear signs that the continental America would certainly suffer terrorists attack. The American response to the attack by bombing suspected al Qaeda bases in Afghanistan and Sudan should have also been carried out with necessary caution.

Moreover, the al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had declared his commitment to launching an attack against the Americans in 1998 while Bush’s administration had published the political agendas of Taliban in Afghanistan, its alliance with al Qaeda and their terror campaign against the United States in 1999 (Tobias & Foxman, 2003). When the intelligence pertaining to the attacks is considered, technological advancement comes into the picture. In both incidences of attack, the technology used by the enemy surprised the United States intelligence community.

The enemies in both attacks maximized the use of technology against the Americans to the surprise of the intelligence. The technological surprise in this case is the manner in which the enemy used a hardware that made it difficult or impossible for quick counter attack by the efficient United States military. In this case, the United States intelligent community was beaten in their own game. In the Pearl Harbor attack, the Japanese efficiently demonstrated the full abilities of aerial attacks by integrating new aviation in their military attack.

They were able to contract the torpedo that could operate in the shallow waters very efficiently. Although aviation technology was not a secret in the Second World War, the Americans were surprised by the ability of the Japanese to incorporate the technology so efficiently and perfect their military powers. This made it impossible for the US’s intelligence to estimate the magnitude of the threat by the Japanese because they were unaware of their technological abilities (Borch, 2003).

Similarly, although the use of passenger plane for suicidal missions was not a new phenomenon, the September 11 terrorist attack also achieved technological surprise. It is interesting to note how the al Qaeda utilized modern technology and globalization of the world to plan and execute their attack. They were able to easily launch their attack without the use of conventional hardware and expertise that could have been used for intercontinental attack. The al Qaeda had operatives in all parts of the world including the United States with well established communication networks to the surprise of the US intelligence.

They used the internet, satellite telephones and international money transfer in the United States and other parts of the world without attracting any attention (Griffin, 2004). There is no doubt therefore, technology played an important role in the Pearl Harbor and September 11 attack. However, there are two surprising aspects of technology use in the two attacks. First, the technology used in the Pearl Harbor as well as the September 11 attack was not new or a secret.

The technology was actually well known if not used by the United States security systems prior to the attack. Secondly, the United States had been the greatest beneficiary of technological advancement in the 20th century and had the leading experts in the development and harnessing technological development. However, they were unaware of the desperation of their enemies which prompted creativity. Thus they underestimated the capability and determinations of the enemy to circumvent their technological superiority and launch a technological surprise (Hulnick, 2004).

It is also surprising to note how the enemy exploited the structural vulnerability of the United States defense and intelligence to launch their attack. The confusion between the US Army and the US Navy created by the war warning to the military in Hawaii from Washington prior to Pearl Harbor attack exposed the vulnerability of the United States military intelligence giving the enemy a room for surprise attack. The army concentrated on guarding the aircrafts and ammunitions against possibility of sabotage while the navy thought that the alert had prompted vigilance in air patrols by the army.

While the army was guarding the aircrafts and ammunitions, they thought that the naval intelligence was monitoring the Japanese fleets. The army did not realize that the US Navy had lost track of the enemy leading to the surprise attack. The structural vulnerability was evident when the army and the navy operating on Oahu did to clear the air on the responsibility of each group. Even if both the Naval and Army officials cooperated to guard the island, there were no efficient structures to disseminate the intelligence information collected to the respective commanders.

Although there is no evidence of the Japanese knowledge on the structural weaknesses of the United States military, there is no doubt that the structural and organizational vulnerability is an important lesson from the Pearl Harbor attack (Borch, 2003). Though at a different level, the organization weaknesses in the United States intelligent service and security systems prior to the September 11 attack may have increased the vulnerability of the United States, the military had a unified command outside the United States such as in the gulf war, but that was not the case in the continental America.

The department of defense and the CIA concentrated on external threat while the FBI focused on crimes within the United States. The terrorists could have realized the structural weakness in the intelligence service. Moreover, security in the international airports all over the United States was under the responsibility of the airport management and airline companies who hired private security firms. In other words, other than concentrating on the structural and organizational solutions to the current problems, the United States intelligence concentrated on technological solutions which possibly resulted into the two attacks (Hufschmid, 2002).

There is no doubt that the September 11 terrorist attack and the Pearl Harbor attack had numerous effects on the United States intelligence and society. More importantly, the two events changed the United States interests in the world affairs. The isolationism policies of the United States were abandoned after the Pearl Harbor attacks while the Bush administration took punitive measures against terrorists. Although after every attack, there was an improvement in the United States intelligence, it is important to put in proper mechanisms that would not result into a repeat of yesteryears mistakes.

The US intelligence should be aware of the desperation of their enemies irrespective of their economic and military abilities. This will enable the integration of the intelligent community in the United States into an effective organizational structure that aid collaboration. This will go a long way in eliminating the mentality of technological solutions to the security threats facing the continental America and the world.


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  • University/College: University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 25 September 2016

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