In the wake of an event unprecedented in world--let alone U.S.--
history, comparisons to Pearl Harbor have been flying. There are
any number of ways this is a misleading image, but in one important
respect it's utterly wrong.
By December 6, 1941, a war had been raging against fascism in Europe
for two years, and the United States had stood aside. It had done
so because of powerful domestic political forces urging isolationism--arguing
that the war in Europe was none of America's business, that we were
best off tending solely to our own affairs. That attitude ended
instantly and permanently (sorry, Pat Buchanan) with Pearl Harbor.
Today, the U.S. government and military is the extreme opposite
of isolationist. They
have their fingers in just about every pie in the world. What hopefully
stopped on September 11 was not our economic, military or political
isolationism; it was the willful cultural isolationism of the American
Comparisons to Pearl
Harbor are misleading.
While the U.S. government, corporations and the military pursue
extremely active (and often destructive) policies, many of us back
here in The Great Mall have chosen to remain willfully oblivious.
We follow the pennant races, we clip coupons and go shopping, we
obsess about our jobs, we tend to our families and communities.
But we ignore the rest of the world. Most of us speak no foreign
languages, and many of us couldn't find Afghanistan on a map. We
trust implicitly--whether consciously or by our own lack of concern--that
our economic, military and political leaders are acting in our best
interests and on behalf of democracy and freedom. We know that the
world buys our brand names, and we are secure. Now the grimmer realities
of the rest of the world have come home with a sickening jolt.
With luck, one positive thing that might emerge from this horror
is the end of America's cultural isolationism. It's a goal we should
all encourage, not only to improve our understanding of and accountability
to the rest of the world, but to improve our policy-makers' accountability
to us. If our citizens paid closer attention to what the people
acting in our names around the globe were actually doing, they might
demand policies more in line with our professed ideals of democracy
and freedom. Ultimately, that's the best protection against global