What would a modern Pearl Harbor look like?

By Deena C. Bouknight / More Content Now

Around 8 a.m. in Hawaii Dec. 7, 1941 – a seemingly normal Sunday morning of rest and worship – all hell broke loose when hundreds of Japanese fighter planes unloaded an arsenal on U.S. Naval Station Pearl Harbor and Hickam Army Airfield. It was the date, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt would prophesy, that would “live in infamy.”

Even though this generation experienced a greater attack on American soil in terms of casualties – 9/11’s 2,996 to Pearl Harbor’s 2,403 – what happened that infamous December day continues to be a topic of discussion and analysis.

Although both the attacks on Pearl Harbor and on the World Trade Center and Pentagon were deemed “surprises,” experts studying hindsight point to the writing on the wall. Relations with the Japanese were a powder keg since they had been ostracized during negotiations for the Treaty of Versailles after World War I. The Asian country was odd man out in a room full of Europeans. In a 2015 World News Trust article titled “What Can Pearl Harbor Teach Us about 9/11 and Other ‘Surprises,’” New York writer Michael Zezima points out that “Pearl Harbor was roughly two decades in the making.”

Following on the heels of the Versailles snub was the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that Japanese immigrants were ineligible for citizenship; they were not allowed to own property, and finally they essentially would not be allowed to immigrate to the U.S. – period – due to the Exclusion Act in 1924. More followed to bristle the Japanese prior to 1941.

Yet, as we remember and memorialize what happened at Pearl Harbor 75 years ago with museum tours and ceremonies, can we prepare for and ultimately avoid another large-scale attack on our homeland?

Sebastian Gorka, Ph.D., professor, author and vice president for national security support at the Institute of World Politics, Washington, D.C., wrote in September for Military Review an article titled “How America Will be Attacked.” In it he explains both irregular and unconventional warfare, and how adversaries are thinking differently – and so should we. He ends his lengthy article with this statement: “The sooner our strategists and policymakers recognize and acknowledge this, the better able they will be to develop relevant counters and hone our own indirect and nonkinetic modes of attack to better secure our republic and all Americans in what has become a decidedly unstable and ever more dangerous world.”

This is what three other experts had to say:

Q: What lessons did we learn from the Pearl Harbor attack that can be applied to U.S. national security today?

Eric Davis, pilot, special agent and SWAT for the FBI: Expect the unexpected. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Train religiously.

David Hodge, retired Navy and current community relations manager, Public Affairs for Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii: Preparedness; don’t let your guard down. Spend all the time training.

Pat Jones, Garrison Public Affairs Officer, Fort Jackson, South Carolina: Every major incident that has happened we’ve learned from. We make adjustments … we adapt. But the first thing we did learn is that we did not have an army large enough to defend ourselves. After Pearl Harbor there was a huge surge in resources. And now look at everything that has transpired regarding security.

Q: What would an attack by a foreign military force look like today?

Davis: In my opinion, an attack by a foreign military would most likely be in the form of a low-intensity insurgency operation. Our military is designed to fight and win large-scale conflicts. We are extremely effective at destroying materials and infrastructure of a country. However, if the conflict were to take place on American soil, many of our most advanced weapons platforms would be hamstrung. A low-intensity insurgency operation would bring the fighting to our cities, neighborhoods and schools. In this scenario, it becomes very difficult to differentiate enemy soldiers from civilians. This uncertainty, coupled with efforts to limit collateral damage, would act as a force multiplier for the enemy. It would take great political will to fight this type of operation in an effective manner.

Jones: We cannot know, but every time there is an incident we have had to step up security. At Fort Jackson, there is 100 percent security at the gate now. If you are not an ID cardholder, there is a vetting process. This is a result of terrorist attacks. Changes in even getting onto the base are a result of 9/11. Security just needs to get tighter and tighter … Pearl Harbor was the first to teach us that.

Q: What are the most significant threats to the security of our nation?

Davis: Radical Islamic terrorists who are citizens; degradation of pride in country, history, traditions; and loss of respect for the rule of law.

Hodge: We need to never give up on working to establish peaceful relationships; we have learned much from our former enemies, the Japanese, and they have become important partners. We also need to always be trained and prepared for anything so that we are always ready to protect America in the future. And, to maintain morale … letting nothing take the wind out of our sails. America came back stronger after Pearl Harbor; we need to always remember that.

Jones: One is cyber-related. We have to focus on cybersecurity. Also, not being prepared and trained. Fort Jackson is the largest training installation in the Army; our primary purpose is training. We train 54 percent of the force. A full battalion can graduate as many as 1,200 soldiers, and there is a population on the base of about 10,000 soldiers. Things are a lot different than they were pre-WWII. But we can always make sure we are trained and prepared.