It goes without saying that not all U.S. citizens were vulnerable to the dual temptations of post-World War II prosperity and victory fever. Many felt that American national security would never again be the same following the events of Dec. 7, 1941. Of all the citizens who felt this vulnerability following Pearl Harbor, none felt it more than professional military officers who had been trained prior to the outbreak of war. Seeing themselves as the keepers and protectors of American security, they had deep personal feelings at having failed to protect the people of the United States from attack. Many had watched the rise of fascism in the 1920s and 1930s and seen their warnings go unheeded. These men had known the experience of being ignored by their political masters prior to World War II, and had in many cases made themselves personal promises to never allow such an event as Pearl Harbor to occur to the United States again.
The years following World War II only reinforced the memories of Pearl Harbor, as the influence of the Soviet Union and communism seemed to be rising everywhere in the world. The behavior of communist-bloc leaders following World War II did nothing to provide any real contrast from the dictators of just a few years earlier.
The years following World War II only reinforced the memories of Pearl Harbor, as the influence of the Soviet Union and communism seemed to be rising everywhere in the world. The behavior of communist-bloc leaders following World War II did nothing to provide any real contrast from the dictators of just a few years earlier. To most Americans, communist leaders like Marshals Stalin and Tito, Chairman Mao, Kim Il Sung, Ho Chi Minh, and others seemed no less threatening than Hitler, Tojo, and their contemporaries had been. Only the date on the calendar and some of the symbols of the communist world seemed to have changed from the swastika and rising sun that had marked fascism just a decade earlier.
The events of the late 1940s only added to the growing public paranoia about the possibility of communist domination of the world, as one nation after another fell to their influence. Along with the countries of Eastern Europe that came under Soviet influence at the end of World War II, Yugoslavia and the northern halves of the Korean peninsula and French Indochina went communist. The civil war in China was also won by the communists, and strong socialist movements had been planted throughout the world. Only in the confrontation over Berlin and a few elections in Europe did Western-style democratic governments seem to hold on.
Along with these visible signs of communist expansion came revelations about spy rings penetrating the most secret and secure establishments of Western governments. These included spy cases such as the Rosenberg ring, Klaus Fuchs, and the exposure of Alger Hiss of the U.S. Department of State. Americans began to look under their beds and sofas for communist spies, and paranoia began to grip the country. The news in 1949 that the USSR had test-detonated an atomic bomb was like throwing gasoline onto a bonfire. Then there was Korea.
More than any other American of the late 20th century, Eisenhower was responsible for creating the modern U.S. military and intelligence communities.
When the Korean War broke out, the dam on concern over surprise attacks broke wide open in America. Suddenly, Americans were fighting and dying overseas again after a surprise attack by a seemingly benign Asian nation. The fact that American forces were surprised again just six months later by the entry of Chinese troops streaming over the Yalu River into Korea just drove the lesson home. Back home, American society began to come unglued thanks to the zealotry of men like Joe McCarthy and Richard M. Nixon, and a “red scare” swept across the United States. By the election of 1952, it was clear that something had to change, and that change came in the form of a beloved and familiar face: President Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower.
More than any other American of the late 20th century, Eisenhower was responsible for creating the modern U.S. military and intelligence communities. Throughout his presidency, the memory of Pearl Harbor and the specter of another such attack, this time with nuclear weapons, haunted him. Within months of his inauguration, Eisenhower ordered a number of study groups and commissions into action, specifically chartered to find ways to deter possible surprise attack against the United States. These were staffed with some of the greatest scientific, military, and political minds of the 20th century, including James Killian (president of MIT), Edwin Land (inventor of the Polaroid instant camera), and Lt. Gen. James. H. “Jimmy” Doolittle (commander, at various times, of the 8th, 12th, and 15th Air Forces during World War II). At the same time, Eisenhower approved a series of budget increases to improve the readiness and power of the military. After eight years in the White House, an amazing transformation had taken place.
By the time he handed over the presidency in 1961, Eisenhower had rebuilt the American military into the most powerful armed force in history, with such an overmatch that it would take the Soviet Union two decades of effort and near bankruptcy to pull even. Whole new classes of weapons – such as intercontinental and submarine- launched ballistic missiles tipped with thermonuclear warheads, and supersonic jet fighters equipped with air-to-air missiles – were just a few of the innovations created on his watch. The clear intent was to deter any possible enemy from ever attempting what the Japanese had in 1941. However, mere deterrence was not enough to allow Eisenhower to excise his memories of Pearl Harbor.
As impressive as this was, what Eisenhower achieved in the areas of intelligence collection and early warning was nothing less than stunning. In just eight years under his leadership, the CIA invented and perfected the science of remote sensing, creating the first national intelligence collection systems. These included the U-2 and A-12 spy planes, Corona-series photoreconnaissance satellites, and even an early electronic surveillance satellite called Tattletale. Virtually every kind of technical intelligence collection system in use today came into being during the Eisenhower administrations.
The war on terrorism, however, has required new technologies, organizations, and procedures, including a new reliance on human intelligence, something worth noting given what happened in the years after Pearl Harbor.
The war on terrorism, however, has required new technologies, organizations, and procedures, including a new reliance on human intelligence, something worth noting given what happened in the years after Pearl Harbor. Already there have been some tantalizing hints of what the future may bring as the United States move further into the new millennium. The exploits of the RQ-1A Predator and RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom have captured the imagination of the world. Predators, Reapers, and Gray Eagles rigged with precision- guided munitions have regularly been using them in combat, scoring notable successes against high-value leadership targets. Even more intriguing systems in development.
Purpose-built unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) armed aircraft that look like something out of Star Wars, are now flying, with additional unmanned systems in development. Already, the services are making use of unmanned systems by the thousands, with growing success and effectiveness. Sadly, however, the huge financial commitment of multiple wars and a sour economy worldwide have almost halted efforts to modernize U.S. forces, and the “lean years” of the new decade are likely to limit upgrades and replacement of traditional systems across the military enterprise. America was also going through the lean years of the Great Depression before Pearl Harbor, and political and cultural, but predominately economic constraints meant that the military was sorely unprepared for war. Some fear the parallels in a sinking economy, a burgeoning Asian state, and a country exhausted by war.
As for the intelligence community, one can only imagine what folks at Langley, Va., and Fort Meade, Md., have up their sleeves. While many reforms have taken place, new oversight added, and capabilities grown, the U.S. intelligence community still has room for improvement and growth. Somewhere out in America are the men, women, and companies who will lead the United States in the decades ahead, and they will be faced with similar challenges to those faced by Eisenhower, Truman, and others after World War II.
So what is the ultimate legacy of Pearl Harbor as America heads into a new century of war and peace? Perhaps most important will be to remember.
So what is the ultimate legacy of Pearl Harbor as America heads into a new century of war and peace? Perhaps most important will be to remember. Remember what happened when U.S. attentions were focused on America, rather than outward toward a world of which the United States is a vital part. Remember what happened when the United States allowed the military and intelligence communities to become fixed and stale, rather than moving forward to face new threats, and embrace new technologies, organizations, and ideas. Most of all though, the nation must embrace the idea that attacks such as those of Dec. 7, 1941, and Sept. 11, 2001, cannot be allowed to occur due to a lack of eyes and ears probing into the hearts of darkness to find those who would destroy the United States before it is known they are coming. In short, Americans must steel themselves for a long war, and say “Never Again, Again!”
This article first appeared in the The 70th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor.