Attacks 60 years apart were
far from parallel
The issue: The Dec. 7, 1941 attack on
Pearl Harbor raises comparisons with Sept. 11.
WITHIN minutes after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, commentators made comparisons with the attack on Pearl Harbor 60 years ago today. Both were surprise attacks that revealed American vulnerability and propelled the country into military action abroad. The embrace of survivors of the two events this week at the Arizona Memorial was a poignant gesture noting the similarity.
The difference, however, is that the looming attack on Pearl Harbor was specific and imminent, subject to historical analysis and debate. The more recent warning of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil, while retrospectively jarring in its accuracy, was relatively vague -- predicted sometime within the next 25 years -- and subject to speculation about whether even rapid preparation realistically could have prevented it.
Both attacks came by surprise, but in different degrees. War had begun in Asia in 1937 and in Europe in 1939 and U.S. military commanders in 1941 had every reason to expect a Japanese attack on American military installations. The late Adm. Husband E. Kimmel and Gen. Walter C. Short were held accountable for the devastation of Pearl Harbor and were demoted in rank afterward.
Congress last year attached an amendment to a defense bill urging that Kimmel and Short be exonerated and posthumously restored to full rank. Evidence has emerged that the White House withheld vital information -- gained from cracking Japanese codes -- that would have alerted the two commanders. But Kimmel and Short were far from blameless. An ancient military axiom holds that a commander is responsible for everything in his command.
America was caught flat-footed three months ago despite a warning by a presidential commission headed by former Sens. Gary Hart and Warren Rudman. The Commission on National Security/21st Century predicted in January that "the combination of unconventional weapons proliferation with the persistence of international terrorism will end the relative invulnerability of the U.S. homeland to catastrophic attack."
Hart and commission members lobbied Congress and the Bush administration for adoption of their recommendations, which included creation of a National Homeland Security Agency. "We predicted it," Hart lamented after the September attack. "We said Americans will likely die on American soil, possibly in large numbers."
Hart told a Senate committee in April that the need was "urgent." However, the commission's report used less imperative language: "A direct attack against American citizens on American soil is likely over the next quarter century." That is hardly strong enough to try to affix blame.
FTC critical of music
The issue: Record companies target young
people in advertising explicit CDs.
If parents don't want their children listening to music or watching films or playing video games they consider inappropriate, they can impose restrictions. Admittedly, that's no easy task in this age of instant and constant communication, but parents are ultimately responsible for determining the kind of entertainment to which their children are exposed.
Some misguided members of Congress, however, think that's the government's job. They should desist.
The Federal Trade Commission, in a study directed by Congress, criticized record companies for continuing to advertise their products -- some of which are deemed adult material -- through television and radio programs, magazines and other printed media, and Internet sites most popular with young people.
The FTC report similarly criticized the movie industry. It gave film studios good marks for their rating system and for defining the reasons for a movie's ratings, but said the industry continues to advertise R-rated films on television, where teenagers are a prime audience. But networks limit the content for such ads.
The recording industry, in response to criticism from Congress, places "Parental Advisory" labels on its products and although the labels are clear in its advertisements, Congress remains critical, saying that isn't enough. Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman wants labels to explain if lyrical content is acceptable for children and the age groups for which a recording may be appropriate. Lieberman's next step would be to give the FTC authority over the entertainment industry. A bill he introduced in April would fine companies found to be marketing material considered "adult" to young people.
Who would determine what material is adult, and what would be the criteria? Words are subject to interpretation and such deliberations would surely infringe on the First Amendment rights of musicians and songwriters.
Violent movies, recordings and games may indeed influence young people. However, popular culture cannot be blamed for social problems. The roots of behavior run deeper and familial relationships have the most profound effect on young people. Parents, therefore, are duty-bound to protect their children by teaching them the harsh nature of the world. Politicians and government officials should back them with persuasion, not coercion.
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