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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, September 12, 2001

This means war, but a war like no other

Comparing them to Japan's sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, several U.S. senators yesterday called the coordinated attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon an "act of war."

The Japanese dive bombers on Dec. 7, 1941, however, were well marked with symbols of the Rising Sun. And while civilians were among the casualties, the attack was clearly aimed at crippling American military might.

By contrast, the object yesterday was to create broad fear through the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians. The perpetrators have every intention of remaining anonymous — and safe from retribution.

The Japanese knew what they were getting into when they attacked O'ahu. Said Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto afterward: "I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve."

Today our resolve is frustrated by the obscurity of the enemy. President Bush last night sought to fuzz that difficulty by saying the United States would strike back not only at the actual perpetrators, but those who harbor or tolerate them.

In so many words, he warns that those nations not with us in the war against terrorism are against us, and might expect consequences. This makes an important point: International terrorism will only be stopped by international resolve.

But half-measures won't satisfy. We must stop those directly responsible. That will require restraint and patience.

In the meantime, it is time for painful but vital self-examination. Consider:

• The ease with which our ubiquitous national airport security system was penetrated. The terrorists were able to commandeer four aircraft of the types most easily flown by ill-trained pilots , all bound for California (to ensure each was fully loaded with explosive fuel), from three airports, all within an hour.

• The vulnerability of key targets like the White House, Congress and the Pentagon. For the first time in our modern history, these vital centers of government were evacuated.

• The massive failure of American intelligence.

• The folly of President Bush's $8 billion-a-year emphasis on defending, not against such low-tech attacks, but against nonexistent ICBMs.

• Our response to the certainty that, because terrorism on a mass scale has been shown to work, we will face it again.

Ironically, New York was a city with one of the best anti-terrorist contingency plans in the country. But the situation room for coordination of the response was in — of all places — the World Trade Center.

We must do better, quickly.