Friday, 7 December 2012

Days That Will Live In Infamy: The US And Strategic Suprise

     On this day in 1941, naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan launched a devastating surprise attack on the  US military base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. It is perhaps therefore fitting that today, on the anniversary, I began thinking on the issue of strategic surprise and intelligence failure.
      Strategic surprise is the successful carrying out of a (normally) military action and the failure of the enemies' intelligence to the extent that it comes as a complete surprise. The USA has suffered two major strategic surprises within its borders in modern times; the first was Pearl Harbor, the second was 9/11. While the attacks, and the failures that allowed them, were quite different one of the major similarities was the response they received domestically.
     Both attacks were met with extreme shock and devastation by the American people and a fast heavily-militarised  response from the government but both responses may require a certain amount of scrutiny:

Why The Surprise?
     Two factors contribute to America's inability to cope well with domestic strategic surprise. Firstly, their geographical location allows them a sense of security perhaps unwarranted in this modern age. With two vast oceans on either side and reasonably friendly relations with surrounding states the population are hugely unprepared for an attack from an outside force on the US itself. The second is the genuine belief in the infallibility of the American security system to the extent that no warning is given of a spectacular attack. Both these factors meant that, while neither attack was massively costly in human or monetary terms, the impact on society was terrible.

Why The Response?
     Pearl Harbor pushed the US into the Second World War with a declaration of war of Japan while 9/11 prompted the Global War On Terror and the eventual invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. Both responses are hugely out of proportion to the damage done in the attacks and, in the second one at least, were not really useful courses of action, So why the massive responses? Firstly, their size comes from the executives need to show a response of a scale large enough to match the terror and anger of the domestic population. Secondly, its war-like nature reflects a almost religious faith in the US military to solve any problem. This militarism means that violent rhetoric and force are the normal recourse in times of emergency from the War On Drugs to the response to the Cuban Missile Crisis. While the US military is by far the largest and one of the most well-equipped forces in the world it is clearly not useful in dealing with any situation. The response is based on popular belief systems fueling government policy.