Response to Pearl Harbor in age of the smartphone would be much different

At 7:48 a.m. local Hawaiian time on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy commenced an aerial attack on U.S. Navy ships and facilities at Pearl Harbor along with surrounding Army and Navy airfields. This attack thrust the United States into the brutality that came to be known as World War II.

The scale of this war was unprecedented, touching every aspect of life in the country. People were committed to the war effort, participating in scrap drives and rubber drives; they had victory gardens to grow food. Sugar, gas, meat and butter ration cards became the norm, as every commodity needed for the war effort became a rationed critical item. Automobile production was all but suspended as factories converted to producing jeeps, trucks and tanks. Even manufacture of business machines was converted into producing firearms.


My mother and father were working in an industrial bakery, Grennan’s in Queens, New York. I recall my mother telling me the bakery converted over from making bakery goods to making combat rations. An aunt who worked at Nemo’s on Rockaway Boulevard making bras and girdles started making parachutes. 

One of my uncles was in the Navy on a destroyer with the aircraft carriers when the attack came on Pearl Harbor. It wasn’t long before another uncle was drafted and eventually landed at Normandy. My father found himself reporting to the Army induction center for basic training five days after he and my mother were married.

The world changed as the news of those few hours at Pearl Harbor was reported across the country. 

Almost 60 years later, at 8:46 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, the first of four hijacked planes flew into the North Tower of World Trade Center in New York City. With the world watching the scene unfold as the North Tower burned, we all witnessed a second plane impact the South Tower less than 20 minutes later. This was followed with every news channel showing plumes of black smoke rising from the crash of a third plane into the Pentagon. The last reports came 30 or 40 minutes later that a fourth hijacked plane had crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.

Before it was all over, the iconic twin towers of the Manhattan skyline had crumbled into a mass of twisted debris and a section of the Pentagon had collapsed. We had lost thousands of lives that day and all felt a sense of vulnerability from the surprise terrorist attack.

A friend opined these events were this generation’s Pearl Harbor as we watched the burning towers fall.

With promises of “holding accountable those responsible,” our military was called into action. Initially Special Operations troops backed by American Air Power entered into combat zones of Afghanistan. Military reserve units across the country were recalled for action. Intelligence efforts were doubled, tripled. Federal antiterrorism task forces were bolstered and additional assets were committed from state and local law enforcement. Even the members of Congress put aside their parochial bickering to sing "God Bless America" on the steps of the Capitol.

After the attacks, we were told to go about our normal business: We could not let the terrorists affect us.

We didn’t have scrap drives; we didn’t have victory gardens; we didn’t have rationing; we didn’t have blackouts; there was no draft.

We continued to order our lattes; the shelves in our stores have been just as well-stocked as Sept. 10, 2001. How many factories in our industrial complex converted over to support the “war” effort?

Yes, some troops went off to combat in Afghanistan, Iraq and countless other lesser known places. Sadly, some of them didn’t come home. How long did it take for our politicians to start manipulating these troop deployments to serve as pawns for their political party programing? These troops who deserve nothing less than our total commitment, for it is we who send them in harm’s way. And God forbid anyone not deliver the platitude “Thank You for Your Service.”

All this occurred more than five years before the first iPhone was sold in 2007. So let me ask: today, which event has had a greater impact on our daily lives — the terrorist attacks on 9/11 or the introduction of the “smartphone?”

If 9/11 happened today, would most people maneuver to get a better picture of the carnage on their phone so they could post it on Instagram?

Let there be no mistake about it: There are many members of our military committed in combat situations across the globe, with their families separated for months or years at a time. But the better part of this nation has not been affected, does not feel threatened, and has never committed to the war on terrorism after 9/11.

John M. DeMaggio is a retired Special Agent in Charge for the U.S. Postal Service inspector general. He is also a retired captain in the U.S. Navy, where he served in Naval Intelligence. The above is the opinion of the author and is not meant to reflect the opinion of the U.S. Navy or the U.S. government.