WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Three years ago this week, 19 radical Islamic Jihadists seized four airplanes and killed 2,996 people in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Somerset County, Pa. The terrorists' goal was to kill so many Americans that we would retreat from the world stage, waving the white flag of defeat.
It was the same goal that motivated Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto on Dec. 7, 1941, when his 351 aircraft bombed Pearl Harbor and killed 2,388 Americans. Both events had many of the same effects: We went immediately to war, dispatched our armed forces to fight our enemies overseas and mobilized to protect our home front. The parallels don't stop there.
Both the Dec. 7, 1941, surprise attack and that of Sept. 11, 2001, rallied the American people to coalesce in the face of a terrifying threat for which we were unprepared. Both prompted congressional investigations, a dramatic shift in government priorities and wartime reorganizations. But unlike Pearl Harbor, the Sept. 11 assault failed to unify America's political leadership over how to protect our homeland.
During World War II, more than 150,000 "enemy aliens" -- Japanese, Germans and Italians living in the United States -- were rounded up and interned. The FBI and our military were granted broad powers to arrest and detain people. Those accused of being enemy spies or saboteurs were tried by military tribunals, convicted and, in most cases, executed in short order. Air raid drills, bomb shelters, rationing, blackout curtains, "sand-bag brigades" and reminders that "loose lips sink ships" were routine for American civilians and endorsed by politicians of every political stripe throughout World War II. Not so for the War on Terror.
In an effort to redress gaping holes in our nation's domestic security, in June 2002, President George W. Bush asked for authority to create a new Cabinet department accountable for protecting the homeland and improving the safety of American citizens in this new war. On Nov. 25, 2002, after months of acrimonious and partisan debate over union rights and meaningless "riders," the Congress finally passed the Homeland Security Act.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.