Everyone older than 20 remembers whom he was with, what he was doing and how he learned we were at war that beautiful Tuesday morning a decade ago. Most of us recall a gorgeous late-summer morning with blue skies -- "shirt-sleeve weather" -- and then the horror: two of the world's tallest buildings collapsing into piles of rubble, the west wall of the Pentagon in flames and a fire-bathed crater in the soil of Somerset County, Pa.
Like the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that Sunday morning of Dec. 7, 1941, the assault on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, was a complete surprise. Politicians, pundits and quasi-historians have tried to find similarities in the two events, but there are few other real parallels.
The Japanese attack on the U.S. Pacific fleet required 58 warships, 350 aircraft and more than 10,000 sailors to carry out. Though the raiders killed 2,403 Americans, only five U.S. Navy vessels were damaged beyond repair. In Washington, Congress immediately responded with a nearly unanimous declaration of war; only one member voted no. The American people answered the call to duty, and 16.5 million young men and women were soon in uniform. The U.S. became the leader of a grand alliance supported by both political parties. Everyone knew right from the start who our enemies were and that the war would end only when those enemies surrendered -- unconditionally.
That's hardly the case with what happened on and after 9/11. Until that terrible morning, most Americans never had heard of al-Qaida or Osama bin Laden. The attack bin Laden carried out with just 19 radical Islamists aboard four commercial airliners killed 2,973 Americans -- more than the Japanese had at Pearl Harbor. In strategic terms, the 9/11 attack was a nearly perfect "economy of force" operation.
Though there was no declaration of war, hundreds of thousands of young Americans volunteered to take up arms against an enemy they understood but Washington has steadfastly refused to name. Every one of the soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardsmen and Marines on duty today either "joined up" or "stayed in" because of what took place on 9/11. In the decade since, more than 2 million of them -- the brightest and bravest of their generation -- have served in the extremely difficult and dangerous places where this long war is being fought. And they continue to do so, despite Washington's inability to define victory and despite the growing antipathy of our mainstream media.
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.