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Michael Alcorn

Many a lesson in looking at the long view


Do you ever take significant moments and try to look at them through a wider lens?

Watch out — the next few paragraphs will likely cause VRUO — Visceral Reaction Unthinking Outrage. It’s practically a sport these days. Only difference here is that I’m going use a whole column to do it, not a mere 140 characters.

What do I mean, “wide lens?” Last week we commemorated the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the “Day of Infamy” which brought the United States into World War II 76 years ago. And, I think we take an interesting view of that particular event. We remember that 2,400 Americans died, that sailors were buried at sea in their boats, and that we had no warning, no reason for suspicion, and that caused us great outrage, and justified the next four year’s worth of blood and toil beating back that enemy and all others. We remember outrage.

But, from a really long distance, December 7, 1941, was a seminal moment in American history, and one for which we, perhaps, need to recognize and even thank Emperor Hirohito.

Had Japan not pulled a sneak attack on an American naval base, would our reaction have been so strong? Would we have had the drive to build an Air Force large enough to blot out the sun? Would we have had the fortitude to sacrifice thousands of our greatest men on a bold and dangerous invasion of Europe? As Yamamoto is reported to have said, “…we have woken a sleeping Tiger.”

Even further, had we not been brought into the war after being sucker-punched in the mouth, would we have ever grown into the role as the lone world actor to resist the expansion of Communism? Or, would we have simply done what many in America, circa November 1941, wanted, and let the world’s problems be the world’s problems, while we sheltered safely on the other side of two oceans? And, now that the world is deeply interconnected, what would that non-engagement mean to us in this day and age?

And, even taking this process one step further, what happens to the remainder of World War II if Japan turns its attention westerly, and invades — or at least begins to threaten — Russia? You know, as long as they don’t do it in winter…

Do you ever wonder if, somewhere in one of those grainy black-and-white photos of Hirohito’s cabinet, somewhere in the background is lurking a man who knew what a mistake it was to attack America, and encouraged it, anyway?

History is replete with examples of blunders that change the shape of the world. Lee getting drawn into a battle without good intelligence at Gettysburg: Napoleon delaying his attack at Waterloo due to wet conditions; Pete Carroll throwing the ball on first down at the one yard line… The world has been shaped by great mistakes.

Thought processes like these ultimately lead me back to wondering about who is responsible for shaping events in our world today. It’s like, it’s easy to imagine that 9/11 changed the world, or that the invasion of Iraq was a monumental blunder. But, 200 years from now, do either of those events merit even a page in a history book? Heck, you could easily argue that the world has, for the most part, settled back into a pre-9/11 status quo, and all the Sturm und Drang of the last 16 years has been for naught.

But, more importantly, do you trust any of the “great minds” in Washington, D.C. to possess the sort of subtle thought process required to begin to see that long view like this? Can any of our “leaders” see beyond the next sound bite, much less the next 50 years?

But, do you know who does have this sort of mind? Vladamir Putin. Among others.

Kids, learn chess. And study history. It’s our only chance.

Michael Alcorn is a teacher and writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His novels are available at MichaelJAlcorn.com


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