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Jewish World Review Sept. 20, 2001 / 2 Tishrei, 5762

Phil Perrier

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A sleeping giant awakes -- My Dad's favorite stories about his childhood always began: "During the War..."

"The War," was World War II. My Dad was six when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He was sitting at the kitchen table eating when a neighbor ran over and told his family the news. My Dad's whole generation could tell you where they were when Pearl Harbor was attacked.

In a funny kind of way I think my Dad loved World War II. It played so well on a young boy's imagining; there were air raid drills and victory gardens. "Everyone came together."

Those words haunted my youth- "Everyone came together." What did it really mean? Why were those three words so vague, so unsatisfying?

When I was six years-old America was mired in Vietnam; then came Watergate and president Nixon's resignation.

Cynicism and distrust were as ingrained in my generation as as patriotism and sacrifice were in my father's. We never came together. We viewed our leaders as incompetent at best and corrupt and greedy at worst. We deemed patriotism itself as naive and hokey.

During the mid-70s America became something of an international joke; a bumbling behemoth; hostages were taken in Iran, Americans were killed for sport by terrorists and hijackers in the Middle-East and Europe.

During the Reagan years American pride started to return. Meanwhile, foreign policy deteriorated, leading to humiliation in places like Nicaraugua, El Salvador, Beirut and Granada.

The Gulf War boosted morale but left many disappointed that we did not go into Bagdad and remove Saddam Hussein. A large number of people then and now debate whether we should have fought Iraq at all. Now there can be no doubt. Like the attack on Pearl Harbor, this is an unambiguous attack on America and everything we stand for.

In the past few days everything has changed. American flags are popping up everywhere; on television we hear with every passing hour of the courage and dedication of the workers at the wreakage. When President Bush addressed the workers with a bullhorn, they chanted "USA, USA USA..." People are proud to be Americans. This is the real thing, not some commercialized Diet Pepsi patriotism; this has nothing to do with selling beer and yellow ribbons. This is what my father was talking about- we ARE all coming together. Being attacked has unleashed protective instincts in us. We are drawing together, like a family and facing our common enemy.

Sixty years ago the Japanese saw America as bloated, lazy, spoiled, complacent; utterly unprepared. And so we were. After the devastating blow to Pearl Harbor the Japanese Imperial Commander, General Tojo said "I feel as if we have awakened a sleeping giant."

After another long slumber that giant has awakened once more. After what I have seen over the past few days, like never before in my life, I am proud to be part of this giant.

JWR contributor Phil Perrier is a Los Angeles-based writer and stand-up comic. Comment by clicking here.


© 2001, Phil Perrier