Four years after Pearl Harbor, the United States had conquered the Japanese regime responsible and was beginning to assist in the rebuilding of that nation.
No doubt many are feeling frustrated that, four years to the day after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, al Qaida still lurks in the shadows, Osama bin Laden still is at large and Americans are losing their lives in a steady string of attacks by terrorists in Iraq. But no one really should be surprised by how the nation finds itself on this anniversary. President Bush fairly clearly laid it all out in his speech to a joint session of Congress and the nation nearly four years ago.
"This war will not be like the war against Iraq a decade ago, with a decisive liberation of territory and a swift conclusion," he said. "It will not look like the air war above Kosovo two years ago, where no ground troops were used and not a single American was lost in combat."
The coming conflict, he said, would be in reality a series of conflicts and maneuvers.
"Americans should not expect one battle but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success. We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest. And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism."
Four years later, Taliban leadership is a distant memory in Afghanistan, and an international force there is working hard to help build a new nation while still fighting pockets of resistance from terrorists. And while the nation's reasons for invading Iraq — to end the threat of weapons of mass destruction — turned out to be false, a vicious and oppressive Saddam Hussein is out of power, and representatives of Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis are at least sitting down to argue over how to compose a meaningful constitution for a free nation.
But terrorism, far from being eradicated, still lurks. And it still is capable of some stunning attacks, as the recent bombings on London's transit system proved.
On this fourth anniversary, Americans should take a dry-eyed look at where they are. It would help to make a mental note of the successes, which often get overlooked in the daily reports of death and mayhem. As mentioned, the Taliban is gone. Democratic movements are afoot in places such as Lebanon and Egypt, where baby steps were taken last week toward multiparty elections. Libya's terrorist-in-chief, Moammar Gadhafi, agreed to dismantle his own arsenal, and the hopes for peace between Israel and Palestinians are higher than they have been in at least a decade.
And, not to be overlooked, the U.S. economy has rebounded from the attacks, although the recent hurricane along the Gulf of Mexico may set it back a bit again.
Fortitude is a necessary virtue in a fight that seems endless and elusive. That can be difficult to cultivate when, for most Americans, all seems well in their own neighborhoods.
It may be helpful to reread the president's speech from those days of initial shock and horror.
"I ask for your patience, with the delays and inconveniences that may accompany tighter security; and for your patience in what will be a long struggle," he said, adding a little later, "please continue praying for the victims of terror and their families, for those in uniform and for our great country. Prayer has comforted us in sorrow and will help strengthen us for the journey ahead."
That advice still holds up.