By / Dec 7

Today marks the 76th anniversary of the Japanese attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor near Honolulu, Hawaii. Here are five facts you should know about the event that propelled the U.S. into World War II:

1. In July 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration imposed an oil embargo on Japan to deter further aggression in Asia. At the time Japan was dependent on America’s oil, but also believed that war with the U.S. was inevitable.  Because they needed access to oil and other resources, Japan decided to seize the overseas territories controlled by the U.S., the U.K., and the Netherlands. On the morning of December 7, 1941, Japan launched a series of attacks on the U.S.-held Philippines, Guam, and Wake Island, and on the British Empire in Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong. The Japanese also attacked Pearl Harbor, believing that by destroying the American naval fleet in the Pacific theater they would be able to prevent the U.S. from interfering with Japanese expansion. As military historian Victor Davis Hanson explains, “In short, for the Japanese, December 1941 seemed a good time to attack the United States – a provocation that would either likely be negotiated or end in a military defeat for the U.S.”

2. In the two-hour bombing campaign that took place on the morning of December 7, 1941, Japanese forces were able to destroy 188 airplanes and nearly 20 American naval vessels. All eight U.S. Navy battleships were damaged (four were sunk, but all but the Arizona were later raised). The attack killed 2,403 American service members and wounded 1,178 others. An additional 68 civilians died and 35 were wounded.

3. The attack on the naval base was conducted by 353 Japanese fighter planes, bombers, and torpedo planes, which were launched from six aircraft carriers. Five Japanese mini submarines also participated in the battle. Altogether, the Japanese losses were relatively light: 29 aircraft destroyed; 4 mini subs sunk and 1 grounded; 64 men killed and 1 captured.

4. Hara Chuichi, a Japanese commander of a carrier group that helped carry out the attack, later claimed, "we won a great tactical victory at Pearl Harbor and thereby lost the war." The Japanese attacked with the belief that it was strategically necessary to disable American battleships. But battleships were, by this point, becoming less important than aircraft carriers—and all three of the U.S. Pacific Fleet's aircraft carriers were away from Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack. The Japanese leadership also underestimated the resolve of the American people. As Jeffery Record says, “The Japanese believed they were racially and spiritually superior to the Americans, whom they regarded as an effete, creature-comforted people divided by political factionalism and racial and class strife.

5. Because the attack caught the U.S. completely off-guard, many people placed blame on the government and military leaders, accusing them of either incompetence or involvement in a conspiracy. The U.S. government made nine official inquiries into the attack between 1941 and 1946, and a tenth in 1995. No solid evidence has ever been found to support the fringe theory that American leadership knew of the attack, though incompetence and ill-preparation were cited in the investigations. Had the military had warning about the attack, though, the outcome could have been even worse. As many historians now point out, if they had been aware of a pending attack the U.S. Navy would have attempted to face the Japanese navy in open waters. The superiority of the Japanese fleet would have still prevailed and lead to many of the ships being sunk and unrecoverable, setting the U.S. military and war effort back about two years. 

Editor's note: This post originally ran on the 75th anniversary.

By / Apr 1

Chances are, the attack in Brussels last week captured your imagination and consumed your attention. You’ve probably closely followed updates on the manhunt in Brussels or Paris or the extradition of Salah Abdeslam.

But you might have missed the fact that there was another major bombing in Istanbul just 24 hours earlier claimed by the Islamic State. And you might have also missed the horrific attack in Lahore, Pakistan, this week that killed at least 74 people and wounded 362, almost double the death toll of the Brussels attack.

It’s true for me, too: I care less about the attack in Pakistan than I do the Brussels attack. I’m less hungry for news about the attack in Pakistan. Only when I found out that the attack in Pakistan was specifically targeting Christians on Easter Sunday did the story really pique my interest.

I don’t like this about myself, and I wish it wasn’t true. Ian Bremmer, NYU professor and political scientist, tweeted this image that pretty much sums it up for us Americans:

Part of the issue, undoubtedly, is that there has been a lot less coverage of the Lahore attack than the Brussels post. The New York Times has published several in memoriam pieces (and rightly so). But this sort of empathy-driven coverage has been notably lacking for the attack in Lahore.

Martin Belam, with London’s Guardian laments the lack of coverage, but he goes on to say “it is also regretfully true that there seems to be less of an audience.” In other words, the reason why there are so few articles on the Lahore attacks is that no one reads them.

Why don’t we care more?

There are lots of reasons why we don’t seem to care about terror attacks in the Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia. We probably don’t have many (or any) Pakistani friends. And even if we do, our conversations with them probably haven’t helped us to get a sense of what life is like in Pakistan or develop a sense of empathy for the Pakistanis as a people.

Further, most of us have never been there and have no memories associated with those places. Because we don’t have vacation pictures from Lahore (and likely don’t know anyone who does), it’s hard to get a mental picture of what the park was like where the explosions were.

Lastly, we’re inoculated against the impact of these stories because terror attacks seem to happen in Pakistan all the time. Whether it is polite to admit it or not, many of us subconsciously believe that these things are supposed to happen there. The reason the Brussels attack hit us so hard is that it was out of the ordinary. Some researchers call this compassion fatigue, and we all experience it.

A call for empathy and prayer

For Christians, our response to this situation can’t just be to shrug and accept that this is just the way things are. In Paul’s discourse on the “ministry of reconciliation” in 2 Corinthians 5, he tells us “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh.” What this means for us is that the way we naturally view others—through the lenses of tribe, ethnicity, proximity—aren’t the way we view people anymore in Christ. The gospel transforms all of us, including our ability and capacity to empathize with those that are not like us.

How can we empathize and pray more effectively? Here are three ways:

1. Build relationships with immigrants, refugees, and those from other cultures. These relationships will expand our ability to care about the places where these friends are from—having a friend from China will help us to care about China and the Chinese people. But these relationships also open our eyes to differences in culture and make us more sensitive to people who are not like us.

2. Pray through the international section of the newspaper this Saturday. This Saturday, pick up a physical copy of the newspaper and open to the international briefs section. Spend a few minutes to read the stories and pray for those affected by the story. Pastors, Mark Dever occasionally leads his church in corporate prayer using this or a similar method.

3. Intentionally seek out international news. All of our Facebook and Twitter feeds are populated with news and information from people that are like us—they are our friends after all. This means that intentionality is required if we are going to get our of our echo chamber. Sign up for an international digest from your favorite newspaper. If you’ll forgive the shameless plug, each Friday, I round up the top international stories of the week (here is last week’s entry). Justin Long also has an excellent weekly roundup (sign up for his newsletter here).

The international news can be overwhelming; much of it is depressing and about faraway places that we don’t really understand. But let us push through these challenges and lift up the poor, marginalized, and oppressed around the world in prayer, praying for justice and for mercy.

By / Dec 4

For the second time in as many weeks I was within miles of a possible terrorist threat.  On November 21, when I and thousands of my colleagues were gathered in Atlanta, Georgia, for the annual academic conferences in biblical and religious studies, we received word that there was a rumored ISIS threat against the Philips Arena, just blocks away from where the conferences were being held. As it turns out, there was no credible information that corroborated the rumors and thankfully nothing came of it. So I don’t want to overdramatize this. I was never in imminent danger. But once you allow yourself to think through the possibilities of being in a city under attack, the scare is still there. I know I felt it, especially as I hung up the phone that night after speaking with my wife and children, who were thousands of miles away back home. What if the threat is real? What if what happened in Paris just days earlier happens here as well? What if something happens to me? What if this is the last time that I speak to my family in this life?

Unfortunately, the threat that confronted those in the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California, this week was no mere rumor. No matter how officials end up classifying the motives of the shooters, the horror that they unleashed was all too real for the victims and their families. I heard about the shootings from my office in Riverside, which is just about 15 miles away from San Bernardino.  When I heard that the killers were still on the loose, I followed my instincts and headed straight home to be with my family. A co-worker’s heart sank when he heard the report because his wife works in San Bernardino, but he was relieved to discover that the shootings weren’t near where she works. The rest of my day was pretty much gone, as I was glued to Twitter and the television waiting for more news on the manhunt.

Again, I don’t want to overdramatize my own experiences here.  The victims and their families deserve our undiluted sympathy. In fact, if you are reading this, I would urge you to stop and pray for them right now. At the time that I am writing this, the death toll is 14, and the police are saying that a total of 21 were wounded in the attack. Pray that God would grant his grace and peace to these grieving families. And pray for those who would perpetrate these kinds of horrendous acts that they would be delivered from the power of Satan and brought into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. Religious groups in our area have organized prayer vigils to remember those who have died. My own church home group took some time last night to pray for the victims and their families, for justice for the perpetrators, and for the safety of our community. Prayer is not an excuse for inaction but neither is it a pawn in some political debate. As followers of Christ, we know that prayer is the very heartbeat of our lives coram Deo, and that it is our duty to pray, “Thy will be done,” even in the face of death and great evil (Matt. 6:10; 26:42).

But I share my experiences here because I think they are indicative of an increasingly common state of mind in our culture. We are terrorized by violence.  Mass shootings and terrorist acts seem more frequent, more imminent, and more immanent—that is closer to where we live and work and play.  We are beginning to experience in some measure the kinds of violent threats faced by millions worldwide, including millions of our brothers and sisters in Christ. The illusion of safety and security in our own backyards is being exposed. We are all one lone gunman or one sleeper cell or one crazed couple away from a violent death. And even if the vast majority of us escape a violent death, none of us will escape death itself. Its certainty looms not merely as the punchline of some clichéd joke (death and taxes, am I right?), but as an existential threat to each of us and to each of our friends, neighbors, and family members.

So what is the solution? Well, many solutions to gun violence and terrorism will be offered in the coming days. We will debate gun laws, no-fly lists, security measures, surveillance, and so on. Christians need to be vigorously and thoughtfully engaged in all of these debates.  Right prayer is always accompanied by right action in a biblical ethic (see Nehemiah, for example). We ought to debate these matters charitably, knowing that people of goodwill often reach different conclusions about the most effective solutions to the problems we face. But we also should debate these things knowing that the ultimate solution to violence—indeed, the ultimate solution to death itself—lies beyond the power of political machinations. This is not defeatism or quietism; far from it. Instead, it is a kind of eschatological triumphalism. As believers in Christ, we know that death’s days are numbered. Its back was broken one Sunday morning in a garden tomb near Jerusalem. And its final death rattle will be heard when the trumpet sounds and the King returns to raise the dead to imperishable life (1 Cor. 15:50-57). And so in the meantime, we work, knowing that our labor is not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58), but we do so in humble dependence upon the God who saves us from terror and makes us immovable for sake of the work he has given us to do.