“When you see a rattlesnake poised to strike, you do not wait until he has struck before you crush him.” By these words in a Sept. 11, 1941, fireside chat, Franklin Roosevelt authorized US warships to fire first against Nazi naval vessels, which he called “the rattlesnakes of the Atlantic.”
Roosevelt’s order applied whenever German or Italian ships entered “waters of self-defense” necessary to protect the US, including those surrounding US outposts on Greenland and Iceland.
Uttered 60 years to the day before 9/11, and less than three months before Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt’s words still resonate. North Korea’s sixth nuclear test last weekend, along with its significantly increased ballistic-missile testing, establishes that Pyongyang is perilously close to being able to hit targets across the continental United States with nuclear warheads, perhaps thermonuclear ones.
The Nazi threat to US shipping, both normal commercial traffic and war supplies destined for Great Britain, was undeniably significant, and the Axis powers’ broader totalitarian threat was existential. Nonetheless, right up to Dec. 7, 1941, many American leaders urged caution to avoid provoking the Axis and thereby risking broader conflict. Pearl Harbor followed.
In his chat, Roosevelt observed that others had “refused to look the Nazi danger squarely in the eye until it actually had them by the throat.” We shouldn’t commit that mistake today. North Korea’s behavior, and its lasting desire to conquer the South, have created the present crisis.
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