Pearl Harbor and 9/11 in numbers

December 7, 2009

Sixty-eight years ago today, the Japanese illegally struck and killed 2,403 Americans at Pearl Harbor.  Eight years ago, using far less equipment, far fewer men, and at far less logistical expense to the enemy, Al Qaeda struck and killed 2,973 using just four commercial airliners and some box cutters.

The purpose of today’s blog is not to reduce or dehumanize the suffering of Dec. 7, 1941, and Sept. 11, 2001, to mere statistics, but to use the numbers to illustrate the decreasing costs of inflicting roughly equivalent damage against the United States.

The Japanese operation took an extraordinary amount of planning, equipment, and personnel.  The attacks against civilian targets at the World Trade Center and aboard Flight 93, however, involved training for less than two dozen men, and overall the 9/11 operations consumed far less of the enemy’s resources.

Annual budgets of the Japanese military in the late 1930s compared to Al Qaeda just before 9/11* (figures in billions USD):


Number of aircraft used in the two attacks: 



Number killed:


How is it that the jihadist terrorists do more damage with less resources than the navy of Imperial Japan?

  1. Being unbound by moral constraints reduces costs.  As ruthless, illegal, and sneaky as the Japanese attack was, they still chose military, not civilian, targets.  Al Qaeda had no such compunction then or now.
  2. It is “cheaper” to kill civilians than to kill soldiers and sailors.  Civilians are generally unarmed or have only small arms to defend themselves.  Military personnel are more heavily defended, better organized, can return fire, and can run up enemy costs and casualties.
  3. Exploiting your opponents weaknesses is less costly than confronting strength-to-strength.  Jihadists take advantage of our pourous borders, lax immigration policies, our obsession with political correctness, and our excessive gullibility over any claims about discrimination, profiling, detainee “abuse,” etc.

One could argue that changes in technology, communications, and weapons have lowered the costs of war for our enemies.  But the Japanese could have, had the been so dishonorably inclined, hijacked a jumbo jet in 1941 and flown it into the Empire State Building and killed just as many people.

After 68 years, it’s not technology that has cheapened death—jihad has.








* I have seen estimates that Japanese military expenditures in the late 1930s were close to $3 billion yen annually, which I calculated to be about $22 billion U.S. dollars in current terms.  Al Qaeda, on the other hand, had an annual budget of $30 million just prior to 2001 according to the 9/11 Commission Report.

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