The attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto famously fretted, "I fear that we have awakened a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve."
He was right. Most Japanese, at the time, viewed Americans as soft and decadent. But Yamamoto knew better. Having studied and traveled in the US, he knew that Americans would exact a dreadful vengeance.
Incredibly, on this 60th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, the myth of the "soft" American lives on, in some quarters.
For instance, videos glorifying the 9/11 attacks are selling like hotcakes in China.
"Look at the panic in their faces as they wipe off the dust and crawl out of their strong buildings - now just a heap of rubble," sneers the narrator of one popular Chinese video. "We will never fear these people again. They have been shown to be soft-bellied paper tigers."
Funny. Those of us who were actually here in New York saw no signs of panic that day.
On the Queens riverbank where I watched the towers fall, the mood was angry and grim, not fearful.
"This is war," people were saying. Men raised their fists and cheered when the jet fighters roared overhead.
At Ground Zero, Mayor Giuliani was trapped in his temporary command center when the first tower fell. He escaped to the street just as the second tower came crashing down.
"Are people panicking down there?" CNN correspondent Aaron Brown asked the mayor in a phone interview, later that day.
"No," said Giuliani. "I was right there… I had to evacuate with people… we all walked north. And… even though it was hundreds… thousands of people that were walking on the streets, they were orderly, they were calm. They handled themselves… better than anybody had any right to expect."
It was with a similarly calm demeanor that the Minutemen met the British on April 19, 1775.
Between 650 and 900 British redcoats had set out from Boston to seize American weapons stored at Concord.
Rebel militia confronted the British on Lexington Green.
"Disperse, you rebels, damn you, throw down your arms and disperse!" cried the British commander.
The redcoats opened fire, killing eight Americans and wounding nine. Then the British marched on, confident that the defeated rebels would go home.
But they did not go home.
Instead, the Americans regrouped, amassed reinforcements, and set out calmly to finish the job they had started.
They met the British at Concord, opening fire and driving the redcoats back to Boston. Retreating under a hail of gunfire from behind every fence and tree, the British suffered 20 percent casualties.
After that, they spoke more respectfully of Americans.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, they too thought they would meet "soft" Americans, who would scatter in panic at the first bomb blasts.
Japanese commander Mitsuo Fuchida recalls his astonishment at how quickly American sailors rallied and returned fire.
"Were it the Japanese fleet, the reaction would not have been so quick," he later admitted.
Minutes before, those Americans had been enjoying a lazy Sunday morning in a world at peace. Now they leapt to their battle stations and filled the sky with flak.
Fuchida began his final bomb run.
"I studied the antiaircraft fire, knowing that we would have to run through it again," he later recalled. "It seemed that this might well be a date with eternity."
Twenty-nine Japanese pilots died that day. For many Japanese, the myth of the "soft American" also died on December 7, 1941.
"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it," said George Santayana. Perhaps that will be Osama bin Laden’s epitaph.
In a 1996 interview with the London-based Arab newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi, bin Laden called Americans cowards for withdrawing from Lebanon in 1983 and from Somalia in 1993, after suffering casualties.
"The Russian soldier is more courageous and patient than the American soldier," commented bin Laden, a veteran of Afghanistan’s war with the Soviets. "Our battle with the United States is easy compared with the battles in which we engaged in Afghanistan."
One wonders whether Osama is still singing the same tune today.
"The chief business of the American people is business," said Calvin Coolidge in 1925. "They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world."