Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Infamy of National Disasters

In a speech given in 1941 after Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese, Franklin Roosevelt called December 7th, "a day that will live in infamy". Infamy used to be synonymous with notorious; you are famous for something negative and have a stigma attached to you. In the English language however, the prefix in- means "not" or "the opposite of", and I've come to realize that it is in this context that we must view FDR's speech. From a modern perspective, December 7th is not a negative date, it is completely the opposite of famous.

I love calendars. Santa used to bring me a new one every year for Christmas (when that stopped, I let my mom know that was my favorite gift and that she needed to get on the ball with that once again). I have made countless collages out of the pictures that have come out of them and at any one point in time have 6 hanging up all around my house. So tonight as I threw my trash away in the kitchen I noticed that on my Wizard of Oz calendar for December 7th it read "Pearl Harbor Day of Remembrance". Hmm, I thought to myself, I almost forgot to remember Pearl Harbor!

Of all the silly statements. I almost forgot to remember Pearl Harbor. What does that even mean? The truth of the matter is that it means nothing. Pearl Harbor means next to nothing to me. Pearl Harbor is just a bad movie with good looking actors in it. It's the end of "From Here to Eternity". It has much more to do with films than with history or the military for me. This entire thought process is of course ridiculous, but true. I wasn't alive in 1941 and neither were my parents. None of my grandparents were involved in World War II and I have friends who are Japanese. I never saw the tragedies that came from Pearl Harbor and America's involvement in the war from that point on.

All of this got me thinking. Is 9/11 going to be my grandchildren's Pearl Harbor? Are they going to forget to remember that terrible day in history just like I've forgotten one from decades before I was born? Why not? Millions of inventions are going to become popular and grow more technologically advanced by then. Cars may actually fly by the time I have grandkids- who knows. Why wouldn't this piece of history just get stashed away as another boring date to learn for Mr. Strother's US History test?

I think it's fairly easy to say this won't happen for a few reasons. For one, we don't call the terrorist attack the "Twin Towers", but rather refer to it by the date that it occurred. Whenever we talk about the World Trade Center attacks, we call it 9/11. Odds are that for many many years to come, September 11th will be a day that always reminds us the terrorist attacks in New York City 10 years ago if for no other reason because we always say the date when talking about it. Another reason why I tell myself it won't be the same is because of the media's influence. World War II was not broadcast into folk's living rooms the way Vietnam was; people didn't really know or get to experience what war was really like through a camera lens. We do now. We watched the second plane hit the second tower. We witnessed innocent people jump out of the burning buildings to their deaths. We saw the towers fall. And we've seen every piece of the aftermath since.

All eyes were on the 9/11 tragedy then, and the footage is around so that generations to come can have their eyes on it too. The ears of the nation may have been open, absorbing each word FDR had to say on December 7th, 1941, but their eyes had nothing to focus on. We are a visual society, only really being affected by what we can see. We have to remember what it's like to listen, because there is plenty being spoken to us that could teach us a thing or two.

Open your eyes and look around you. Open your ears and be aware. Remember those who died at Pearl Harbor, in World War II and in the senseless 9/11 attacks. They were innocents who didn't choose to be there. Don't let their deaths become infamous in the most modern sense of the world. Just remember.

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