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A date which will live in infamy

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The attacks began at 7:55 am, and continued for about two hours, killing 2,390 Americans. The next day President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered his famous speech to Congress and to the American people, saying “Yesterday, December 7, 1941–a date which will live in infamy–the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” He ended by asking Congress to declare war on Japan, and World War II commenced.

There are a number of good resources available to learn more about the attacks, and to hear first-hand accounts:

  • The National Archives provides an in-depth journey into the crafting of Roosevelt’s speech, which can be heard in its entirety here.
  • The New York Times discusses the ending of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, which will disband later this month. Founded in 1958 with 28,000 veterans of the attack, membership has declined to 2,700 as of September–and those members remaining are all now in their nineties.
  • National Geographic has good Pearl Harbor information, including a searchable archive of survivors’ stories, and the National Park Service provides a good historical account of the attack and the USS Arizona.
  • The NPR blog has a good write up, and links to other Pearl Harbor coverage, as does MSNBC’s photoblog.
  • The Muskegon Chronicle interviews Buck Beadle, a survivor of Pearl Harbor’s USS Hull, and the CNN blog talks with Bob Kerr, another Pearl Harbor veteran: “It’s important for people to know that there was such a thing as an attack in 1941 on December the 7th. […] It’s part of history. It’s one of the biggest events in our history. 9/11 may equal it, but it can’t be forgotten.”
  • But, of course, such events can be forgotten–and will be unless we remind ourselves of them. And so, we also recommend reading (or re-reading) Amy and Leon Kass’s article of a few months back on how we as a nation remember and commemorate our shared past: “Human memory is precarious and requires steady safekeeping. As Samuel Johnson sagely observed, ‘Men more frequently require to be reminded than informed.’ We take things for granted. We are distracted. We allow important matters to slip from consciousness. These tendencies are exacerbated in the American republic, with its emphasis on innovation, progress, and the freedom each person has to make himself anew. Americans can enjoy our blessings of liberty, equal rights, enterprise, and religious freedom without consciously appreciating the deeds and stories of those who have made these blessings possible and who have handed them down to us. It goes without saying how collective memory is imperiled today, in an age defined by instant messaging and other enthusiasms for the ephemeral. Against the rushing stream of time, our national holidays are intended to be days of commemoration—not simply days for extending the weekend or getting bargain mattresses.”