On Dec. 8, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said that the Pearl Harbor attacks by the Imperial Japanese would go down in history as a “date which will live in infamy.”
But is that infamy truly palpable for the average American? If you are from my generation, you likely see the attacks as an event in history rather than something deeply personal.
One of my ancestors died when the U.S.S. Arizona was destroyed back in 1941, during that first attack by Japan. I never knew the man. In fact, I don’t feel much of a connection to anyone who perished that day in Hawaii. But for the many still-living members of our society who bore witness to that moment of history, it truly is an infamous day.
The terrorist attacks in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, are the new Pearl Harbor. 9/11 is a great grievance for America, our ultimate rallying cry. Everyone from prominent politicians to country musicians see an opportunity to at best utilize or at worst exploit the tragedy of 9/11 to establish righteousness.
Take the case of former first lady and presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton. In a Nov. 15, 2015, debate during the democratic primaries, Clinton invoked 9/11 to defend herself against accusations of taking too many Wall Street donations.
The 9/11 attacks took place in Manhattan, and Wall Street is in Manhattan, so the donations were a way of thanking her, a former New York senator, for supporting New York in its time of crisis.
Is that a stretch? Somehow I doubt she would have been thirsty for donations had those attacks never happened.
Everyone who is able wants to congratulate his or herself on being in the midst of or nearby the tragedy. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said in a Nov. 23, 2015, interview that he saw the second plane impact from his apartment, and he witnessed people jumping from the towers to escape the flames.
Never mind the controversy over whether this really happened (according to CNN, Trump’s residence on Fifth Avenue, where he has lived since before the attacks, is more than four miles away from the site). What I am really interested in is why any of that actually matters. Why does some loose association with a tragedy give someone credibility?
How about in 2003, when the country music singer Darryl Worley released the song “Have You Forgotten?”? Here we have someone creating popular culture that advocates for warfare and bloodshed.
He sings, “I hear people saying we don’t need this war / But, I say there’s some things worth fighting for.” He goes on to invoke 9/11: “Have you forgotten how it felt on that day / To see your homeland under fire.” It’s a powerful message, but is it enough to justify the horrors of war and the (so far) futile task of westernizing the Middle East?
To me, there is something perverse about using tragedy to further one’s political goals. Outrage makes it hard to be level-headed, and the manipulators know this. Whether it’s getting into office or justifying a war, tragedy is a great tool.
Passion can lead us to do great things. Our nation triumphed over the Japanese in World War II, and our anger over the Pearl Harbor attacks fueled that victory.
But we also let it get the best of us at times. For instance, President Roosevelt executed Order 9066 in 1942. Over 100,000 Japanese Americans were held in captivity due to their ancestry. Peaceful Japanese were singled out because of their association with the enemy.
Sound like anything an America-loving presidential candidate has proposed recently?