September 09, 2011
Memory is a tricky thing. It comes with its own magnifying glass, and it always tends to center on turning points: those times and events that change you, that change the world. When they happen to you, you know in that moment that life will never be the same. You feel it in the hollow at the bottom of your breath. This fall, we march into the 10th anniversary of the collapse of the Twin Towers and the crashes of Flight 93 and Flight 77, a day of turning points that most of us remember vividly.
The events of 9-11 touched each of us with an icy finger. For Americans, 9-11 is a turning point that most of us can relate to. How many of us watched on television—at home, at work, at school—as the smoke rose and the buildings crumbled? And then, how many of us heard the reports of crashed planes at the Pentagon and in Bedford County, PA and knew before the newscasters told us that these events had to be connected? Even as we heard the reports, we knew that our world had transformed around us. I still recall the silent skies that followed as not a single plane flew through the air for three days.
I often wonder if it was the same for Americans in December 1941, listening to the first reports of the Pearl Harbor attack exactly 70 years ago. They too were at home, at work, at school. For Americans outside of Hawaii, everything around them looked the same as it had the day before, but the voice on the radio told them of the attack and they too knew that they were at a turning point. The next day, they saw the proof in black and white on the front page—the sinking USS Arizona.
I think it must have been worse for them. 9-11 and Pearl Harbor were both horrible in the same kinds of ways—unprovoked, sudden, huge—but people in 1941 had a history. For them, the global atrocity of World War I was still in their memory. The Lusitania had been sunk only 25 years before Pearl Harbor, throwing America into the middle of a conflict the likes of which the Earth had never seen. Everyone over 30 years old remembered War. I imagine the dread of Americans on December 7, 1941 as they saw the kind of war that had taken millions of lives to extinguish now erupt again.
And as we remember the turning points that shaped our country, we also need to remember those who took part in these turning points. On October 22nd, MCPL is hosting its annual Veterans Salute at the Platte City branch. The event features military memorabilia and vehicles from many periods as well as veterans themselves. People who participated in World War II and other conflicts will be on hand for roundtable discussions and more. It’s a chance for us to take our memory’s magnifying glass and turn it away from the pain of the trauma and toward the men and women who were there, the men and women who are still here and can help us remember.