Pearl Harbor and other disasters

By Jay Jamison

What do December 7, November 22, and September 11 have in common? In addition to being days when the world abruptly changed for successive generations, they are also days that stand as demarcations from seeming normalcy to an uncertain future.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to claim that since those days in 1941, 1963, and 2001, most Americans have been trying to find a way to return to the certainty and normalcy of December 6, November 21, and September 10.

A photo of the USS Arizona was included in the program sold to those who attended the annual Army-Navy football game in 1941, the caption beside the photo included this boast: “It is significant that despite the claims of air enthusiasts no battleship has yet been sunk by bombs.” A week later on December 7, the great battleship was destroyed when a single bomb, dropped from an aircraft, penetrated into the ship’s forward gunpowder magazine.

On December 6, 1941, the vast majority of Americans had never heard of Pearl Harbor, by the end of the next day virtually every American knew the name. I was sitting in a second-grade reading group on Friday, November 22, 1963, when the office secretary leaned in the classroom door and announced that the president had been shot. I still remember the ashen look on my teacher’s face. I still have a vivid memory of adults going to pieces about something I didn’t understand at the time. My little world was shaken because their world was shaken.

Even with the history of Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley, we were assured that the security around the president was air tight. So, in 1963 it was unthinkable that someone could kill the president. Long security clearance lines in airports, and reporting suspicious packages, are just a few of the uncomfortable changes in our lives since the attacks on 9/11.

We now live with the horrifying reality that airliners can be used as weapons of massed destruction. The very expression, 9/11, now has a meaning that it didn’t have before September 11, 2001. In each instance, and in many other lesser events, something has been irretrievably lost.

A sense of security, of order, and of innocence, all become diminished, in our heightened awareness of the sudden new threat.

Each of these disasters were world changing events. Pearl Harbor changed America from a nation that desired to stay out of foreign entanglements to one possessing a military, which can project power world-wide.

Since the assassination of President Kennedy, our chief executives have been living in a smothering cocoon of ever greater security. And since 9/11 any trip to an airport has become a maddening ordeal of X-rays and pat-downs. Amid these gloomy reflections on past events we should pause for a moment and reflect. There’s a reason why the news media reports about a terrible accident at an intersection one day, yet rarely reports daily that nothing has happened at the same intersection on all the other days.

For the most part, each successive day in our lives resembles previous days, as we gradually grow through life, and we adapt to the unexpected calamities that come along. Which is another way of saying that most of the days of our lives are not days of disaster.

They are more like December 6, 1941; November 21, 1963; and September 10, 2001; which, at least metaphorically, have been the days we’ve been hoping to return to all along.

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