Photo by Thomas E. Franklin, The Bergen Record, Passaic, NJ
*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat September 8, 2006
Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Couey
Written content only, except for song lyrics
“Have you forgotten
How it felt that day
To see your homeland under fire
And her people blown away?
“Have you forgotten
When those towers fell
We had neighbors still inside
Goin’ through a living hell?”
– DARRYL WORLEY
Sept. 11, 2001.
No one needs to explain the date or how our lives were changed on that late-summer morning. On this, the fifth anniversary of the most devastating attacks on American soil, a tragedy seared into our minds by the clarity and immediacy of television, the memories should still burn bright. There were comparisons to another day of infamy, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, on Dec. 7, 1941. But beyond the most obvious parallel, the two events have very little in common.
The immediate aftermath of both attacks left a shocked and angry nation eager for retaliation. In the case of World War II, that passion sustained Americans through 41/2 years of combat. Despite the early setbacks and the mounting casualties, Americans remained resolute, unwilling to accept any result short of victory. As evidence, I cite the public and political outcry that resulted in 1945 when President Harry Truman indicated in one of his communiqués to Japan that the Allies would not insist on deposing the emperor, long the symbol of the Asian nation’s aggression, as a condition of Japan’s surrender. Through their protestations, the American people made it clear that not only did they want Japan defeated, but they wanted its military-run government dismantled. This stalwart stance was rewarded. The emperor, seeing no hope of a negotiated settlement in the united will of the American people and the Allies, ordered the Japanese Imperial Government to accept the Allies’ terms.
But 60 years later, the change is starkly dramatic.
The unity in the immediate aftermath of the attacks on Sept.11 faded quickly. Both major political parties pounced on the attacks, seeking whatever gain that could be had. The political issues that deeply divided us before 9/11 have been vastly overshadowed by the sheer polarization of our people, now standing on two opposite sides of the unassailable chasm of the war.
What happened to us?
Many say that the 1940s was a simpler time, implying that the complexity of the modern age somehow defines a world view that is fundamentally different than before. But it goes beyond that. The generation of Americans that fought World War II and kept the country humming at home survived the Depression and the agricultural disaster of the Dust Bowl, the worst economic era in our history.
In contrast, today’s generation has never known 25 percent unemployment, the national collapse of industry and banking, and the sight of millions of people wandering the country looking for work. Americans today have lived in far greater prosperity. We have become far more self-absorbed. We resent those global and national events that threaten the self-absorbed bubble of our selfish little lives.
Our world view has become a “sitcom mentality.” If we’re presented with a problem that can’t be solved in several minutes, we lose interest. Eventually, we even stop wishing for solutions; we only want it to go away.
With the anniversary here, television networks are bombarding us with special programming, dissecting the events of Sept. 11 from every angle. Rather than regaining strength and resolve, we’ll listen briefly, yawn and go back to the fantasy world of video games.
Americans in 1941 courageously faced the rubble and smoke of Pearl Harbor. They took from that tragedy the passion to rise to victory; the will to survive. Today, that strength has been replaced by a population weak of heart and bereft of national passion. Despite the loss of more than 3,000 of our fellow citizens, we don’t have the national will to continue to carry the fight forward. We just want it all to go away.
Sept. 11, 2001, has been called the Pearl Harbor of this generation. Given our attitudes and weaknesses, it is far more likely to be remembered as the Waterloo of America.