I was born 169 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776. I remember my first 4th of July celebration when I was 6, when my parents took me to our town’s annual celebration at the high school football field converted into a fairgrounds. And all day affair.
I was also born in the segregated South, although I didn’t know it at the time, but since blacks and whites worked alongside one another in the coal mines, they also attended this annual event and no one ever paid any never-mind.
This level of racial comity wasn’t that way throughout the South, but black people also celebrated the 4th of July, even before I was born.
I was born 4 years and 2 days after December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. My dad was a college freshman, married just over a year, and he quit school to go fight that war. In October, 1942 my sister would be born in Hamilton, Ohio, while my dad was en route to hit the beaches in North Africa, November, 1942. He never saw my sister until March, 1945 when he finally came home after having hit two more beaches, in Sicily and Italy. When he’d had a little too much to drink, as when he met my wife’s father in 1968, who had been on that same beach in North Africa, he bragged that I was born “nine months to the day” after he got home”. (Mom was mortified.)
I can’t speak for younger generations about what is special to them about “being American”, but my Baby Boom generation, who by definition was born after World War II ended, had always paused to reflect on Pearl Harbor Day. Still does. It was a always somber observance, too, a “Taps” rather than a high-fives, beer mugs, “Caissons go Rolling Along” singing event. In many ways that War shaped us, for almost every kid in my town had a father in it. No one in my county was ever drafted. And the most read books in our school library were about that war. They even produced special book sets just for young kids to read about its history. And well into our teenager-hood, Hollywood was still producing films about the War, and kids like me could stay up late to watch hours of old black-and-white films with stars like John Wayne. James Stewart quit the movies to go fly bombers, Clark Gable also joined and flew, and the great Ted Williams of the Red Sox took three years off to become a Marine Corps pilot…and we knew about those choices they made too.
I was in the Army and served in Japan for three years at the end of the Vietnam War. I visited Pearl Harbor three times. For years, at the USS Arizona Memorial the Marine Corps launch was denied to Japanese tourists, the guard politely explaining that this was a sacred place for Americans and the Marines worried for the Japanese’ safety while out there. It was just over 20 years after the event, still a recent memory, and Americans still carried wreaths to lay at the tombs of family members, and (I’m told) they were none to happy about camera-snapping foreigners taking pictures which Japanese tour groups had the annoying habit of doing.
With the passing of my generation, I fear the Pearl Harbor Observance will pass away as no longer being anything worthy of note for the next generation of most Americans. But it wasn’t just “any war”, we’ve had our share of those, too, but it was THE War, and the world was saved because the Good Guys won it, and principally because America was one of the Good Guys, and the only one of the Good Guys who could create the world’s greatest arsenal of democracy to fight back. All the other Good Guys were up to their ears in murdering fascists. And we did it on two fronts at the same time, Europe and the Pacific.
And for the most part, the rest of the world has thanked us for being there for them. The only part of America that got hit by those Bad Guys was that awful Sunday morning on December 7, 1941. And they had Hell to pay for it.
Now the Law of Generations are kicking in; for the Silent Generation (1928-1945), my sister’s generation, whose back end was born while my dad floated to North Africa, has only a few more years for this world, while my Baby Boomer Generation (1946-1964), with me at the very front end, its back-end now in their late 50s, and born about the time of the Beatles came to New York, when I was in high school, is also looking out the downside of life.
Since then, there has been Generation X (1965-1980), today 56-42, from whence came my two sons, Millennials (1981-1996), today 39-25, Generation Z (1997-2012), aged 9 to 23, producing my grandsons, and today Generation Alpha, (2013- forward, their oldest 8 years old right, or 2nd Grade.
Grab your own kids and grandkids and pick where they fit, and tell yourself “What will they know in 2041, 20 years from now.”, when it’s time to observe the 40th anniversary of that awful day, September 11.
Will they know anything of what I have told you here? July 4th, Yeah, sure, (well, maybe) but I doubt they’ll know anything about Pearl Harbor and the war in which America saved the world…in large part because their teachers don’t want them to know, most of those teachers still Millennials and two generations removed from there being anything special about America.
So what about 9-11, when Millennials were just 20 at the oldest, GenZ’s, barely out of the crib, and Gen Alpha not even a glimmer in their Millennials mommies’ and daddies’ eyes?
Will they even know anything about 9-11 when terrorists attempted to blow New York City and Washington down, and almost got away with it? Will history record that the past 20 years of warfare, whether carried out wisely or not, began as a response to that 9-11 event(s), or that that war, at least from one side, still goes on?
What will they know, and how will they know it? For as things appear today, I think public and private schools have no intention of reminding students, let alone teach it as a somber observance.
You be the judge.