Seventy years ago today, U.S. ships at Pearl Harbor were bombed by Japanese military forces. President Franklin Roosevelt said it was a day that would live in infamy. Yet Pearl Harbor Day feels increasingly distant in time, and decreasingly important to most U.S. citizens. There are fewer people alive who remember December 11, 1941; for example, this will be the last year that Pearl Harbor survivors gather, since there are no longer enough of them left to keep on organizing the annual gatherings. That attack on Pearl Harbor almost seems to have happened to a different country: Pearl Harbor was followed by a military draft, rationing, tax rates of 94% by 1944 — all of which were politically inconceivable following the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. The terrorist attack of September 11 now looms far larger in our collective memory than Pearl Harbor Day: I’m willing to bet that the majority of Unitarian Universalist congregations won’t bother to recognize Pearl Harbor Day this coming Sunday, yet probably most Unitarian Universalist congregations recognized the tenth anniversary of the 2001 attack.
Thinking about this has put me in an Ecclesiastes mood: “There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.” And then I think about all the ancient battles that were fought by cultures around the world, and those who survived those battles said that their memory should live forever, and now those memories are gone. “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.”