September 10, 2007

Remembering 9/11

As every day passes, we lose more people who were witness to America's reaction to the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. "A day that will live in infamy," yes, and it fired Americans with patriotism and a desire for vengeance. We saw that, too, with 9/11... the patriotic fervor, the Congress on the steps singing 'America', the desire for vengeance, the rage at pictures of people dancing in the streets in the Middle East.

But a third item arose after Pearl Harbor: a great, racist war of propaganda portraying the Japanese as inherently evil, incapable of honor, of being devoid of human feelings. This is the part of our response, back then, that resulted in the internment camps for Japanese, but not for Germans or Italians. And this is part of what we got right this time around. The President and the Media went out of their way to avoid fueling a racist war and have, thus far, succeeded.

In other ways, though, we have not learned so much. Not long after World War II, the incriminations and paranoid conspiracy theories began about how President Roosevelt knew Pearl Harbor was coming, how he wanted it to happen, he wanted us to get in that war, he needed us to get in that war in order to turn America around. And we see the same thing today, "The Truthers" deny a plane ever hit the Pentagon, they believe President Bush ordered the twin towers brought down -- despite all the evidence, despite their own eyes, despite Popular Mechanics explaining everything that happened in excruciating detail -- they follow their ancestors who blamed Roosevelt for Pearl Harbor by blaming Bush for 9/11.

In the 50's and 60's, once passions had cooled, historians came down on the side of a Pearl Harbor conspiracy being nonsense. It became clear that -- even then -- we had far too much intelligence and far too little manpower to be able to make sense of what the Japanese were actually going to do. In fact, the Japanese were fully capable of organizing and carrying out the attack just as they did, just as everyone saw. As hard as it may be to believe today, we will likely follow the same path with President Bush. Like the Roosevelt Administration, the President and his Administration have all along been trying to get our response right, they have all along been trying to do what's best and they have gotten some of it right, some of it wrong.

But, perhaps inevitably, there will always remain a small core of those who are convinced that presidents have unlimited power, have perfect intelligence, and have nothing but evil in their hearts.

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