*Somewhere in the last 70 years we’ve lost the difference between anniversaries and memorials. Both concepts commemorate something that occurred in the past.
But the distinction comes in that anniversaries denote a happy occasion. Memorials are about something somber. Our national holiday Memorial Day is actually a day to remember those who died in military action on behalf of the United States.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor the country entered World War II and eventually avenged the attack by forcing the unconditional surrender of Japan. At the same time America seemingly saved the world from Nazi Germany. Essentially the heinous attack on Pearl Harbor, which should be lamented, became the first step in America’s World War II and Cold War story and began to be celebrated because of the outcome of those conflicts. Pearl Harbor became something to celebrate the anniversary of instead of something to be memorialized.
We are currently trying to give September 11th the same re-write. We have attacked and defeated a dictator, we have spread democracy, we have taken on a long term military commitment (the War on Terror), but the malaise around September 11th remains. And perhaps that malaise should remain.
Remembering that the country is not invincible and that we can be attacked and vulnerable is not the worst thing. Such knowledge can inspire and toughen generations and help us avoid getting complacent.
Last Sunday we were said to be marking the 10th anniversary of September 11th. But in reality we should have been in memoriam. The distinction is critical. Remembering that we were hurt doesn’t mean that the terrorists won. But it might mean they won’t get another chance to hurt us.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org