Monday, February 06, 2012


Time is a river comprised of seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, and years. History is the channel carved by the river.

We all remember significant dates in our individual lives...our birthday and the birthdays of our friends and relatives, anniversaries, significant events which altered our lives. These vary for each of us. We learn, collectively, the significant dates in history taught us in school.

But rarely a single, shocking, history-changing event will burn a date and sometimes an hour into our collective psyche to such a degree that almost every individual alive at the time can instantly recall exactly where they were when the events occurred. I have lived through at least four such events; the attack on Pearl Harbor, the death of President Roosevelt, the assassination of President Kennedy, and 9-11.

Those not alive on December 7, 1941 cannot fully appreciate the immediate, personal impact of the attack on Pearl Harbor had on us as a nation and a people. It is rapidly becoming just another historical date as it...and the people who experienced its immediate effect, fade into history. Its impact was equivalent to 9-11, but because we had never experienced such a national tragedy, we had nothing at all to compare it with.

I distinctly remember my parents and I going to my Aunt Thyra's and Uncle Buck's house and listening to news of the attack on the magnificent old console radio which is still in the family. While I had just turned eight, my cousins Jack, Cork, and Fat--another story--would soon all go off to fight the war. I can only imagine, now, how Aunt Thyra and Uncle Buck must have felt as we listened to that broadcast.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt had been in office ten months when I was born. He was the only president I knew until I was 12. He had led the nation out of the great depression and through World War II. When he died, on April 12, 1945, just two months before the end of the war, the shock and grief was hard to comprehend. But being only 12 at the time, I was upset mainly because, for the three days between his death and funeral, all regularly scheduled radio programming was suspended, replaced by only music.

On November 23, 1963, I was five years out of college and working as an editor at Duraclean International in Deerfield, Illinois. I remember gathering with coworkers in the parking lot to hear the news on someone's car radio. Again, the effect on the nation was profound beyond description, and like the other incidents cited, its effect is being blurred and lost.

The similarities of the impact on our national psyche and history of the attack on Pearl Harbor and 9-11are many. But somehow, perhaps because 9-11 is fresher in our collective memory--and thanks to television's showing it as it happened, had greater immediacy, superseding Pearl Harbor in sheer incomprehensibility and numbing shock. Horror is not too strong a word.

I recall having seen, years before 9-11, news reports of mothers in Argentina protesting the disappearance of their children taken by the government, carrying photos of the missing. I was deeply moved. But to see, within hours after the towers fell, crowds of Americans walking the streets of an American city in the 21st century carrying photos of missing loved ones and friends was utterly devastating...and I find the memory devastating still.

It is both strange and sad that there are few indelible moments of joy and elation that have had an equal and collective impact on us all. (The end of WWII and man's landing on the moon are the only two that leap immediately to mind.) But we can hope for more.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to check out his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs ( ).


Kage Alan said...

I don't know that just because I wasn't around in 1941 doesn't mean I can't appreciate the personal nature of the attack, Dorien. You're forgetting how many others weren't, and how all of them (and myself) experienced 9/11 together as a first attack.

The feeling of violation is the same. The feeling of vulnerability is the same. The feeling of helplessness is the same.

But you are right about remembering exactly where we were when events like these happened. I still remember 9/11 and it's doubtful I'll ever forget.

C. Zampa said...

I look back to some of the historical events of my time, and I have to kind of laugh at my innocence. The Bay of Pigs, for example was for me and my era--as children---nothing but fire and bomb drills at school.

And, now, when I see films or documentaries about the event and realize the imminent danger we faced, I get chills. Our parents knew, we did not.

And Pearl Harbor. Like Kage, I wasn't around, either, but there is something so horribly shocking and huge about the film clips that I FEEL I was there and I shiver when I hear recordings of the broadcasts.

Same with the Hindenburg. Some images of these horrific events burn in our memories and cause us to tremble even though we weren't alive at the time.

Beautiful post, my friend. Thank you.