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Beyond the Days of Infamy
On December 7, 1941, an aerial armada descended on Pearl Harbor crippling the United States’ Pacific fleet and killing over 2400. For our parents and grandparents, this devastating attack was a date that lives in infamy. While the enormity of that assault is not lost on my generation, it’s not something we lived through and over time it has become something relayed more through history books than personal experience. This separation from events is not a bad thing though, as long as we never forget the sacrifices of that generation. In some ways it can help the healing process; let us not forget, following World War II, both Japan and Germany embraced the universal values of human freedom, transformed into two of the world’s foremost democracies, and became America’s steadfast allies. Eleven years ago, on September 11, 2001, my generation experienced its own day of infamy. The date itself, 9/11, symbolizes the state of emergency that ensued after terrorists hijacked four commercial jets and crashed two of them into New York’s World Trade Center and another into the Pentagon. When the dust settled, nearly 3000 lost their lives and we learned the extremist terror organization, Al Qaeda, had perpetrated the attacks. Like the Axis powers before them, Al Qaeda represented a radical ideology that preyed on the despair of the downtrodden and derided human dignity. As a freshman studying then at American University, I’ll never forget the mixture of fear and disbelief as loud banging on my door and shouting from the hallway announced that the United States was under attack for the first time since Pearl Harbor. In those moments, Al Qaeda achieved a short-lived victory as panic blazed nationwide. They succeeded in filling the space left by a receding sense of security with confusion, but severely underestimated the resolve of the United States. In Al Qaeda’s view, Americans had grown comfortable in their lives and would fold if their sense of freedom and security were threatened at home. They believed we would retreat into our shells for generations to come. In the days and years ahead, Americans proved them wrong. Remembering the courage of previous generations in times of crisis, we responded by leading a charge to advance freedom worldwide. The image of the twin towers collapsing is still vibrant, but one day, as my generation passes, it too will separate from personal experience and become an event relayed through history books. Again, that need not be a bad thing as long as our children and theirs (and so on) never forget the sacrifices of those who came before. As they move beyond this generation’s day of infamy, let them remember that if those who believe in human freedom grow silent, the enemies of liberty will not hesitate to fill the void.
This post was written by Christopher Walsh, Program Coordinator of the Freedom Collection.