Jon Wiener: Pearl Harbor and 9/11 ... A Fleeting Day of Infamy

Roundup: Talking About History

Jon Wiener teaches history at UC Irvine and writes for the Nation magazine.

If you Google "Pearl Harbor and 9/11," you get more than 4 million hits. In George W. Bush's 9/11 interview on the National Geographic Channel last week, he said Sept. 11, 2001, eventually will be marked on calendars like Pearl Harbor Day: a day never to be forgotten by the people who lived through it. But on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, it's instructive to consider the way Pearl Harbor Day was remembered on its 10th anniversary.

In fact, on Dec. 7, 1951, Pearl Harbor wasn't remembered, at least not prominently in the major newspapers and magazines. There was a reason why the Japanese attack in 1941 received so little commemoration on its 10th anniversary: In 1951, the U.S. was fighting a new war on the Korean peninsula, and had just signed a security treaty with Japan, which made it a crucial ally and staging base for the Korean War. Remembering Pearl Harbor could interfere with the nation's new mission.

The spirit of the 10th anniversary of Pearl Harbor was best expressed by the Washington Post in its lead editorial that day, which discussed the importance of Japan as an ally in the struggle against communism in Asia. Because of that struggle, "the Japanese American alliance ought to be maintained in harmony," the editorial concluded. "It is to this future rather than to the past that thoughts should be directed on this anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day."

In other words, don't remember Pearl Harbor. Think about the communists in Korea instead...

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