Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Fossilized Pearl

There is a lot of media attention this year for the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Pearl Harbor.  And much of it seems to be rightly recognizing that our living connection to that event - our veterans - are slowly fading away.  Consequently many articles this year focused on the stories of that day told from those who lived it.

But what will we remember of the event when everyone associated with it has passed on?  What do we remember of any event when the chief reminders are monuments silently extolling the unspecified sacrifice of faceless names, lost ships, and numbered unit designations?

Pearl Harbor, like September 11 2001, will forever be entered into our national conscience as a "day of infamy".  Photographs and video of the carnage and devastation will help those not yet born understand the impact of those fateful days.  But as the centuries pass, the memory of those who were there will become as etched in a marble plaque as the very carved names that represent them.  And so enshrined they will remain until the odd ancestor or enthusiast will visit an archive, and retrieve some random scrap of personal information that will begin for them an odyssey into the past that grows more interesting and exciting with every new find.

To some, every name, on every monument, is a story waiting to be told.  Dusty archives hold innumerable stories, long forgotten but waiting patiently to be rediscovered.  But these speak only to the few with the interest and ardor to work them out.

Today we remember Pearl Harbor.  But as you take a moment to remember the sacrifice of so many Americans 70 years ago today, give a thought about how this event - which today is so well known and appreciated - will be preserved long after the last veteran has passed.  Think about how many other once remembered and respected events have become entombed in the crumbling monuments that were erected to honor them.

Even the venerable wreck of USS Arizona is deteriorating.

John H. Plumb, a British historian once wrote "History is now strictly organized, powerfully disciplined, but it possesses only a modest educational value and even less conscious social purpose."  The methods by which we correct, or exacerbate, those shortcomings in the future will be our ultimate tribute to the legacy of those fallen heroes.

No comments: