Two memory vignettes

Last night I was running errands with my kids.  Two things concerning memory stuck me as notable.

My kids are six and closer to three than two.  We were waiting in the check-out line when I noticed that Miss V, a former pre-school teacher for my daughter (the six year old), was a couple of people in front of us.  She was paying for a big bucket of paint and a couple of other things.  I waved, and pointed out that Miss V was there, and both my kids took off to give her full body tackles/hugs.  We talked, and my daughter told Miss V all about kindergarten.

Then Miss V. asked my son if he liked Christmas.

“I got presents, big trucks, and a boat”

“What was your favorite thing about Christmas?”

“I put the blue star on the tree with Daddy”.

We put our tree up almost a month ago, and he did put the blue star on top of the tree.  This is the first time when I am sure that he accurately reported back a memory of more than a couple days old.  He is transitioning from having a sense of memory/specific memories of gold fish, to building some permemant memories.  I know my daughter has long term memories dating to roughly the same point before she turned three.

As we were driving home from the shopping center, we passed a regional transit bus.  My son went happily ballistic about it as it was a big red bus and those are the best buses ever made.  The transit buses have a marquee above the driver.  There are three panels that each display for a couple of seconds in rotation.  The bus route number and name is the first panel, a banal expression of support for our local sportsball teams is on the second panel, and the third panel was “Always Remember 9/11”

I am too young, but did we as a society have that type of messaging about Pearl Harbor in 1954?  Our societal memories and memorialization of 9/11 can’t be health.  It should not be forgotten but it should not be quasi-idealized to maintain a permament state of fear and uncertainty.

69 replies
  1. 1
    kent says:

    Remember the Alamo!! (How long was that a live political wire? Is it still?)

    Unhealthy, I agree. New, not so much.

  2. 2
    Gin & Tonic says:

    Might be timely to say “Remember the Maine!”

  3. 3
    Ruckus says:

    I was five in 1954 and I don’t remember PH being everywhere. Do remember that a lot of people had lived with all the info available at that time for 10 yrs and we didn’t have the kind of rotating signs, social media etc. Newspapers were mainly it for info with radio being second, not portable at all. TV was just getting started, we had a tiny B&W in 53 and it was almost unwatchable. I also think that people wanted to move on, get jobs, have kids, all that.
    Now if you move on you might forget or at least give it less than a fully terrified memory, a horrible event that has changed this country in all the wrong ways, ways that I don’t believe that PH did.

  4. 4
    Yatsuno says:

    Vive le Revolution!

    Of course the French say that with irony more than anything.

  5. 5
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    I was 12 years old in 1954, and while Pearl Harbor wasn’t an in-your-face thing like 9/11, it was certainly noted and observed, both privately and publicly. We always made mention of it around the breakfast table (possibly because I had an uncle stationed there at the time of the attacks) and I’m pretty sure it came up in the classroom. The newspapers generally had some kind of article about PH and I do remember various adults in my life reminiscing in the “where were you when you heard?” vein.

  6. 6
    evodevo says:

    Yes, it was. And the whole WWII effort to demonize the enemy resulted in incarcerating Japanese Americans and in a visceral hatred of anything asian clear up until that generation died out. When Toyota located its car factory in our small Ky town in the mid-80’s, there were a LOT of locals(especially the rural ones) who opposed welcoming the “Japs” to town. A LOT of local WWII vets/civilians were making derogatory comments, and not wanting them as customers as late as the mid-90’s. The younger generations, not so much.
    Not something new to the human race. As long as xenophobia and aggression (expressed as tribalism in more “primitive” cultures) are a part of our animal nature, this will be a thing.

  7. 7
    Shalimar says:

    Marquee. We only get to make a marquis hold the sign after the revolution.

  8. 8
    JPL says:

    Buses now sell ads. I’m curious about who paid for the remembrance.

  9. 9
    SRW1 says:


    Vive le Revolution!

    Of course the French say that with irony more than anything.

    I suspect most of the French will say “Vive la Revolution”.

  10. 10

    How we memorialize something as a country depends a lot on how we feel about our success in dealing with it. We weren’t still whining about Pearl Harbor in 1954 because we defeated Japan in a war that cost millions of Japanese lives and we thought that was a proper response. In contrast, there are plenty of Americans who are still unhappy with the outcome of the Civil War who are refighting Pickett’s Charge, and there are plenty of Serbs who are still whining about the Battle of Kosovo.

  11. 11
    japa21 says:

    Pearl Harbor was to be remembered but not to the extent 9/11 is. I think this is for a couple reasons.
    Pearl Harbor was remembered more for the lives lost and as a way to maintain vigilence. But it was also in reference to a war that was long over by 1954 and with a major conflict in-between, Korea. So it was to be remebered in terms of a memorial more than a morivation to be overly fearful.
    9/11 is definitely in the latter category, and because it wasn’t a specific country that attacked us, but people using religion (in theory at least) as their motivation, it allows an entire category of people to remian suspect.
    And any politician who even indicates that we might overdo the Remember 9/11 hoopla can consider his/her career over.

  12. 12
    Joey Giraud says:

    It should not be forgotten but it should not be quasi-idealized to maintain a permament state of fear and uncertainty.

    Nothing is truly permanent, but 9/11 will be milked for as much fear and uncertainty as can be gotten out of it.

  13. 13
    GregB says:

    I am encouraged to see that the bus commemorates Benghazi! Never forget.

  14. 14
    Kylroy says:

    We sure as hell didn’t feel that way about Pearl Harbor in 1954 because we’d fought a world war in the meantime. And by we, I mean the entire country – if you didn’t serve, you still lived through the rationing and almost certainly knew somebody who was shipped overseas.

    Whereas with 9/11…nothing really changed. For the vast majority of Americans, day to day life is pretty much the same as it was 9/10/2001 (and the ways it has changed have nothing to do with 9/11).

  15. 15
    Richard Mayhew says:

    @SiubhanDuinne: But was it a daily occurrance, or the Pearl Harbor memories relegated to December 7th or VJ day?

  16. 16
    vtr says:

    Some, unfortunately, are just reminding us to remain frightened.

  17. 17
    Richard Mayhew says:

    @JPL: That marquis is controlled by the transit authority, it is not for sale, so this was an authority level decision.

    the ads are on the sides of the buses plus the bus wraps.

  18. 18

    I am too young, but did we as a society have that type of messaging about Pearl Harbor in 1954?

    I don’t know, but I find the fetishization of 9/11 obscene. It cannot be healthy for any society to wallow in the stink of its own failure for so long.

    Some, unfortunately, are just reminding us to remain frightened.

    @vtr: Glad I’m not the only one who sees that. That is literally all I can think of when some asshole politician or teatard plays the 9/11 card.

    “Stay terrified and in line, you little shits!”

  19. 19
    HRA says:

    I think “Remember 9/11” is used by some as venting their hatred of Muslims.

    Blackouts in WWII and Civil Defense drills in the Cold War were scary to children and probably adults, too.

    My son is a manager at our bus authority. I’ll have to ask him about their ads. I always thought they were bought independently of the authority. .

  20. 20
    mai naem mobile says:

    It must have been remembered somewhat because Lady Bird begged LBJ not move into the WH on Dec 7 which apparently was the day that the move in was scheduled.

  21. 21
    raven says:

    We had a fairly uneventful xmas up in Virginia. My in-laws had bought a house to use as an air b&b so we were able to stay there and actually host the family gathering. The SIL and family are very progressive unitarian types and the BIL and his clan are much more traditional Central Virginia conservatives. Like I said, it all went well but, for some reason, near the end her BIL thought it was important to show me a picture on his phone of some dopey lookin dude in India wearing a burning twin towers Hawaiian type shirt with a shit-eatin grin on his face. The best I could do was to say there were all kinds go religious nuts out there but I was still puzzled by what the fuck he thought he was accomplishing by showing me that?

  22. 22
    NCSteve says:

    My sense from reading about (and reading stuff written during) that time was that Pearl Harbor wasn’t fetishized the way 9/11 has been because of our having utterly defeated Japan. However, it’s clear that the trauma was still there was, if anything, more culturally pervasive because the memory had not been coopted by one party, used as a wedge issue and generally defiled the way the memory of 9/11 was within a year. And it was a potent memory. The threat of “another Pearl Harbor” was constantly bandied about as a justification for the, from this distance, incredible amount of resources we were pouring into the Strategic Air Command and nuclear weapons development and manufacture.

  23. 23
    agorabum says:

    No, we did not. But we suffered the same number of casualties as on pearl harbor in a week of fighting; sometimes just in a day. Over three years. Plenty of other even more horrible things to remember (d day, Tarawa, pelilu, Okinawa, Bulge, etc.). And we dropped nukes on Japan in retaliation.
    When every town across the US lost people to the war, it was different.

  24. 24
    Tommy says:

    I think a lot of it is the 24/7 media. I guess I shouldn’t be stunned but I still am when on 9/11 MSNBC reruns their entire coverage from that morning. I lived it, I don’t need to relive it again and again. I was the last plane out of National Airport on 9/10 to see my family in Illinois. I woke up to see planes crashing into buildings. When I finally got back to DC, which wasn’t easy, it was clear the world had changed. I don’t need to see people jumping out of buildings. Planes hitting buildings to know what happened.

  25. 25
    raven says:

    @evodevo: My old man went nuts when he found out his Dodge Colt was a Mitsubishi! This was made by the dudes that made the Zero’s!

  26. 26
    raven says:

    Pearl Harbor was an inside job!!!

  27. 27
    MomSense says:

    I haven’t been able to really deal with politics since the midterm elections, mostly I think from all the conversations I had with people phone banking. I wanted to reach through the phone, invoke Cher, and yell “snap out of it”. Is it possible to be addicted to fear? It seems like the country is stuck in a perpetual flight or fight response to life. Half the country is engaged in heavy escapism and the other half is hopped up on guns and anger.

  28. 28
    shelley says:

    I think there was a song called ‘Remember Pearl Harbor’

  29. 29
    sparrow says:

    @kent: I once nearly got into a fistfight with a Texas friend of mine for casually spitting out “Fuck the Alamo” to his face. Some people still care, apparently.

  30. 30
    Tommy says:

    @raven: My grandfather told me he’d buy me a car if I graduated with honors from college. I did and asked for a Toyota. He said and this is close to a direct quote, “the japs shot me, I won’t buy you a jap car.”

  31. 31
    raven says:

    @Tommy: A wise man.

  32. 32
    EconWatcher says:

    My grandfather fought in the Pacific theater. He was a decent man, but he and his brothers and buddies were unable to speak about the Japanese except through clenched teeth and with nasty epithets, right up until he passed away in the 80s. So yeah, I think they held onto it.

    I don’t think it’s fair to compare Pearl Habor to 9/11 because, for most American, 9/11 was a singular event, whereas Pearl Habor was just the beginning of a vast series of horrific events, it didn’t primarily target civiians, and it was far eclipsed in body tolls by later events such as D-Day.

  33. 33
    srv says:

    I, for one, welcome Richard’s observations outside of the Health Insurance Obamaverse.

  34. 34
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @Tommy: Media may be 24/7 now, but there was plenty of media 100 years ago, too. In the late 19th century NYC alone had at least a dozen “major” daily newspapers in vicious competition with each other. And they were at least as effective in swaying opinion as Fox is today – as I alluded to above, the US was essentially goaded into a (pointless, one-sided) war by Hearst and Pulitzer.

  35. 35
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @Tommy: “Jap cars” are now built by crackers. In contrast with “American cars”, which are built by messicans.

  36. 36 I try to be amused says:

    @Roger Moore:

    How we memorialize something as a country depends a lot on how we feel about our success in dealing with it.

    Yes. The total war with total victory following Pearl Harbor spoiled Americans into expecting total victory in all wars. Somehow, merely preventing another 9/11 without total war isn’t good enough for some people.

  37. 37
    Tommy says:


    My grandfather fought in the Pacific theater. He was a decent man, but he and his brothers and buddies were unable to speak about the Japanese except through clenched teeth and with nasty epithets, right up until he passed away in the 80s. So yeah, I think they held onto it.

    As did mine. He held onto it all his life. He passed away in the early 90s but I am sure if alive today he’d still hold the same thoughts. For lack of a better word he could hold a grudge.

  38. 38
    srv says:


    and it was far eclipsed in body tolls by later events such as D-Day.

    Pearl Harbor:

    Ninety minutes after it began, the attack was over. 2,008 sailors were killed and 710 others wounded; 218 soldiers and airmen (who were part of the Army) were killed and 364 wounded; 109 marines were killed and 69 wounded; and 68 civilians were killed and 35 wounded. In total, 2,403 Americans died and 1,178 were wounded.


    However recent painstaking research by the US National D-Day Memorial Foundation has achieved a more accurate – and much higher – figure for the Allied personnel who were killed on D-Day. They have recorded the names of individual Allied personnel killed on 6 June 1944 in Operation Overlord, and so far they have verified 2,499 American D-Day fatalities and 1,914 from the other Allied nations, a total of 4,413 dead (much higher than the traditional figure of 2,500 dead). Further research may mean that these numbers will increase slightly in future.

    9-11 was ~3K.

  39. 39
    JPL says:

    My father was on the Nevada and he purchased my first car, a Toyota Corona. He had moved on. December 7th was recognized in school but I don’t remember signs and stuff.

  40. 40
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @Richard Mayhew:

    Oh, no, sorry, just around December 7th. Not an ongoing fear-fetish thing at all, the way 9/11 is.

  41. 41

    I think the ability to move on varied a lot from person to person. My grandfather fought in WWII- admittedly in Europe- and went on to be part of the occupation. He wound up with a great respect for Japanese culture; it’s probably a result of his influence that I learned to eat with chopsticks at about the same time I learned to use a fork. The war was just one part of his life, and he moved on to other things when it was over.

  42. 42

    Is it possible to be addicted to fear?

    @MomSense: Oh yes. I have met several. They are not very pleasant to be around.

  43. 43
    a hip hop artist from Idaho (fka Bella Q) says:

    @raven: Mine also noted that the fathers of folks making such cars shot him up in the Pacific. On a fishing trip to FL after college, he was amazed at how much he liked the Japanese rental car. He’d moved on, but as he mentioned at the time, the shrapnel was still there.

  44. 44
    MomSense says:


    They are not very pleasant to be around.

    That explains the phonecalls.

  45. 45
    Keith G says:


    How about The Sands of Iwo Jima, the Bridge Over the River Kwai, From Here to Eternity, Guadalcanal Dairy, Three Came Home…..etc.

    It was everywhere, which made it seem sort of invisible at the same time….if that makes sense.

    Remember, we didn’t like nor trust the Germans, but we really hated the Japs.

  46. 46
    mai naem mobile says:

    OT I’ve been listening to Stephanie Miller and she’s on vacation so they’re doing a best of and, jeez, I’d forgotten some of the crap that was spent time on, from this year. For example – the stupid latte salute from the president.

  47. 47
    HRA says:

    In re: to bus ads, my son says an ad company pays them to put the ads on the buses.

  48. 48
    Sister Rail Gun of Warm Humanitarianism says:

    @MomSense: Or looking for some reason for their free-floating anxiety. It runs in a lot of families, my mother’s family being one.

  49. 49
    Tommy says:

    @HRA: I have a lot of experience here. Almost two decades. I bought a ton of ads on buses. In subways.Now only in DC but I am not sure there is any transit organization that won’t take an ad. Those come from ad agencies.

  50. 50
    Schlemazel says:

    I imagine he was hoping to prove to you that those people all hate us, all were thrilled that 9/11 happened and would love to do it again. You obviously were not filled with the requisite amount of fear and loathing for them. At least that is the message I would take if it were my wifes brother, he is an major asshole.

  51. 51
    Bobby Thomson says:

    @Ruckus: Pearl Harbor did change the country in terrible ways. Just ask George Takei. We just cabined it, though, so that non-Asian Americans didn’t notice.

    Anti-Japanese sentiment lingered for decades, but it wasn’t something people put on buses.

  52. 52
    Bobby Thomson says:

    @raven: LIHOP!

  53. 53
    MomSense says:

    @Sister Rail Gun of Warm Humanitarianism:

    It can be preferable to find external reasons for fear and anxiety if the alternative is self-examination. I know there are definitely times when I get far too exercised about BS things when I am under stress.

    I also seem to remember reading an article many years ago about how the “fear appeal” is used in advertising to channel fear into buying a product or voting for a particular candidate or issue, etc.

  54. 54
    Keith G says:


    Oh, no, sorry, just around December 7th. Not an ongoing fear-fetish thing at all, the way 9/11 is.

    I think the 9/11 messaging is a bit less emersive than the total impact of all the messaging (back in the day) about how we should feel about Pearl Harbor. That truly was an existential threat and it’s cost in blood dwarfs 9/11 by orders of magnitude. Over 111,000 Americans died in combat in the Pacific theater. Over 250,000 were wounded. The casualty rate was over 3 times higher than in Europe.

    The represents a rather vigorous messaging campaign.

  55. 55
    MomSense says:

    @Bobby Thomson:

    We watched some of the early Loony Tunes cartoons and they were full of racism.

  56. 56
    Schlemazel says:

    @Gin & Tonic:
    Its an interesting conundrum. If I wanted to buy a car that provided the most economic benefit to Americans which one should I get? I believe the Accord is built in the US but what percentage of the parts come from overseas? The Impala in made in Mexico but do parts come from the US? We have to support American workers, not corporations based in the US but how are American workers treated? My guess is a factory in East Armpit Alabama may not be much better for workers than one in Axila al este, Jalisco.

  57. 57
    mattH says:

    My deeply Democratic WW2 vet grandpa, who (barely) died before we went to Iraq the second time but after 9/11, mentioned to his family in 2002 that the country was a lot more united after 9/11 than after Pearl Harbor.

    9/11 has so much totemic force, especially for Conservatives/Authoritarians. Wish I had time to work it out a bit more, but off to work. I’ll check back in later.

  58. 58
    MomSense says:


    I think a lot of the Japanese cars built in “right to work” states so the workers are paid much less. It’s really difficult to be a responsible consumer these days.

  59. 59
    Elly says:

    Sigh… My daughter was born on December 7, 1992; and it was impossible to celebrate her birthday without my mother (while she was still alive) lapsing into a tearful lament about how terrible it was for her to be born “on a day of infamy.” After 5 – 6 years of that s**t, I finally snapped and responded: “Ma – we have roughly 8,000 years worth of recorded human disasters: invasions, atrocities, famines, plagues – you name it. And there are only 365 days in the year. Every single day is a day of infamy for someone, somewhere, at some time in the world.”

    It didn’t shut her up about it, of course – Mom had Pearl Harbor on the brain, for reasons that were inexplicable to me. I get that she was a member of the “Greatest Generation,” and worked at Willow Run during WWII. But she was completely dry-eyed and matter-of-fact about every other aspect of the war: Hitler and the Nazis ran a poor second to the Japanese insofar as her hate was concerned, despite the fact that she was (culturally) Jewish, and also had male friends and relatives (including her own brother) serving in the European Theater of Operations (and not, to my knowledge, in the Pacific).

  60. 60

    I think a lot of the Japanese cars built in “right to work” states so the workers are paid much less.

    @MomSense: You’d be surprised. I was. They are paid at pretty much unity with UAW workers, precisely because the ownership doesn’t want to give the workers a reason for unionizing.

    My last Nissan was built in Smyrna, Tennessee. My new Tacoma was built in San Antonio, Texas, but they’re also built in Mexico. No difference between the two, most of the work is done by robots these days anyhow.

  61. 61
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    I’ve told this story before…I asked my parents, who were 22 and 16 at the time of Pearl Harbor, if the ongoing commemoration of it was anything like 9/11, and they both responded “no”. Both of them seemed a bit put off by the ongoing wallow over 9/11. Probably this has a lot more to do with the fact that Pearl Harbor was just the beginning of a series of calamities that would extend on for three and a half plus years and would affect everyone in the country, unlike the “go shopping” reaction in the months following 9/11.

  62. 62
    Cervantes says:

    I am too young, but did we as a society have that type of messaging about Pearl Harbor in 1954?

    Absolutely not.

    For various reasons, the Japanese were “rehabilitated” very quickly after the war.

  63. 63
    Barbara says:

    @Tommy: When I was a teen/young adult, in my — Jewish — family and circles, the verboten car choice was a Volkswagen. Even among those who had done their fighting in the Pacific Theater. The Japanese were easily forgiven but the Germans…

    So all of my peers who wanted Bugs had to wait until they were in a position to buy one themselves.

  64. 64
    Duke of Clay says:

    @Roger Moore: I lived in Atlanta from 1989-2002. I don’t think a week went by without some reference to Sherman’s burning it down — sometimes humorous, often not.

  65. 65
    Katherine says:

    i was born in 1933 / i sure do remember hearing on the radio about the attack on Pearl Harbor / i acknowledge that day every darn year too !

  66. 66
    Nutella says:

    Well into the 1960s a fair number of people objected to buying things that were made in Japan because “Remember Pearl Harbor”.

    But the 9/11 stuff is different in that WWII did actually end while 9/11 seems to be used as inspiration for a permanent war.

  67. 67
    Ruckus says:

    @Bobby Thomson:
    That was sort of my point. PH wasn’t fetishized the way 9/11 has been. Yes bigotry was there but not so much in the news and as official policy other than the internment camps.
    Also maybe the fact that I had Japanese neighbors growing up and everyone treated them OK as far as I can remember and one of the kids and I were good friends, has glossed over my impressions. And I was as I said 5 in 1954.

  68. 68
    Gvg says:

    bus ads are sold as several others have noted. around here it’s local lawyers call us ads. the 911 ad doesn’t have to be a large group, it can be one rich guy with an obsession. there are bill boards with that kind of junk message known to be funded by one crank.
    IN the 50’s I think they were also on to worrying about nuclear war and the Cold War so that may have diluted Pearl Harbor memorials but we are still having some of those around here and I have been ignoring them for about the last 30 years when I realized how pointless they were. some people seem to like them though. Newspapers mostly.
    One thing that struck me about the anti war protests around here is how out of touch our local protesters seemed. they shouted stuff and waved signs that seemed more related to past romanticized Veitnam protests than the real events in 2001-2. I thought they had always wanted to have been in the Veitnam protests but were born too late. then the bigger group of idiots who supported the Iraq war seemed to be another group who had romanticized WWII and wanted to be another greatest generation. I got a very unreal feeling from most of them. Cheney struck me the same way too. I gather others of you had a very different experience with war protesters but this is rather small town here and that was my impression.

  69. 69
    mch says:

    There will be an end to 9/11. I was teaching a small group of college students last semester and paused at one point in a discussion — it suddenly hit me — how many remembered 9/11? None, not as a personal experience, not really at all. How many had a relative or at least knew someone who had fought in Iraq or Afghanistan? Not a one. (Even I am acquainted with a few, including one who lost a limb. Where do these children come from?)

    I don’t think this is good (see Fallows’ recent piece in the Atlantic). Born in 1950, I have been surrounded (till recently — they have all pretty much gone, she said in her rolled trousers) by people who knew war. Pearl Harbor: of course we (the children) remembered. Korea, too. And of course, my own generation’s Vietnam.

    Not much to remember when you weren’t part of anything, even via parents/uncles/aunts/cousins/family friends. Hence the success of the manufactured remembrance, matched by total forgetfulness. Weird.

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