The Defiance of History

My mother is a selective historian. In fact, there are only three dates my brother and I are mandated to remember:

  • June 6th, 1944 — D Day
  • November 22nd, 1963 — John F. Kennedy Assassination
  • December 7th, 1941 — Pearl Harbor Day

As a dutiful daughter, this past Wednesday, Pearl Harbor Day, I texted my brother and mother with the obligatory inquiry as to the significance of the date. Our shared macabre fascination with a day that saw the deaths of so many may be seen as odd or even irreverent. But my mother’s early teachings about the significance of Pearl Harbor Day fueled in my brother and I a deep desire to understand how it happened and to honor those to whom it happened.

It’s been seventy-five years since that fateful day.

My grandfather, now eighty-eight, was too young to be in service on Pearl Harbor Day, although he joined the Navy as soon as possible thereafter. Through his presence, I feel connected to his past, and witness still his inability to describe the impact of that day on himself and the nation. I remember his disappointment in my reaction to Saving Private Ryan, a movie I first watched while trying to get a boy to hold my hand. I realize now that he hoped the film could communicate the magnitude of the truth he and they lived in a way his words never could. I can’t watch it now, for the shame of my indifference at the time and the weight of his disappointment is overwhelming.

This week, we laid to rest one of our own, killed by a war where friend and foe often blend in to one indistinct enemy. And while his death cannot be compared to the losses on Pearl Harbor Day, as my husband escorted his earthly remains to Arlington this week, I can’t help but think that he is now part of one history, one family, one war.

Much like Pearl Harbor, his sacrifice was likely preventable if our hubris hadn’t kept us from underestimating our enemy. And, as for many in the United States in the days following Pearl Harbor, this loss made the war we fight today extremely loud and incredibly close.

As the wife of a soldier, one who will inevitably be part of this war, it is real for me now, and moving forward I will be unable to make it unreal again.

I think about what that realization must have been like for an entire country. What it must have felt like the morning of December 8th, 1941. A seismic shift in a people’s understanding of the world, their place in it, and their inevitable involvement in a war that just yesterday seemed so far away.

History is defiant. It will not be forgotten. It refuses to let us hide behind our arrogant assumption that we are impervious to its power. History welcomes us, offering its wisdom willingly, knowing that one day we will all end up at its table.

Will you pull up a chair and listen now? Will you sit at the feet of history and let it tell you a story. Will you see the parallels of history’s past with the perils of today’s present? Will you care?

Yesterday, I sat in a chapel full of soldiers as the guns went off and the bagpipes hauntingly hailed “Amazing Grace”. I watched as they saluted their brother for the last time and honored his life…and his death. For now, the day is done. And we shall safely rest.

Until tomorrow, when those soldiers will answer the call of history once more.