The funeral of President George H.W. Bush this week has reminded people of the bravery and sacrifice from many of the Greatest Generation. President Bush’s plane was shot down during World War II, and two of his crew members died.
Today is the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor; it is what conclusively drew the U.S. into the war in the Pacific. During the war, “Remember Pearl Harbor” became a rallying cry. It morphed after the war, shifting from an incitement to battle toward a true memorial. Remember Pearl Harbor. Don’t let the deaths of thousands of Americans be forgotten.
It hasn’t been forgotten, but it has faded. Time will do that. Those who fought in the war and others who were alive during it are aging, and events of the past always hold greater significance to those who survived them. The death tolls of Vietnam are fresher in our collective mind than the death tolls of the Civil War. We are told we shall never forget 9/11, and with any grace we shall not, but it will eventually shift into a key historical moment akin to the Alamo.
It’s also worth noting exactly what is “remembered”. That’s a term with a broad interpretation. It can mean that the Japanese, now allies, are never to be trusted again; that is a fundamentally bigoted position, albeit one understandable for those who saw loss and bloodshed during the war. It can mean that we are to be always on guard against incipient attacks from all directions; that is a fundamentally paranoid view, fostering the misery that is brought by a life without emotional bonds.
I choose to believe that it holds a purer significance. I believe it calls people to honor those who came before them and risked their lives to promote “liberty and justice for all”.
George Bush was 94 when he passed. One of the great successes of the twentieth century, and now the twenty-first, has been the strides forward in medical technology. When World War II raged, few Americans lived into their 90s. Now it is uncommon, but hardly rare. We lose lives every day of those who fought for a country founded in hope and freedom, but many are still with us. Many more have parents and relatives who fought. Today is a day to embrace them and remind them that those sacrifices are still, if not actively remembered, greatly appreciated.