President Franklin D. Roosevelt described December 7, 1941 as “a date which will live in infamy” in his speech the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. 12/7 was a date seared into the memory of those who lived through it, although I think not nearly as meaningful to those who like me were born considerably later. Even infamy may have a half-life, and I suspect that today most people look at ‘Pearl Harbor Day’ on the calendar and don’t think that much of it.
We of the current generations have two dates of our own that live in infamy at least for now: 9/11 and 1/6. What these dates have in common with 12/7 is that they all represent thankfully rare dates on which the United States was attacked. But 1/6 isn’t quite like the others. The attack was from within not from a foreign power. And the evocative power of that date seems less universal, as some have taken to downplaying the significance of the sacking of the Capitol, and of the attempt to set aside the results of the Presidential election.
The January 6 Commission Report sought to nail down the history and to protect the popular memory, and the polity, from they-were-just-tourist revisionists and Big Lie conspiracists. In this, the Committee members were only partly successful, although the (multiple) juries are not just still out, but not even empaneled, as the Trump legal team tries to delay a formal reckoning of his and his associates’ conduct.
Here’s hoping the evocative power of those dates will fade with time in a normal, healthy way rather than being erased by lies or enshrined as the beginning of the end of the ‘American experiment’.1
- I was surprised to learn the this phrase, commonly attributed to Democracy in America, does not appear in the French original, but is apparently an invention of Tocqueville’s first English translator Henry Reeve.