Today marks the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor: a date which, according to the president at the time, would live forever in infamy. But, as this article points out, 70 years is enough time to turn personally experienced terror into the abstract facts of the history book. I know it’s the way of the world, but I find this deeply saddening.
Pearl Harbor happened decades before I was born, so I guess that in some sense I’m part of the problem. But it depresses me when I read about a veteran going to give a talk at a school, only to hear the kids ask their teacher, “Who’s Pearl Harbor?” It was always inevitable—because time is a ruthless bastard—that the Survivors’ Association would eventually disintegrate. But… crap. That’s just painful to me.
I don’t have a direct connection to a Pearl Harbor veteran, so I don’t claim any special privilege in the way I think about the Second World War. But I’m a sentimental person, and I believe in the importance of remembering history, so it hits me hard to read about this transition. Throughout my lifetime—so far—the events of December 7, 1941 have always resided within human memory. But not for much longer. The single most significant event in the lives of these veterans has been surpassed by the passage of time, relegated to history books, next to Napoleon and the Roman Empire.
70 years is a full human lifetime. People born on the day of Pearl Harbor are now well past retirement age. WWII vets are of my grandparents’ generation. I suppose carrying the flag for two successive generations is the most we could ask of anybody.
Younger generations are not immune. Someday, decades from now, the last person who personally witnessed 9/11 will pass away. That will be a little different, though, because 9/11 happened in a world of mass media. Vastly more people have memories of watching those events unfold on television than were actually there. Things like Pearl Harbor are different, because they belonged to a different time and a different world.
I think about these veterans—and not just these veterans, but all veterans, of all wars—and wonder how it would feel to see the sacrifices and struggles that defined my life to become successively less meaningful, less immediate, to people of each passing year. Because time, as I’ve said, is one ruthless bastard.
I guess I’m in a particularly sentimental mood, because this piece about the decline of Kodak also made me pensive. My parents had a Kodak Pocket Instamatic camera; I’m sure just about all of the photos from my childhood were taken with an Instamatic. I remember those old plastic flash cubes (though, gosh, I haven’t thought about those things in years). I remember being fascinated by those things, and wondering how something so small could explode with so much light without burning the house down or hurting people. I remember the whine of the camera, and the smell after the flashbulb went off.
I’m not a Luddite (well, okay, I do suck at social networking, but let’s ignore that for the moment). I don’t use a film camera any longer, and I’m quite happy with my digital camera. I take many more photos than I used to, and of a quality I never could have achieved before. Technology is a very good thing. But people of my parents’ generation would have said many of the same things about the innovations that made Kodak cameras a feature in every home.
The passage of time is relentless. Each tick of the clock pushes us away from the past, and each tock pulls us into the future.