On Dec. 7, 1946, exactly five years after being surprised by an attack at a place in the Pacific that most Americans had never heard of at the time, the U.S. was getting on with its life. The world war that had ensued had been over for almost a year and a half, reconstruction was beginning and few focused on the event in a tropical paradise that started it all for America.
Coming out of the Great Depression, most citizens of the United States had been able to deal with the shortages and rationing that often accompany a fiscally responsible wartime economy and were looking forward to rebuilding their post-war life with a New Optimism.
During the next several decades, as the U.S. continued to be involved in skirmishes, great and small, it became political suicide to even mention rationing. Under President Lyndon B. Johnson the Vietnam War escalated to nearly 600,000 troops in country or offshore, at about a billion-dollar-a-day cost. There was a brief debate about “guns or butter,” which was an oblique reference to rationing, but this was the decade of the Beach Boys, the Beatles and Buck Owens. No one wanted to sacrifice for “an unpopular war,” so we just moved on as if the Asiatic conflict was merely a grim network news reality show we watched as we ate our evening meal and which served as a lead-in to the welcome relief of prime time TV. “The Flintstones,” “Beverly Hillbillies,” “Dick Van Dyke,” “Petticoat Junction” and “Mission Impossible” comforted the escapists and deniers among us.
This Sept. 11 will mark exactly five years since another attack took us by surprise. But, unlike in 1941, we have displayed no resolve as a unified nation to punish the attackers, we seem to have no sense of anger at its perpetrators, no clear desire to fully investigate the who, why and wherefores of the episode, preferring instead to wallow in self-pity and hero-worshipping self-blame.
This Sept. 11 will fall on a Monday and, no doubt, ESPN will devote some of its pregame and halftime coverage of Monday Night Football to an observation of the tragic events of that day five years ago. There will be flags covering the field, soldiers, sailors, airmen, firemen, policeman and little kids trotted out, fighter jets will fly over the stadium (unlike on 9/11/01, when only four jets were scrambled, two for New York and two for D.C., and none of them managed to be anywhere near the attackers before it was too late).
We, as Americans, legal or illegal, will be asked to join in the mea culpa that has been our government’s and our media’s response to the whole episode. The only positive reform in the five years since 9/11, the only meaningful and helpful change that has come about is: ESPN’s moving the Monday Night Football kickoff time ahead to 8 p.m. Eastern.
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