Today, December 7th, “a day that will live in infamy”, is the 69th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Complete victory in the subsequent war and the passage of the intervening years have done little to assuage the emotions conjured by the memory of this day. These very same emotions were only rekindled higher by the attacks on 9/11. These two dates (December 7th and 9/11) now serve as the brightest stars in a constellation of American military defeats that have served our nation well with their drum-beating call-to-arms.
These two dates maybe the brightest in the American psyche, but they are not alone. Preceding these dates were other defeats that have held similar sway, but due to the corrosive passage of time, memory of their actual dates have passed out of common knowledge. Even so, their remembrance still survives. Two examples events are the Alamo and the Little Big Horn.
All four events, the Alamo, the Little Big Horn, Pearl Harbor and 9/11 were not American victories and yet all four events remain revered. The telescoping lens of history affords us the comfort of perspective. The passage of time makes perfectly clear that while the first three events, the Alamo, the Little Big Horn and Pearl Harbor were loses; they also inevitably led to victory. The 9/11 conflict is still ongoing and its eventual outcome is as yet uncertain.
Maybe the uncertain future causes us to cleave to these past defeats that were eventually overturned. Cherished almost as talisman, each tragic loss has with time been burnished bright and now serves as an illuminating guidepost. These guideposts both accompany and also comfort us, as we march on into the approaching darkness, on to the promise of tomorrow’s glittering dawn.