Quickly, and without consulting the Internet, can you explain what infamous event in American history occurred on an April 19th? How about on an April 20th? Or on a Nov. 22nd?The answers are provided below. But any hesitation on the part of Americans to provide those three answers seems to confirm: When we say we shall "never forget," the durability of the claim might not be as solid as the bravado of the voice.
Today, 11 years after the worst attack on the United States' mainland, Americans vow again that we will never forget. Let us hope we can keep that promise. Across the land hearts will ache as we pause for private and public reflections on that horrific day. In Clark County, local observances include an 8:40 a.m. Patriot Day ceremony outside City Hall, 415 W. Sixth St., sponsored by the Vancouver police and fire departments. At 8 a.m. in front of the Camas Public Library, 625 N.E. Fourth Ave., firefighters from Camas and Washougal will lead an observance. In Hockinson at 6:58 a.m., Fire District 3 personnel will be in formation at the station at 17718 N.E. 159th St. and preside over a moment of silence. Other observances are scheduled throughout the community, bolstering the claim that our respect and honor are eternal for those who died.
But is it? Really? Recent developments at the National September 11 Memorial in Manhattan cause us to wonder. The New York Post described what has become common, that "tourists balance coffee cups and soda bottles on the parapets bearing the names of the dead. Parents hoist their children to sit on the bronze plaques, while other visitors splash water from the two waterfalls onto their faces to cool themselves on a hot summer day. On the plaza, tourists break out lunch foods and lie on their backs."
In just 11 years, we're starting to forget.
Columnist Michael Smerconish of The Philadelphia Inquirer used that Post story to draw these conclusions: "Ensuring that Sept. 11 stands apart will require community and individual action. … On Tuesday, 9/11 should be part of every school's lesson plan. Employers should find a way of noting the occasion, in keeping with the decorum of the workplaces. … (and) at dinner tables across America, Tuesday night needs to be a time for parents to share with their children the perspective of where they were 11 years ago, what happened to the nation, and with what consequence."
We would add that parents also should remind children about proper conduct at the National September 11 Memorial in Manhattan.
What about those three dates in infamy? As Smerconish wrote, April 19 marked the 17th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, when 168 people died. April 20 marked the 13th anniversary of the Columbine school shootings where 15 people died. Nov. 22 will mark the 49th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
On Dec. 7, Americans will remember the other date in which almost 3,000 people died and war began for America: 71 years ago at Pearl Harbor.
New York and New Jersey politicians have argued recently over who should be allowed to speak Tuesday at the memorial in Manhattan. For the first time, memorial officials have decided that no politicians will speak. This attempt to de-politicize the solemn occasion has itself become a subject of political debate.
That's the state of politics in America today. Are Americans becoming too divided to remember important dates, or to walk quietly on hallowed ground? We hope not, but we're not sure.