Ten (and 70) Years After: 9/11 and Pearl Harbor Remembered

What will we remember about it?

It’s been a decade today, and I still wish it had never happened. Today, with a contemplative heart, I can not help but reflect on the mind-numbing tragedy of 10 years ago when the World Trade Center (buildings 1,2,…and 7) collapsed with remarkable precision, the Pentagon was bombed, and something plowed a trench into a field outside of Shanksville, PA. Thousands upon thousands of innocent people were killed that day, as well as the destruction of untold mountains of information and evidence, in one fell swoop.

I was in graduate school when it happened, getting ready for my morning, on my way to class. My mom called me and said, “The Twin Towers collapsed.” The news was so outrageous I didn’t believe her. “No way,” I said, “What are you talking about?” “Turn on the TV,” my mom replied. I missed class that day and spent the next 36 hours glued to every news source I could find, my sleepless heart breaking. I had lived in New York for a time. I had my own romance with the beautiful and majestic towers, as well as the friends and loved ones who were choked by dust, but thankfully uninjured otherwise. It is a day I can not forget.

Photo: Suhail Rafidi

World Trade Center by night, 1999

Photo: Suhail Rafidi

World Trade Center by day, 1999

Years later, a friend who was downtown when the towers collapsed recalled to me the billowing opaque clouds of dust choking the streets. As she coughed fitfully, she was thinking, “There were people in those buildings. There are people in this dust! I’m breathing dead people.”

There is an overwhelming temptation, almost a cultural pressure, to remember with sorrow and sentimentality the senseless acts of marauding violence perpetrated on the American people one decade ago today. But I urge you, while remembering our beloved lost (and the crippling blow struck against our republic), let us also remember Pearl Harbor.

Some of the similarities are uncanny.

Like 9/11, Pearl Harbor was another bloody ambush on American soil that acted as a terror wake-up call, whipping public opinion into a warring froth. Like 9/11, Pearl Harbor caught America seemingly unaware. In the aftermath, the public was filled with pain, rage and fear directed at a clearly defined and alien enemy.

Archival image of the Pearl Harbor attack, December 7th, 1941

The violence and terror we experienced on September 11th, 2011, and December 7th 1941, the horror and heartbreak, these are moments of suffering we Americans have in common with fellow human beings living in other war torn parts of the world. In South America, Africa, Arabia, India, and China – all the way around the globe back to the U.S.A – violence and terror are happening to our human brethren every day. People are coming home from a day of blood, bullets and rubble, only to find that their family have disappeared, claimed by war, and the house is empty.

Because of the suffering we felt when we were struck on our own soil, we are more capable of feeling compassion toward the suffering of others. This I feel is the only good we can cull from such disaster. I hope the suffering we’ve felt hardens our resolve to seek compassion for our fellow sufferers, rather than create more suffering through retaliation with arms.

I heart humanity.

Just like Pearl Harbor, it has been established that our leaders knew the 9/11 attack was coming and waited for it to happen. Unlike Pearl Harbor, we didn’t have to wait decades for secreted files to be declassified. With Internet, the questionable circumstances of the 9/11 attack were brought to the fore with remarkable speed. When we remember Pearl Harbor and 9/11, bear in mind that the events have unsettling commonality. In light of that knowledge, I suffer more, under my recurrent, fleeting frustration with the system. I wish more than ever that it had never happened.

No matter how or why 9/11 and Pearl Harbor happened, thousands of real life human beings were blown up, burned, maimed and pulverized to dust. The men and women lost at Pearl Harbor and 9/11 left behind them a long trailing wake of broken hearts in the friends and family who survived them. We have great suffering in common with the rest of the world’s war ravaged people. With that suffering, we are now challenged to grow beyond it, to find any common ground. By our tragedy we are challenged to glean anything at all which may help humanity evolve beyond the impulse to destroy each other and create more suffering. Compassion is a key to unlocking that circular trap of suffering met with aggression. The legacy of these tragedies must be compassion.

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About Suhail Rafidi

Suhail Rafidi is a novelist and educator whose works explore the destiny of human values in a technological landscape. You can find him on Twitter, too, @shelldive.
This entry was posted in Sociey and Culture and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Ten (and 70) Years After: 9/11 and Pearl Harbor Remembered

  1. Suzanne says:

    But our response can sometimes make things worse. After Pearl Harbor, we jailed thousands of innocent Japanese-Americans. Will the legacy of 9/11 solely be fear and hatred towards the entire Muslim faith? I certainly hope not. Religious fundamentalism is poison. If we look back at just about ever terror act on every continent, religious fundamentalism plays in.

  2. Ken says:

    I’m Japanese and should tell you what actually happened.
    Please understand Japanese people and American people didn’t have any intention to fight each other before 1941. For example Hawaiian king sent a personal letter to the Japanese Emperor and government for their protection. Japan ignored it, as Japan didn’t want to provoke US. Americans were the same. Roosevelt had a togh election, as American public saw him as a war monger. At the time Japanese hated Britain because of territorial disputes in eastern Asia but had no intention to attack US. However, Roosevelt supported China by spending 14 million USD which amout was more than Chinese government spent. In addition, he sent Flyingtigers to Burma to help British fighter pilots there before the Pearl Harbor attack. This part was denied publicly, though Japanese fighter pilots saw US planes then and recruited US pilots admitted that their recruitment was well before the Pearl Harbor attack. Trying to avoid a war against US, Japanese government disparately made efforts by proposing two consession plans. The first plan was like this. After a peace treaty Japan was willing to abonedone newly acquired territories. The second plan was like this. Even no peace treaty was concluded, upon starting a peace treaty negotiation, Japan was willing to abonedone newly acquired territories. US government denied both plans outright. In addition, US government demanded to give up all the territories outside Japan immediately while implementing trade sanction including oil embargo against Japan. Secretary of State, Cordell Hull said, “Japan must retreat to the territory before Japanese-Russo War”, which would undermine military safety of Japan during the era and all the efforts for two decades would come to nothing.
    American people must know that 7 years before the Pearl Harbor attack the policy of trade sanction including oil embargo against Japan was already formulated. But Hoover denied it as he thought the plan was a sure way to war. He was clever enough to think Japan as a blockade against communism. Later the plan was implemented by Roosevelt who said to his servicemen “I give you a god damn war!” As the original scenario goes, Japan attacked the Pearl Harbor. If he/she was sane enough before the attack, anyone would predict such apparent intention. After removing Japan as a military power in Asia, US needed to face communism directly in Korea and Vietnam. So many lives were wasted.

    When Secretary of State, Cordell Hull formulated the plan, Roosevelt thought the plan was bit softer than he had expected. Roosevelt ordered Harry Dexter White to write a tougher plan against Japan. Later Harry Dexter White was found to be a Soviet informant. Roosevelt had a serious mistake in this regard as well.

    Do you think 9/11 and the Pearl Harbor attack are same?

    • Ken, Thank you for your thoughtful and informative reply!

      There are many historical details that are unique to each event. I understand the point you are bringing forth in your analysis, that the United States implemented a secret plan of sanctions and embargoes, goading Japan for years, to make Japan attack the U.S. first, so that the U.S. government would have public opinion behind them when they entered the war. Japan wanted to stay out of the war. The American public wanted to stay out of the war. But American Industry wanted to fight, to build and sell the machinery of war.

      In the context of my article, your most relevant point is that Hoover (and later Roosevelt) both knew that Japan was eventually going to attack. They were working hard for years to make Japan attack first. The U.S was helping Japan’s enemies and denying Japan trade. They were counting on Japan attacking.

      That kind of foreknowledge is the major, powerful similarity between 9/11 and Pearl Harbor: U.S. leaders knew very clearly that both attacks were coming. U.S. leadership even knew when both attacks were coming, but just waited for both attacks to happen, to make it easier to manage public opinion at home when embarking on their warpath. The U.S. pushes others into fighting first, out of frustration and deprivation, so that when the U.S. joins the fight, they maintain the illusion of a moral high ground. The U.S. does this at home with protesters, as well as abroad with weaker countries. This is where I see the most striking similarity between 9/11 and Pearl Harbor. When America wants to go to war, America doesn’t technically start a war. We goad some smaller country into fighting first, so that we can decimate them with a clear conscience.

      Thank you for reading! I’m glad to receive your history lesson.
      -Suhail.

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