This of course is the "date which will live in infamy". The day when Japanese forces carried out a devastating attack on Pearl Harbor in an attempt to nullify the U.S. threat in the Pacific Ocean. It was a successful attack in the short term, crippling the U.S. naval fleet and killing over 2400 American military men and civilians. But in the long term it mobilized the United States, steeled the nation to begin a long-standing war effort which eventually brought down not only the Japanese threat in the Pacific, but the other Axis Powers Germany and Italy in Europe. In concert with allies the U.S. proved to be a juggernaut which with grit and blood defeated the enemy and transformed the nature of the world itself, creating a new hopeful sphere of influence which has for the most part maintained relative peace for all of my long life and more.
When the United States was attacked again on September 9, 2011 the entire nation was poised to accomplish something magnificent. This time we failed. That failure came because in the moment when much could have been asked of the nation to bend back a barbaric culture intent on returning the world to the Middle Ages, little was asked aside from hectic cheer leading. A handful of soldiers, all volunteers were tasked and re-tasked re-tasked yet again with the mission while at home the rich got richer and poor got poorer. Instead of rising to the occasion we were supine in the day-to-day when the sacrifice was needed. I don't mean we should've once again unleashed a torrent of racist nonsense to help whip the masses into a war-footing, but we could've used the moment to reconfigure the nation from one which for too long merely considered itself and in which citizens worried only about themselves and instead put it at the head of a new order which could've led to the stars. Instead of caving into barbaric lunacy, we could have embarked on a new mission beyond this planet using the benefits of the shared effort to steel ourselves for a new age.
I look back on the nation in World War II and see people sharing the load. Following the crisis of 9-11 the load was merely shifted and as the restructuring took place callow and avaricious folks seized the chance to merely make more and more money. Diverting the national energy to follow base desires for oil reserves allowed the noble fight to become yet another dirty war, one which were all too eager to pry ourselves away from. All too soon the communal flame flickered and dwindled and the soldiers were left to fend for themselves on battlefields which have swallowed up armies across the ages.
Maybe it would've been just as bad, but now the moment is long long passed. The students I have before me in class each day were born after the last great event, to them it's history like Pearl Harbor was to me. But where as I can look at that ignition point and see that something great (if far far from perfect) was built, they can only see that seething is still used again and again for small-minded gains by those who creep into power. We deserved better from our twenty-first day of infamy, or sadly maybe we didn't. But our kids do.