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Black and white photo of burning battleship.
The USS Arizona burns on Dec. 7, 1941. The sunken battleship is maintained as a grave and memorial to the attack that cost 2,400 American lives.
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1941 and 2020: days that will live in infamy

The infamy of Japan’s attack at Pearl Harbor pales compared to what’s going on now.

“December 7th, 1941,” President Franklin Delano Roosevelt told an emergency session of Congress, “a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”

The date lives in infamy, still. At least among older Americans, who not only know what happened but will complain if a newspaper lets what has turned into a somber if minor patriotic holiday — think Arbor Day for burnt trees — pass without mention of the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor that drew America into World War II.

Consider it mentioned. What’s next?

We might ask why the attack is memorable, you know, for the kiddies, who just joined us and might only be vaguely aware there was a World War II and that we fought ... somebody.

The day lives in infamy because the surprise attack was carried out even while negotiations continued to work out our differences in a peaceful manner.

Why do we remember? Well, 2,400 Americans were killed that day. The death of Americans demands our attention.

Or did.

Now, I’m not so sure.

Monday, Dec. 7, 2020, is a day that will not live in infamy. But maybe it should. Because 2,400 Americans, or more, will die today. About the same number died yesterday and will die tomorrow. And the day after that. And the day after that.

Also dead in an attack, by COVID-19.

Was treachery involved? Not by the virus. A virus is a dumb thing, a microscopic beastie.

Yet there was treachery. The betrayal of the American people by its own government, which not only refused to act when COVID arrived last winter but continued to refuse, finding it easier to declare the whole thing a lie, a hoax. To pretend it wasn’t real. Some elements are doing so right now, head in the sand, in full this-isn’t-happening mode.

Attack? What attack? The ships are still there, untouched. Imagine FDR telling Congress that. Imagine Americans believing him. Now look around.

Talk about infamy.

In punting COVID, Donald Trump betrayed every American ideal. Our supposed strength. Our belief in ourselves — Trump said he didn’t acknowledge how severe the pandemic is because he didn’t want Americans to “panic.” Americans didn’t panic after Pearl Harbor. We sent Jimmy Doolittle and his B-25 raiders to bomb Tokyo.

Given the facts and a shred of leadership, Americans don’t panic. Though Trump certainly did. And does. He’s panicking now, desperately trying to reverse the election he lost in a way that should nauseate any patriotic American but doesn’t. It’s ironic that the same sort who cherish Pearl Harbor’s fading infamy, and gripe to see it overlooked, turn around and shrug off today’s shame.

Even though today’s infamy is far worse. At least the Japanese were a foreign nation we were at odds with (over their expansion across Asia). With COVID, it’s as if America bombed its own fleet, then declared the self-inflicted fiasco a victory.

We’re hot to remember Pearl Harbor because we were victims. There’s a power, a thrill, being a victim, a jolt of righteous indignation and delicious grievance. “Because we’re all victims,” Trump told his pity party in Georgia Saturday, hours after he called the governor of that state and demanded he nullify a valid American election. “Everybody here, all these thousands of people here tonight. They’re all victims, every one of you.”

There’s infamy for you.

The Japanese are notorious for failing to come to terms with their defeat. Their refusal to acknowledge their atrocities in China. Their framing the story so they’re the victims, of two unprovoked atomic attacks in August 1945.

Refusing to recognize reality, to apologize for past mistakes or admit defeat, are the hallmarks of dictatorships. Not the revitalizing candor of a free, strong, proud people.

The free people that Americans were, that some still are and that we all might yet be again.

The year 2020 will live in infamy, as the year 300,000 Americans died because of the treachery, self-interest and cowardice of our president, and the subservient capitulation of those in his party who knew better but fawned when they should have loudly objected.

There, Pearl Harbor memorialized. Happy? Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it. Another hard lesson of the Trump years.

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