By Todd C. Frankel
Comparisons of Tuesday’s tragedy to Pearl Harbor flooded in right from the start.
It was the first thing many people said they thought at seeing the horrific TV images. Several national lawmakers drew the connection, with one senator calling it "a second Pearl Harbor." Adm. Robert Natter, commander of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, said, "We have been attacked like we haven’t since Pearl Harbor."
Pearl Harbor has been the touchstone for reeling minds in the wake of Tuesday’s horrors, said Randolph Hennes, a University of Washington affiliate assistant professor of history.
"It’s the only similarly spectacular event to compare it to," Hennes said.
But even allusions to the Japanese attack that claimed 2,390 American lives on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, seemed to fall short. The destruction caused by four hijacked jetliners crashing into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon surpassed anything known previously to Americans.
This was something worse.
Sept. 11, 2001, was quickly recognized as a new day that will live in infamy, an updating of President Franklin Roosevelt’s famous words.
Hennes said Pearl Harbor was the first thing he thought of when he awoke Tuesday to the early news reports. The 70-year-old Seattle native was 11 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. That event still resonates powerfully for younger people, who know it only from history books and movies.
"Pearl Harbor sent a shock through the American system that still echoes," he said.
Walt Bailey, who lives just east of Marysville and was a serviceman at the time of Pearl Harbor, said he sees the parallels between the two tragedies but also thinks they differ in important ways.
"It was so quick and no one knew," said Bailey, 82. But Tuesday’s attacks appeared to claim so many more lives, he said.
O’Kelly McCluskey, a 75-year-old WW II veteran from Lynnwood, said he didn’t see similarities.
"But how can you make sense of this thing?" he asked.
Tom Preston, a national security expert at Washington State University, said Tuesday’s events, like Pearl Harbor, should change forever how safe Americans feel.
"I don’t think the American public will see the world the same again. You’re looking at thousands and thousands of people dead. This attack shakes us, makes us feel our vulnerability," Preston said.
Both Preston and Hennes worried that people would target certain nationalities in the wake of Tuesday’s explosions. It was widely believed that Middle Eastern terrorists were responsible for the attacks, and the professors said they hope people resisted the temptation to blame all Middle Easterners for the tragedy, avoiding the mistakes made with people of Japanese descent during WW II.
Hennes said Tuesday’s events will not quickly or easily recede from our memories.
"In a year, will it be a turning point in American history?" Hennes asked. "I can’t see how it can’t be."
You can call Herald Writer Todd C. Frankel at 425-339-3429
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