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An elderly lady we know, who's still going strong--a little slow these days, but still strong--has a Pearl Harbor memory. She was just a little girl in south Arkansas, living a rural life, but, at the time, a high-tech one. That is, her family had a radio.

She doesn't remember the FLASH! She doesn't remember the announcer. She doesn't even remember the news mentioning Pearl Harbor that Sunday morning. She only remembers her mother crying. That's how the Second World War started for her.

This generation had its own wake-up call one Tuesday morning. Subscriber demographics suggest most folks reading the newspaper today are old enough to have their own 9/11 memories. One of ours was of a newsman on TV--maybe Peter Jennings?--wondering aloud whether the terrorists chose the date because of the emergency number Americans call in crisis.

It's been 17 years since Sept. 11, 2001. In many countries, that might seem like no time at all. Surely the Chinese don't consider that significant. (They take the long view.) But in this new country, this frontier country, this country that's always changing, 17 years is a large chunk of our history.

Imagine 17 years after Pearl Harbor. That would have been 1958. An American living in 1941 wouldn't recognize his country in 1958. What are all these televisions? Can this many people afford their own cars?

In 1941, most planes didn't use jet engines. By 1958, the Space Race was on.

In 1941, Glenn Miller and The Andrews Sisters were top acts. By 1958, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis brought a new sound--and image.

How Green Was My Valley was winning movie awards in 1941. The Bridge on the River Kwai was in color by 1958.

A lot changes in this ever-changing country in the time it takes for a newborn to finish high school. Now here we are, as far away from 9/11 as 1958 was from the attack on Pearl Harbor.

But the Axis Powers, and the Soviet Union after that, were a different sort of enemy. They had uniforms. They had capitals. They had leaders who could take responsibility and give orders, who could sign surrender documents. The enemy America faces today has none of those things. He's elusive as a ghost.

Thanks to America's military, and our allies, there are fewer such ghosts every day. Has anybody heard from al-Qaida lately? And now that we have a president who doesn't lead from behind on these matters, the "jayvee" squad of ISIS is on the run, too.

This enemy, however, will never surrender on an aircraft carrier. So pressure must be placed on him continually, no matter what name or acronym he comes up with to describe his version of Islamic terrorism. If there is another option to keep Americans--and not just Americans--safe, we'd love to hear it.

Yes, this is a different war from those of the past, as we remember the past. For by now history has done its usual trick and turned into myth, and we remember even the cruelest war in man's history, the Second World War, as the good war fought by the greatest generation, when the country was united, all of us supported a dynamic leader who enjoyed the nation's confidence, and victory inevitably awaited. As usual, memory dims and is replaced by monuments.

The grinding war of the GIs, the helpless feeling that it would never be over no matter what the wartime propaganda said, the dreaded telegrams from the War Department ("We regret to inform you . . ."), all of that is now seen from the perspective of the outcome, not the way it was year after year, blow by bitter blow. We forget the weariness and confusion, the conspiracy theories about how FDR had provoked the Japanese into attacking our unprepared fleet at Pearl Harbor, and the anger at those who had brought all this on us, whether deliberately or through sheer incompetence.

Today, too, many look back nostalgically to an idyllic pre-war time that exists only in their imaginations, and wonder why we have to fight. And the rest of us have to explain.

Every year we get further and further removed from the horror and shock of Sept. 11, 2001. But we must remain vigilant. We simply do not have a choice.

Editorial on 09/11/2018

Print Headline: Sept. 11, 1958

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