Thursday, September 11, 2014

When Do We Forget?



Today is another day Americans must never forget. Lest we forget, we are reminded: We must never forget.
It frightens me when I hear ‘We must never forget.’
There are other days Americans must never forget. Our parents and grandparents told us never to forget Pearl Harbor. Most of us have. It took two or three generations. While some Americans remembered Pearl Harbor, other Americans remembered the day their parents were moved to ‘relocation camps’ and a day in the land of their ancestors when the morning had two sunrises.
There are many days Americans avow must never be forgotten. They are mostly days when man’s inhumanity to man played some role: Wounded Knee, Gettysburg, poppy fields and graves, the liberation of Auschwitz, D-Day, Mi Lai. And today.
We are rarely told things like we must not forget the day polio was eradicated.
It frightens me when I hear ‘we must never forget’ because I am never quite sure what is meant.
I get that we don’t want to forget the physical suffering of the victims and the mental suffering of the survivors. But I can’t help but wonder if under the surface what is meant is we must not forget the evilness of our adversaries. We must not forget they are horrid people.
My father returned from World War II, where Japanese sailors tried heroically—from their viewpoint—to kill my father by dropping depth charges on his submarine. They failed to kill him. Instead, his submarine and many others sank ships and killed ‘Japs’. My father would never confirm stories I heard later from other submariners at the Arizona Memorial, that American submarines ran over surviving Japanese sailors in the water to prevent their rescue and return to Japan. Long after my father made his peace with the Japanese people, my grandfather vowed never to forget Pearl Harbor. He never purchased a single item made in Japan for the rest of his life.
We fail to notice, I think, that while we are ‘never forgetting’, neither are our enemies. The evil-doers have memories as well-honed and unforgiving and hate-filled as ours. While we remember atrocities done against our people and forget things like crusades and inquisitions and democracy-spreading invasions, our foes are reciting ‘We must never forget’ in any number of foreign languages.
When I think of man’s inhumanity to man and mankind’s capacity to hate, I sometimes despair for my species. I sometimes think civilization is illusory.
Hate does not need to be reminded ‘never forget.’ Hate remembers generation after generation.

So when I hear ‘We must never forget’, I worry. When do we get to forget?

Thanks for reading.
--Timothy Hurley, September 11, 2014

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