Remembering Pearl Harbor and Other Slogans
We've been using them for a very long time...
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Americans have been using the "remember (fill in the blank)" theme for most of their history. Before the Revolution there was a nursery rhyme commemorating the capture of Guy Fawkes on 5 November 1605:
Remember, remember, the fifth of November…
The rhyme reminded every succeeding generation after the Gunpowder Plot failed to blow up the Parliament and the Lords and the King at the same time that treason in whatever form was long remembered. That plot failed abysmally, and all the plotters done to death. But, as I noted in an earlier post, it gives us a reason to set off fireworks on days other than the 4th of July.
Remember Bunker Hill!
This was in 1775. This slogan celebrated not a defeat as much as a forced withdrawal compelled by a lack of ammunition. But the battle at Charles Town Neck was an indecisive if bloody skirmish in the war's scheme, for it did not break or make the siege of Boston. The British, however, were better at remembering that abattoir where a mob of shopkeepers and farmers slaughtered some of the best infantry in Europe at short range. It was because of that Pyrrhic victory that Parliament decided they had a proper war on their hands and raised a bigger army to fight it. This slogan worked both ways…
Remember the Alamo!
America actually used this one in two wars: the Texas War for Independence in 1835, and the Mexican War in 1846. It was a harder sell the second time, because the two were a decade apart. Texas fought their war without the active participation of the US, though the Americans did stand by and cheer. Most of America didn’t really care, despite the sacrifice of Tennessee frontier hero/former Senator Davy Crockett. Much of the intrigue displayed in popular tales later were amplified for effect, mostly entertainment. The 1845 annexation of Texas was a contentious issue primarily because it would be another slave state, and the 1846 war with Mexico was not popular in most of the north, despite the slogan. Only The South (TM) was wild about the war with Mexico, sending more militia units than the northern states, where the only Ohio Country and Great Lakes area mustered much interest, primarily for the sake of stability and trade.
Remember Fort Sumter!
This was a bloodless bombardment of a Federal fort where the only casualty was after the surrender of the garrison, but still could stir the blood…and it did. Hundreds of thousands flocked to the colors, filling the ranks of Union land and sea units. The Confederacy started a draft in 1861, but still had thousands of volunteers, responding to another slogan…
This chant was older than the war and was primarily to mask the maintenance of The South’s (TM) “peculiar institution” of slavery. Though the north had been enriched by the slaves and their output as well, the issues of civil rights were heating up in the salons of power in the non-slave states, and the death grip that the southern states had on the western expansion, especially after the Dred Scott decision (1857), was threatening the economy. Waving the bloody Fort Sumter shirt worked better than the abstracts of “rights.”
The Little Big Horn massacre gave birth to this theme that had some success, but it was difficult to draw attention to one more massacre in a conflict hundreds of years old on a wild frontier that few east of the Mississippi (where most of the people were until the 20th Century) understood, regardless of slogans. A minority of people seemed to care enough about Custer to even notice his demise while Horace Greely and the Hearst papers were “bleeding for the Noble Red Man.”
Remember The Maine and To Hell With Spain!
This sought to invoke the image of a perfidious act of sabotage. Though still debated, most authorities agree that Maine was destroyed by an internal explosion, not an external one. In any event, this one might have actually started a war…
You furnish the pictures, and I’ll furnish the war
William Randolph Hearst.
There are several versions of the telegram Hearst sent to his illustrator, Frederic Remington, who was in Cuba after Maine blew up and reporting that no oppression was going on, but this version is the most seen. Maine, some argue, started a war to sell Hearst newspapers and create an American Imperium…except it simply wasn’t ready for empire and wasn’t expecting one. The oft-thrown motive that it was United Fruit’s doing is simply wrong; United Fruit didn’t exist until years after the war.
Remember the Lusitania!
The Great War of 1914-18 provided several opportunities for sloganeers, but Lusitania was an ocean liner where over a hundred Americans lost their lives. A German submarine torpedoed her without warning off the Irish coast in May 1915. That she was also carrying ammunition and arms from America to Britain never seemed to have mattered, but it took nearly two more years, more sinkings, and the Zimmerman Telegram for the slogan to matter enough to the Americans to do something about it and declare war on Germany in 1917. Lusitania went down while a diplomatic crisis raged about the use of submarines. As my readers know, cruiser warfare was a big issue in 1915. While America's war against Spain was dubious as to cause or need, isolationism delayed her war against Germany until 1917 and the reluctance to widen a war that was already gone far beyond anyone's worst pre-1914 nightmares.
Remember Pearl Harbor!
This recalling images of a sneak attack, an insidious enemy, innocent lives lost, and fleets devastated—was a useful bond-selling slogan. “Remember Bataan” invoked the imagery of a cruel opponent who regarded human life as worthless, and was good for recruiting young men bent on vengeance. Of the two, “Remember Pearl Harbor” appeared on practically every billboard and public wall in America for over four years, and is likely to have been the most successful propaganda phrase in American history. And that’s exactly what it was: propaganda.
“Pearl Harbor” stuck around.
Up to 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet Union, pundits and politicians, generals and admirals emphasized their point with graphic images of the Pearl wreckage immediately following the attack. For additional emphasis, they stressed the fact that in this new age of “pushbutton” warfare, time was a critical factor, given that it was now possible to bring about the elimination of all human existence in a matter of moments. But that catastrophe never happened, and the fervor waned.
But that catastrophe never happened.
After 11 September 2001, the reemergence of Pearl Harbor imagery inexplicably failed to cause much alarm or interest among most Americans. Why this should be—complacency, apathy, political and cultural divisiveness, ignorance, or something else—is anyone’s guess. But it suggests that, as a nation, we no longer embodied that cohesive sense of patriotism, unity and purpose that defined us 60 years before. In contemporary usage, "anotherpearlharbor" is used again and again to warn of catastrophic attacks on power and communications grids, the economic perils of government over-borrowing from potential enemies, civilian credit overuse, oils spills, chemical leaks, and occasionally of the doom of the military if future conflicts are fought with women in combat arms roles.
And the age of the "big war" may be over.
"Anotherpearlharbor" may not be a bad thing if used to raise the American people to a terrible wrath that would bring uncompromising destruction upon their attackers. But, if the phrase is used to warn against an attack by a foe who is thought to destroy just enough of the country to make it helpless, it takes on an entirely different connotation...that of a future victim. Though propagandists have used the concept of "remembering" many events throughout our history (right or wrong), remembering them correctly in their apt contexts is the job of the journalist, the teacher and the editorialist. Using a memory such as Pearl Harbor to direct energies in positive (even if warlike) directions is a good thing: using it to frighten people into inaction, or into hopelessly unending and unresolvable "peace talks" with theological tyrants, bullies, and careless fanatics is not. When the “peace talks” end, as they must, the result will either be a shooting war or some sort of understanding that may be lasting, or not. Whichever of today’s conflicts may become violent, the message of any slogan should be the same as it has always been: a rallying cry for victory. It should not be one of acquiescence, of preparing to accept defeat or concessions. Any message other than absolute resistance is the wrong message.
History shows that ideological and theological fervor often leads to irrational actions.
Propaganda is a legitimate and powerful tool of war used by everyone, and everyone knows and endorses it. People typically greet the term propaganda with more than a little disdain, historically attaching a negative connotation to it, and using it as a pejorative to imply exaggerated claims—both subtle and gross—or outright lies. And indeed, there are two kinds of propaganda: “white” and “black.” “White” propaganda is where you tell the truth about the enemy; “black” is where you do not, or where the origin of the information is misleading or false…or at the very least, questionable. Just as Bunker Hill, the Alamo, Fort Sumter, Maine and Lusitania before them, the US government used Pearl Harbor to increase armed forces recruitment, arms production and especially war bond sales. As slogans go, the "Pearl Harbor" meme has had considerably better legs than all the others, but that has not always been a good thing.
There's nothing at all wrong with sloganeering, but there are limits.
But propaganda is a legitimate and powerful tool of war, equally useful before, during and after the event … for good or ill. It can be used to guard against the event, to prepare for it if it seems imminent, to promote and support it once engaged, and to justify and vindicate its having occurred once it’s over. It can even precipitate it, as “Remember the Maine” did. Many forms and venues have employed the concept of “remembering” past events in America’s storied history. Now, as then, it has been the job of its practitioners to remember them in their apt contexts, directing America’s energies in positive—if sometimes warlike—directions. Of course, teachers, journalists, actual propagandists (also called “pundits” or “influencers”), and a host of politicians have filled this role. Most have fulfilled that role admirably, but many have not. Some have felt it incumbent to side with the antagonists, especially since Vietnam, and to suggest that America is in the wrong and should concede and accept the role of victim or of victimizer, or the supporters of victimizers.
Invoking the imagery of Pearl Harbor and the terrible wrath that followed to set up a nation of victims or bullies is the wrong use.
My co-author and I covered the Pearl Harbor attack itself in a couple of paragraphs, and we said little about the meme that followed.
But in its way, Why The Samurai Lost Japan is also a slogan, in that getting the Americans to break the yoke of the strutting swordsmen who dominated the archipelago. At your favorite booksellers or from me if you want an autograph.
Battle of the Bulge Reconsidered
Invention of Time
On 9 December:
1854: “Charge of the Light Brigade” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Poet Laureate of England, is published in The Examiner of London under the initials “A.T.” Describing the military action of the same name during the battle of Omdurman that took place on 25 October of that year, the Dactylic metre poem was meant to be a patriotic statement, but the “someone had blundered” line stuck in many minds, turning the original into a polemic against the Crimean War. That phrase alone has made the heroic if mistaken charge a meme against heroism and war in general.
1987: The First Palestinian Intifada begins in the Jabalia refugee camp after an Israel Defense Forces truck collided with a civilian car, killing four Palestinians. Over the next five years of protests, civil disobedience, and riots, two hundred Israelis and nearly two thousand Palestinians were killed. The revolution—one translation of intifada—until either 1991 or 1993, or 2023, depending…
And today is CHRISTMAS CARD DAY, that annual day, that timely reminder that we have only sixteen frantic days until Christmas to do all that we feel we need to do…to enjoy the holiday?