There are chilling similarities – but fundamental differences too.
On December 7, 2001, a Gallup Poll ran the following headline:
“Americans Say Sept. 11 Will Be More Historically Significant Than Pearl Harbor.”
That December 7th day when Gallop ran that headline marked the 60th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. But it was also just a few months after the September 11th attacks in New York and Washington – when many Americans were comparing the events in 1941 to those that had just occurred.
Ask yourself: which event had a more significant effect on the United States? The attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 or the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in September 2001?
According to Gallup, 72% say 9/11. And before someone asks about Americans 65 and older – those with memories of both Pearl Harbor and the war that followed – consider this: those 65 and older say 9/11 will have a greater impact on America too.
- Both attacks came with little forewarning and no single provocation.
- Both attacks were against major U.S. structures.
- Both attacks killed thousands of Americans, on scales eerily similar: 2,403 Americans on that awful Sunday in 1941 and 2,605 Americans (out of 2,996 victims) on that dreadful Tuesday in 2001.
- Both attacks led to long wars, with catastrophic death tolls.
The Differences & How We Teach
While there are chilling similarities between Pearl Harbor and 9/11, there are plenty of important differences. Differences that need to be discussed with an open mind and within historical context.
The reality is that while 9/11 might seem like yesterday to most, students in 2018’s high school senior class were not yet born on Sept. 11, 2001. To them 9/11 is history – just like Pearl Harbor.
Twenty years from now, history books might suggest that 9/11 touched our lives and our children’s lives far longer and with more impact than Pearl Harbor ever did. Maybe even longer than World War II.
The fact is that each generation gives different meaning to the same historical events based on whatever issues they are currently concerned about. So, never forget the words of Thomas Jefferson:
“I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.”