Why We Don't Remember Pearl Harbor

In St. Louis Today, Harry Levins writes:

As a general rule, newspapers stop running anniversary stories after 50 years.

The thinking holds that past 50 years, few readers even remember the event, much less took part in it. Past a half-century, journalists cede the field to historians.

World War II was an exception. Because that war dragged on for so long (45 months) and because it put so many Americans in uniform (16 million, or more than 10 percent of the population), it imprinted itself in the American soul, as only the Civil War had before it.

Both WWII and the Civil War involved the entire nation over a long stretch of time. And although nobody alive in America today remembers Shiloh or Gettysburg, enough Americans remember WWII to nudge newspapers away from the 50-year rule.

Thanks in part to the emotions stirred by Tom Brokaw’s “The Greatest Generation” and to the movie “Saving Pvt. Ryan,” newspapers in the 1990s ran 60th-anniversary stories on the big WWII battles.

But that attention to WWII is fading fast, as is the generation that fought the war.

Come next June 6, some elderly reader will call the paper to grouse that his paper makes absolutely no mention of the fact that it’s the 63rd anniversary of the day in 1944 that Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower led the D-Day landings in Normandy.

Chances are that the grumpy reader will be making his complaint to an editor who was born after President Dwight D. Eisenhower left the White House in 1961.

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