Days of Infamy

Hampton Sides, William Langewiesche, John Hersey, and others recall turning points in American history.
6 stories

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, President Roosevelt declared December 7 "a date which will live in infamy." And so it has. "Over two thousand men died at Pearl Harbor." Sherman Miles wrote in The Atlantic seven years later. "They did not die in vain. Their sacrifice counted heavily in the great score that brought us final victory. But it did not count on the day the Japanese caught them unprepared."

Alas, another date is now seared into the memories of Americans. Hampton Sides related the stories of its survivors, including a man named Clifford. "Once, the therapist asked him, as a little exercise, to spend a single day jotting down in a log book everything that triggered his memory of September 11," Sides wrote. "He lost count at 13."

In a landmark piece of journalism, John Hersey detailed what happened when the United States dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima. "After the terrible flash," Hersey reported, "which, Father Kleinsorge later realized, reminded him of something he had read as a boy about a large meteor colliding with the earth, he had time (since he was 1,400 yards from the center) for one thought: A bomb has fallen directly on us. Then, for a few seconds or minutes, he went out of his mind."

And Michael J. Mooney told the story of the doctor who held John F. Kennedy's hand as he lay dying. "The first thing he saw was the president’s face, cyanotic—bluish-black, swollen, suffused with blood," Mooney wrote. "The body was on a cart in the middle of the room, draped and surrounded by doctors and residents. Kennedy was completely motionless, a contrast to the commotion around him."

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Wherever or whenever Washington may have thought the Japanese cat would probably jump, Hawaii’s primary mission was to meet it there if it came. Yet both the Army and Navy commands there acted as if there were no chance of a Japanese overseas attack on them. What they actually did and did not do, simply spelled “It can’t happen here.”

Jul 1948
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Aug 1946