By Jug Varner
Certain momentous occurrences in our lifetimes are permanently etched in memory. Most of us remember exactly where we were, what we were doing, and how we reacted when we first heard the news of those events.
For me, the list includes: the Bombing of Pearl Harbor, D-Day, VJ Day, the Moon Landing, President John Kennedy's assassination, and that Tragic Tuesday - 11 September 2001.
Like many of you, I have been thinking about my own “where, what, and how” of these situations which spanned some 60 years of my adult life. While human nature has not changed much during this time, our methods of communications have.
Back in my Texas hometown of Lubbock, word of the 1941 surprise Japanese bombing first came by sketchy verbal news bulletins interrupting Sunday afternoon radio programs. Television was unheard of then. Not many of us had ever heard of a place called Pearl Harbor, either. We waited for the Monday morning newspaper to read more detailed information about this event that would totally change our lives. I do not remember seeing a picture of the damage in that first newspaper account. Converting photographs from a half world away to a local newspaper format could not be done overnight back then. The lack of such immediate response gave time to ponder the enormity of what the incident might mean.
The next day after the bombing, we gathered in the school auditorium to hear President Franklin D. Roosevelt's radio address to the American people, declaring war on Japan, and telling us, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
News service was about the same in 1944 for the D-Day invasion, and a year or so later when Japan surrendered and WW2 ended. By that time, however, war correspondents around the world were providing stories and photographic coverage of epic proportions, slowed only by two things: circuitous routes of military aircraft carrying mail back to the states, and government censors who cleared it after checking for breach of security - including all letters mailed home from the troops.
Then came the 1950s and the age of television.
The immediacy and graphics of television reporting has impacted human emotions as no other form of communication before it. The sorrow and fear during coverage of the Kennedy assassination is one example, and the wonder and joy during the Moon Landing is another.
The speed of electronic reporting gives little time for the viewer to ponder. It is difficult to consider overall consequences during relentless visual images that convey the horror of death and destruction. Perhaps in no other incident of our history has TV produced this emotional impact to a greater extent than during its around-the-clock coverage of the September 11 events. Assisted by satellite systems, TV was superb, and unusually void of partisan politics. It showed us who some of the real American heroes really are.
Those of us who have lived through these years of transition, and who have experienced war first-hand, are no less horrified and saddened by the events of that tragic day. However, our experiences perhaps have hardened us to the grim realities of life that are a completely new trauma for the younger generations. They, like we have done, will soon come to grips with what our nation is facing and, hopefully, lend full support to our leaders. They will surely account for themselves well when the chips are down.
One thing that has not changed is: “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”