A day that will live in infamy …
It is hard as an American (and particularly an American living abroad, I’m finding) to not dwell on what happened 14 years ago today. It is like recalling the death of a loved one, and it casts a shadow over all my thoughts and actions. If I were to write a lighthearted post, guilt would besiege me.
Many things mark this day in history. Most significant to me and entirely joyful, it is my little sister’s birthday. I was an only child until I was thirteen and recall vividly the day she came into my life. Now she’s 24, and I count her not only as one of my favorite people in the world, but also one of my very best friends. Happy birthday, Katy!
More significant to Janeites, it was on this day, ten years ago, that the Hollywood version of Pride and Prejudice, staring Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen, premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, which was its first North American showing (the London premier was the previous week).
Sticking with popular culture for a moment, in 1927 Babe Ruth hit the 50th of his 60 home runs. In 1950, the “Beetle Bailey” comic strip premiered. 1954 saw the first Miss America Pageant. In 1962, Ringo Starr officially replaced Pete Best as the drummer for the Beatles. In 1970, the Ford Pinto was introduced.
More generally, this is a less amusing and extremely violent historical date. On September 11, 1297 The Battle of Stirling Bridge was won by William Wallace, the Scottish rebel, against the English (FREEDOM!). In 1541, the indigenous leader Michimalonco led an army against the Spanish settlement in Santiago, Chile, destroying most of the city. Staying with the gruesome, this is also the day in 1649 that brought an end to the Siege of Drogheda with the Massacre of Drogheda, when Oliver Cromwell executed hundreds of Royalists and Irish Confederates after promising to spare their lives if they surrendered. Just a few years later in 1697, September 11 saw the Battle of Zenta, in which the Hapsburg Imperial Forces decisively defeated the Ottomans, bringing an end to their control over large swaths of central Europe. And in my old stomping grounds in the Brandywine Valley, the Battle of Brandywine was fought in 1777, in which the Americans lost to British forces, forcing Washington to retreat to Philadelphia, which was soon after seized. It was the low point for the Americans in the Revolutionary War.
September 11th remained bloody in the modern era. Two battles were fought on this day during World War I: in 1914, the Australians invaded New Britain, defeating a German contingent, and in 1916 German troops conquered Kavala, Greece. In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson ordered the invasion of Honduras by US Marines (one of many invasions during the course of the so-called “Banana Wars”). In 1922, the British mandate of Palestine began (opening a huge can of worms). World War II saw a bevy of horrors on this day. In 1939, the Germans were in the midst of conquering Poland in the Battle of Bzura, while Iraq and Saudi Arabia declared war on Germany. In 1940 Anton Mussert established the Dutch SS, and Hitler commenced Operation Sea Lion, his plan to invade Great Britain. In 1941 the US Navy was first ordered to attack German U-boats, and (highly ironically) construction of the Pentagon began. On this day in 1943 the residents of the Jewish ghettoes of Minsk and Lida began to be liquidated to concentration camps. And in 1944, on a brighter note, the first Allied liberation troops entered Nazi-Germany: the US 5th Armored Division.
Shootings, plane crashes, and let’s not forget that Benghazi incident – the list goes on. September 11th has long been a day of terror throughout human history. In another moment of irony, it was on this day in 1773 that Benjamin Franklin famously wrote “… there never was a good war or a bad peace.” As we continue to live in times of mass turmoil, let us hope that our memories of past atrocities teach us to find better means of solving our problems in the future. I shall take this moment to indulge in a rare criticism of Jane Austen, focused on a quote from her letters: “How horrible it is to have so many people killed! And what a blessing that one cares for none of them!” We must care for each other, known or unknown, loved or hated, despite religion, race, or creed. Without such inclusiveness, what hope have we going forward?
Let us not forget.