A Date Which Will Live

Pearl Harbor in American Memory

A Date Which Will Live

American Encounters/Global Interactions

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Book Pages: 248 Illustrations: 15 b&w photos Published: August 2003

American Studies, History > U.S. History

December 7, 1941—the date of Japan’s surprise attack on the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor—is "a date which will live" in American history and memory, but the stories that will live and the meanings attributed to them are hardly settled. In movies, books, and magazines, at memorial sites and public ceremonies, and on television and the internet, Pearl Harbor lives in a thousand guises and symbolizes dozens of different historical lessons. In A Date Which Will Live, historian Emily S. Rosenberg examines the contested meanings of Pearl Harbor in American culture.
Rosenberg considers the emergence of Pearl Harbor’s symbolic role within multiple contexts: as a day of infamy that highlighted the need for future U.S. military preparedness, as an attack that opened a "back door" to U.S. involvement in World War II, as an event of national commemoration, and as a central metaphor in American-Japanese relations. She explores the cultural background that contributed to Pearl Harbor’s resurgence in American memory after the fiftieth anniversary of the attack in 1991. In doing so, she discusses the recent “memory boom” in American culture; the movement to exonerate the military commanders at Pearl Harbor, Admiral Husband Kimmel and General Walter Short; the political mobilization of various groups during the culture and history "wars" of the 1990s, and the spectacle surrounding the movie Pearl Harbor. Rosenberg concludes with a look at the uses of Pearl Harbor as a historical frame for understanding the events of September 11, 2001.


"A Date Which Will Live makes a valuable contribution to understanding how World War II is perceived in American cultural memory. The author . . . is judicious in her survey of viewpoints on Pearl Harbor." — Michael C.C. Adams, Journal of Military History

"Particularly compelling [is] the analysis of Pearl Harbor in the context of September 11, 2001. . . ."
— James Deutsch, American Studies International

"No one familiar with Rosenberg's work will be surprised to learn that A Date Which Will Live is both high-quality scholarship and a pleasure to read. The strengths of Rosenberg's earlier books and articles are present here: attentiveness to ambiguity and nuance, a beguiling prose style, and-most important-a capacity to break down the barriers between diplomatic and cultural history so thoroughly that one often forgets the obdurateness with which those fields have been segregated until recently. . . . A Date Which Will Live is a major achievement that fully measures up to the standards we have come to expect from this scholar."
— Seth Jacobs, Reviews in American History

"[Rosenberg's] insightful book demonstrates well that, during and after World War II, Pearl Harbor meant much more to Americans than the opening battle of a war." — John Bodnar, Pacific Historical Review

"[A]n important book in understanding the power of history as national myth. As Rosenberg so deftly shows, national myth possesses an emotional armor that often defies the best efforts of careful scholarship and human reason."
— Gregory J.W. Urwin, North Carolina Historical Review

"We live in interesting times. Rosenberg's meticulous study of the 'memory  icon' of Pearl Harbor, analyzing the shifting patterns of American thought on the uses of history in modern culture, ought to be required reading for all up-to-date historians and for those wondering why their grasp on history is slipping through their fingers."
— Burl Burlingame, Hawaiian Journal of History

"[A] clear and succinct study. . . ." — Alice Yang Murray, Journal of Asian Studies

"A Date Which Will Live is a scholarly, well-documented, comprehensive analysis of the significance of Pearl Harbor to Americans. It provides a fine review of the numerous attitudes and interpretations that a nation may have as regards a shaping event in its history." — Armand Hage, Journal of Pacific History

"[Rosenberg] skillfully illuminates the intersection between memory and history. . . . A Date Which Will Live brims with insight, sharp analysis, and a keen sense of irony. It marks a welcome addition to an increasingly vibrant genre of cultural history." — Robert J. McMahon, Western Historical Quarterly

"In unravelling the circlings of memory which connect the notorious sinking of the battleship Arizona to the destruction of the World Trade Center towers, [Rosenberg] brings into play a rich consortium of bearings. . . . Her account, overall, displays not only acuity but also winning succinctness, the Pearl Harbor of the one wartime American history refigured through those both before and in its wake." — A. Robert Lee, Journal of American Studies

"A Date Which Will Live is a penetrating and elegant work of cultural and social history that challenges the contrived distinctions that are frequently drawn between ‘high’ and ‘low’ history, or between so-called ‘rational’ history and 'nostalgic’ myth. Instead, it explores the intertextuality that exists between cultural memory, historical production, media representation, and public political discourse, and the intense political contests that lie behind the articulation of national narratives. . . . In sum, this is an excellent book that makes a genuine contribution to the growing literature on the national myths and narratives that lie at the centre of American identity and political discourse." — Richard Jackson, Journal of American Studies

"Professor Rosenberg has chosen a wonderful subject to explore. This accessible, absorbing, and thought-provoking study of an iconic tragedy's contested meanings is sure to spark lively debate in the classroom and to be a welcome addition on many college reading lists."
— Naoko Shibusawa, Journal of American History

"A Date Which Will Live is a thought-provoking bit of cultural history, written in a lively and lucid style, a useful primer for students new to the methods of history/memory and seeking to understand just how it lays bare the vicissitudes of cultural representation of the people's war. Rosenberg's study makes a persuasive case for the urgency of rejecting the pursuit of a 'final' historical or representational truth about historical events and national formations in favor of understanding 'the "texture" of memories' (4)." — Caroline Chung Simpson, Journal of Asian American Studies

"Emily Rosenberg examines in illuminating detail how Pearl Harbor and its legacy have been constructed and circulated in a variety of media as well as in public pronouncements and commemorative venues in the United States. . . . . The result of her meticulous scholarly craftsmanship, informed by the latest literature on historical memory, is a fully textured exegesis of this secular American icon, and a chronicle of societal developments that contributed to Pearl Harbor's renewed visibility in American culture in the last few decades. . . . Rosenberg's book serves as a somber and timely reminder of how the state can appropriate historical memory as a medium for propagating patriotic lore and abetting hero worship, and how private-sector entities participate by fulsomely simplifying and spectacularizing history." — Sayuri Guthrie-Shimizu, Diplomatic History

"Historian Rosenberg has deviated from the usual just-the-facts approach or the deep paranoia attached to most Pearl Harbor books, and instead meditates on the terrible day's sacred position as a memory artifact for Americans. Remember Pearl Harbor, as the saying goes—but remember what?"
— Burl Burlingame, Honolulu Star-Bulletin

"This fine book helps us to understand the cluster of memories that surround the attack at Pearl Harbor, a defining moment in American history, and how these memories informed the nation's interpretation of another 'infamous' attack almost sixty years later." — June Hopkins, Canadian Journal of History

"A Date Which Will Live is largely jargon-free and is very well grounded in the emerging literature on public memory and culture. It is, in the manner of the best of such work, full of interesting and pungent detail, so much so that an adequate summary in the space of a short review is not possible. I recommend this book."
— Peter W. Black, Pacific Affairs

"Some books are meant for a popular audience, some for an audience of academic specialists. This book is meant for both. The subject of memory as a field of historical exploration is new enough that specialists wishing to get their feet wet will find this a useful, even penetrating volume. Yet the author and her publisher are clearly hoping to reach the wider audience of readers who are caught up in efforts to harness the meaning of Pearl Harbor to contemporary events. These readers, too, could do no better than to start with this interesting and lively volume." — Michael J. Hogan, American Historical Review

"[A] fine, eye-opening account of how various aspects of the Pearl Harbor story have played out over time. . . ."
— Karal Ann Marling, The Public Historian

“This is a brilliantly conceived, carefully organized, and persuasively argued exploration of the way in which the interaction of history and memory, guided and transformed by modern media, can profoundly illuminate cultural values and political controversies."
— Mark Peattie, The Historian

"Highly recommended. All levels and libraries."
— L. Maley III, Choice

"Noteworthy." — Victorino Matus, Washington Post

“‘Remember Pearl Harbor.’ Every radio program during my World War II childhood ended with that slogan. Emily S. Rosenberg has written a splendid history of the contested memories of Pearl Harbor over the past sixty years, memories that frame American opinions of everything from President Franklin D. Roosevelt's war against the Axis to President George W. Bush's war against the axis of evil.” — James M. McPherson, author of Hallowed Ground: A Walk at Gettysburg

“Emily S. Rosenberg has given us a fine, concise study of war, memory, and mythmaking in America that will prove equally appealing to teachers, students, and general readers.” — John W. Dower, author of Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II

“To trace and analyze the changing images of the Pearl Harbor attack held by generations of Americans is a daunting task, requiring the skills of a seasoned cultural and social historian. Emily S. Rosenberg superbly fits the requirements. This is the best, perhaps the only, study of the Pearl Harbor icon.” — Akira Iriye, author of Pearl Harbor and the Coming of the Pacific War

"Shortly after the fiftieth-anniversary ceremonies at the USS Arizona Memorial in December 1991, I viewed this sacred American relic using a snorkel and mask in the waters of Pearl Harbor. The battleship still endures, bleeding drops of oil with regularity, attracting the curious and the reverent, anchoring in a site the command ‘Remember Pearl Harbor.’ But what are we asked to remember? Emily S. Rosenberg's welcome book is about the history of the use of the powerful symbol of ‘Pearl Harbor,’ a symbol as enduring and haunting as the USS Arizona itself." — Edward T. Linenthal, author of Sacred Ground: Americans and Their Battlefields


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Emily S. Rosenberg is DeWitt Wallace Professor of History at Macalester College. She is the author of Financial Missionaries to the World: The Politics and Culture of Dollar Diplomacy, 1900–1930 (also published by Duke University Press) and Spreading the American Dream: American Economic and Cultural Expansion, 1890–1945. She is coauthor of In Our Times: America since World War II and Liberty, Equality, Power: A History of the American People.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

I. Signifying Pearl Harbor: The First Fifty Years 9

1. Infamy: Reinvigorating American Unity and Power 11

2. Backdoor Deceit: Contesting the New Deal 34

3. Representations of Race and Japanese-American Relations 53

4. Commemoration of Sacrifice 71

II. Reviving Pearl Harbor after 1991 99

5. Bilateral Relations: Pearl Harbor's Half-Century Anniversary and the Apology Controversies 101

6. The Memory Boom and the "Greatest Generation" 113

7. The Kimmel Crusade, the HIstory Wars, and the Republican Revival 126

8. Japanese Americans: Identity and Memory Culture 140

9. Spectacular History 155

10. Day of Infamy: September 11, 2001 174

Notes 191

Bibliography 213

Index 229
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3637-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3206-0
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