Random thoughts and insights – always shaken, never stirred

The Unexpected Stroke

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In lighter fare, both written and visual, there are two events of the 20th century often invoked or set as backdrops for stories – Pearl Harbor and the Titanic. Each provides suitable melodrama and need not even be the main focus of the tale. I recall seeing one TV movie about the presidency in which some fellow was to come give the president advice or something and the line was — he’s coming in tomorrow – “on the Titanic.” Nothing more was heard of this, but then one didn’t need to know any more than that. He drowned and there it was. And how many episodes of Magnum P.I. had a Pearl Harbor theme to the story?

The reasons for this are not difficult to discern. Both events were tragic, unexpected, and entailed great loss of life. They represent the two poles of the unexpected stroke, and provide the storyteller with ready-made chrome which requires virtually no extra labor. The story basically tells itself and on a grand scale. One can find this sort of stroke on the small stage as well – a fire in which children lose their lives, an ambush on the battlefield – but it is the larger events that shape subsequent events and our perceptions of them.

The Titanic is remembered quite differently from Pearl Harbor because it was basically an accidental unexpected stroke. Oh, there was some blame to go around for the crew, but mostly, it was the iceberg and it’s hard to blame an iceberg. Here there is tragedy and drama contained within the event itself. The proverbial “Act of God.”

Pearl Harbor is different. Unexpected yes, blameless no. A sneak attack which drew the United States into a shooting war in which hundreds of thousands died. The reverberations of that unexpected stroke – tragic and dramatic – are felt even today. Indeed, it is thus we speak of a ‘postwar world’ even now.

Yet there is more to it though when human agents are deliberately behind the stroke. The apportioning of blame is immediate, obvious, and motivating. We rightly decry the first shot of an ambush, a knife in the back, a poisoned goblet. How much more so the shot that unleashes unexpected death in large numbers and plunges the world into war. It makes us not only sad, but angry and determined.

Today is the 63rd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. We have just passed the 3rd anniversary of the unexpected stroke of 9/11 which someday will no doubt provide a tragic backdrop for many stories. In the meantime, on this day, when it is proper to remember those who sacrificed their lives, it also worthwhile to consider how we receive the unexpected stroke, and how it changes us all in ways we can scarcely predict.

Here are the battleships of the US Pacific Fleet, as the unexpected stroke commenced:


Written by martinipundit

December 7, 2004 at 9:40 am

Posted in History, Ships

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