This is a column about time.
President Franklin Roosevelt was certain that Dec. 7, 1941, was "a date which will live in infamy." As callers made clear this past Dec. 7, Tuesday, they were not so much concerned about the "infamy"; they worried that the date does not "live" in the memories of most Americans -- including those who decide what to include in their newspapers. On the 58th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which precipitated the United States' entry into World War II and, as one reader said, "totally changed the lives of my generation," the only mention in The Post was a three-paragraph Metro news brief on Page B3: "Veterans Plan Pearl Harbor Observance."
In Lothian, Md., Chris Nickas, a World War II veteran, scanned the front page, saw nothing, looked a bit farther into the paper, still saw nothing and, "I threw it on the floor." When he later called the ombudsman, he said: "I couldn't see how a paper this influential and this big could have missed a date like this. If nothing else, they could have put in a big picture. I'm sure a lot of veterans would have liked to see that." In Northwest Washington another veteran, Mary Angas Dreyer, also was upset. She knew 14 junior officers who died at Pearl Harbor. "The young people don't feel it's important to remember and say thank you. It's just an incident of the long ago past for them. And it makes me cry."
The Post does not exactly ignore the military or veterans. In addition to news from the Defense Department beat, The Post has a weekly column, "Military Matters," that regularly focuses on veterans. It is written by Steve Vogel, who also covered the Pearl Harbor commemorations at Arlington National Cemetery for a story, accompanied by a four-column color photograph, that ran on B1, the first page of the Metro section, on Dec. 8. While some veterans were pleased, others, including Dreyer, said that failing to acknowledge the anniversary on Dec. 7 was like having your family postpone your birthday party until they can find a more convenient time.
Nothing except a reluctance to cover anniversaries that aren't nice round numbers prevented The Post from carrying at least one Pearl Harbor story on Dec. 7. Such a story would have been no more contrived than some that routinely make it into the paper these days. Certainly, editors must exercise judgment about which historical events are worth remembering. But they should be less cavalier about the continuing significance of Pearl Harbor to at least the 6 million World War II veterans who remain of what was once 16 million. For them, Dec. 7 is a day that should be acknowledged on Dec. 7.
On another matter of time: Some readers continue to express displeasure that this newspaper is hailing Jan. 1, 2000, as the start of the 21st century and the third millennium. The editors of old would agree with them. The 10-page Post of Dec. 31, 1900 -- yes, 1900 -- carried a modest story on Page 2: "TO-DAY ENDS CENTURY." The front page of a 12-page paper the next day, Jan. 1, 1901, was dominated by a rather hokey illustration showing Uncle Sam and President William McKinley closing the book on the 19th century. The headline on a front-page story that was not even the lead story said: "OLD CENTURY PASSES" and reported on celebrations in Philadelphia, Boston and New York (where 100,000 people "flocked into Broadway to usher in the new year and the new century.")
The only hint of calendar controversy came in a Page 6 editorial, which essentially said bah humbug to German Emperor William's assertion that the century had begun the year before. "The fact remains -- the twentieth century begins to-day." And that's the way it was when a century had 100 years instead of 99.
Your "timely" questions about any aspect of The Post's coverage are always welcome. I may be reached at email@example.com or (202) 334-7582.