A Brief History
On December 7, 1941, the Naval and Air Forces of the Empire of Japan conducted a sneak attack against the US military bases on Oahu, Hawaii, and especially at Pearl Harbor. President Franklin Roosevelt called December 7, 1941, “a date that will live in infamy.” He was certainly right, and it has, perhaps more than any other date on the calendar as far as Americans are concerned. Here we list 10 Dates That Live in American Infamy. Feel free to debate the order or content of the list, and tell us which dates belong and which do not. We have included dates that have had great impact on American History, or otherwise have scarred the American psyche. (Honorable mention to Remember the Alamo and Remember the Maine.)
10. October 29, 1929, Black Tuesday Stock Market Crash.
Also known as The Great Crash or The Wall Street Crash, Black Tuesday saw the New York Stock Exchange lose almost 12% of its value, combined with previous losses of the preceding trading days that devastated the Stock Market and resulted in the precipitating event of the Great Depression. All stock market losses since have been compared to this dark day in American History.
9. January 28, 1986, Space Shuttle Challenger Blows Up At Launch.
An incredible 17% (50 million Americans) watched in horror on live television as the giant rocket and Space Shuttle blasted off and while still within sight from the ground and on camera, blew up in an enormous white cloud. The main part of the crew compartment could be seen falling 48,000 feet to the ocean. All 7 crew members died, including Christa McAuliffe, a school teacher aboard as an inspiration to school children. This disaster was another one of those events witnesses will always remember where they were and what they were doing when it happened. While not having the impact on society of some of the other events, the graphic nature of the Challenger disaster as seen by an unprecedented number of Americans seared the tragedy into the memories of Americans that watched in horrified disbelief.
8. April 30, 1975, US Loses Vietnam War.
Still reeling from the assassinations in the 1960’s (JFK, RFK, MLK) and the resignation of President Nixon in 1974, the American people had to suffer the infamy of the first clearly lost US war. The televised humiliation of the final US helicopters fleeing from Saigon and North Vietnamese troops rolling into the city put an exclamation point on one of the most humiliating events in US History. Nearly 60,000 Americans died there, for nothing. Not only did we not win, the US lost its reputation for standing by its allies and commitments.
7. August 9, 1974, President Nixon Resigns.
Richard M. “Tricky Dick” Nixon brought everlasting tarnish to the office of the President when he was forced to resign on this date when it became clear he would be impeached and convicted of lying about and covering up the “Watergate” scandal. No President has resigned in dishonor before or since, and the nation still bears the trauma of the event. The mystique of the Presidency has not been the same since, and the disrespect shown sitting Presidents since has often been sickening.
6. April 14, 1865, President Lincoln Shot.
News did not travel as fast in those days, but big news it was when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated (he died the next day). Worse yet, it was part of a plot to overthrow the US Government, probably the most profound such plot ever hatched. Lincoln is considered along with George Washington as our Greatest President. His funeral procession went from Washington, D.C. to Springfield, Illinois, with grieving Americans all along the route.
5. April 4, 1968, Assassination of Martin L. King, Jr.
This murder by a sniper killed the most prominent leader of the Civil Rights Movement and shocked the world, setting off the biggest manhunt in history looking for the suspect, James Earl Ray. Despite King being an advocate of non-violence, his killing sparked rioting across the nation. The murder resulted in the martyrdom of King, and his Birthday is now celebrated as a National Holiday in the US. (Note: The evidence against James Earl Ray is highly suspect, and the evidence that he did not act alone, perhaps even with government support is compelling.) King’s murder is perhaps the most significant murder in US History of a non-government official. (Apologies to John Lennon.)
4. November 22, 1963, President Kennedy Shot.
On this day the nation was shocked in short order because this was the first Presidential assassination to take place during the information age of electronic media (television, radio, etc). Despite the quick arrest of a suspect, who conveniently was himself murdered soon afterwards, the public never really believed the “lone gunman” explanation given by the Warren Commission. Chances are good that every person in the US at the time can remember just where he/she was and what he/she was doing when he/she heard the news.
3. September 11, 2001, Terror Attacks.
Of course we mostly remember seeing the incredible sight of the World Trade Center buildings falling, but there were other major catastrophes that day also, including the suicide plane crash into the Pentagon and the hijacked airliner that was crashed when passengers fought back. Many younger readers may remember this date more than December 7, and by now the 2 dates are probably quite close in the American psyche. Almost 3000 Americans died and another 6000 or so were injured in these dastardly attacks. Worse yet, these events kicked off a War on Terror in the Middle East that has cost us another 7000+ military deaths and 50,000+ military wounded, as well as something in the area of $5+ trillion!
2. December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor attack.
This day led to our involvement in World War II, a war that cost 419,000 American deaths. Over 2400 Americans died in this attack and close to 2000 more were injured.
1. December 20, 1860, South Carolina Secedes from Union.
The first of 11 States to secede from the Union of the United States, the event triggered the US Civil War (or if you prefer, April 12, 1861, an alternative date to this) a war in which over 600,000 Americans died in battle and another million were wounded, making this conflict the most costly war in US History.
Question for students (and subscribers): Which dates belong and which do not? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Gillon, Steven M. Pearl Harbor: FDR Leads the Nation Into War. Basic Books, 2012.
Guidall, George, Craig Nelson, et al. Pearl Harbor: From Infamy to Greatness. Simon & Schuster Audio, 2016.
Twomey, Steve. Countdown to Pearl Harbor: The Twelve Days to the Attack. Simon & Schuster, 2017.
The featured image in this article, a photograph taken from a Japanese plane during the torpedo attack on ships moored on both sides of Ford Island shortly after the beginning of the Pearl Harbor attack, is in the public domain in Japan because its copyright has expired according to Article 23 of the 1899 Copyright Act of Japan (English translation) and Article 2 of Supplemental Provisions of Copyright Act of 1970. This is when the photograph meets one of the following conditions:
- It was published before January 1, 1957.
- It was photographed before January 1, 1947.