In the deeply divided United States, Americans are wondering how to commemorate January 6.

Insurgents loyal to President Donald Trump gather at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on January 6, 2021.José Luis Magana / The Associated Press

No American has debated the meaning or virtue of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor a year later. No New Yorker or Washingtonian has looked for the positive points of the carnage of September 11, 2001, a year after the terrorist attacks on these two cities.

And yet, as the first anniversary of the siege on Capitol Hill approaches, Americans are furiously debating the content and significance of the violent insurgency that followed Donald Trump’s “fight-like hell” speech, which ‘he spoke as congressional lawmakers convene. to count the Electoral College votes that sent Joe Biden to the White House.

The Battle of Capitol Hill is on itself again, this time in public discourse – and Americans, perhaps even more divided today than they were on January 6, 2021, approach the anguished anniversary with trepidation. .

“Some Americans see January 6 as something to be remembered but not celebrated,” said Steven Danver, Washington State University historian and editor of the tri-volume. Revolts, Protests, Demonstrations, and Rebellions in American History encyclopedia. “But others see it as a rallying cry.”

The fight for the Jan. 6 legacy reflects deep political divisions reflected in Americans’ conflicting views on Mr. Trump, the 2020 election outcome, and the mask and vaccine mandates.

Only just over a quarter of Republicans see the Jan.6 episode as an attack on the government, according to a Quinnipiac University poll taken in the fall, when more than nine in ten Democrats see it that way. A Washington Post / University of Maryland poll released on Sunday found that 92% of Democrats believe Mr. Trump deserves “a lot” or “a good deal” of blame for the Capitol incident, while only 27% of Republicans think he deserves the blame. this way. .

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Either way, the Capitol Hill insurgency will be an inflection point in U.S. history

In this feverish environment, where Americans clash with Americans on every issue of the day, planning for Thursday’s anniversary continues at a brisk pace, with concern. Some lawmakers – including GOP Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who voted to impeach Mr. Trump and was almost censored by his state party committee for doing so – said the passions surrounding the event were so large that they prefer no commemoration.

On Capitol Hill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a New Years Eve letter to her colleagues that she was planning “a celebration of reflection, remembrance and re-engagement, in a spirit of ‘unity, patriotism and prayer’ to commemorate the anniversary of the riot, which began on the Capitol’s eastern and western fronts and spilled over into the building itself, including his office.

Planned events include a forum for lawmakers to remember their own experiences that day. Ms. Pelosi also invited a panel of historians, including Jon Meacham and Doris Kearns Goodwin, to place the event in a historical perspective.

Ms Goodwin said in an email to The Globe and Mail that she would tell lawmakers they need to learn as much as possible about the insurgency. “We know the end of America’s past stories – that the Civil War ended with the Union restored and emancipation assured. [and] that the Allies defeated fascism in World War II, ”she said. “Part of the anxiety we feel today is exacerbated by the realization that we don’t know how our story will end. But with that worry may come hope – for it is still up to us to write the remaining chapters of our story, which must begin by establishing and preserving a full account of what happened on January 6.

The two candidates of the major parties in the 2020 elections foresee contrasting events. Mr. Biden is expected to deliver an important speech in Washington, and Mr. Trump has scheduled a press conference upon his retirement in Mar-a-Lago, Florida.

The very act of commemorating historical events often says as much about when those episodes are assessed as it concerns the events themselves.

The civil rights march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, for example, was an extremely controversial event when it happened in March 1965. When its 50th anniversary was celebrated in 2015, the protest was celebrated as a signature moment in American history and was re-enacted by, among others, a black Democratic President, Barack Obama; a former Republican President, George W. Bush; and a former activist who was severely beaten on the bridge, Representative John Lewis of Georgia.

A year after supporters of Donald Trump stormed the United States Capitol and closed Congress, Americans are still awaiting judgment on the unprecedented challenge to the country’s democracy.SAUL LOEB / AFP / Getty Images

Scholars, too, use birthdays as opportunities to take a fresh look at past events, often subjecting them to revisionist interpretations that overturn the original narratives.

“Historians tend to analyze anniversaries of major, dramatic events that changed the lives of millions of people,” wrote Tyler Stovall, the late historian and dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences five years ago. the University of California at Santa Clara. in the American Historical Association News Magazine. “Wars, battles, declarations of national independence and great cultural monuments concern us. We seldom care how happy these events have made people; rather, we tend to see them as particularly vivid examples of our main concern, change over time. “

The Jan. 6 point of view will ultimately be shaped as much by the future of U.S. politics as it is by the congressional inquiry currently underway on Capitol Hill, where Democrats are pushing the inquiry forward, most Republicans are resisting, and Mr. Trump is fighting against the demands. for documents that could provide new details about the day’s events.

If, for example, there is a repeat insurgency – perhaps even Thursday – will January 6, 2021 be seen as the opening of a multi-act tragedy, rather than a one-act drama? If American politics strikes a new balance in the years to come, will the current angst among progressives about the future of democracy be seen as exaggerated and archaic, as the views from Henry Clay to his early 19th-century rival, Andrew Jackson, can we now think of?

“We are in the midst of a revolution, hitherto bloodless, but rapidly tending towards a total change in the purely republican character of the government, and the concentration of all power in the hands of one man”, Clay, who ran twice against Jackson for president, declared in 1833, the fourth year of Jackson’s presidency. Today Jackson is vilified for his views on slavery and his campaigns against Indigenous peoples, but for at least two generations after WWII his presidency was seen as a triumphant prelude to the New Deal and a democracy. larger and more participatory American.

Over time, will the memory of January 6 lose its force and only take its place alongside other American uprisings?

They are so numerous that in 1863, the historian Orville Victor published a book entitled History of American Conspiracy: A Record of Treason, Insurrection, Rebellion, & c., In the United States of America, 1760-1860. The preface states: “The Federation which made us one people did not achieve its ends without occasional insurgencies against consolidated authority.

Before the first anniversary of Pearl Harbor, the main controversy surrounding the Japanese attack was how politicians used the event – universally condemned in the United States – to their advantage. Six months after the United States entered World War II, Senator Harry Schwartz of Wyoming went to the room and attacked “the whisperers who instill class, racial and religious hatred” and “the followers of the camp, blinded by private ambitions and secret hatreds, intent on collecting personal benefits.

On the occasion of the 20th anniversary, President John F. Kennedy, whose ship PT was run over by a Japanese destroyer during combat in the Pacific the month Schwartz delivered his remarks, devoted only two sentences at Pearl Harbor in his December 7, 1961 address to an AFL. -CIO Convention in Florida.

“We face entirely different challenges on this Pearl Harbor day,” he said. “In many ways the challenges are more serious and, in a sense, long-term, because I think none of us had any doubts at the time that the United States would survive and the prevail, and that our strength would increase. “

Then he spoke about job losses, education and the trade balance.

Today, less than 1% of Americans were at least 10 years old when the country went to war. They are likely to be the last to have clear first-hand memories of this time. And so the cover of Sammy Kaye’s song Remember Pearl Harbor, recorded 10 days after the Japanese attack, has lost most of its literal if not metaphorical meaning.

Perhaps the most suitable analogous to the outburst of January 6 is the insurrection of November 5, 1605 led by Guy Fawkes. It was the most famous in a series of conspiracies instigated by Catholics protesting against the monopolization of power by Protestants in England. The rebels planned to assassinate King James I and blow up the House of Lords. Today the rebellion – later marked by the doggerel, dating from 1742, which begins with “Remember, remember, November 5” – is studied by historians and commemorated by schoolchildren at a celebration festive involving bonfires, effigies and candy.

“The Capitol Riot was a failed attempt to bribe your democratic institutions, and that’s how we look at Guy Fawkes today,” said Lawrence Goldman, an Oxford historian. “Its historical significance is basically lost in ignorance now, and all you Americans have to do is wait 400 years before the same thing that happened on November 5 happens again on January 6. . “

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