Monday, January 14, 2008

Pearl Harbor: Strong Reactions Still

(The USS Arizona Memorial on 6 January 2008.)

For the last several years, this blog has featured a post on Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii every December 7th. I did so again recently in 2007. However, I am going to post about it again now. Recently, I visited Honolulu, Hawaii. This was my first visit to America's 50th state. I was in town for a conference but I made sure my initial activity was to wake up early in the morning of my first day in Hawaii and go to Pearl Harbor.

I signed up for a tour to Pearl Harbor. A bus came and picked me up at the hotel I was staying at during my visit. The driver was a native Hawaiian in his 50s. He was very cheerful and knowledgeable. He began his commentary by saying, "I always like to greet visitors in my native tongue. Are you ready? HOWDY! HOW YOU DOING!" The laughter that ensued broke the ice and the whole bus load of visitors spoke freely during the outing.

We arrived at Pearl Harbor around 9 am. The tour guide had us all take a ticket that dictated which showing we would be seated in to visit the USS Arizona. We only had a 50 minute wait and we used the time to visit the bookstore and the Pearl Harbor Museum.

The official program began with a 25 minute viewing of a film in a theatre. It did a good job explaining the events that lead to December 7th, 1941. It also showed in great detail the attack and what the consequences of it were. The film was well done and everyone in the theatre had an understanding of exactly how the USS Arizona came to be a memorial and grave site.

(The Flag of the United States of America flies proudly over what may be one of the most sacred places in all of America.)

After the film, we all boarded a boat which took us out across Pearl Harbor to the USS Arizona Memorial. It was a silent, solemn, but comfortable trip. We were let off at the memorial with the admonishment to be quiet at the USS Arizona and show respect for the dead.

My brief 20 or so minutes on the memorial was very powerful. I was not born until decades after the Pearl Harbor attack. Despite this, I teared up on several occasions. I felt a great deal of sadness and anger. The names of the 1100+ dead entombed in the water below was almost overwhelming. I was also touched by the names of those who died years (in many cases decades later) from the USS Arizona who made the decision to have their remains placed with their shipmates when they passed away.

I also felt angry towards Japan. Why did they do this? Intellectually I understood their reasoning but I still felt some vile. Many of the men who died on the Arizona had been below decks when the ship exploded and rolled over due to a direct hit from a Japanese torpedo that hit the munition magazines. They never knew that America was at war. They may mercifully never have even been aware of their own deaths as they occurred so suddenly. I let the anger go well before I left the memorial. I was very surprised to have felt it so deeply even if it was for a short time.

There were many Japanese tourists at the memorial. I wondered, what are they thinking? How do they feel about this? Clearly, their nation was in the wrong attacking unprovoked without a declaration of war while their diplomats in Washington were negotiating a treaty with the United States. No amount of mental gymnastics or rewriting the history books will alter who the villain and who the victim were on this day. The events in the Pacific War all started here. Hiroshima and Nagasaki would never have tasted nuclear war without this day of infamy happening first.

I left Pearl Harbor very grateful to have finally visited it. I enjoyed the next three days I stayed in Hawaii and had a productive conference. My presentation went well too. Despite this, my visit to Pearl Harbor was the highlight of my trip.

In a few days, I will write about my visit to 'Iolani Palace.

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