Day of Infamy
Today, December 7th, marks the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The attack began without warning at 7:48 am local time. At 8:06 a bomb struck the forward ammunition magazine of USS Arizona, causing a massive explosion and sending her to the bottom. Although the attack only lasted 90 minutes, 2,403 US servicemen were killed (1,178 wounded), nearly half from the USS Arizona, 68 civilians were killed (35 wounded), and 64 Japanese were killed (1 captured).
Japanese attacks on Malaya, Hong Kong, Guam, the Philippines, Wake Island, and Midway followed within a day of Pearl Harbor. On December 8th, 1941, FDR gave his famous ‘Infamy speech’ to Congress (FDR's Speech Notes) and the US officially declared war, thereby entering World War II. Japan formally surrendered on September 2nd, 1945 (Truman’s VJ Day Speech). Estimates indicate that more than 6.5 million military personnel and 27 million civilians were killed in the Pacific/Asian Theater of the war. Further, the terror of the nuclear age had begun.
By the time my wife and I visited in 2013, Pearl Harbor was part of the Pacific Historic Parks system. The focus of the park is the USS Arizona memorial. Nearby, you can also visit the USS Bowfin, a submarine commissioned one year after the attack and nicknamed the Pearl Harbor Avenger, the USS Missouri, the last US battleship to be built and the site of the official Japanese surrender, and the Pacific Aviation Museum on Ford Island with restored historic aircraft.
Weaving our way through the memorial park, the typical Oahu weather matched our mood, light showers lasting a few seconds to a few minutes followed by rainbows. Surrounded by plaques and memorials, we encountered the unexpected. In the Contemplation Circle, with a commanding view of the harbor, was a group of young Japanese adults taking selfies. One in particular stood out as she attempted to get a picture of herself jumping mid-air, giving the peace sign, with the USS Arizona in the background.
Many in Japan treat the war as though it is not part of their history. In a war in which many inhumane acts were committed, it is easier to forget. However, to do so is irresponsible. To remember is to avoid repeating history and to guide us in making better decisions. The US, too, has much to be shameful for that should be remembered, including our own mistreatments, slavery, and genocide, though there are many who wish to forget.
Before taking the ferry to the memorial platform, visitors watch a video (first 23 minutes are the official video) of the attack. Reaching the platform, you see what is left. Much of the superstructure and weapons were removed during salvage operations, but it is clearly the rusty bones of a mighty ship. To me, the most touching moment was seeing drops of oil seep from the remains, spreading a rainbow blanket as they met the surface. A lifetime after she sank, this ship still bleeds.
Here we encountered the unexpected once more. Above the tomb of 948 souls, after being asked on the ferry to be respectfully silent, the platform was a buzz of noise. The youthful Japanese were accompanied in this cacophony by the youth of all nationalities. After an initial flurry of pictures, disinterested kids complained to their parents, bored teens messaged their friends, and young adults wanted to know when the ferry would be back and what they should do for dinner. Ignored was the wreck, ignored was the memorial wall etched with the names of the deceased, forgotten was the destruction and suffering that had taken place. It is easy to forget. Embracing the horrors of that spot is difficult, overwhelming. Perhaps that young selfie-taker foreshadows how we will all treat these events as our distracted, social-media driven, forgetful society marches forward.
Today is a day to remember. 75 years ago, a terrible tragedy occurred that plunged the United States of America into war. It is important and right that we remember the sacrifices of those who came before us and provided us with the opportunities we now have. It may be difficult, but today we remember a horrible and painful event, and remember how resilient, determined, and selfless we can be.
Take Hwy H1 to between Pearl City and Honolulu and exit by Aloha Stadium. Continue on Kamehameha Hwy (Rte 99) until reaching the Arizona Memorial Plaza. Parking is available at the Pacific Historic Park.
GPS Coordinates: 21.367317, -157.938223