Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Courageous Pearl Harbor

Greetings LIFEers! Today is the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, a day that still lives in world history, or as President Roosevelt revised it, "infamy". Our class was joined again by Professor Sandra Harvey, who was one of twenty US NEH grant recipients who were allowed to study and interview Pearl Harbor eyewitnesses. She brought with her pictures and tales we won't get to hear much longer.

So how do we remember Pearl Harbor? First, many people think of the survivors from that fateful day. Dr. Harvey and her group met several witnesses; American servicemen and several Japanese-Americans living on Hawaii at the time. One of the Japanese-American survivors of Pearl Harbor was later a survivor of Hiroshima too. Many of the remaining survivors were concerned about their legacy after they died - that the humanity of Pearl Harbor, the stories of the survivors would be lost. They didn't want the memorials to be just about the battles and military, but also about the civilians and lives that were destroyed that day.

A second way to remember Pearl Harbor is through the artifacts left behind. Wheeler Air Force Base is one of the few buildings from the attack that was not rebuilt, and retains bullet holes and damage from the attack to this day. A Japanese Zero was found crashed a field. The pilot survived and hid with sympathizers. The Zero is on display at the Pearl Harbor Museum, along with the Hickman flag and a B-25, the bombers from the Doolittle Raid.

After the people and artifacts, a third way to remember Pearl Harbor is through the actual sites. After US citizens, Japanese citizens are the 2nd largest group of visitors to the Pearl Harbor memorial sites. But Japanese tend to view memorials differently than Americans. To the Japanese, memorials are not to glorify the dead or remember a battle, but are to reflect a lesson learned. The Hiroshima memorial has no names, rather it is a monument to peace. Americans tend to capture the moment in our memorials, whereas the Japanese see view memorials as what to avoid. How we each interpret the site is how we remember the event.

Finally, a fourth method to remember Pearl Harbor is through our cultural memory. We keep Pearl Harbor alive through movies, TV, books and the internet. Many good (and bad) films try to capture what happened that day.

After staying on the island for two weeks, interviewing survivors, visiting the museums and memorials, Dr. Harvey said the biggest impression she took away with her was the one the survivors most wanted: reconciliation. At the Arizona memorial, there are two roses laid down each week; one red, one white. When we say "never forget" are we talking about the battles, or are we talking about the lives lost and the bigger lessons learned from that war? What do we want the lesson of Pearl Harbor to be?

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