Remembering Pearl Harbor

Like June 6, December 7 has become a national day of remembrance, more by custom than by formal resolution of governors and presidents.  The attack on Pearl Harbor marked our nation’s official entrance into WWII, the good war as Studs Terkel called it, and, with the stirring music of Victory at Sea ringing in our ears, we can be seduced into an inappropriate romanticizing of it.  At least that was my experience as a young man in my mid twenties when I first visited Pearl Harbor in 1968.
Because of the people I was with, we were given a VIP tour aboard the admiral’s barge.  Our small group spent a long time at the Arizona Memorial.  One of us, much older than I, noted a name he recognized from his very small Minnesota hometown.  He cried.  I didn’t understand.  I was a history buff and mesmerized by everything I saw.  At the time, surrounded by the tropical beauty of Hawaii, it seemed more heroically romantic than tragic.  Since then I’ve been back several times as an ordinary tourist.  I think it’s a place everyone should visit if they have the chance, but not without also visiting Punchbowl, the National Cemetery of the Pacific.
The tens of thousands of grave markers in a parklike setting high above Honolulu do not honor romantic heroes.  They mark the graves of ordinary young men, and some women, who had no intention of dying, who only wanted to survive to go home, who did not fully understand what it meant to kill another human being, who were probably scared out of their minds, but who, nevertheless, did what their country called on them to do.  William Manchester wrote “Goodbye, Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War,” the record of his cathartic journey to visit the battle sites of the Pacific that had haunted his nightmares for decades following his service in the Marines.  It’s a reminder to his readers that war should never be romanticized, sentimentalized, or trivialized.  But neither should it or it’s lessons be forgotten.
We must remember, not to celebrate, but with a certain gravitas leading to renewed commitment to work harder for life than death, harder for justice than oppression, harder for peace than war.

4 thoughts on “Remembering Pearl Harbor”

  1. I don't think that I ever saw Victory at Sea, back when thatmovie was popular, but I was influended by the well directed and acted movie redently Tora Tora Tora,which had more scenes deoicted from the Japanese view than any of the war movies I saw during the war when I was a lad, such as Wake Island and even From Here ATo Eteernity, about Peaarl Harbor seen again redently. I do redall the scene from Tora Tora where Admiral Yamamoto, who had studenied at Harvard once, said asfter the Pearl Harbor faid, I fear that we have awakened a sleeping giant, and also \”where were the aircraft carriers?\” which had echoes of ancient tragedy for hints of prophecy of coming doom. One could call these elements \”romantic\” I suupose, or at least, 'literary'. Ancient drama loved to bring in prophecy, and those hints always showed that the gods do not let arrogfance self-confidence triumph, as a sortr oflesson to the audience of a tholgogical nature one might call 'romanticizing, which did sort of serve to temper the usual love of war; and glorious death in battle that both Greek and Roman (and Hebrew) culture in litrature featured.As General Lee once said, after seeing the carnage of one battle (which he had won)\” It is gfood that war is so terrible, else we should become too fond of it\” And after the war, so costly to both sides was oover, Lee said that he regretted his military profession, even though it had made him glorious in fame. Dr B.

  2. Also, despite all, the South has neve stopped loving war, and recruitment has boomed there early in every war since,even going to Canada or Britain to join while the U.S. wwas still at peace in bothWold AWars. Dr B

  3. In 405B.C. while Arhens and Sparta were in an exhausting war, news came to the city of Athens that their entire fleet had been suddenly destroyed by the Spartans while the fleet was at anchor and totally unprepared. No one slept that night, the historian Xenohon reports, as the people of Athens were in fear that they might be puunishd for all the crimes they had committed to other city states, and shortly later the city fell, now defenseless, and the gods were thought to have done it, in justifiable anger for the hubris of Athens. Was this historic 'romanticism'? Dr B

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