Before Hiroshima


    August 6th has become a date receiving outsized attention. Aesthetically that’s quite understandable. Hiroshima offers superior visuals to Pearl Harbor, a site whose tragedy lies beneath a placid surface.


    Pearl Harbor simply offers serene contemplation across Hawaiian waves. Hiroshima city fathers have done an artful job of propagandizing their preservations. Japanese ruins deflect guilt from the past. What incited 1941 America is mostly out of sight underwater and left to explanation.

    While the American chapters of the Pacific War timeline should compel us, the Western story suffers from deficiency of pathos. True, the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial stirs but Hiroshima’s shattered Genbaku Dome and shades of those vaporized painted against structures or upon pavement are striking.

    Besides, isn’t there a gnawing inclination to somehow diminish those who perished at Pearl Harbor? Weren’t they prospective combatants? The dawn of the nuclear age predominantly claimed civilians, didn’t it?

    At least that’s how events have been gradually distorted. Misshapen across recent decades, and helped immensely by surviving American participants dying off, as well as abetted through an insidious shift of emphasis, we’ve skewed the Second World War’s Pacific Theater.

    This repackaging has coopted aspects of the nuclear disarmament movement. Understanding atomic weapons’ impartial destructiveness, only end-timers see nukes as viable. We who don’t accept the Bible literally want our three score and ten – and then some! – before shuffling off this mortal coil.

    So rational people favor eliminating nuclear arsenals.

    Yet there is a subset believing the United States could’ve brought Imperial Japan to heel without exploding those devices above populated regions. Well-meaning as one hopes such activists are, they are naïve. They think detonations somewhere over the Pacific could’ve sufficiently demonstrated Western resolve. That through these huge flash-bangs the Japanese should’ve sensibly concluded use on their home islands would cause immeasurable suffering, death and destruction.

    It makes sense. Only problem is those calculations bubble from today. The warlords ruling Imperial Japan clearly stated their intentions. Victory or death. Not a lot of wiggle room there.

    We may find such absolutism difficult. Our fathers and grandfathers knew it in their bones. Carnage reaped during outer islands conquests foretold the utter ferocity ahead should the West invade Imperial Japan proper.

    In the end atomic weapons saved lives. It permitted hundreds of thousands Americans and Japanese millions to create futures. You reading this are part of that future. After all, if your father or grandfather (before having a chance to sire a male) had charged among the assault waves and succumbed, you never would’ve existed.

    The above isn’t hypothetical. It’s missing one of your irreplaceable components.

    Who knows. In another generation maybe the story will be the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor to pre-retaliate for atomizing Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    Far-fetched as it may seem now, tomorrow, fogged by enough revisionism, Imperial Japan’s crime will appear undeserving of the justice meted. By then the last eyewitnesses will be dead. Naturally their absence will occasion “honest reassessments.” The same way current historians can clarify past events such as Antietam without bothersome former belligerents disrupting neat theories through messy facts.

    Contrary interpretations and proof aside, the Japanese have already done a good job of shifting focus of the Pearl Harbor perfidy. So much so December 7th has been reduced to an incident. One we can’t clearly see because of American subjectivity.

    Outlandish as that seems, just evaluate the respective services.

    2011 commemorates the 70th anniversary of Imperial Japan’s declaration of war against the United States. Here, it ruptured the isolationism which had boxed American foreign policy. That Sunday morning launched our current vigilance into deterrence strategy.

    Pearl Harbor influences today’s enormous United States military budget. The volunteers forming our armed services, the American version of Oliver’s army, garrison the planet. Perhaps without the garland of empire we lead measured lives rather than having our everyday crimped by concern swirled into anxiety and driven into paranoia.

    As always, the Pearl Harbor commemoration will be simple, solemn and dignified. Those few living veterans of the attack may assemble on the Arizona Memorial deck. A bugler will sound Taps. A wreath gets tossed into the harbor. The ceremony might rate 20 seconds of news mention. Of course that could be reduced to rushed sentences if some vapid, fabricated celebrity hogs time through an obvious play for the public’s flighty attention.

     How few of us know this day’s significance. There are no Pearl Harbor Day sales. No authority asks we remember the attackers’ perfidy and our nation’s subsequent sacrifices and valor. Surely most Americans today see December 7th meaning only 18 days left until Christmas.

    The Japanese, however, have transformed utter defeat and humiliation into plucky resilience and suspect pleas for pacifism. Yeah. If their forefathers had somehow prevailed against the Occidentals, Imperial Japan’s Pan-Pacific sovereignty would’ve made Belgian King Leopold’s Congo exploitation resemble a cupcake party.

    Spectacle doesn’t mark August 6th in Japan. Instead a collective demonstration of somber remembrance engages society. The Japanese haven’t forgotten. And they damn well won’t forget. Nor should they.

    Through these August ablutions they intend lessening their predecessors’ Pearl Harbor culpability. If possible, increase current and future Western guilt by insisting the final barrage disproportionate to the opening salvo.

    That conveniently dismisses the first shots were unprovoked.

    As a University of Arizona undergrad, I recall Pearl Harbor Day ceremonies held on the university mall. In 1980 it occurred on a Sunday. Harkening the moment bombs first smashed the Pacific Fleet, a bell salvaged from the battleship Arizona tolled.

    Then, only 39 years separated event from history so numerous veterans filled ranks beneath the usual cloudless desert sky. Unsurprisingly, those vets residing in Arizona unable to attend Hawaiian services gravitated near the reliquary our Student Union housed.

    While I can’t repeat speeches verbatim, none were given pro forma or under forced obligation. Unlike too many of today’s officials called upon to honor service, those guys had walked the walk. Their sincerity was unquestioned and unmatched.

    Now, 31 years later, with Second World War GI’s  vanishing the way of the Great War’s doughboys, the instant sparking our world is lucky to rate an afterthought. Or it’s become one of those gotcha trivia questions aptly illustrating received common ignorance.                               

    We are instantaneously made aware of the freshest pop culture shooting star’s latest antics. Yet we don’t know how we got to where we stand today. What does this reveal about us?

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