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Sunday, December 07, 2008

A date that will live in infamy...

Back in the early 80s I was stationed on board two different frigates (not at the same time, obviously) in Pearl Harbor Hawaii.

The 'Bravo' piers, where the frigates and destroyers typically tied up, directly faced the side of Ford Island that had once been called 'Battleship Row'.  The last visible remnant of 'Battleship Row' is the white memorial that sits astride the bridge of the sunken Battleship USS Arizona:

Pc44728
[photo (c) US National Parks Service]

The only way to reach the memorial is by a ferry boat (visible on the left of the picture) which departed from a section of the harbor that was not always easy for tourists to find.

Now, hatred is not-unlike a few hundred dominoes lined up in a row.  By this I mean that there is something in the soul of men that wants desperately to be the one to push over the dominoes... and to not be the last domino to be pushed.

Take for example the native Hawaiians. 

Their dislike for white Ha'oles (people from the mainland) was, at best, a simmering contempt... and often boiled over into outright assault.  After all, the mainlanders (specifically the U.S. government and ultimately the Marines) had come along and essentially toppled a peaceful monarchy (of Queen Liliuokalani ), and put in place a foreign constitution that set minimum income and property requirements for voters, essentially limiting the electorate to wealthy Americans, Europeans and a tiny handful of their allied native Hawaiian partners.

Then you have the indigenous non-native population (as much as one can call any of the Ha'ole's indigenous).

These locals adopted the basic dislike/distrust of mainlanders from their pure-blood Hawaiian neighbors and added an extra layer of hate due their own insecurity and guilt over being partly descended from those who toppled the Island's monarchy.

The U.S. Military (of which there is a very large representation in the islands) is the next domino down the line of enmity.

As with most things subject to gravity, sh*t rolls mostly downhill.  And the soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen of the U.S. Armed Forces stationed in Hawaii were (and to some extent, still are) often singled out for a healthy dose of suspicion and outright enmity by both the Native and non-native Hawaiians, alike.

Tourists, being the bearers of Hawaii's life blood (money) are mostly exempted from this downhill rush of hatred... but being at the bottom of the dung hill, the military is not above seeking someone even lower on the pecking order of prejudice and hatred... and the Japanese tourists who flock to Hawaii are an easy target... especially for ignorant young sailors with a hazy sense of history.

I recall one particular December 7th when some of my shipmates and I were walking near the gate to the Navy Base when a group of Japanese tourists accosted us with an urgent need, expressed in clear but heavily accented English:

"Excuse prease... where is USS Arizona"

This was too good to be true.  Representatives of the very nation that had made this date infamous were handing us the set-up to the best punch line any of us had ever heard.  This was like being in New York CIty and having a tourist ask you how to get to Carnagie Hall! 

Without hesitating, the senior petty officer in our group replied, "Right where you left it".

I have to admit that, as much as I was momentarily delighted that this well-used joke had actually found a real-life outlet, I was deeply embarrassed at the stricken look that spread across the faces of the Japanese tourists (none of whom was old enough to have participated in the war effort) when their tour guide translated the insulting rejoinder.

And even though, all these years later I now harbor much more animosity towards the Japanese than even the Germans, due to their brutal, murderous actions during the WWII (Google 'Japanese Slave Labor WWII' and 'Rape of Nanking' if you need a starting place), I am personally sorry to have participated in embarrassing these blameless Japanese tourists.

So yes, this date will continue to live in infamy because of the terrible Japanese sneak attack perpetrated against a neutral country which cost many thousands of innocent lives.  But it is also a personal day of infamy... an anniversary which marks a line of delineation between my carefree childish irresponsibility with words and my first steps towards learning the cruel weight which words can carry. 

Posted by David Bogner on December 7, 2008 | Permalink

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Well said.

Posted by: Jack | Dec 7, 2008 7:04:45 PM

Thanks for the thoughtful reflection, but dang that was a great punchline. It reminds me of one a friend once used on an very obviously pregnant woman who'd stepped in front of his car, forcing him to slam on the brakes: "You know lady, you could also get knocked DOWN."

Posted by: Bob | Dec 7, 2008 11:29:18 PM

"And even though, all these years later I now harbor much more animosity towards the Japanese than even the Germans, due to their brutal, murderous actions during the WWII"

I realize that the Japanese were brutal and ruthless and were responsible for hundreds of thousands, and maybe millions, of innocent civilian deaths but why use the Germans as your measuring stick. The Germans built an entire bureaucratic apparatus that was created to define who Jews were, where they should be forced to live, and eventually, to see that they would live no more. This was not murder as a byproduct of war, not casualties as a result of skirmishes or partisan activities, but the end-result of an ideology that had for years been calling Jews vermin and also calling for their destruction. This was a sophisticated machine, an industry developed to exterminate first and foremost the Jews of Europe.

Are the Japanese atrocities really more brutal then Babi Yar, Treblinka or the Einsatzgruppen (Historian Raul Hilberg estimates that between 1941 and 1945 the Einsatzgruppen killed more than 1.3 million Jews in open-air shootings). Would it not have been sufficient to say you are horrified by brutal murderous actions of the Japanese during the 1930's and 1940's ?

Posted by: Sol | Dec 8, 2008 3:59:30 AM

What's that? You're not gonna ask Japanese tourists for reparations? ;o/

Long live the memory of Pearl Harbor and brave kids everywhere

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Dec 8, 2008 9:55:34 AM

Intersting reflection even though I also disagree about the Japanese eing worse than"the Germans", I mean the Japanese and Germans during (and a bit before) WWII of course.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Dec 8, 2008 10:08:56 AM

Jack... Thanks

Bob ... I wonder if she even got it?

Sol... To be clear, there is no hierarchy of brutality or cruelty that anyone really considers 'official'. War, by definition, is a brutal, murderous thing. However, the telling factor about the way a country can sometimes be judges is in how they treat their prisoners and the civilian population in the areas they conquer. Approximately 15% of prisoners in German POW camps died during their captivity. By comparison, approximately 15% of prisoners under Japanese captivity survived! Yes, the Germans established a well-oiled machine to liquidate the Jews (and any other undesirables) at home and in the countries under their control. I am obviously not forgiving that or placing it in an acceptable context. I am simply pointing out that what the Japanese lacked in organizational skills when it came to the sheer number of murders, they more than made up for in enthusiasm and brutality. Ironically, both the Japanese and Germans have distanced themselves from the racial prejudices that led to their mistaken idea that a 'superior race' was allowed to slaughter any inferior race... the Arabs of our generation still subscribe to this fatally flawed idea.

Wry Mouth ... Any Japanese Americans who knew his /her history would be wise to request reparations for the American Internment camps to which their grandparents where shipped during WWII.

Ilana-Davita ... You can read my response to Sol, but I must reiterate that was not suggesting better or worse. I was simply pointing out a personal prejudice I have based on my historical studies. I would have no problem driving a VW car, but I won't buy a Mitsubishi. The difference is that most of the slave laborers who were forced to work in German industries survived the war while most slave laborers who worked in Japanese industries did not.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Dec 8, 2008 10:53:23 AM

http://www.kneedeepinthehooah.com/

I learned yesterday from this blog that there were 36 sets of brothers who served on the USS Arizona, and a set of three brothers and a father and son. Amazing.

Posted by: joyce | Dec 8, 2008 5:06:48 PM

the arizona was very moving

we found the hawains to very pleasant

Posted by: Lion of Zion | Dec 9, 2008 7:01:18 AM

"Any Japanese Americans who knew his /her history would be wise to request reparations for the American Internment camps to which their grandparents where shipped during WWII."

I think "wise" is the wrong word here, between you and me. Unless you mean the US government is soft enough to give $ to anyone who asks, and one would be foolish to turn down free taxpayers' $.

Reparations to that generation that suffered imposed deprivations, proportionate to the loss? Yes. Let each soul "make their own decide," as my Italian uncle's mom would say.

Reparations from the innocent, to the undeserving? What? In that case, I'm gonna go ask the Soviet government for somea that reparations money, since Stalin drove my gampa out of the Caucasus.

Or -- maybe better -- I will just be thankful he ended up in the Land of Opportunity and availed himself and his family of a better life. More alleged "reparations" candidates would do well to consider -- really -- how their families' and tribes' lives would have turned out had they NOT been deprived, a hundred or more years ago.

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Dec 10, 2008 6:53:35 AM

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