Today, December 7, marks the anniversary of the Japanese devastating surprise attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet anchored at Pearl Harbor on a Sunday morning almost 75 years ago. Being only two years old at the time I have no personal recollection of the terrible event but do remember that my parents pulled the window shades down during air raid alerts later in the war.
Nevertheless, I’ve always had a great interest in WWII. As a thirteen year old I watched on TV NBC’s epic 1952 series “Victory at Sea” that ran for half an hour on Sundays for almost a year. The black and white wartime footage, the narration by actor Alexander Scourby, and the musical score by Richard Rogers all came together to make for riveting viewing. (episodes can be viewed on youtube)
Maybe it was “Victory at Sea” that led me to devour Samuel Eliot Morison’s monumental and magisterial twelve volume account of the US Naval operations in WWII while a graduate History student at Columbia University. It was easy to put aside the readings assigned in classes in favor of Morison’s great history. Morison was a sailor as well as an historian. Before the war he had already written his definitive account of the career of Christopher Columbus after personally tracing the explorers voyages in a sailboat. When the war broke out he was recruited by the Navy to be its official historian.
The result was one of the great histories of all time. The Navy managed to get Morison on the scene before many naval engagements and his writing is full of eyewitness testimony. He loved the Navy but was not a propagandist. He pulled no punches especially when examining the activity or inactivity that led to the disaster at Pearl Harbor. (It is available in a one volume abridgement)
My wife and I did get a chance to visit the Pearl Harbor Memorial many years later in 2000. We were in Hawaii at a company convention where I was to be inducted into the company’s Hall of Fame in recognition of long years of service as a financial advisor. I suppose it could have been considered the high point of my career, but it paled in significance when we went to visit the Memorial shrine to those who lost their lives that day.
The Pearl Harbor Memorial is one of the great achievements of government architecture. You don’t just walk in. You check in and then join a small group of other tourists. After viewing a really good brief documentary, our group boarded a small motor launch that took us out to the Memorial built atop the ruins of the sunken battleship USS Arizona, a cemetery for the seamen who went down with their ship that day.
It was an incredibly moving experience. However, the presence of many Japanese nationals at the site that day was the most moving thing. They had come to lay flowers in honor of the deceased. I guess the process of healing had begun many years before when after inflicting incredible destruction upon Japan during the War, the United States decided to help in rebuilding the devastated nation.
The Japanese could have been reduced to slavery or at least a cruel oppression. Yet, the USA decided to allow the conquered Japanese to be free and eventually self-governing. The result was a miracle. Today we drive Japanese cars and watch TVs made in Japan. Who could have imagined 74 years ago that baseball players named Matsui, Tanaka, or Suzuki would have become New York Yankees?