Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Stories We Need to Tell: Pearl Harbor

Yesterday was December 7th, the 80th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Today is December 8th, the 41st anniversary of the murder of John Lennon by a deranged fan.

One of the best measures of a culture is how well it passes stories from generation to generation that revere those who came before, especially those who died heroically doing something bigger than themselves. 

Do parents and teachers instruct every schoolchild on these events and the heroes that died doing something bigger than themselves? 

Do those kids grow up holding these stories close to their hearts, knowing that it’s their job to pass them on to their own kids? 

Does the wider culture reinforce these stories with poems, books, essays, music, movies, etc.?

With Pearl Harbor, I don’t see much of any of that happening.

As a culture we seem more focused on the murder of a former Beatle than on one of the worst military disasters in our history. Yes, Pearl Harbor was 80 years ago, but that’s irrelevant, because cultural stories become more important over the years, not less. 

This is part of the problem:  we are far too focused on the recent past at the expense of the distant past. That’s a good way to lose track of who we are as a people. We must keep close to our hearts those things that really matter to our survival as a people and as a culture.

Culture must be viewed as a living, breathing thing that needs care and attention or it will die. If few people know who and what came before them, they have no culture or history to speak of, and will commence to dishonor all of it. It’s happening right now, in fact.

The grim details of the attack:

The base was attacked by 353 Imperial Japanese aircraft (including fighters, level and dive bombers, and torpedo bombers) in two waves, launched from six aircraft carriers. Of the eight U.S. Navy battleships present, all were damaged, with four sunk. All but USS Arizona were later raised, and six were returned to service and went on to fight in the war. The Japanese also sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, and one minelayer. A total of 188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed; 2,403 Americans were killed and 1,178 others were wounded.

On the same day the Japanese launched coordinated attacks on “... the U.S.-held Philippines, Guam, and Wake Island and on the British Empire in Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong.”

Seven separate air and sea operations on the same day, all successful. This was all part of a grand plan to establish an empire of their own in the Pacific by taking as much strategic territory as possible in surprise attacks right away and then force the Allies to take them back, one by one, at tremendous cost. 

The fact that these stories make people uncomfortable is really the whole point. John Lennon was a hero to many, but some things worth passing down to future generations cannot be sung and played on guitar.