Remembering Pearl Harbor 2008
I write this as I look out my 29th floor hotel room in the direction of Pearl Harbor. My wife and I came to Oahu, Hawaii to celebrate our 29th anniversary on December 2nd. Although it is a coincidence that we are still here on December 7th, it still feels eerie. On Wednesday, we visited the USS Arizona Memorial, which was a moving experience. Arriving just before 7am to stand in line, the tour buses continued to unload groups behind us. We were in the first group to see the film that begins the journey to the wreck of the Arizona. Comprised solely of original footage, the film examines not only the attack itself but also its antecedents. It is entirely descriptive and remarkably fair. For example, it describes both the brutal Japanese invasion of China and the less frequently noted oil embargo imposed on Japan by the U.S. in response. It also candidly describes the various ways in which the US command was unprepared for and ignored warnings of the impending disaster. I cannot find that video on-line but here is another describing the attack using original Japanese and American footage of which a surprising amount exists.

After the film, the group somberly headed for the boat to take us to the Memorial which straddles the sunken Arizona. From the deck of the Memorial, one can see the base of a gun turret emerging from the water.

Gun Turret Base

For some reason it is particularly disturbing to see the oil slick on the surface of the water; it is still oozing from the ship, which had been fully fueled when sunk. Three sailors briefly hoisted American flags taken from two Fed Ex boxes over the Memorial to be lowered, folded and returned to their senders.

Hoisting the flags over the Arizona

From the Memorial can be seen the USS Missouri, an Iowa class battleship a third larger than the Arizona, that was being built at the time of Pearl Harbor and on which the Japanese surrender was signed in Tokyo Bay. The guides refer to these as "bookends" marking the first and last days of WWII. Although not there during the attack, it is useful to see the ship close by because it conveys the size of the battleships that were lined up on December 7th, 1941 in way that cannot otherwise be imagined by looking at the open water of the harbor.

The Missouri as seen from the Arizona Memorial

Our visit to the Memorial was a very quiet and emotional experience (click to enlarge picture).

List of Casualties

It is captured by the following video I located on YouTube:

In the visitor's center several survivors of the attack were seated at a table signing autographs. More than the usual number were there in advance of the annual ceremonies to take place on December 7th.

Pearl Harbor Survivors

We then took a bus to the USS Missouri where we received what turned out to be a private tour of 5 levels of the ship. One reason I was interested in this tour was because I have seen Under Siege many times. Although I am no Stephen Seagal fan, I really like this film, maybe because Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Busey are such excellent bad guys. Before even starting the tour, however, I learned that the film was not shot on the Missouri, but on the USS Alabama. During the tour it became pretty obvious that none of the recognizable locations--such as the bridge or "Broadway"--looked anything like the film. This film shows the Missouri in action in the first Gulf War, including the loading of its 16 inch guns.

The tour culminated in the "surrender deck" where the Japanese command signed the articles of surrender. Reproductions of the articles were exhibited including the Japanese copy on which the Canadian representative had signed on the wrong line. As a result, several lines of typed names were crossed out and other names hand printed in and initialed. Even the ends of wars are not without errors. Here is a contemporary newsreel describing the ceremony.

The Missouri--Big Mo--is privately operated and maintained. The website can be found here.
Excellent article, thanks for posting.

Anyone interested in understanding the isolationist mindset of Americans in 1941, and how FDR countered it, is encouraged to read The Winds of War by Herman Wouk. Besides being a extremely well fact-checked account, it is a real page turner, too.
12.7.2008 5:18am
I toured Big Mo just after it opened as a museum. There was still a sizable dent on the bow where it was struck by a kamikaze attack near the end of the war.

When I toured the Arizona it just so happened my wife and I were the only Americans aboard. The rest of the people there were a very large Japanese tour group - complete with a tour guide (speaking their language) and a professional film crew. I would have liked to have known what he was saying and they were thinking.

One of the more moving aspects of the memorial to me was the list of names of Arizona crew who survived the attack but were allowed to be buried at sea in the wreckage. If memory serves their names are separately inscribed on the wall of names.
12.7.2008 9:50am
Humble Law Student (mail) (www):
Thank You
12.7.2008 10:10am
SteveMG (mail):
Thanks for a moving and well-thought out post.
12.7.2008 10:10am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Some of the sailors survived the initial attack, only to be caught in compartments no longer accessible. But there was air, for a while.
Sentries on the piers could hear them banging on the bulkheads. For a couple of days, anyway.
12.7.2008 10:51am
fortyninerdweet (mail):
Thank you.
12.7.2008 11:15am
CDU (mail) (www):

Although not there during the attack, it is useful to see the ship close by because it conveys the size of the battleships that were lined up on December 7th, 1941 in way that cannot otherwise be imagined by looking at the open water of the harbor.

It may exaggerate the size a bit. The Missouri is about half again the size of the Arizona and the other WWI era battleships that were tied up along Battleship Row during the Pearl Harbor attack.
12.7.2008 11:55am
Reproductions of the articles were exhibited including the Japanese copy on which the Canadian representative had signed on the wrong line.

Geee, is there anything we, Canucks, can manage to do right? These days, it seems we can't get a relatively simple parliament to work, now I learn we are unable to even put our names correctly on a contract. Blame it on the frozen brain cells, I guess. Thank God we didn't botch the poutine too much, at least...
12.7.2008 12:11pm
Skyler (mail) (www):
I'm always amazed that the clips from a movie made about Pearl Harbor continue to get mixed in with clips from the actual battle as if they were real and not staged after the fact.

In the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas (surprisingly one of the finest museums I've ever seen) there is a movie clip that I've seen nowhere else, and I can't understand why. It's a Japanese propaganda film made before the attack on Pearl Harbor showing how the Japanese envisioned bombing the port, steaming its battleships into the harbor and conducting an amphibious landing on Honolulu. The movie ends with Japanese Marines hoisting a flag atop a ship yard crane and then battalions of Japanese Marines marching in parade formation down mainstreet of the city.
12.7.2008 12:17pm
mga (mail):
The Japanese did the United States a major league favor by staging the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. It was clearly in the long term best interests of the country to intervene in World War II on the side of the Allies, but the isolationists made that politically impossible. If Japan had had the sense to simply attack Malaya, Singapore and the Dutch East Indies, ignoring the Philippines, and claim they were freeing the natives from European colonialism, I doubt Roosevelt could have even gotten a declaration of war.
12.7.2008 12:48pm
Skyler (mail) (www):

The Japanese did the United States a major league favor by staging the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

What an obscene comment. I'm sure the people who died there don't think the same. If the Japanese had not attacked there and had nonetheless started a war, we would have been much better off with all of our ships and men in the Philipines, Wake, and Pearl. The end result of a war with Japan was never in doubt, the only issue was how long it would take and how costly. The theory that we wouldn't have used our carriers as effectively is speculative and isn't much grounded in reality.

On the other hand, if the Japanese had never started a war, then hundreds of thousand of people would not have died. There is no telling what would have become of their empire, but we know that more people would be alive.

But they did attack and we know the result. Untold numbers of our men were killed, eliminated from our gene pool and our society. How many Einsteins died? How many great leaders and artists, and engineers? Without a war, perhaps Roosevelt wouldn't have been reelected and we'd have been spared decades of socialism. Perhaps if there were no war, the fact that his personal assistant was a Russian spy would have come to light sooner. Perhaps the world would still be spared the horror of nuclear weapons for a while longer. Without the war, maybe we'd have gotten to Mars by now. Who knows? There's no telling.

But what we do know is that nothing good came from the attack on 7 December, 1941. It was all bad and it took four years to set things closer to being right again.
12.7.2008 1:00pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
When my wife and I visited the Arizona, the move 'Pearl Harbor' was being filmed and a plume of black smoke was rising in the east. That added immediacy.

I got a shock at the visitor center.

During the war, Japanese suicide subs hit 3 American ships, a destroyer escort, a tanker and a destroyer. Most of the men on the escort and on the tanker were killed. The sub that hit the destroyer, at Ulithi, broke off its warhead, which sank without exploding.

If it had exploded, I wouldn't be here. My dad was on the bridge of the destoyer.

One of the Japanese suicide subs is at the visitor center. I spent a long time looking into the tiny cockpit and thinking.

Dad never mentioned that incident, not even to my mother. I remember, in the '50s, at parties the men would always be asked about their war. My father and his brother, who was a bombardier in B17s in Europe, would never say anything. Dad would deflect questions by saying, 'My greatest war experience was the time I was dealt 9 hearts and 4 clubs.'

AlanO asks a good question about the Japanese tourists. Friends of mine went to Iwo Jima this year. It is a Japanese air force base and war memorial/cemetery, open to Americans only one day a year.

The Japanese were correct but obstructionist. Most of the Americans were Marine vets who had fought on Iwo. The Japanese did everything they could to, politely, delay and defeat the Americans' plans, which including various flag-laying and other memorials. My friend wanted to bury a Purple Heart that one of his relatives had won on the island.

His wife said one thing that seemed to offend the Japanese was that the Americans dressed casually, as if for a picnic.

They don't think like we do. Dad had a samurai sword that an officer gave him when he took the surrender of a small island in '45. It had been used to chop the heads off Australian prisoners.

My sister, than about 8, asked him why the Japanese gave him the sword. Dad said, 'He wanted us to be nice to him.'
12.7.2008 1:51pm
Bill Dyer (mail) (www):
Thank you for posting this, Prof. Barnett, both from me and from my 85-year-old father (who was a junior officer in the U.S. Navy serving aboard an attack transport (troopship) in the Pacific from 1944-1945).
12.7.2008 3:22pm
Size is relative. I got the visit the Mighty Mo one last time before it left Bremerton; grand as it is, it doesn't seem quite so magnificent when it's tied up next to an aircraft carrier whose flight deck towers over you. :-)
12.7.2008 3:58pm
Skyler (mail) (www):
Kirk, it's an opinion of course, but I would say that a carrier tied up to a battleship may be much larger, but that battleship looks a lot meaner. And beautiful.
12.7.2008 4:37pm
Me Rich (mail):
The last time I was in Hawaii, a couple of years ago a very large number of vistors to Pearl Harbor were Japanese, mostly older, and I found them to be extremely respectful. There were many who brought bouquets of flowers to place at the memorial and who very reverently bowed before the wall of names. The Japanese appeared to have a sense of honor about those who died that I did not see in other nationalities there.

I was very impressed by that.
12.7.2008 4:53pm
Pearl Harbor--another example of the preemptive war doctrine in action. Too bad we forget our history.
12.7.2008 5:09pm
it describes both the brutal Japanese invasion of China and the less frequently noted oil embargo imposed on Japan by the U.S. in response.
Less frequency noted? It seems to get noted all the time (Tom Hagen mentions in in Godfather II).

And what is the point? The US tried to cut Japan off from oil (and rubber and steel) for the entirely sound reason that Japan was using those resources to massacre its neighbors. Yes, given that Japan liked massacring its neighbors and wished to continue doing so, it had to attack US and British possessions in the Pacific, that hardly makes Japan the aggrieved party.
12.7.2008 5:26pm
fortyninerdweet (mail):
Skyler, you of course are entitled to you opinion. But mga's comment in my view is pretty astute. If you are of that generation then you might know more than I. But as a callow youth at the time I instinctively knew from the attitudes of the citizenry around me that there was no way the US would go to the defense of England, et al, up through December 6, 1941. After the next day it was "Katy, bar the door". We couldn't start fighting soon enough. So although the wording may be criticized the facts behind them are strongly born out.
12.7.2008 5:28pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Yeah, Malvolio, I thought that was oddly phrased.

To update, it's as if someone said, the Iranians are out to kill all the Israelis (at least, all the Jewish ones) but nobody mentions the Americans don't want to sell them nuclear technology.

As for the debate about going to war, Jonathan Utley argued, persuasively to me, that America would disapprove of what was happening to the Chinese but not intervene, but it would have intervened if Japan had moved on the resources of southeast Asia, with or without an attack on American territory.

More interestingly for the policy wonks who infest VC, in 'Going to War with Japan, 1937-1941,' Utley demonstrates that the junior State Department staffer who wrote the embargo regulations made them considerably tougher than FDR had intended. Something to think about when debating boycotts, embargoes and blockades.
12.7.2008 7:26pm
TetVet68 (mail) (www):
America's oldest living Medal of Honor recipient, living his 100th year is former enlisted Chief Petty Officer, Aviation Chief Ordnanceman (ACOM), later wartime commissioned Lieutenant John W. Finn, USN (Ret.). He is also the last surviving Medal of Honor, "The Day of Infamy", Japanese Attack on the Hawaiian Islands, Naval Air Station, Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, 7 December 1941.

Visit my photo album tribute:

San Diego, California
12.7.2008 7:51pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):
I don't find anything objectionable about mja's comment.

The sneaky nature created total national unity. Impossible without it. Maybe we would have fought Japan eventually but it would have been against significant domestic opposition.

Compare attitudes toward Afghanistan and Iraq in our day for further evidence of my point.

Further, it accelerated the time line. Maybe that did not matter in the Pacific but it certainly did in Europe. Thanks to Hitler's blunder, the Pearl Harbor attack also triggered US intervention in Europe when it made a difference. Who knows how long the UK would actually have held off on a peace with Germany without the certainty of victory we provided.
12.7.2008 8:00pm
Bama 1L:
The Japanese did not start a war on Dec. 7, 1941; they just guaranteed that they were halfway to losing one.

one thing that seemed to offend the Japanese was that the Americans dressed casually, as if for a picnic.

Also bothersome to Europeans at memorials. The contrast between American vet wear (shorts, tee-shirt, ballcap) and European (as though for church) could not be more stark.
12.7.2008 10:57pm
Came here from Instapundit. Although I agree with just about everything said here, can I say something as a Brit about this?

"The guides refer to these as "bookends" marking the first and last days of WWII."

My father's generation had been fighting for over two years by the time Pearl Harbor came round. It wasn't the "first day" of WW2 - the first day of American official involvement perhaps (though these guys had been in it for a while too, God rest their souls), but no more than that. Look, we're grateful for what you guys did, we really are - but this sort of thing drives us nuts. This sort of language doesn't seem to do anything other than disrespect my dad's generation, I'm sure it's not meant that way, but...
12.8.2008 2:36am