I was not alive on December 7, 1941. It was the day President Roosevelt proclaimed “a date which will live in infamy!” The attack began at 7:48am Hawaiian time, with 353 Japanese fighters, bombers, and torpedo planes in two waves. All eight U.S. naval battleships were damaged, with four that sunk, including the USS Arizona. We are here to visit the Arizona Memorial, and relive parts of this famous attack.
For me, this attack became part of my family history. My parents to be were sent to a relocation camp in Poston, Arizona in the post war hysteria. Courtesy of both Franklin Roosevelt and California Governor Earl Warren, tens of thousands of people of Japanese ancestry were incarcerated in temporary barbed wire camps in the hinterlands of our country. These tar paper lined barracks would be home to many of my ancestors for up to four years.
So, how does one reconcile the events of that day at this point in life? More importantly, how did my grandparents deal with this loss of their civil rights and personal property? And what about the young teenage Japanese American men who were drafted to fight in the war?
Here in Honolulu, how did people of Japanese ancestry feel about the raging war, relocation on the mainland, and their proximity to the battles soon to be raging throughout the Pacific Theater? I have read extensively, and watched every movie and documentary about the war as it relates to Hawaii, and Japanese Americans.
Does it surprise you that most of us boomers born right after the war were given “American” first and middle names? Not until my generation had children did we return to having a Japanese middle name for our offspring. The message was quite clear, that we must be Americans, and be a model minority. This is precisely where the history books fall short.
Numerous books have been written about the internment camp experience. For some, like my parents, the camp in Poston is where they met. They eloped on a weekend pass to Phoenix and got married. For some, it disrupted the American dream, perhaps their matriculation into universities, and caused the loss of businesses and personal and real property.
But it all began here that quiet Sunday morning in December. Though it was meant to be a pre-emptive attack on the Pacific Fleet, it propelled our country firmly into World War 2. Fast forward to the twin atomic bombings in Japan that ended the war. Nothing in between really matters since both sides lost so many lives.
So, how do I feel about all of this? I am thankful my parents met and married while they were in relocation camp. I am sorry for all the lives lost on both sides of this war. I am mostly sorry for the losses and deathly radiation associated with the two atomic bombs in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The loss of life can never be recovered. The lessons of war and peace should be firmly implanted into our brains forever. This was not a very comfortable visit.