On December 7th 1941, at 7:55am, Japan launched an unprecedented attack on the USA. The surprise bombing would leave over 2,000 men and women dead, both military personnel and civilians alike, and would lead to the States’ eventual – and seemingly inevitable – entry into World War Two.
Pearl Harbour is not, to my knowledge, a subject that is taught on the school curriculum in England (please correct me if I’m wrong – it’s just I certainly never learnt about it). In complete honesty, all I knew about the events that took place that day I’d learnt from an appalling Ben Affleck movie (which, by the way, couldn’t have missed the point any further if it tried). That said, prior knowledge or no, the Pearl Harbor National Park and historic sites was an interesting, insightful and overall humbling experience.
Sad as it is to say, the setting itself is beautiful; glistening, deep-blue water sparkles across the bay, memorial plaques line the harbor-side paths. The magnificent USS Arizona memorial stands sentinel across the way, a stunning reminder of what took place here.
The museums themselves are brilliant – interactive and touching, emotionally, without being cheesy, which is often the American way (no offence to be taken here, guys – it’s also one of the things I love most about y’all). I’m disappointed in myself to admit that I had no idea of the scale of the Pearl Harbor attack – Japan flew over 300 planes, undetected, across the Pacific ocean, to bomb the living daylights out of the island of Oahu in two, brutal waves. Pearl Harbor itself wasn’t the only place targeted – Oahu is a huge military hub and numerous airfields and bases were under fire. The US Navy’s fleet was completely crippled; the USS Arizona, Nevada, Oklahoma, all of the battleships, either sunk or were blown to pieces. Almost half of the day’s casualties were caused when the USS Arizona’s forward magazine caught fire and exploded, killing most upon impact, and entombing the rest. Almost 200 airplanes were completely destroyed, with over 150 damaged beyond use.
The infamous words, “Tora! Tora! Tora!” were screamed by the Japanese commander, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, when it was apparent that their surprise attack had worked – Oahu, and everybody on it, had been completely unprepared.
We visited the USS Bowfin museum, which was awesome – it’s actually a docked submarine which was in service during the Second World War. It was amazing to see how the sailors live – in such tiny quarters, every inch of space is precious. I’m being serious – there are even beds which fold out over the gigantic torpedoes. We listened to ex-Sailors talk about hiding from the Japanese; diving down to depths of over 600ft, disappearing into the dark ocean to flee attacks and explosions, to avoid being detected by inferior Japanese radars. Fascinating to see the inner workings, the hundreds of switches, buttons and meters, of a stealthy, underwater killing machine.
Being on the USS Bowfin really brought home a few things, mainly how terrifying it would have been to have been one of the poor souls trapped in the dark, steel belly of the Arizona when she exploded. Their bodies remain there today; there were no survivors. Just standing in the cramped engine room, imagining the sounds, the terror, was both difficult and somewhat distressing… May they rest in peace, and never be forgotten.
It’s peaceful now, at Pearl Harbor; factual, respectful, peaceful. Harrowing, sure, but a beautiful, calm place to remember the events that day and remember those who lost their lives.
There is no use in giving a spiel about why it happened, why it shouldn’t have happened, what ifs and buts. BUT, when mindless violence can be avoided, it should be – it’s events like these that we should try to remember in times of aggression, tension between nations.