My Thoughts on December 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor

Women firefighters at Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941.  This photo was apparently not taken on December 7th, but has circulated as one from that date.

First, I want to say that Pearl Harbor exists today and people live and work there.  But is December 7, 1941 the only way people think of that specific place, culture, time?

I’m afraid that in most cases, unless one lives there, yes–people have one image and memory of a word, a pointer to a local, a people, a thriving place, a memory.  What I am saying is that memory is, as is reality– political.

Elementary school in the 1960s:

When my family moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico from Japan in 1962, I was 7 years old.  I began attending US elementary school. It was not pleasant.

As a mixed Japanese-Black American kid, it was hard enough to be the “new kid” at the school, but in the 60s, the World War was still uppermost on people’s minds when it came to race and nation.  This includes kids.  Nowadays, it is still there, but subliminal, subconscious, unconscious to most.  Covered up in liberalism but still a strong aspect of liberalism.  I am talking about racism, nationalism and sexism that come together in nation’s performance through individual people’s relations with themselves and each other.

On the American elementary school playground, I remember at least twenty of the following taunts against me by other kids, mostly white:  “You guys bombed Pearl Harbor.”  On a couple of occasions I had to run home fast, away from the bullies calling me “Jap” and “Mutt Jap” and “traitor.”   I hardly knew what they meant–first because my English abilities were in their infancy, and secondly, they were words I was unfamiliar with even in English.  But I knew they were not kind words.  Being hit and teased, books knocked out of my hands in the halls, and other such things, were my everyday for awhile, until I started making friends. Interestingly, because I was a mixture of nations and cultures, confusing to others, “Jap” was not the only name and memory that people used to project their contempt for my little body on the playground or in the classrooms or in hallways.

Was I responsible for Pearl Harbor?  These kids, they knew our family moved from Japan.  I didn’t look white, obviously, so there I was–a representation.  Not of the Pearl Harbor attack, mind you, but a representation of an object that could then ENTITLE bullies to enact their “ism” no matter what it was.

Japan in the Late 1960s to the U.S. in the 1970s:

In 1962 our family moved from Japan to Albuquerque, then moved to Hawaii in 1966, then back to Japan in 1968 until 70.  Japan in the late 1960s had changed tremendously from my memory and Mama’s, between a decade.  My mother and I were no longer as afraid and protective, combative in order to resist and survive as we did in the 50s and early 60s.

By then, I was 13 to 15 years old. On the military bases I didn’t have too many problems with being teased for my Japanese-ness.  For my blackness, yes.  But off of the bases, when I used to visit friends, sometimes Japanese people–both women and men, would tell me bluntly:  “You should remember Hiroshima.  You bombed us.”  “You should remember the 66 cities that were bombed by your people.”

Was I responsible for the 66 Japanese cities fire-bombed to nothing by the US during the war?  Was I responsible for Hiroshima and Nagasaki?  Were my parents responsible?  This question is more complex than the easy “yes” or “no.”

In the United States, I was the object of US nationalist projections from the white kids, representing a resistant body against the nationalist and dominant image of the United States interests in the Pacific.  In Japan, I was the object of Japanese nationalist memory as a sad memory of loss and devastation.  For little kids, it is what kids learned in schools and at home, everywhere the glory of nation that represents the repressions and exclusion and humiliation of an “other.”

And these things today, in the present……… these thoughts, are not dead.

Just yesterday some acquaintances and I had discussions at a cafe.  Pearl Harbor was discussed.  It was, after all, the commemoration and rememberance of a “Pearl Harbor Day.”

One of the persons at our table was the son of a veteran of WWII.  This son, this 40 year-old, seemed to tow the line of much of what his father had thought.  Since this guy did not know of my background, he began to tell us how he was into diversity and multiculturalism and believed that people were equal, then following this with the Japanese being inherently “dangerous.”

I told him my background and asked to discuss this “inherently” and how he came to think this way, and how his words betray his so-called “into diversity” opinion of himself.  I was not surprised.

How do we create thought?  How do we, as humans, create the world?  What are we not using in ourselves?  What do we commit to maintain?

Being “human” is also a problem.  Because of global racism and color hierarchies and the control of the poor by the wealthy, this “human’ is tremendously unequal and full of future violences parallel to injustices perpetrated.

Do people understand how the Second World War began?  What entailed the circumstance of world history?  Who authors what is “truth” about such things? How did race play out at the International government conferences before the war?  How did fascism and capitalism and globalization come about?  Are those things so different from each other, given the way the world sorts itself out?  Who is privileged–at least enough to not understand that “survival of the fittest” and “civilization” are ideas that perpetrate?

And in this, where does a 7-year old mixed Japanese/Black-American boy stand and survive?  Where does the Japanese bride in the US go?  What does the Black-American serviceman, who fought for his country in China, Korea, Vietnam, while experiencing racial hatreds by white supremacist ideologies prevalent in white-dominant nations, do to empower himself and to love?  When the spaces for love are constricted, what happens?  Who is responsible?

I say each of us to varying degrees. But make no mistake, there are victims.  But being a victim does not free us from responsibility, nor is it equal to those who are oblivious, or who refuse or ignore, or who are the perpetrators by proxy or directly.  We create history.  No one is free of history.  It lives now.  We also create history.  So we must act for change.  De-colonize our and their minds and most importantly the structures that make society, from dominant education that maintains false notions of war and victory, patriot and victor, defeated and uncivilized, controller and controlled, wealthy and poor, good and bad, for your benefit, for their benefit, etc.  These concepts need to be examined if we are to live in freedom.

Otherwise, fear.

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