Pearls, Harbors, and Decembers. 2015

PEARL HARBOR - Japanese submarine
One of the few Japanese submarines found drifting around Hawaii before and during the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. This photo obscures the forces of American surveillance and power all around the Pacific. Photo from U.S. Navy Archives.


It may be 2015, but seventy-four years, seventy-four Decembers, does not make a difference when it comes to the formations of nations attached to war and devastation. A moral wrong, according to the official records, was to have been done, making the United States the victim of a vicious Japanese race that attacked the pure and always correct United States.  This is how war-memory is formed.

And the victories of war could be used to establish devastation as a national cause. The fault is with Japan, of course (supposedly).

In Japan, Pearl Harbor’s December 7, 1941 memory, is also viewed as a wrong in Japan’s history. For sure, there was a sort of “fate” attached to how the nationalist and imperial military government which stole Japan’s government after centuries of plotting, pillaging, and attacking and massacres within its borders. Over and over again, the Europeans, the Russians, and the North Americans, had told them, at UN meetings, that Japanese (and indeed all “Oriental”) thoughts and desires need to be controlled by the white nations. And at each turn, the U.S. treated the “Asian” nations and all smaller nations without big weapons, as children being parented by the “adult” whites. Indeed this thinking has not disappeared altogether today. But it’s much less than what it was then. In 1940-41 though, a fragment of Manifest Destiny, combined with Japan’s furious and violent rise of imperialism in order to make its maleness not disappear under the encroachment of an increasing global imperialism, threatened Asia’s cultural existence. American “diplomacy” is not what people think it is, even today. But at least today, more are waking up the issues of complex dynamics in the hierarchy that is America and Northern/Western Europe at the top, Yellow in the middle. Brown lower, black at the bottom. In this configuration, and in the only language that international politics seems to know when it comes to irreconcilable difference and self-created hiearchies and realities—violence–policies and war-making are made.  Self-fulfilling prophecies.

When Pearl Harbor, as a term, is used, do Americans know what it is besides the photos of Japanese Zero fighters, United Statian aircraft carriers, explosions, and sinking battleships? Only white naval persons were present, isn’t that right? Hawaii is not even a white nation, yet if Polynesian fire dancers and Hawaiian hula dancers amidst palm trees is not conjured, then isn’t it only the burning December 7th photographs that we know of a Hawaii, a “Pearl Harbor?”

In thinking about the use of “Pearl Harbor” or the use of “The Day of Infamy”–as President Roosevelt has called upon the Americans to remember that day, what is being memorialized, remembered, conjured, gained, lost?

When I was in Denver, in the 1980s, when the Japanese automobile industry was said to have been ruining the U.S. auto markets, and there was backlash, anti-Japanese and anti-Asian sentiments rose in American culture (sadly–not a surprise). During this time, I was in my late 20s, and some people I worked with knew of my Japanese heritage. Two older white dudes said to me when I was at work: “It’s your fault Jap! Pearl Harbor was you and your mother! You should go back to where you came from.”  Now for many, this is legitimate and a moment of “mental illness” for whites. For people like myself and my mother, it is on top of the fact that we were constantly made to feel like foreigners already. These hateful thoughts compound the feeling of unbelonging and sadness.

But then again, in Japan, when the Securities Pact between the U.S. and Japan was being signed in the 1960s, I remember these older Japanese men and women yelling at my mother and I: お前達がヒロシマをやったんだ!アメリカに帰れ! (You’re the ones that fucked Hiroshima. Go back to America!).

Now it is interesting here, in that at this point, my mother and I had never been to America.  We were Japanese, or so at least we thought.  My mother is Japanese. But because she was with me, she was viewed as ‘non-Japanese” because she was my mother–clearly mixed-Black and “foreign.” Japanese ideals of purity, would then come into play. Coupled with this, Japanese school textbooks, are filled with the same things most nations’ school textbooks are filled with–“revised” histories of the world and their nation, which washes many details with a brush that paints itself as victim and victor, never a perpetrator, oh no.

So in these examples, we see what is carried on, and evoked at the turn of a dime. At any time there is a call to racialize some sort of conflict, some sort of difference. Race, gender, sexuality, class/caste, and nation, are all evoked most often in conflict or in order to create conflict. The problem I have with memory is the question of what memory serves and how?

There are many U.S. veterans who saw the war, like all other wars, as human folly, and perhaps have educated themselves to understand the dynamics of how things developed, the lies that are told on both sides, and how power is wielded.  These vets work for peace and understanding and to work against the betrayals and lies and the war-mongering that goes on. However, still others, will not let go of that path towards self-fulfillment, empowerment, and gain, in the ever-present militarization of national citizens and the creation of sustained war-machines that can be called upon to “defend” a nation. Masculinity and patriarchy penetrates.

Till this day, many people, besides the most understanding of scholars, understand that good and evil are “self-evident” and that the evil Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The Japanese surprised the good American navy, and that the U.S. “entered” the war and made it a “World War II” in history. This is a very limited view of how things develop in time. The arbitrary notion of cut-off times and dates, and events, create the notion of a world at war.  The wars were developing for certain reasons in certain ways, long before the world was “suddenly at war in 1941.”  Certain formations of racism and power struggle, patriarchal power wars, and battles for survival and not being colonized, were all working together to form certain events. But the control of discourse, of how words are put together, and how they are circulated, are the secrets to societal control.

Inside of this are the covert operators, hired by individuals, governments, corporations, for weapons, for money, for personal gain, for government conspiracies definitely at play.

Those who do not want to know, will go for what they have been told by the books and movies and the internet. What powerful people tell them. Still others don’t know what is real or not, since they will not investigate or remain open and possibly inactive and paralyzed, because they have not learned to analyze patterns of power relations and strategies.

Mrs. Aiu, a white woman who lived next door to my mother and I when we lived in Hawaii in the late 1960s, was a teenager there, that very compound where we all lived, when the Japanese fighters invaded. She told me of the horrors of being attacked by the Green Zero-fighters, just as my mother had experienced the bombs that rained on Japanese cities from U.S. B-29s toward the end of direct U.S. involvment in that war.

I do not erase the terror felt by both women. But to understand how relations and memories and conditions in our world develop, we must look at how relations developed in international politics, and the proportion.  Without comparing what was actually going on across oceans and cultures, what is going on besides what we were told?

Pearl Harbor is more than a war-memory. Pearl Harbor is an English-speaking U.S. imperial name for a place where Hawaiian natives played and lived, long before the arrival and removal of colonization of Kamehameha by the whites.  Guam, the Philippines, on and on.  While Britain, the Netherlands, France, and Germany would do their own military incursions into Asia, the Asians began to search for ways to combat without being swallowed. Unfortunately, these ways also create internal tensions, racialized hiearchies, and the prioritizing of militarism in order to survive and/or conquer.

Let Pearls be remembered as jewels. But pearls must be discovered first. Let harbors be inviting to boats and waving lovers. But first let us re-discover harbors and oceans.

I am afraid that now, both pearls and harbors are covered over with bombs and colonized memory.

Let us begin a new world, without needing it to come to pass right now. Forge new worlds for the future.  What, then, does this do to “patriotism?”

This December, let us question Pearl Harbor.  What does Pearl Harbor want?

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