Image: The USS Arizona burning and sinking in Pearl Harbor on Dec 7, 1941. Public Domain.
Pearl Harbor Day was the 9/11 of my parents’ generation. My parents were children that day, so for the first part of my life, that was my view of it: something terrible that happened to grownups far away.
Then I married into a Navy family, and the meaning of Pearl Harbor Day changed. Linda knew people who had been there. One of her uncles died at Midway, later in the year. Her father spent that war on a battleship, a career sailor. All the memories and associations came tumbling out when we visited the USS Alabama Memorial in Honolulu. Pearl Harbor Day became much more immediate to me through her. We never visit Oahu without making the pilgrimage to the Arizona to pay our respects.
I learned, at the memorial, how the skipper of the USS Nevada deliberately ran his burning battleship aground so that it would not sink in the entrance to the harbor as the Japanese had planned. Even though there were failures at the top that left us open to attack, the men and women on the ground met the challenge with heroism as the bombs fell and history took a sharp turn.
We are at a different moment in history now, and sometimes I feel like I’m on a sinking ship. You know the list of things I’m talking about: all the uncertainties we face.
But on Pearl Harbor Day, I am hopeful. There have been other times in our past when U.S. leadership was lacking. What happened then, and what I trust will happen now, is that the basic courage of the average American will rise to the occasion. It may be messy, it may take a while, but good can prevail.
We Americans do terrible things when we are afraid. After Pearl Harbor, we interned innocent Americans who had Asian faces. After 9/11, we have been horrible to anyone who speaks Arabic or looks like they might be Muslim. There’s no denying that we have sometimes let our fears carry us into evil, worrying more about what-might-happen than about the truth of a situation.
However, I see signs of hope. This week a policeman who murdered Walter Scott in South Carolina got a sentence of 20 years. That is not just a victory for Black Lives Matter, it is a victory for all of us. Bad cops are bad for everyone. I see acts of kindness and goodwill all around me: donations to food banks and to blood banks, people reaching out to those suffering from natural disasters. I read about people caring for lost animals, and trying to solve the riddles of homelessness.
This Pearl Harbor Day, my focus is on the good in the United States of America. We are capable of great things. We are capable of change. We have seen dark days before, and we have risen above them.
This gives me hope.