Today marks the 80th anniversary of the Japanese attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor and the beginning of the American involvement in the Second World War. My wife, Robin, and I have the privilege of observing this occasion here in Hawaii. This was my first time visiting the base and both the USS Missouri and the USS Arizona. A number of High School bands and choirs were invited to be a part of the events. Seeing the reactions of these young Americans and hearing them say, from their hearts, “Thank you for your service” to veterans has been a touching experience. I wish every high school student had the opportunity to visit this sacred site.
On our second night here friends of ours invited us to watch the performance of a Hawaiian hula dancer they know. We sat at a front row table hosted by the dancer’s husband. Four Japanese women were also a part of our group. We enjoyed sharing memories of our time in Japan with these wonderful women.
At one point the lead musician got very serious. He reminded the crowd of the upcoming anniversary and the loss our nation experienced eighty years ago. He identified two “special guests” in the audience: two World War II veterans. The crowd applauded these former servicemen with enthusiasm.
Most of us in the audience felt an appropriate amount of pride and gratitude for our nation. It was a patriotic moment that united rather than divided us as Americans. I felt that sense of privilege I often experience at such times for the opportunity I’ve had to wear the nation’s uniform.
I couldn’t help but notice my Japanese table mates, however, and their reaction. They appeared very uncomfortable. I understood. I had the same feeling of discomfort when I visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I leaned over to the woman sitting next to me and said, “I visited Hiroshima. we love the Japanese today. This has all been healed.” The tension in her face relaxed and she quietly said, “Thank you.”
There is an old saying: “We need to study history so that we won’t repeat it.” The study of history includes the good, the bad, and the ugly. It includes the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the loss of 20% of all Marines serving at that time in the battle of Okinawa, dropping Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the signing of the peace treaty aboard the USS Missouri. It includes the Louisiana Purchase and the genocide committed under the doctrine of “Manifest Destiny.” It includes slavery, Jim Crow, the and Civil Rights Movement as well as the passing of the 13th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It includes the Boston Massacre of 1770 and the Tulsa Massacre of 1921.
It’s all a part of the American Story.