I learned two critical things about myself as an adult on this day. First, my introvert energy can be drained completely on a tour bus, and my emotional capacity to visit war memorials is quite limited. Formidable challenges shouldn’t be allowed on vacation.
There are all these laws around distracted driving. No cell phones. No drinking. The thinking here is that driving takes up most of our mental bandwidth if done well and safely. Which partially explains why our driver who was doubling as our tour guide had a terrible case of verbal diarrhea.
The volume of his voice was just shy of being painful, a volume that was probably too low for some of the low-mobility, geriatric patrons. Although I am skilled at tuning ambient noise out, the volume forced my attention to his every word. And his words were few and often repeated.
He wanted us to know how quickly the land on Oahu has developed by pointing out each and every parcel of land that used to be sugar cane. This block? Sugar cane. Five minutes later, sugar cane. By lunch I could personally chart out every square mile of Oahu. Sugar cane.
He told us a maudlin story of a young married couple and what they can and cannot afford. By his 12th time telling the story, we all knew the couple would be moving back in with their parents. He told us the average home price in Waikiki 54 times.
By the time I got off the bus at Pearl Harbor, Jeannine and I were at introvert energy level zero. Neither of us had visited a war memorial since high school. We didn’t yet know that this wasn’t a great state to be in to confront the emotional gauntlet that was Pearl Harbor.
As a kid, I wasn’t critical of the way in which our government has used military power. I didn’t yet know The Gulf of Tonkin was a lie. I didn’t yet know the origins of The Spanish American War was a lie. I hadn’t yet watched the drumbeat to invade Iraq get reinforced by all of our media, including the “fake news” sectors. I didn’t yet understand the way in which capitalist desires drove the need to enforce “freedom” on nations that were resisting our exploitation.
This awakening? It makes the pride dripping off our war memorials taste bitter. And although I was aware of the change in my perception, I failed to think about how that might affect my experience at Pearl Harbor.
We walked by war planes, and we boarded destroyers. When I look at millions of dollars in technology that serves only one purpose, killing people, I am not awestruck with our power. I see a profound breakdown in humanity.
I want to be clear, I recognize the attack at Pearl Harbor was unprovoked. And the men and women who died that day didn’t deserve the end they met. I also recognize of the wars we’ve been party to WWII was objectively necessary. I also recognize that men and women who serve make sacrifices for the rest of us.
However, the honor and reverence that we confer upon our troops is often used to shield our foreign policy from criticism. And this is a big fucking problem. The same men who were in a state of blissful adoration on the site of the Arizona will call anyone suggesting we remove troops from Afghanistan traitors. And if you would ask these men what exactly we are trying to achieve in Afghanistan, they couldn’t answer the question. This blithe ignorance is a problem. We dress up that failure to think in the robes of patriotism.
These were the thoughts and feelings Jeannine and I wrestled with when we took these pictures. I thought about the ~1000 men who died there. I also thought about the ~200K who died Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I thought about the ~132K who died in the fire bombing of Dresden. I thought about the 132K civilians who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. I thought about the ~60K US soldiers and ~2 million Vietnamese civilians who died.
There are no victories here. Only loss.