Well, once again it’s December 7th – a day, as Roosevelt put it, that would forever live in “infamy.” The events of that day, perhaps the most crucial moment of the 20th century for all fo world history, consisted of several elements:
Colossal failure of U. S. intelligence.
Terror of targeting non-combatants.
Weapons of mass destruction & “mushroom clouds.”
Rhetoric of “holy war” on both sides.
Racist/Racialized Portrayal of the Enemy.
Does any of this sound familiar? Because much of the rhetoric and some of the circumstances and actual events of our encounter with the Japanese in the 1940s sounds eerily familiar to those of our post-9/11 War on Terror, as Pres. Bush termed it. In particular: our battle with this racialized Other.
To understand my personal experience of Japan – and my depiction of it in The Hemingway Files – one must understand the horror and lingering effects of Pearl Harbor.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt named it — December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—when the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
In Roosevelt’s original draft he called it simply: “a day that will live in world history.” He altered the phrase to signify a battle of good vs. evil, a cosmic clash like that of Luke and Darth Vader.
Ever since, and despite Japan’s status as one of our most powerful allies in geopolitics, the horrific attack, captured in images like the burning and sinking of the U. S. S. Arizona, has remained a sore spot. Earlier this year, Hiroko and I visited the site of the Arizona in Hawaii – a somber and sobering experience to be sure. I’m gratified to say that the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, also made a visit there, about a year ago with President Obama – signaling finally some sort of contrition and apology, a coming to terms with a violent past, one that has taken over 70 years. Abe was widely criticized in Japan by some, admired by others. Old wounds die hard, it seems.
Here is what President George W. Bush said about Sept. 11, 2001– This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace. America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time.
None of us will ever forget this day, yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.
Later, Pres. Bush, in his VJ Day speech of Aug. 2005, said this:
As we mark this anniversary, we are again a nation at war. Once again, war came to our shores with a surprise attack that killed thousands in cold blood. Once again, we face determined enemies who follow a ruthless ideology that despises everything America stands for. Once again, America and our allies are waging a global campaign with forces deployed on virtually every continent. And once again, we will not rest until victory is America’s and our freedom is secure.
Obviously, Bush was obsessing over the similarities. But please recall how friendly we’ve become with the Japanese, after occupying their land for 7 long years.
It should give us HOPE, entering this season of Advent, that bitter, racialized enemies who blatantly attack our homeland can, in time, become our deepest allies. It is, in short, one of the underlying themes of The Hemingway Files: redemption, forgiveness, and reconciliation are possible–even in the worst situations. Maybe it’s true what the theologian Jurgen Moltmann claimed, after all: maybe the creation is shot through with HOPE!