There are very few places on Earth that don’t have war or violence somewhere in their history. Perhaps there are none, wherever humanity has gone.
But there are certain places where the record of the war is either written in the landscape, or where the memories of war have been carefully preserved. Because today is Pearl Harbor Day—I’m reminded not only of the bravery and sacrifice on the parts of both soldiers and non-combatants during this global conflict, but also of the sheer horror of war. And because today is the seventy year anniversary of Pearl Harbor, I wanted to share some photographs from a recent trip to The Admiral Nimitz Museum: The National Museum of the Pacific War, in Fredericksburg, Texas. (Admiral Nimitz commanded the US efforts in the Pacific).
Seeing one of the Midget Submarines used in the attack was disconcerting. I had never realized how truly small and relatively fragile these craft were. It is almost impossible to conceive of how much threat was packed into such a diminutive package. Like many Japanese armaments, the midget submarines were a product of the strength of Japan’s technology and manufacturing sectors, deceptively simple in design and produced with minimal materials. Five of the fifty midget Ko Hyoteki subs produced were deployed at Pearl Harbour at around 1:00 am, December 7th, 1941. Only one of the five submarines would make a successful strike—landing a torpedo hit on the USS Virginia.
Manned by a crew of two, the men aboard surely knew they were on a Banzai / Gyokusai mission—one in which they were likely to lose their lives. A single ensign survived, becoming the first Japanese Prisoner of War held by the US: Ensign Kazuo Sakamaki. During incarceration he burned himself with cigarettes and would repeatedly request permission to suicide. Some speculate that events at Pearl Harbor spurred the Japanese’s development of an official program of kamikaze attacks later in the war. Gyokusai (lit. shattered jade), the idea that “a great man should die as a shattered jewel rather than live as an intact tile,” was already an accepted part of the bushido tradition. Before departing on his mission at Pearl Harbor a Japanese pilot (First Lieutenant Fusata Iiada), proclaimed that were his plane damaged, he’d crash into a target rather than retreat—he did so, in a suicide attack on Kaneohe Naval Air Station.