It’s a strange feeling to be standing on the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. Beneath your feet is a sunken battleship in which 1,277 sailors are interred. That is roughly half the total U.S. casualties from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
The island of O’ahu has numerous military and naval bases, roughly 21% of the total land area. That includes not only Pearl Harbor itself, but Fort De Russy on Waikiki, Schofield Barracks, Hickam Air Force Base, Dillingham Field, Fort Shafter, and a whole host of others.
In fact, if there is anywhere on American soil that is a center of World War Two commemoration, it would have to be O’ahu. There have been at least four films made about the attack:
From Here to Eternity (1953) with Burt Lancaster and Montgomery Clift
Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) with an American and Japanese Cast
Pearl Harbor (2001) directed by Michael Bay
Midway (2019), which begins with the attack on Pearl Harbor
There have also been numerous books on the subject. (And there still continue to be.) No doubt about it, America is still stuck on WW2.
When Martine and I visit Honolulu later this summer, we will spend a day going over all the exhibits and taking the shuttle over to the Arizona Memorial, as we did back in 1996. No doubt a lot has changed since then.
Somehow, over the years, something happened to the United States and its people. In 1945—the year I was born—we were one of the few countries involved in the Second World War that were not in ruins. We were on top of the heap. The hardworking people who struggled through the Great Depression and helped restore Western Europe after the Nazi onslaught, were suddenly guilty of hubris. We thought we were really something, that our way of life was the onlyway to go. We were the City on the Hill, and everyplace else was a steaming sh*thole.
Nemesis struck quickly and often. Korea. The Bay of Pigs. Viet Nam. Iraq. Afghanistan. Panama. Grenada. Al Qaida. ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. And that was just the military!
We still thought we were really something. We got into deep debt, figuring that we had it coming to us. We stopped saving money for a rainy day. There was always Vegas, the Lottery, or the Horses.
We built fancy new things, never figuring that we would have to maintain and repair them somewhere along the line. The streets of Southern California are full of potholes, ringed by K-Rails, and bumpy with steel plates.
Americans drove these mean streets in leased luxury automobiles they really couldn’t afford. The more they paid, the more they assumed they could do anything they wanted: They were the privileged class with their Lexuses, Bentleys, Porsches, Mercedes-Benzes, Infinitis, and Range Rovers.
These same Americans elected a President like them, a privileged real estate developer who made the Whites into the New Aryans.
Will I live to see American feel a twinge of humility? Or will we continue to swirl around the drain until we go down it?
Joining the military could be a kind of solution for young men and women who do not have great job prospects upon leaving high school. But what if the desire for “street cred” overrides good judgment, and the GI finds himself or herself with a discharge that is considered to be Other Than Honorable, or simply OTH? Another name for such a discharge is “Bad Paper.”
For over a million former soldiers, sailors, and airmen, Bad Paper is a ticket to homelessness without the possibilities of veterans’ benefits such as education, homelessness prevention, and disability or health care. That’s not even to mention the turned-down job applications and the loss of esteem that follows.
For those who leave the military with a trail of Bad Paper, it would have been better if they were merely felons in the civilian world: The military world is unforgiving and sometimes unduly punitive. When questioned about this, General Martin Dempsey replied:
I wouldn’t suggest that we should in any way reconsider the way we characterize discharges at the time of occurrence…. It is a complex issue and we all make choices in life that then we live with for the rest of our lives and I think we have to understand that as well.
Not much help there.
Ideally, there would be some kind of civilian post-discharge review that could rectify the vagaries of military justice, which varies widely from service to service and from one unit to another.