- Memorializing Pearl Harbor: Unfinished Histories and the Work of Remembrance by Geoffrey M. White, and: Cold War Ruins: Transpacific Critique of American Justice and Japanese War Crimes by Lisa Yoneyama
These are tense times in East Asia. In their different ways, Geoffrey White's and Lisa Yoneyama's books explore the themes of remembering war and colonialism and, in addition, probe the possibilities of transnational reconciliation and redress in the face of historical animosities and injustices. They both make strong contributions to our understanding of the shifting global politics and transnational cultural flows impacting the world since the 1980s. Both expose visible and invisible entanglements in transpacific relationships while taking different methodological approaches to search for resolutions. They also bring different political lenses to bear on their particular issues—in White's case, memorializing Pearl Harbor and in Yoneyama's, redressing past wrongs in the postwar transpacific order. The books describe different attempts to include or exclude different people and voices in complex postwar predicaments. Taken together, they give us a deeper appreciation for the difficulties and impossibilities of arriving at just resolutions for historical animosities and wrongs.
Geoffrey White's Memorializing Pearl Harbor: Unfinished Histories and the Work of Remembrance is a welcome contribution to the field of historical reconciliation, which is broadening its horizons beyond the confines of the West. This new publication explores the evolution of the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor from the 1980s to 2010s by tracing its commemorative events, exhibit content, and political controversies. It is a thoughtful ethnography that illuminates the shifts in meaning, [End Page 350] purpose, institutional conditions, and civic engagement as framed by the overarching understanding that the memorial we see today is a result of long-term negotiations, intense emotional dialogues, and conflicting memories surrounding the events of 7 December 1945 in a complex historical setting. White's account drives home the fact that the memorial in Pearl Harbor is both about coming to terms with the belligerent and violent history of World War II and about recognizing the history of US exploitation of native Hawaiians who were dispossessed of historically sacred ground in Pearl Harbor. Historical reconciliation therefore entails not only efforts by Japanese and American veterans to overcome animosities stemming from the military attack, but also the search for meaningful recognition of US colonial confiscation in Hawaii. These explorations unfold throughout the book against the backdrop of increasing tourism, rapid commercialization, the locale's expansion into a larger memorial park including other sites such as the USS Missouri, and growing activism by stakeholders such as veterans, the Japanese-American community, and native Hawaiians. As a result, the Arizona memorial today embraces multivocal narratives from different constituents. The dynamic process of memorialization described here is therefore not only about making peace with a troubling, violent past but also about healing and recognizing oppression.
The author himself has been a participant in this emergence of plural memory: much of what White describes in his ethnography he witnessed firsthand. He takes the reader backstage to the curatorial meetings and other settings where the representation of controversial history was negotiated and political problems addressed. He offers an account of his experience organizing reconciliation workshops for teachers on both sides, and the political fallout. From this vantage point, he points to key institutional changes that transformed the memorial from a sacred site of mourning to a larger theme park about World War II history.
The text is composed of six chapters bookended by an introduction and a conclusion. The introduction offers a general history of the Pearl Harbor memorial from its military origin through the opening of the visitor center in 1980 and its place at the heart of today's World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. White's inquiry into the transformation of the memorial, arguably the emotional center of...