- In Memory’s Eye: The Improbability of War’s Remembrance
In 1962, while giving a speech to accept the Thayer Award from the U.S. Military Academy, an aging Douglas MacArthur remembered the former cadets who sacrificed their lives for their country. He declared, “The long, gray line has never failed us. Were you to do so, a million ghosts in olive drab, in brown khaki, in blue and gray, would rise from their white crosses, thundering those magic words: Duty, Honor, Country.” His speech, which today historians regard as one of the greatest in American history, demonstrate the degree to which affect and emotion are necessary vehicles for purposeful remembrance. Motivated by a sense of responsibility to soldier dead, as well as by a desire for war reconciliation, people build memorials and museums; they write novels and film movies. There is no lack of material for historians interested in war memory, especially those interested in World War II. An important question scholars must contend with, however, is whether or not any of it matters, or will matter, given a hundred years. The term “Lest we forget” is one example of faded memory. Many (if not most) Americans have little idea what November 11, Veteran’s Day, originally commemorated. It won’t be long until “the Day of Infamy” means nothing to Americans outside of Pearl Harbor, or until reference to “D-Day” is understood only to mean an important deadline, rather than to the greatest amphibious invasion in history.
Regardless of pessimistic forecasts of the future of public memory of war, we can definitively say that in the recent twentieth century, Americans remembered, in great detail, December 7 and June 6. Two recent books by Geoffrey M. White and Michael R. Dolski, Memorializing Pearl Harbor: Unfinished Histories [End Page 323] and the Work of Remembrance, and D-Day Remembered: The Normandy Landings in American Collective Memory, respectively, define and clarify the ways in which, historically, the public recalls the two most iconic U.S. battles of World War II. Both authors ask questions about the goals of war memory, including the influences and forces behind it, and the resulting kinds of history it produces. The book by Dolski is immensely teachable, and the one by White offers a variety of minority viewpoints never before considered.
Memorializing Pearl Harbor is a tour-de-force account of the long history of the complex of memorials located in Pearl Harbor. Broken into six chapters and a conclusion, the book ostensibly focuses on the planning and creation of the USS Arizona memorial, but it weaves together so much information that it is clear from the outset that only someone with outstanding field research and years of study could write such a book. Notably, the book’s insight often stems from the author’s own roles on various advisory groups and organizational entities that were part of the planning of the most current memorial complex. The book’s thirty illustrations, many of which are photos by the author, accompany the text, helping to clarify the complex web of research presented. The book also includes four important appendices that organize the political chronologies pertaining to Pearl Harbor, indigenous Hawaiians, Japanese Americans, and films mentioned throughout.
Densely packed with case studies, interviews, excerpts, and other forms of ethnographic study, Memorializing Pearl Harbor examines viewpoints of U.S. and Japanese veterans, as well as Japanese American citizens and indigenous Hawaiians. White explains how these groups were (and, particularly in the last case, remain) at odds with traditional remembrance of U.S. military sacrifice. White’s book traces how commemoration of the war in the Pacific has evolved since 1980, when the USS Arizona first opened as a sacred commemorative space. The book demonstrates the responsibility museums have today to...