On the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, we’d like to share scholarship that explores how we remember and think about this world-changing event.
Memorializing Pearl Harbor examines the challenge of representing history at the site of the attack that brought America into World War II. Analyzing moments in which history is re-presented—in commemorative events, documentary films, museum design, and educational programming—Geoffrey M. White shows that the memorial to the Pearl Harbor bombing is not a fixed or singular institution. Rather, it has become a site in which many histories are performed, validated, and challenged.
In addition to valorizing military service and sacrifice, the memorial has become a place where Japanese veterans have come to seek recognition and reconciliation, where Japanese Americans have sought to correct narratives of racial mistrust, and where Native Hawaiians have challenged their ongoing erasure from their own land. Drawing on extended ethnographic fieldwork, White maps these struggles onto larger controversies about public history, museum practices, and national memory.
December 7, 1941, is “a date which will live” in American history and memory, but the stories that will live and the meanings attributed to them are hardly settled. In movies, books, and magazines, at memorial sites and public ceremonies, and on television and the internet, Pearl Harbor lives in a thousand guises and symbolizes dozens of different historical lessons. In A Date Which Will Live, historian Emily S. Rosenberg examines the contested meanings of Pearl Harbor in American culture.
Rosenberg considers the emergence of Pearl Harbor’s symbolic role within multiple contexts: as a day of infamy that highlighted the need for future U.S. military preparedness, as an attack that opened a “back door” to U.S. involvement in World War II, as an event of national commemoration, and as a central metaphor in American-Japanese relations. She explores the cultural background that contributed to Pearl Harbor’s resurgence in American memory after the fiftieth anniversary of the attack in 1991. In doing so, she discusses the recent “memory boom” in American culture; the movement to exonerate the military commanders at Pearl Harbor, Admiral Husband Kimmel and General Walter Short; the political mobilization of various groups during the culture and history “wars” of the 1990s, and the spectacle surrounding the movie Pearl Harbor. Rosenberg concludes with a look at the uses of Pearl Harbor as a historical frame for understanding the events of September 11, 2001.