Pearl Harbor for millennials
I love war stories. They are like history lessons, only more entertaining.
I am sure I’m not the only one, which is probably why on a drab Saturday morning, we all sat rooted to our seats, ears focused on our astute professor as he vividly recounted his recollection of World War II.
It is a timely retelling, as this weekend will mark the 77th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. The surprise attack by Japanese forces on the US naval base in Hawaii led to America entering World War II, which became the deadliest human conflict in history.
Such events are reduced to mere episodes in the history curriculum today, tucked into the edges of the semester or the school year. This is probably why we cannot fully grasp the horrors and atrocities of such a war.
On some occasions, we are privileged to hear about it during museum tours. But its enormity is felt only when we hear about it from lolos and lolas who lived through such perilous years. It seemed like the world truly was about to end back then. Those who survived that epoch rightfully deserve to be called the Greatest Generation. On November 30, George H.W. Bush, deemed the last president of the Greatest Generation, passed away at 94.
Pearl Harbor is largely an American event, commemorated mostly by families who lost an ancestor in the attack. However, it is impossible to recount the story of Pearl Harbor without including the Philippines in the narrative. When Japanese forces occupied the Philippines shortly after Pearl Harbor, our country was wrecked.
In October this year, Pulitzer Prize-winning author James M. Scott published “Rampage: MacArthur, Yamashita, and the Battle of Manila.” The book recounts “one of the most heartbreaking chapters of Pacific war history.” It is almost impossible to imagine how different Manila was back then, when the city was deemed the “Queen of the Pacific” and the “Paris of Asia”—before everything was pulverized by the war.
Seven decades after, there are countless stories still waiting to be told and priceless lessons still to be learned about that great conflict. This is most true for our generation, whose knowledge of Pearl Harbor and its aftermath in our own shores remains marginal. For many of us, our awakening into war came courtesy of the 9/11 attacks. War and conflict became synonymous with terrorism, a picture far different from a time when wars were declared by great powers.
There is a reason why war stories are both horrendous and fascinating. Such monstrosities are unthinkable to happen, and yet they did. They shaped their victims’ lives then, and continue to shape the lives of those people’s descendants today, in ways they may not understand but should: how some part of the country’s identity was lost in the rubble, for one. Sometimes, when you close your eyes for a minute, you can feel Manila’s anguish, still.
War stories are also fascinating because it tells of stories of survival and heroism. How George H.W. Bush, a Navy pilot at 20, was hit and his plane crashed into the sea, where a US submarine surfaced next to him just in time before the Japanese arrived.
It also tells of a generation whose characteristics and attributes we can only aspire to emulate. Their sense of responsibility, patriotism and commitment to defending their motherland is almost unheard of today. How would they deal with career, finances or even heartache? How would they do it, if they were in our place right at this moment?
The anniversary of this “Day of Infamy” may pass without much aplomb. But hearing about it, and the horrific carnage that followed, makes one realize that just because something is unthinkable doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Which makes it important for us to fight for our sovereignty, protect our land, and educate our children today.
I love war stories, as many of us do. But wars should remain as the plots and chapters of bygone stories, never to be witnessed by any generation again.
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