I went to Pearl Harbor this morning. After learning about 20th century World History back in high school (History was one of my IB subject areas, and I was one of Mrs. Judy's geek in training at the time - I reckon I have matriculated to full geekdom by this time), I was compelled to visit the historical site of the event that changed history. I feel that there are a few events that truly and drastically changed the course of history; examples might include Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombing, assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, etc. Also, December 7 is Mrs. Judy's birthday, which means it is a day to remember in our geek training class. Needless to say, I made sure to book a trip to Pearl Harbor.
When we got there, and our hilarious guide had finished briefing us on what to do and when to do it, we had a little over one hour to spend exploring the exhibits, museums, and gift shops before we get to watch a documentary movie and visit the USS Arizona Memorial. As I started exploring the grounds, a reverent silence fell on me. Reading about details of the attack, seeing pictures of smoke and destruction, and reading the names of victims and survivors of the attack pulled me into deep contemplation, much like a prayer.
I contemplated on a number of things.
I thought about the men on those battleships. Some of them went to their deaths without ever fully comprehending what was going on. I thought about those that were in capsized battleships, knocking, hoping that there were people alive out there to rescue them. I cannot even begin to imagine what they were thinking or feeling at the time. I would guess a deadly mix of desperation, fear, hopelessness, and hope.
I thought about the ones who survived. Whether or not they were on the base at the time of the attack, these people were still impacted. I thought about the ones who were on the battleships, and the force of explosions propelled them into the sea of fire. Again, I could not imagine the pain of trying to stay afloat in a sea thick with burning oil. A sea of fire. A tiny glimpse of hell. I thought about the ones who were on leave, or the ones who took the time that Sunday morning to go to church. I thought about how they felt upon hearing the news: Pearl Harbor was attacked, and that it was not a drill. I would guess that a concoction of sadness, relief, anger, and guilt haunted their consciences. One of the quotes etched in stone was from Ensign Paul H. Backus, of the USS Oklahoma; it said:
"Why them and not me?
It must have been difficult to survive, knowing that for some reason, whether divine intervention or pure dumb luck, they were spared. They belong on those ships, and when their friends died, a part of them died too.
I thought about the USS Arizona. I was not there that day (my parents weren't even born yet), but I could just picture her burning in the night. She burned for two days, a flaming proof of the attack. The USS Arizona sank graciously, with her head held high, to her final watery resting place. I thought about the lives that were lost. Standing in front of the wall of names at the USS Arizona memorial, I felt a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. I don't know these people, none of those names were familiar to me. Yet standing there, I grieved. I prayed.
Why did this visit make this much of an impact to me? In case you didn't know, I'm not American. Why does Pearl Harbor mean so much to a 23-year-old Indonesian?
The attack on Pearl Harbor confirmed America's entrance to World War II. It happened on December 7, 1941. In March of 1942, Japan occupied Indonesia, or the cluster of islands the Dutch had colonized and called the East Indies. The Japanese did more damage to Indonesia in 3 years than what the Dutch did in 300 years. When the US bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945, the Japanese in Indonesia quickly left. On August 17, 1945, Ir. Soekarno and Moh. Hatta declared Indonesia's independence.
I understand that there are numerous "what ifs" in this story. Indonesia might still have gotten her independence if Pearl Harbor or the atomic bombings never happened. And I have to make it clear that I am not happy that these things happened. In fact, the very thought of them breaks my heart. However, I cannot escape the fact that those events did happen.
I am sorry that Pearl Harbor was attacked.
I am sorry that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were demolished.
I am sorry that so many men lost their lives.
What did their sacrifice give me? Their sacrifice helped give a nation liberty. I was born in 1988, long after the war was over. I didn't have to speak Dutch or Japanese. I didn't have to work to serve as part of a conquered nation. I was born into a free nation, troubled at times (we are young - teenage years are always awkward), but free nonetheless.
I cannot really describe how I'm feeling. Grateful. Yes, that's it.
I am grateful.
And I will always remember.