76 Years Ago Today

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Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7, 1941, a day President Roosevelt said would “live in infamy.” And for that generation it did. It was their “I remember where I was” moment, the event that changed their lives forever. We memorialize world-changing events with “Never forget!”s. But in time the way we memorialize them changes.

And that, I believe, is the worthier legacy.

When I was in elementary school, two kids whose Japanese-American fathers had proudly served as GIs, were bullied as “J-ps.” Nothing about those actions honored the memory of Pearl Harbor Day. In fact, they dishonored it.

Many years later, Pat Morita, the Japanese-American comedian (beloved as Mr. Miyagi in the original Karate Kid movie) was booked to perform at a naval officer’s club in Honolulu. Shortly before he walked on, he realized it was December 7th. Deciding it would be better to acknowledge the obvious, he opened with the line, “Sorry about messing up your harbor.” There was a moment of terrifying silence, followed by the biggest laugh he’d ever received. Why?

The officers hadn’t lost respect, they’d gained perspective. Pat, who was American-born, had been “relocated” with his family during the paranoia that followed Pearl Harbor to a Japanese-American internment camp. Now, after decades of healing and good relations with Japan, and in recognition of Pat Morita’s own mistreatment, he and the officers were laughing together.

America’s modern “I remember” moment is the soul-searing image of the crumbling Twin Towers on 9/11/2001. We memorialize the event every year with speeches and candles. But there are also grammar school bullies who hadn’t even been born yet who harass Middle Eastern-American kids because they don’t look “American.” And as long as that happens, the legacy of 9/11 will be incomplete.

But we may be getting there. There’s a moment in the romantic comedy The Big Sick when it’s star, Pakistani-American Kumail Nanjiani, is asked what he thinks about 9/11. He takes a breath, and says, “It was a tragedy. We lost 19 of our best guys.”

I did two things when I heard the “is-it-too-soon-to-say-this?” line: 1) gasped, and 2) laughed–loudly. Not out of disrespect, but rather perspective. Nanjiani’s line is funny because of its “just because I’m brown doesn’t mean I’m a terrorist” inference. But it’s also a healing line because it allows us and the very non-terrorist Nanjiani to laugh together.

The way we memorialize our Pearl Harbor Days–and we all have them–indicates whether we are truly healing. Our remembrances should not be about what we hate, but about what we love. The posters say, “Never forget!” And indeed we should not. But let us remember not just what was. Let us remember what is, and what can be, together.

I can’t imagine a worthier legacy.

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in Culture, Humor, Memoir, Story Power and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to 76 Years Ago Today

  1. I so appreciate your perspective.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Very well put. That’s hilarious about Pat Morita, I’ve never heard that before. I do feel it’s slightly too soon for the Kumail Nanjiani comment, but that is just my personal opinion which is probably just powered by personal reasons. Other than that though I do understand what you are saying about the “perspective” of it all. Great post.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. chocotales says:

    A great, thought-provoking post.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. This was a great post and message, Mitch. Thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. On Friday 12/5/1941 my father gave a speech to his high school English class titled, “Why there won’t be a War with Japan.” For which he received an “A”. On Monday 12/8/1941, no one every mentioned the speech again. One year later Father received his induction notice, eventually was stationed in the Aleutians as a radar operator/maintenance technician.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. smzang says:

    “let us remember not just what was. Let us remember what is, and what can be, together.”

    If ever you run for president, you have my vote!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. My father was aboard the USS Arizona. But he served in the ’30’s.

    I remember all the talk of the Vietnamese taking over when so many immigrated here after their war.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. M.B. Henry says:

    What a great perspective. I had the same reaction you did when I saw The Big Sick. The “oh my gosh too soon” moment, but then laughing. Comedy I think is a great tool to look at some hard truths without upsetting everyone. I thought the line did a great job of that.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. You always have a wonderful perspective on life events Mitch and I appreciate your take on them….always focusing on forgiveness and an awareness that we share our world and love is the only acceptable answer. Blessings to you this Christmas season.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Mitch, I love the way you think. You have a way of taking a topic that seems like it has been exhausted, turning it on its head, and then, writing a post that forces us to think about the topic in a fresh way. What an amazing gift!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. johnlmalone says:

    Terrific post. I loved the Pat Morita allusion and that of ‘The Big Sick’ which we loved. We laughed at that joke too. Like you said, it is all about gaining perspective

    Liked by 2 people

  12. notdonner says:

    Since I served in the Navy for 26 years I had more than a few opportunities to visit Pearl Harbor. I’ve prayed at the Arizona Memorial; and even worked on different occasions on Joint Base Hickam.In my career I worked with men and women of every ethnic origin and religion, united in a cause and country. On this anniversary, and 16 years after another infamous day in our history, I am watching my Southern California neighbors- all races and colors – banding together to help and to comfort neighbors. Wildfires and other natural disasters are no respecter of persons. But disaster, like war, can unify people when politics or bigotry would separate them.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. sanseilife says:

    Great post Mitch. My dad was an interrogator for US Army while his wife, my mom, was in concentration camp. He was smiling in heaven and reading your thoughtful words with me this morning.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Paula says:

    I enjoyed this so much. We certainly aren’t born with a natural prejudice. As Emile DeBeque says in the musical, South Pacific, “You have to be carefully taught.”
    It just so happens that I have a movie review planned for my blog on Monday (12/11). I’ve been meaning to post it for awhile. Not a new movie, but a very good one: “Little Boy.” While it’s not about the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the story line includes the bullying of a Japanese man in a small California town during WWII. The little boy learns kindness and faith in his experience. It was a very cool find in my Netflix browsing.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Tommy Thompson says:

    Unfortunately, we keep messing around and D-day or 911 is going to look like a pic nic compared to what can happen to us today. WWII cost 70 million lives. They paid a dear price for us not to learn. God help us and great post.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. carhicks says:

    Great perspective.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. gpavants says:

    Hi Mitch,

    Yes, remember, but move on by building bridges. Pearl Harbor Day.

    Gary

    Liked by 1 person

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