During the interval between my father's death and the out-break of war in the Pacific, my loss of perception had been matched by American ignorance of the threat in the Far East. The United States was distracted by the war in Europe, with Hitler's hammer blows that year falling on Yugoslavia, Greece, Crete, and — the greatest crucible of suffering — Russia. Virtually all Americans were descended from European immigrants. They had studied Continental geography in school. When commentators told them that Nazi spearheads were knifing here and there, they needed no maps; they all had maps in their minds. Oriental geography, on the other hand, was (and still is) a mystery to most of them. Yet the Japanese had been fighting in China since 1931. In 1937 they had bombed and sunk the U.S. gunboat Panay on the Yangtze and jeered when the administration in Washington, shackled by isolationism, had done nothing. Even among those of us who called ourselves “interventionists,” Hitler was regarded as the real enemy. It was Hitler Roosevelt had been trying to provoke with the Atlantic Charter, the destroyer swap with Britain, Lend-Lease, and shoot-on-sight convoys, each of which drew Washington closer to London. Europe, we thought, was where the danger lay. Indeed, one of my reasons for joining the Marine Corps was that in 1918 the Marines had been among the first U.S. troops to fight the Germans. Certainly I never dreamt I would wind up on the other side of the world, on a wretched island called Guadalcanal.
Roosevelt never changed his priorities, but when the Führer refused to rise to the bait, the President found another way to lead us into the war — which was absolutely essential, he felt, if the next generation of Americans was to be spared a hopeless confrontation with a hostile, totalitarian world. On September 27, 1940, the Japanese had signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy. That opened the possibility of reaching the Axis through Tokyo. And Roosevelt knew how to do it. During the four months before the pact, the fall of France, Holland, and Belgium had wholly altered the strategic picture in Asia. Their colonies there were almost defenseless, but FDR let it be known that he felt avuncular. Even before the Tripartite Pact he had warned the Japanese to leave French Indochina alone. Once the Nipponese tilted toward the Axis, he proclaimed an embargo on scrap iron and steel to all nations outside the Western Hemisphere, Great Britain excepted. He reached the point of no return in the summer of 1941. On July 24 Jap troops formally occupied Indochina, including Vietnam. Two days later the President froze all Japanese credits in the United States, which meant no more oil from America. Britain followed suit. This was serious for the Japanese but not desperate; their chief source of petroleum was the Netherlands East Indies, now Indonesia, which sold them 1.8 million tons a year. Then came the real shock. The Dutch colonial government in Djakarta froze Japanese assets there — and renounced its oil contract with Dai Nippon (“Dai” meaning “Great,” as in Great Britain). For Prince Fumi-maro Konoye, Emperor Hirohito's premier, this was a real crisis. Virtually every drum of gas and oil fueling the army's tanks and planes had to be imported. Worse, the Japanese navy, which until now had counseled patience, but which consumed four hundred tons of oil an hour, joined the army in calling for war. Without Dutch petroleum the country could hold out for a few months, no more.
Konoye submitted his government's demands to the American ambassador in Tokyo: If the United States would stop arming the Chinese, stop building new fortifications in the Pacific, and help the emperor's search for raw materials and markets, Konoye promised not to use Indochina as a base, to withdraw from china after the situation there had been “settled,” and to “guarantee” the neutrality of the Philippines. Washington sent back an ultimatum: Japan must withdraw all troops from China and Indochina, withdraw from the Tripartite Pact, and sign a nonaggression pact with neighboring countries. On October 16 Konoye, who had not been unreasonable, stepped down and was succeeded by General Hideki Tojo, the fiercest hawk in Asia. The embargoed Japanese believed that they had no choice. They had to go to war unless they left China, a loss of face which to them was unthinkable. They began honing their ceremonial samurai swords.
All this was known in Pennsylvania Avenue's State, War, and Navy Department Building. The only question was where the Nips would attack. There were so many possibilities — Thailand, Hong Kong, Borneo, the Kra Isthmus, Guam, Wake, and the Philippines. Pearl Harbor had been ruled out because Tojo was known to be massing troops in Saigon, and American officers felt sure that these myopic, bandy-legged little yellow men couldn't mount more than one offensive at a time. Actually they were preparing to attack all these objectives, including Pearl, simultaneously. In fact, the threat to Hawaii became clear, in the last weeks of peace, even to FDR's chiefs of staff. U.S. intelligence, in possession of the Japanese code, could follow every development in Dai Nippon's higher echelons. On November 22 a message from Tokyo to its embassy on Washington's Massachusetts Avenue warned that in a week “things are automatically going to happen.” On November 27, referring to the possibility of war, the emperor's envoy to the United States asked, “Does it seem as if a child will be born?” He was told, “Yes, the birth of a child seems imminent. It seems as if it will be a strong, healthy boy.” Finally, on November 29, the U.S. Signal Corps transcribed a message in which a functionary at the Washington embassy asked, “Tell me what Zero hour is?” The voice from Tokyo replied softly: “Zero hour is December 8” — December 7 in the United States — “at Pearl Harbor.”
The Americans now knew that an attack was coming, when it would come, and where. The danger could hardly have been greater. Japan's fleet was more powerful than the combined fleets of America and Great Britain in Pacific waters. U.S. commanders in Hawaii and the Philippines were told: “This dispatch is to be considered a war warning. … An aggressive move by Japan is expected within the next few days.” That was followed on December 6 by: “Hostilities may ensue. Subversive activities may be expected.” The ranking general in Honolulu concluded that this was a reference to Nipponese civilians on Oahu. Therefore, he ordered all aircraft lined up in the middle of their airstrips — where they could be instantly destroyed by hostile aircraft. The ranking admiral decided to take no precautions. Put on constant alert, he felt, his men would become exhausted. So officers and men were given their customary Saturday evening liberty on December 6. No special guards were mounted on the United States Fleet in Pearl Harbor — ninety-four ships, including seven commissioned battleships and nine cruisers — the only force-in-being which could prevent new Japanese aggression in Asia. Only 195 of the navy's 780 antiaircraft guns in the harbor, and only 4 of the army's 30 antiaircraft batteries, were manned. And most of them lacked ammunition. It had been returned to storage because it was apt to “get dusty.”
In the early morning hours of Sunday, December 7, 1941, as Americans slept off hangovers in Waikiki amid the scent of frangi-pani, the squawk of pet parrots, and the echo of surf on Diamond Head, two hundred miles north of them a mighty Japanese armada steamed southward at flank speed. Altogether there were 31 pagoda-masted warships, but the thoughts and prayers of all the crews were focused on the 360 carrier-borne warplanes, especially those in the lead attack squadron aboard the flattop Akagi. The squadron leader was told that if he found he had taken the enemy by surprise, he was to break radio silence over Oahu and send back the code word tora (tiger).
In darkness the pilots scrambled across the Akagi's flight deck to their waiting Nakajima-97 bombers, Aichi dive-bombers, and Kaga and Mitsubishi Type-O fighters — the swift, lethal raiders which the Americans would soon christen “Zeroes.” Zooming away, they approached Kahuku Point, the northern top of Oahu, at 7:48 A.M. and howled through Kolekole Pass, overlooking the U.S. Army's Schofield Barracks, thirty-five miles from Honolulu. Luck rode with them: an overcast cleared and the sun appeared in a rosy satin dawn, sending warm pencils of light shining down on the green valleys and green-and-brown canebrakes, the purplish spiny mountain ridges, and the brilliant blue sea, rimmed by valances of whitecaps. Dead ahead, on Oahu's southern coast, lay their targets: Wheeler, Bellows, Ewa, and Hickam airfields and, most important, the magnificent port which the ancient Hawaiians had christened Wai Momi — “water of pearl.” There American battlewagons lay anchored in groups of two off Ford Island, in the center of the harbor: the California, Maryland, Oklahoma, Tennessee, West Virginia, Arizona, Nevada, and the thirty-three-year-old Utah, now retired from active service.
At the Japs' height, ten thousand feet, they looked like toy boats in a bathtub. Swinging at chains around them, hemming them in and making an escape almost impossible, were eighty-six other vessels, concentrated in an area less than three miles square. Even if the men-of-war could maneuver around them, the one channel to the sea and freedom was barred by a torpedo net. The Japanese commander signaled his squadron: “To-, to-, to,” the first syllable of totsugeki, “Charge!” Then he signaled the Akagi: “Tora, tora, tora!” Then, back to his air fleet: “Yoi!” (“Ready!”) and “Te!” (“Fire!”). Flying at treetop level and defying the pitifully few dark-gray bursts of flak polka-dotting the serene sky, successive waves of Nip aircraft skimmed in over Merry Point, attacking and wheeling to return again and again. Zeroes strafed; dive-bombers and torpedo bombers dropped missiles and sticks of dynamite through the roiling, oily, reeking clouds of smoke, knocking out 347 U.S. war-planes and 18 warships, among them all the battleships, the cruisers Helena and Honolulu, and the destroyers Cassin and Downes. At a cost of 29 planes the Nips killed or wounded 3,581 Americans, nearly half of them on the sunken Arizona.
The destruction of the Arizona, which had been moored in tandem with the repair ship Vestal, was the most spectacular loss. A bomb set off fuel tanks, which ignited eight tons of highly volatile black powder — stored against regulations — and that, in turn, touched off vast stocks of smokeless powder in a forward magazine before it could be flooded. Instants later three more bombs, including one right down a funnel, found their targets. As over a thousand U.S. bluejackets were incinerated or drowned, the 32,600-ton battlewagon sent up 500-foot-high cascades of flame, leapt halfway out of the water, broke in two, and plunged to the muddy bottom, her vanishing forecastle enshrouded in billowing clouds of black fumes. Not even Kukailimoku, the war god of ancient Havai'i, had envisioned such a disaster. “Remember Pearl Harbor” became an American shibboleth and the title of the country's most popular war song, but it was the loss of that great ship which seared the minds of navy men. Six months later, when naval Lieutenant Wilmer E. Gallaher turned the nose of his Dauntless dive-bomber down toward the Akagi off Midway, the memory of that volcanic eruption in Pearl Harbor, which he had witnessed, flashed across his mind. As the Akagi blew up, he exulted: “Arizona, I remember you!”
Like Merlyn in The Once and Future King, the old man in my dreams knows the future; it is the past that is unrevealed to him. Thus, in the waning months of 1978 I don my old Raider cap and board a United Airlines flight to Hawaii, the first leg of my journey back to the islands. The huge plane receives us into its belly like some fantastic modern Trojan horse, and presently we rise, effortlessly, above the smog, to a sky as blue as a kingfisher's wing. Eastward, as we turn, I glimpse a range of heavily jowled mountains. Below lies dense L.A., threaded by freeways. Then we glide down the bleak concrete and cinder-block sleeve of Watts and out past Cabrillo Beach. Below, the tide restlessly gnaws at the shore; up here, in pristine cleanliness, I am cosseted with pillows, steak, champagne, a movie if I want it (I don't), and a pretty, young, boisterous, outrageously outspoken stewardess who has my number. Serving me dinner, she drops a fork and mutters, “Shit.” The Sergeant in me says, “Nice girls don't talk dirty.” Her eyes lick at me merrily. She grins and says, “I'm a woman, not a girl. Anyway, you should talk. I saw you giving me the once-over, you dirty old man.” I say, “I'm not a dirty old man, I'm a sexy senior citizen.” She: “Where'd you get that?” I: “Some bumper sticker at the Old Folks' Home.” But the game stops there. She passes on, a member of the Pepsi generation who has deduced that I am on the wrong side of fifty-five, a senescent old-timer, laden with medication for hypertension, antibiotics for rotting teeth, and tricyclics for endogenous depressions — a walking drugstore in no condition for any strenuous activity. Which is as it should be. At my age I ought to feel calm, untroubled, unchallenged by any female or, for that matter, anybody. Yet I am uneasy. A few Japanese soldiers, I have read, still lurk in the bush on the islands; every now and then one emerges. It would be just my luck to be the victim of the last banzai charge. That is ridiculous, of course; still, I am nervous. The fact is that I have no idea of what I shall find Out There.
Then the old war songs begin in my head. All my life I have had one tune or another running through my mind, and I have never been able to control them. Since our takeoff, this internal Muzak has been playing the appropriately assuasive “I'll Be Seeing You.” But now there is a change on the brain's record player. Lyrics stifled long ago come crowding back, first, to the tune of “MacNamara's Band”:
Just now we're all rehearsing for another big affair,
We'll take another island, and the Japs'll all be there …
Bless ’em all, bless ’em all,
As back to our foxholes we crawl …
Then, to the same air, mispronouncing the name of a shocking battle:
Oh, we sent for MacArthur to come to Tarawa
But General MacArthur said no,
He gave as the reason, it wasn't the season,
Besides there was no U.S.O.
Then, to the tune of “Embraceable You”:
Replace me, I can't go home without you …
I don't want no more Marine Corps
Gee, Mom, I wanna go
Right back to Quantico
Gee, Mom, I wanna go home …
And the haunting:
Say a prayer for your pal
He needs God's help, it's true …
What, I suddenly wonder, am I doing here? I am headed toward places I vowed never to see again, toward excessive vegetation, away from gentle New England's forsythia, pussy willows, laurel, lilac. I could be deep in the leather chair by my Connecticut fireplace, reading Muriel Spark or Peter De Vries, or listening to Tchaikovsky's musical euphemism of 1812 combat. I don't need this, says the old man in me; yes, you do, the Sergeant says grimly. And as our silvery tube climbs above rough weather at thirty-five thousand feet, the Sergeant takes over.
Hawaii was the destination of my first airplane ride, but we were coming from the opposite direction, from Saipan, with stops at Guam and Johnston Island. It was a long flight — about four thousand miles — and the best our C-54 could do, with all four engines toiling a-whump, a-whump, a-whump, was under 265 miles per hour. There were twenty-five of us, all on litters. Apparently this had always been a flying ambulance; the bulkheads of its long, cigar-shaped ward were whitewashed, the deck was rubber, trays bearing tubes and syringes were screwed in place, and everything had that unmistakable smell of medicinal chemicals. At least, that is my recollection. I wasn't an altogether reliable witness. I was weaning myself from morphine. The weaning hadn't been my idea in the beginning. I had been on a half grain a day; then an army medical officer had cut it off completely, leaving me to cold turkey. I could have returned to the drug here. But having gone this far without it, I was determined to finish the job. The Doc on the plane knew all this; he thought the cold-turkey decision had been a mistake; he kept asking me if I needed “something.” I shook my head each time and turned my face into the pillow. After he had left, the withdrawal routine would start again: yawning, shaking, sweating, cramps, nausea, tears, gooseflesh, a runny nose, and the chuck horrors. Every hour one of the four corpsmen aboard would check my systolic pressure and my rectal temperature, tracing the rising curves on my chart with his rubber finger. If they went too high the Doc might give me a fix despite my protests.
“Do you need something?”
“No, I'm fine.”
The Doc looked like an Arab. He had that swarthy complexion and ropy mustache. He was balding and trying to hide the fact by brushing his hair where it didn't want to go. The result was that he looked as though he had just risen hastily from bed. His skin was coarse and pitted with acne scars. When he leaned over me I could see the shadowy hollows and recesses in his face and the network of veins around his irises. At less than a foot my vision was fine. Past that it blurred; the bandages had been removed from my eyes just before we took off, and in addition I suffered from the dilation of all addicts. Any bright light made the pupils smart. Luckily the lights here were dim. I could see enough to know that I wasn't the sickest man aboard. At of me was a man with a head wound. It was tightly bandaged, but blood was seeping through the gauze; I could hear the unsteady dripping on the gizmo that was feeding him intravenously. On the port side of the aisle a lieutenant had a chest wound; he was raggedly sucking in air. Below him was the victim of a kamikaze, a chief petty officer bound up like a mummy. His hands were free, however. Each had an anchor tattooed on the back of it. The anchors kept clawing at one another, as though trying to link up.
My blindness had been from shock, and it was passing. My biggest problems just then were a splitting headache and several pieces of shrapnel deep in my back. Shrapnel and something else. The Doc studied my X ray and gave a little cry:
“Why, that looks like a piece of tibia — a shinbone!”
“One of my men.”
He moved on. Then the real pain in the ass would prowl up, a fat corpsman who seemed to think we all ought to be clowns.
“C'mon, Sarge, grin! Let's see that old grin! That's it! Grin!”
He would go on like that, on and on. The only way to get rid of him was to force a miserable smirk. Then he would depart, beaming himself, his mission accomplished.
Another corpsman, gaunt and lugubrious, spoke in tones of practiced pity. He tried to be cheerful; I found him unbearably depressing.
“You'll make it, Sarge. You're a fighter, I can tell.”
“In a month you'll be back giving those yellow bastards hell.”
But I had no hell left to give anyone. My head throbbed as the Douglas engines throbbed. I lay in the half-light, fighting the pain where the fragments of shrapnel and bone were, yearning for the drug, my cigarette tracing glowing trajectories in the air, my stomach churning as I wiped my eyes, my nose, and my brow with the length of gauze dressing they had given me, wondering how many aboard would, in fact, make it. Not all, I knew; too many were in critical condition. Head Wound went first. We had just crossed the International Date Line northeast of Wake when he moaned heavily. Swift shapes darted up, but before they could reach him he sobbed, “Mom!” and was gone. The blood kept dripping, however, until Fatso cleaned up. He drew the sheet over the dead man's face and folded it over in a straight new margin. I dozed off. The Doc awoke me, peering at me from a range of about three inches.
“Have a good nap?”
“How do you feel?”
“Do you hurt much?”
“Do you need something?”
I looked around. Chest Wound had gone, too; there was only a lump under the sheet where his head had been. The next time Fatso appeared I asked how many other men we had lost. He tried to change the subject, but Mummy heard us, and his voice, a rich baritone, rose through his bandages. He said: “Three others, all at this end.” Fatso looked distressed, maybe because he couldn't tell whether Mummy was grinning under all those layers of grease and plaster. Then he brightened and said there wouldn't be any more deaths.
Actually there was another, a man at the far end I hadn't seen. By the time we entered our glide pattern over Hickam Field, I had almost mastered the geography of our C-54 quarters, with one exception. Down near the tail, to starboard, there was a dark place. Squint as I might, I couldn't make it out. I assumed that the lights had burned out there, or that it was used to store gear. But as we touched down, two of the corpsmen entered the place, and when the door opened they emerged carrying a litter — another corpse, hidden under its temporary shroud. As the Doc passed, I called to him. He paused. I asked him who else had died.
“The poor fellow,” he sighed. “He was so quiet that most of the other patients didn't even notice him.”
“Who was he? What was his outfit?”
“He was a private in the Fifth Marines.”
I felt queer. I said, “My father was in the Fifth.”
“A long time ago. Another war.”
He said, “Do you want this poor fellow's name?”
“No,” I breathed. “No!”
He looked at me closely. “You do need something.”
“Shove it, Mac.”
United flight 005 touches down at Honolulu International Airport at precisely 7:35 Hawaiian time, and as I emerge I am instantly wrapped in sheets of hurrying rain, torrents slanting down diagonally, at intervals coming down in waves, like surf. I am unsurprised. It always rains when I arrive in the Pacific. If there is ever a drought, they can cable me; I'll come out and fix it. Expecting just such a storm, I have fastened all the intricate buttons in the collar of my Burberry. No protection against cloudbursts can match a Marine Corps poncho, but ponchos are unacceptable in the Halc-kulani, the last of Waikiki's great prewar hotels, where I am soon dining with Jean and Bob Trumbull. In the early 1950s Bob and I were foreign correspondents in India, he for the New York Times and I for the Baltimore Sun. I have friends scattered through the Pacific, and a fairly good working knowledge of Asia, but Bob's is encyclopedic. On December 7, 1941, he was city editor of the Honolulu Advertiser and a stringer for the Times. Then the Times hired him full-time, and he has been with the paper ever since, mostly around the Pacific basin. He is the last of the Times World War II correspondents still on the job.
Hawaii, he tells me, is, for the first time in its pluralistic history, gripped by racial tension. The problem is the Japanese. Although a minority, they are tightly organized, and as a result they control the local Establishment — the politics, industry, unions; even the presidency of the university. The other inhabitants, and particularly the white Americans who have retired here, resent all this. But, Bob adds, Nipponese affluence is not confined to Hawaii. That, or something like it, will appear almost everywhere on my journey. In peace Hirohito's subjects have achieved what eluded them in war: dominance of a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. I tell Bob that the Germans have done the same thing in Europe. The victors of V-E and V-J days, we agree, have been outmaneuvered, outsold, and outsmarted by the vanquished.
My own feeling the next morning is that whoever is in charge here has appalling taste. This is a community of honky-tonks. High-rise condominiums, uncannily like Puerto Rico's, have put the famous beaches northwest of Diamond Head in perpetual shade. Aiea Heights Hospital, where I once lay with thousands of other Marine casualties from Iwo and Okinawa, has been razed and replaced by CINCPAC headquarters, but the military seems no longer able to correct pernicious practices of civilian tradesmen. On Hotel Street electric guitars are turned up to incredible sound levels. Aloha shirts are offered at preposterous prices. Muscular transvestites accost you under a marquee which bears the announcement boys will be girls. Prostitution is illegal, but the bars and strip joints on Hotel Street are crowded with hookers who, if a man pauses within arm's reach, will caress his crotch with a gentle squeeze. There are more massage parlors, strip joints, and pornographic shops than cafés. Signs ballyhoo double-bedrooman-tics! male-female sexantics! watch oral sex live! Japan's December 7 raid thirty-eight years ago was an outrage, but one feels that the destruction of Honolulu's tenderloin would be less outrageous today.
The route followed by the Japanese fliers that long-ago Sunday may be traced with some precision. Kolekole Pass, overlooking Schofield Barracks, is a quiet canyon in the steep mountains; one hears no roaring planes there now, only the rustling of leaves in a soft breeze and the murmur of high-tension wires. The barracks below are virtually unaltered since James Jones wrote of them in From Here to Eternity: the quadrangles, the orange buildings, the banyans are redolent of Jones's tale, though they are more sparsely populated; where twenty-five thousand soldiers were based at Schofield in 1941, there are fewer than four thousand today. No scars of the raid are visible here. To find them, one must drive to Hickam Field — where strafers' .50-caliber bullets are still embedded in a peach-colored concrete wall — and, of course, to the harbor itself.
Historical shrines often become diminished by mundane surroundings. One thinks of Saint Peter's in Rome and Boston's Bunker Hill. Still, it is jarring, when driving to the port where the United States entered World War II, to find a prosaic green-and-white freeway sign, exactly like those on the American mainland, directing drivers to:
Following it, and instructions phoned to me at the Halekulani by CINCPAC, I come to a naval complex of moors and piers, fringed by palms warped by millennia of offshore winds. Elsewhere commercial launches leave hourly for tours of the harbor, but I am booked on a military VIP junket. Judging by my fellow passengers, almost anyone can be a VIP. There are young boys in T-shirts chewing bubble gum; middle-aged, hennaed, hairnetted women; gross men in riotous aloha shirts. They all seem to be carrying Polaroids or Instamatics. A pretty blonde, whose parents must have been teenagers, if not younger, at the time of the great attack here, appears wearing a petty officer's rating chevrons and calls us to order. Before we leave, she says, we are going to see a short motion picture. She leads us into a Quonset hut and the lights go down.
The movie, an NBC documentary, is suggestive of the March-of-Time style and was probably spliced from film clips shortly after the war. The narrator's voice is stentorian; the crashing score is by Richard Rodgers; there is a lot of Japanese footage captured after the war. Its chief interest is in what it omits. There isn't a single reference to U.S. bungling. Much is made of the fact that the Japs missed U.S. oil reserves, enough for two years, and dockyard repair facilities. At the end, with Rodgers's music soaring triumphantly, American warships steam out into the twilight to wreak vengeance on the deceitful enemy. As the lights are turned up, one almost feels that the Pearl Harbor raid was an American victory. Judging by their comments as we file out, the other VIPs are impressed. One recalls that the American navy has always been attentive to its reputation. Especially remembered is the alacrity with which, after the raid, the title of the commanding admiral here was changed to Commander in Chief, Pacific (CINCPAC), from Commander in Chief, United States (CINCUS).
Shepherding us aboard the VIP launch, our blond seawoman warns us that no pictures may be taken of the port's nuclear submarines, lest they fall into the hands of unfriendly powers. Then we shove off, and she begins her spiel. Little of it is new to me, so I let my attention wander. Ford Island is lush and unpopulated, its runway too short to accommodate today's jets. Floating markers show where each battleship was anchored that December 7. A wood-and-rusted-iron relic pinpoints the location of the Utah, which went bottom-up at 8:12 A.M. on the morning of the raid. The chief point of interest is the Arizona memorial. It is quite lovely, a graceful dipping concrete arch honoring the 1,102 U.S. bluejackets who lie entombed below. (Why wasn't the ship raised? They tried. Two navy divers went down and applied acetylene torches to the hull; accumulated gases within exploded, killing both of them.) Peering down, you can see the rusting forecastle, over whose jutting mast, above the water, the colors are raised and lowered each day.
The VIP passengers swarm around, babbling excitedly. This is distasteful, but not peculiarly American. I have seen the same twittering at European war memorials. It is absent in civilian cemeteries. But scenes where men died violently are somehow stimulating.
The nuclear submarines which we cannot photograph are, in fact, unphotogenic. They are indeed ugly, looking uncannily like sharks. Swinging at anchor in various coves are slate-gray guided-missile cruisers and fast frigates, none of them interesting to a necromancer like me. But I jerk upright as we dart by one inlet. Moored there are the last ships I expected to see in Pearl Harbor — two spanking-new destroyers flying the Rising Sun battle ensign of the Empire of Japan. Ashore, I make inquiries and am told that, yes, I saw what I thought I saw. In fact, Japanese naval officers in dress whites are frequent guests at Pearl's officers' mess. And, my informant adds, they are very polite. Naturally. They always were. Except, of course, for that little interval there between 1941 and 1945.
At 3:00 A.M. in my comfortable Halekulani bed, my eyes pop open. The lean, hard, dreamland Sergeant in me has been leering sardonically, recalling the loudmouthed tourists, Hotel Street's smut, the navy's cover-up movie, and the welcome mat for Hirohito's seafarers. That will be the Sergeant's attitude every night — and he will come every night — during the early stages of my trip. If I rarely mention him, it is because his performance has become as unvaried as a cult rite. He gloats and glares and smirks cynically. I have begun to realize that it will take a great deal, a fire storm of passion, to exorcise him.
In Honolulu the old man has no answer for the Sergeant. His experiences here have shaken him. Somehow Hawaii hasn't stirred memories of the blows inflicted on that distant day of infamy. And I think I know why. The answer, I believe, is that there was virtually no opposition to the Japanese, and therefore no fight. Like Fort Sumter, like Sarajevo, the disaster at Pearl is best remembered as a curtain raiser, largely irrelevant to the drama which followed. We were prepared to visit retribution on the enemy tenfold, but we didn't identify with the victims. Few had fought back. And as professionals they should have been ready to fight. Now we, the amateurs, had to do the job. And though we mourned them, the very brevity of the December 7 attack meant that there hadn't been time to hang breathless on their fate.
The Philippines, however, was another story.