Pearl Harbor: A Critical Past
Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, during the season of Makahiki, are the anniversaries of two events that highlight Pearl Harbor's significance in Hawaii's history.
The date which will live in infamy is the best known. December 7 marks the anniversary of the Japanese attack on the U.S. fleet and ground installations at Hickam Air Force Base and Schofield Barracks that brought the U.S. into
World War II.
Hawaii's connection to the second event is not as widely known, but is arguably the more important. December 10 is the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Paris which ended the
Spanish American War. We have to go back more than 100 years to find the link.
The harbor was important to Hawaiians long before the arrival of westerners as a plentiful source of fish and pearl producing oysters. Caves in the coral reef at the harbor's entrance were believed to be the home of the shark goddess,
Ka'ahupahau, who protected the harbor from other
sharks, giving the harbor spiritual significance, as well.
western contact with the islands, the United States increasingly recognized the strategic importance of the harbor during the 1800s and obtained exclusive rights in 1875, when sugar planters seeking tariff free markets in the U.S. pressed for a reciprocity treaty.
The rights to use the harbor might have been enough, but for the war
with Spain in 1898. It appears the U.S. had every intention of acquiring Spain's remaining possessions in
"the new world", which included Guam, the Philippines and a few smaller islands in the Pacific. Faced with having to control (and subdue) these possessions, the central Pacific
base in Honolulu increased in importance.
Since American interests in the islands had long been pressing for annexation, and had
overthrown the Hawaiian Monarchy in 1893, setting up a provisional government, then a republic, the way was clear to make
Hawai'i a territory and not have to worry about renewing treaties to control Pearl Harbor.
Many will argue that for Hawai'i, the date that will live in infamy is actually
August 12, 1898, when the independent nation of Hawai'i, recognized as a sovereign in treaties with other foreign powers, was illegally annexed to the United States
against the will of a majority of its citizens by birth. There are those in
Hawai'i and elsewhere who strongly criticize statements like this as revising history. There seem to be several versions of what happened, but there is no record of a vote of the people in
Hawai'i either to accept the new government or to be annexed, and there was no treaty. What is perhaps being revised is the perception of what happened.
We can't undo either of these events, or their consequences. But we can learn from them. We can begin to understand that there's more than one perspective in the world. And when "We Remember Pearl Harbor", we can remember the significance of this small piece of real estate over time.
We have many reminders of World War II on O'ahu. The one that may bring
it into perspective for those of us who live in Honolulu today is the
simple pagoda in front of Honolulu Hale (City Hall), a gift from Honolulu's sister
city Hiroshima in 1968, commemorating 100 years of Japanese immigration
to Hawai'i. The other connection, each bombed by the other's country, is
overshadowed by that which we should perpetuate.