The attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 was, as far as I know, the last attack by a foreign country on American soil, and led to USA entering WWII. For Americans it seems to be a very serious thing, which is sort of understandable. It was very interesting to visit the place as a European, but it made me wonder what Americans actually are taught about WWII.
Yes, Pearl Harbor was attacked and around 2400 people were killed, and that is absolutely awful. They deserve to be remembered and honoured, just like anyone else who has died. Which is done quite well at Pearl Harbor today, there are boats like the U.S.S. Arizona, which still lies where it was hit, and you can see parts of it in the surface of the water. There is the little mandatory movie you are shown before you are allowed to get to the Arizona Memorial. There is the U.S.S. Missouri, the ship on which the peace documents were signed, you can visit and get a tour of, as well as a few other parts we didn’t have time to visit when we were there.
What I didn’t see or hear anything about however, was the Nazis or the war in Europe mentioned with more than a word or two. Everything was about this one attack by the Japanese and how USA fought back by bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Of course that is understandable, as this is the actual site of the attack, but still, if I had not known better I would have thought this war against Japan was the whole WWII, based from what I saw and heard at Pearl Harbor
That made it very difficult for me to take the Pearl Harbor attack as seriously as Americans seems to do, of course it was horrible, but it’s WWII we’re talking about. 2400 military personnel killed and some 1800 people hurt in one attack at Pearl Harbor is nothing against the literally millions of people who were killed, tortured or put in concentration camps in Europe. Not to mention several countries, including my own, being invaded and ruled by the Nazis for years. Most people have grandparents who experienced the war, experienced having their country occupied by an enemy for years, food being rationed, the constant suspicion of which of your neighbours were actually spies for the enemy and would turn you in if they caught you doing anything against the Nazis. And that’s just in Norway, which was relatively well treated considering the state of the rest of Europe.
I’m sorry Americans, but the attack on Pearl Harbor is nothing in the big picture. Not compared to the atrocities committed in WWII as a whole. We’re talking about Holocaust, the systematic murder of 6 million Jews, about 1 million of them children, for no other reason than them believing in a religion. Concentration camps in Nazi-controlled parts of Europe, where anyone who disagreed or fought back, anyone who were Jews, homosexuals, disabled people and otherwise “undesirable” were placed. Many, many of them died. Most of the neighbouring countries to Germany were attacked, and in most cases occupied, by the Nazis for years. And that’s not even mentioning all the fighting going on in colonies or by troops from the rest of the world. That’s what we learn in Europe about WWII. The reason why WWII was so different and so much more serious than other wars. For us the attack on Pearl Harbor is just mentioned as the reason why USA joined the war actively and why they bombed Japan, as USA joining the Allies helped the war end sooner. While a few thousand people were killed, it’s just nothing compared to the big picture here.
I hope, even though I don’t find it very likely, that you learn more accurate information about WWII in school. It’s not “just another war between a few countries”, it is one of the absolutely most horrible things in human history and the majority of the world was involved. It’s called World War II for a reason.
Visiting Pearl Harbor ended up provoking me more than anything else. I get you want to honour your dead soldiers, but you can’t just ignore the context of when the attack happened. Not when it’s the largest war in the history of mankind.