Thursday, December 6, 2012

An Hawai'an Perspective on Pearl Harbor

“A day that will live in infamy,” that’s what President Roosevelt called the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor; and on December 7, Americans mourn the 2,402 lives lost on this infamous day. Like the events of 9/11, Pearl Harbor was a turning point for America, and the world. Some people of faith felt our violent response was justified—in a fallen world, we must fight evil with evil—while others questioned whether the evils of war can ever create the kind of peace we all yearn for.
To understand the significance of these fateful days that changed world history, I think we need to look more deeply and try to see these events through other lenses, not simply through the lens of American exceptionalism.
My wife and I had an unusual view of Pearl Harbor during our honeymoon, which happened to begin on Sept 11. We were taken on a tour of Pearl Harbor and given a Hawai'ian perspective by an American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) staff person. The AFSC was founded by Quakers during World War I to provide alternative service opportunities for conscientious objectors; and in 1947 it was given the Nobel Peace Prize. When we went to a hillside overlooking the harbor, we were told that this scenic location was once the bread basket of Oahu. The Hawai'ians had created fish ponds out of coral so that little fish swam in, grew large and were not able to swim out. They were harvested sustainably for many centuries and the land, water and people lived in harmony and flourished. You can still see the remains of these fishponds.
Today Pearl Harbor is no longer a place where you can safely fish. It is so polluted with toxic waste from the US military it has been designated a Superfund site. For over sixty years, the land and residents of Hawai'i have endured tremendous toxic pollution exposure from military use and munitions training in the islands. The 2004 Defense Environmental Restoration Program report to Congress listed 798 military contamination sites at 108 installations in Hawai'i, 96 of which were contaminated with unexploded ordnance, seven of the military contamination sites were considered "Superfund" sites. These sites have not been cleaned up.
This is the ongoing legacy of US military occupation. Nearly 25% of the Hawai'ian islands are used for military purposes.
In addition to Pearl Harbor, we were taken to the palace of the last Queen of Hawai'i, Liliuokalani. In this lavish palace we saw how the Hawai'ian people had created a highly advanced culture, technologically superior in many ways to that of the US and Europe, with indoor toilets, electricity and even telephones before they were installed in the White House or Buckingham Palace. Yet the Hawai'ians were treated as a “lesser breed,” conquered and annexed against their will by the Americans to be used as a fueling station so that the American Empire could expand and have access to and control Chinese and Japanese markets.
Viewed from this perspective, the attack on Pearl Harbor was one foreign imperial power attacking another on land that belonged to neither. The day that Americans took the land of Hawai'i from its people was also a "day of infamy."
The longer we stayed in Hawaii, the more we came to appreciate the beautiful, rich culture of the Hawai'ian people. We also came to appreciate why many Hawaiians yearn for their lost sovereignty and why we haoles (whites) are viewed with mixed feelings.
I believe the best way to honor those who died at Parlor Harbor is to restore this and other sacred places to its original owners and to clean up the mess our military has left behind here and elsewhere on the Hawai'ian islands, the jewels of the Pacific. Let us remember not only the American dead, but the also Hawai'ians—countless generations who would weep to see how their islands have been ravaged by war makers. Let us pray and work for the day when the land and the people of Hawai'i are free from the disease of militarism. ALOHA!

After 43 years, the AFSC Hawai'i Area Program is now Hawai'i Peace and Justice, an independent non-profit organization committed to education and nonviolent action to grow peace, grow youth and grow solidarity in Hawai'i and beyond.
To contact Hawai'i Peace and Justice visit:

See also

Hawaii: Head of the Tentacled Beast

By Jon Letman, October 18, 2012
Foreign Policy in Focus
Fresh from hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Honolulu last autumn, U.S. President Barack Obama recently told members of the Australian Parliament that America’s defense posture across the Asia-Pacific would be “more broadly distributed…more flexible—with new capabilities to ensure that our forces can operate freely.”
The announcement of America’s “Asia-Pacific pivot” by its first Hawaiia-born president was highly fitting, since the Hawaiian Islands are at the piko (“navel” in Hawaiian) of this vast region.
A less flattering metaphor for Hawaii’s role in the Pacific is what Maui educator and native Hawaiian activist Kaleikoa Kaeo has called a giant octopus whose tentacles reach across the ocean clutching Japan, Okinawa, South Korea, Jeju island, Guam—and, at times, the Philippines, American Samoa, Wake Island, Bikini Atoll, and Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Island. See


  1. Hi there,

    I'm visiting Hawai'i in a month or so and wish to let you know that this was incredibly helpful. Thank you so much!

  2. Great article Quaker. Interesting read and a refreshing perspective on a commonly analyzed event in World War I.

  3. hey this is a very interesting outlook on a devastating event of WW1. Good work, keep it up brother!

    1. not wwi retard its ww22

    2. There is absolutely no need to call anyone a retard. It is very easy to open a book or a web page and learn facts and history, but too difficult for people to learn kindness and respect. Being rude won't get you anywhere, and if it does it'll only get you around people just (or worse) like you! Stay Humble.