Sunday, December 7, 2008

what's more infamous - remembering or forgetting?

Did anyone else hear several references today to "the day that will live in infamy"? I guess if you want everyone to remember some event, uttering a phrase like this will make it stick. (It's a kind of self-fulfilling prophesy.) I wouldn't have remembered the historic significance of today if not for those reminders from my radio. But my concept of these events has changed considerably over the years, so I waited hoping that the commentators had made similar discoveries and would expand their reminiscences beyond Pearl Harbor. It never came. So, I've decided to take up that burden.

The impression I have from the media (who suggest that they're channeling FDR) is that Pearl Harbor should be remembered as an unprovoked attack on the United States. I will, for now, leave aside the antagonistic relationship that developed between the U.S. and Japan throughout the 1930s. The attack itself was specifically against the U.S. military in Hawai'i - a place that was not a state but a territory (with distinct colonial attributes). So, this was less a personal attack (against civilians residing in the United States) than a strategic one (against soldiers in a place that the U.S. claimed and backed up that claim with military might). But the aspect of this story that I find most interesting - and the one that prompted my post - is that this was not an isolated event. It was multi-pronged. It included attacks on Wake Island and Guam and, one day later, the Philippines. Indeed, by December 10th, Japanese troops were landing in the northern Philippine Islands. So, the land invasion that Pacific Coast residents were preparing for happened in America-the-colony. U.S. imperialism was a startlingly significant aspect of the "infamous" American entry into the Second World War.

FDR's catchy quote - and the subsequent rituals of remembrance - have helped to cover over the key role that U.S. imperial expansion played in bringing Americans into this war. Just as significant, such memories also neglect the role that imperialism played in the pursuit of that war. Here, I refer to the mobilization (and drafting) of colonial subjects - like Filipinos, Guamanians, and Samoans - in defense of the imperial power. Though Americans in the mainstream have apparently forgotten this aspect of their past, Filipino war veterans haven't. Their experiences being denied veterans' status demand the question: what is more infamous?

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