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Pearl Harbor as Metaphor

(Source: newyorker.com)

On March 16, 1914, at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, three-year-old Henry Williams, Jr., the son of a Navy officer, inserted the first ceremonial bolt into the newly laid keel of BB-39, the thirty-ninth battleship built for the Navy since 1895. There is a photograph of the boy that day, smiling and holding the right index finger of the young and vigorous Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt. “I grabbed his finger and hung on for dear life,” Williams recalled years later. “And they tried to get me away, and, of course, I was a little ham. F.D.R., being a bit of a ham himself, I guess he saw the possibilities.” In the fall of 1916, BB-39, by then christened the U.S.S. Arizona, joined the fleet, and for the next quarter century it sailed the globe, representing the impregnable first line of the nation’s ocean defenses. In those years, it was under the command of twenty-five different captains, some good, some not so good. One was court-martialled after the ship rammed a fishing boat off the California coast, killing two people. He was found guilty of culpable inefficiency and relieved of his command.

The Arizona entered Pearl Harbor on December 5, 1941, after an exercise off Oahu. Now commanded by Captain Franklin Van Valkenburgh, it was scheduled to depart on December 13th for overhaul and Christmas leave at its home port of Long Beach, California. Flying his flag on board as commander of Battleship Division 1 was Rear Admiral Isaac Kidd, who as a captain had commanded the Arizona between 1938 and 1940. The ship moored at Battleship Row, inboard of the repair ship Vestal, forward of the Nevada, aft of the Tennessee, the West Virginia, the Maryland, the Oklahoma, and the California. None of the three aircraft carriers attached to the Pacific Fleet were in port; the Saratoga was in San Diego, while the Enterprise and the Lexington, because of the tense diplomatic situation with Japan, were at sea delivering warplanes to Navy and Marine outposts on Wake and Midway Islands. Saturday morning, there was, as usual, inspection, followed by liberty for some of the crew, whose excursions often ended up in the whorehouses on Honolulu’s Hotel Street, where working girls might turn a hundred tricks through the day and night. Officers remaining on board that evening could watch “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” starring Spencer Tracy and Ingrid Bergman, in the wardroom.

On Sunday morning, December 7th, more than a hundred ships, roughly half the Pacific Fleet, were in the harbor. At 7:55 A.M., as the Arizona’s band and a Marine color guard prepared to raise the flag, a hundred and eighty-three Japanese fighters, bombers, and torpedo planes—launched from six carriers two hundred and thirty miles to the north—began a surprise attack on Pearl and military facilities all over Oahu. At 8:10 A.M., a bomb set off an explosion in the Arizona’s forward magazine. The ship blew up and, nine minutes later, sank to the bottom, with the loss of 1,177 officers and men from its crew of 1,514; nine hundred of the dead were entombed in the wreckage, their bodies never recovered. Two of the K.I.A. were Admiral Kidd and Captain Van Valkenburgh; the force of the explosion was such that all that remained of Admiral Kidd was his Naval Academy ring, class of 1906, which was fused to the steel on the Arizona’s conning tower. That evening, a lieutenant on a nearby ship stood on deck and, by the light of the inferno consuming what was left of the Arizona, read a newspaper update of the attack. The lieutenant was Henry Williams, Jr., who as a three-year-old had inserted the first bolt into the keel of BB-39.

Most of this information comes from “Battleship Arizona,” an enthralling account of life on a capital ship in the pre-Second World War Navy that I picked up two years ago at a bookstore in Honolulu. Clear-eyed and unsentimental, it was written in 1991 by Paul Stillwell, the director of history at the U.S. Naval Institute and a reserve officer who served in Vietnam. The Arizona survived its first test in harm’s way for just twenty-four minutes. Nearly fifty per cent of the military and civilian casualties of the attack were on the ship. Fifteen Medals of Honor were awarded for action that day on Oahu, all to Navy men. Two of the recipients were Admiral Kidd and Captain Van Valkenburgh. Brave they may have been, and heroes as well, but there was only a single survivor on the bridge, and he could not attest to specific acts of valor. Nations need heroes, and it is likely, as Stillwell suggests, that the awards to Kidd and Van Valkenburgh were motivated by the need to promote morale at a moment when the fallibility of military men and American might was in question.

The U.S.S. Arizona Memorial—the monument raised over the ship’s sunken hulk in Pearl Harbor—is perhaps the most enduring symbol of Second World War combat. One legend attached to the Arizona is that it is still in commission, but in fact it was struck from the Navy register in December, 1942, as are all ships sunk as a result of enemy action; by special dispensation, the Arizona is allowed to fly the colors from a flagpole attached to its severed mainmast. Oil still bubbles up from the ship’s tanks, spreading a sheen around the huge ghostly silhouette visible just beneath the surface. Engraved on one marble wall of the monument are the names, ranks, and ratings of all those on board who were killed on December 7th or who subsequently died of wounds suffered in that action: S1/c, ENS, Mu2/c, CBM, PhM2/c, MM2/c, PAYCLK, Bkr2/c, LCDR, QM2/c, RADM. Just beneath this list are sixteen names belonging to crew members who were among the survivors of the attack or were on liberty or detached service and had requested that when they died their ashes be commingled with those of their former shipmates. Divers placed their urns aft in the well of turret four.

What seemed a catastrophe at the time appears less so today. Through the perspective of history, 1941’s day of infamy might now be seen as a propaganda victory of incalculable value. The first song I knew by heart was the rallying cry that jammed recruiting offices:

Let’s remember Pearl Harbor

As we go to meet the foe.

Let’s remember Pearl Harbor

As we did the Alamo.

That twenty-four hundred died was a shock then, but by the end of the war tens of thousands were killed nightly in air raids, and island combat decimated divisions. Left untouched at Pearl Harbor were four and a half million barrels of oil and high-octane gas, without which the fleet could not have stayed afloat; the oil reserves were an infinitely more valuable strategic target than the elderly gun platforms on Battleship Row. “The Japanese only destroyed a lot of old hardware,” one admiral said of the twenty-one ships crippled or sunk in the attack. “In a sense they did us a favor.”

The favor was in forcing the Navy to reconfigure the fleet: the carrier replaced the battleship as the fleet’s primary weapon. There had been no more profound a change in naval tactics since the transition from sail to steam. Had the Arizona been salvaged, as were the California, the Tennessee, the West Virginia, the Pennsylvania, and the Maryland, it would have been a bombardment vessel, pounding shorelines with its 14-in. guns and providing a curtain of anti-aircraft fire against kamikazes. Six months after Pearl Harbor, the Enterprise and two other carriers, the Hornet and the Yorktown, sank four Japanese carriers at the Battle of Midway, not so much winning the war in the Pacific as insuring that Japan could not win it. Midway was not the beginning of the end but the American version of the end of the beginning.

This year is the sixtieth anniversary of Pearl Harbor. For the survivors, who are now mostly in their eighties or older, it will likely mark parade’s end, the last post for memories that gentle their condition. Buglers will play taps, tears will flow, and the cloying confection of “the greatest generation” will be saluted yet again. On the sentimentalizing of generations I am in lockstep with Harold Rosenberg. “Except as a primitive means of telling time, generations are not a serious category,” he wrote. “Belonging to a generation is one of the lowest forms of solidarity.” NBC plans a Tom Brokaw National Geographic special, while the other networks will show documentary footage of the carnage; old books will be reissued with new material and new books published pointing the finger and assessing the blame. The highlight of the commemoration will occur not on December 7th but on Memorial Day weekend, with the release of the hundred-and-forty-million-dollar Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster “Pearl Harbor,” a picture with the high-tech, high-hokum content that makes Bruckheimer such a glossy and entertaining filmmaker. (My wife and I once wrote an unproduced screenplay for him and his late partner Don Simpson—about U.F.O.s—and I have a popcorn weakness for his movies: “Con Air,” “Armageddon,” “Enemy of the State.”)

Many clichés about Pearl Harbor and Hawaii have barnacled into fact. Even today, we hear, as we heard in the decades before the Japanese attack, that Oahu is the American Gibraltar, the fortress that keeps the Pacific free. This is a wishful improvement on the uneasy truth that Hawaii was, and to a certain extent still is, the headquarters of the American Raj, and Pearl Harbor the gateway to mare nostrum. Nearly a quarter of the land on Oahu is owned or controlled by the Defense Department, and sixteen per cent of the population is either in uniform or a military dependent. The result is that the military holds the strings to Hawaii’s perception of its own survival. The bedrock belief of state politics is that any curtailment of the military presence threatens not only the local economy but national security itself. Such fears reinforce a hierarchical military class structure that has endured through both peace and war in Hawaii since early in the last century, when Congress began to realize the strategic value of its mid-Pacific territory.

The peacetime Navy was a hard place for hard men. “The scum of the earth, the mere scum of the earth,” the Duke of Wellington cheerfully called the private soldiers who brought Napoleon to ground. “None but the worst description of men enter the regular service.” A not dissimilar view of the enlisted ranks lingered in this country well into the century of the common man. After the 1929 stock-market crash and the onset of the Depression, the Navy became, in effect, a seagoing C.C.C., a refuge from unemployment, riding the rails, or the county farm. Discipline was fierce. With the tacit complicity of commissioned superiors, petty officers would sometimes physically assault sailors, either because the seamen did not measure up or simply because they wanted to. Minor offenses (such as spitting tobacco juice over the side on the Arizona) meant summary judgment, often incarceration in the brig on a bread-and-water diet (“piss and punk,” in Navy slang—a form of punishment that lasted until after the war began). One prophylactic for venereal disease was to order infected sailors to drop their skivvies and show recruits the ravages of syphilis.

Yet men frequently stayed aboard ships such as the Arizona for years on end without transferring out. The ships were home and home town, their separate divisions strictly segregated neighborhoods; the engine room rarely mixed with the gunnery department, nor quartermasters with radiomen. This was not a world in which advanced democratic notions prevailed. There is no finer or more decent fleet commander in American naval history than Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, who won the Battle of Midway, but his social and political views were those that permeated wardroom and bridge in the years before the war, and after as well. Spruance, according to his biographer, Thomas Buell, believed that only “high-grade” citizens should have the suffrage, and once wrote, “So long as the Bill of Rights remains in effect, the American people will in the long run get about the kind of government they want and deserve.”

With the entitlement of rank, the numerically small officer corps evolved effortlessly into a faux aristocracy, a ruling class contemptuous of politicians and the fragile civil authority. Implicit in the idea of a Raj is a subject people, a question of color. Officially, and in travel brochures, Hawaii is Bali Ha’i, a paradise where Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans mix with indigenous Hawaiians and haoles (whites) in a melting pot that stands as a glorious example to the world; more than sixty per cent of the population is of mixed blood. The tourist stepping off an airplane is immediately decorated with a lei and propelled into a colonial Eden of cloudless days, white sandy beaches, blue-green ocean, Duke Kahanamoku, Daniel Inouye, Don Ho, the lovely hula hands of Beverly Noa, the indefinable spirit called aloha. The reality is more nuanced; “Kill a Haole Day” is an island urban legend that periodically circulates in some high-school covens. Tourism has recalibrated the amalgamation of the races into part of the visitor package. With their ukuleles, surfboards, outrigger canoes, and grass skirts, citizens of Hawaiian blood have been translated into photo props, local color useful for the economy. The relationship of the military to this local fantasy is at best provisional. In 1990, marines at the Pearl Harbor barracks, finding place-names spelled with the twelve-letter Hawaiian alphabet difficult to pronounce (Kalanianiole, Puupalailai), held a Rename the Islands contest. The winning entry for Kauai was “Bush Island,” in honor of the then President.

In the decade before Pearl Harbor, the military generally scorned those whom Rear Admiral Yates Stirling, then commandant of the Fourteenth Naval District, called the “enthusiastic priests of the melting-pot cult.” In 1939, Admiral Stirling published his autobiography, “Sea Duty,” an extraordinary book that is almost a bible of Navy attitudes. “The Islands, as everyone should know,” Admiral Stirling wrote,

are overrun with a mixed population of 363,000, a great part being orientals, coming from the coolie class, practically the lowest class in the Orient. . . . There are scarcely 22,000 of the lithe, athletic people of pure Hawaiian blood left. The picturesque simple Hawaiian civilization, which everyone loved and made much over, I found had wellnigh passed away, never to return.

Racial condescension was matched by arrogance in tactical matters. During joint Army-Navy war games in February, 1932, the air group from the carrier Lexington simulated a surprise attack on Oahu military bases. Staged at daybreak Sunday morning, the strike prefigured the Japanese attack nearly ten years later, and by war-game rules demolished Pearl Harbor and other military facilities. When British naval planes destroyed the Italian fleet anchored at Taranto in southern Italy in 1940, the Navy still professed not to worry; the battleship was supreme. Submarines, in the minds of Navy brass, were the real threat. Although it was taken for granted that any war in the Pacific would be fought against Japan, Navy men subscribed to the opinion, most whimsically expressed by Vice-Admiral Wilson Brown, that Japanese airmen were “distinctly inferior to American fliers.” Brown based his assessment not on intelligence reports but on remarks by the head of the Singer Sewing Machine subsidiary in Japan; the executive said that Singer would not let employees fly on Japanese commercial aircraft because they were so badly kept up, and by this reasoning military air power could not be much better.

During the thirties, the Navy collided head on with the melting pot in an episode that had the combustible elements of a cheap novel—sex, racism, murder, perjury, lynch law, inept cops, two trials, a world-class attorney, demagogic reporters, foaming editorials, political blackmail, loony congressmen, ass-kissing sailors, a homicidally hoity mother-in-law, vacillating bureaucrats, Presidential intervention, a miscarriage of justice, and finally the Pinkerton Detective Agency, which, after the dust had settled, sorted everything out. “The Massie case,” as this lurid series of events came to be called, was rivetingly detailed in 1966 by Peter Van Slingerland in “Something Terrible Has Happened.” The fuse was lit by Thalia Fortescue Massie, the twenty-year-old wife of Lieutenant (j.g.) Thomas Hedges Massie, Annapolis ’27, a Kentuckian and the engineering officer on the submarine S-43, operating out of the Pearl Harbor Sub Base. Thalia Fortescue married Massie when she was sixteen, after his graduation from the Naval Academy, but she was not cut out to be a Navy wife. She was too young, too spoiled, too self-indulgent. She avoided marathon bridge games with other wives, took courses at the University of Hawaii, and perhaps mixed too much with the locals. The marriage was volatile. When Massie and Thalia were not fighting, they often were not speaking.

What happened in Honolulu on September 12, 1931, is evocative of what happened at the Marabar Caves in E. M. Forster’s “A Passage to India” and at the Bibighar Gardens in Paul Scott’s “The Raj Quartet.” Saturday night was party night for junior officers and their wives, and the parties were fuelled, on these Prohibition evenings, by okolehao, a potent home brew distilled with fruit and whatever spirits were available. Reluctantly, Thalia accompanied her husband to a Honolulu club with several other couples. The tension between the Massies became fraught, and she joined a different Navy group, in a private room upstairs. The situation there was equally toxic. Thalia told an officer the worse for drink, and superior in rank to Massie, that he was “no gentleman,” and the officer responded by calling her what Van Slingerland describes as “a more vivid epithet.” Thalia slapped his face, and after wandering around the club, unwelcomed by anyone she knew, she disappeared into the night without telling her husband. When Massie discovered that she was gone, he was annoyed and worried, but this was not the first time an evening out had turned ugly. An hour or two later, he reached Thalia at home. “Something terrible has happened,” she whispered into the telephone. How terrible he saw when he rushed to their house. Thalia had been battered, her jaw broken. She had, she said, been abducted by a carful of local men, beaten up, and taken to a remote area, where four, five, or six of them had raped her repeatedly.

In an incident that seemed unrelated to the Massie drama, an infuriated Hawaiian woman marched into police headquarters and demanded that officers arrest five young men with whom she and her haole husband had an altercation after their cars nearly smashed into each other at an intersection. Although the woman was drunk, she had been sober enough to get the license of the other car. Police radio broadcast the plate number, the car was traced, and five men, all in their early twenties, all unemployed, were arrested—Horace Ida, David Takai, Henry Chang, Benny Ahakuelo, and Joseph Kahahawai. In the meantime, Lieutenant Massie had reported the assault on his wife. After taking a statement from Thalia Massie and examining the available evidence, detectives made a dangerous inductive leap: the men involved in the near-accident, who were now in custody, were also responsible for what in Honolulu was viewed as the most heinous of crimes—the rape of a white woman, and not just any white woman but the wife of a naval officer.

“Half-breed hoodlums” was the officers’-club description of the accused. Three had done time, one for assault, two for attempted rape. “Our first inclination is to seize the brutes and string them up on trees,” Admiral Stirling told a subordinate. “But we must give the authorities a chance to carry out the law and not interfere. . . . It will be slow and exasperating.” Thalia Massie was no longer seen as different, a trial to her husband, his fellow-officers, and their wives; she was Navy. “One of the younger set,” Stirling wrote, “demure, attractive, quiet-spoken, and sweet, minding her own affairs. I knew her to be the daughter of prominent people in the Eastern States, raised in a cultured American home.” Rumors that she might have been having an affair with another officer were not countenanced, nor was any hint that the case against the five accused left much to be desired. The time line necessary for abduction, battery, and multiple rapes was questionable at best, and rape itself medically problematic. Doctors who had examined Thalia after the attack reported that, while her vagina was dilated, there were no vaginal bruises or abrasions, and no seminal deposits. Nor was semen found on any of the accused or in their clothing or underwear. That the five men might not have committed the crimes with which they were charged was of small matter: to Navy men, innocent until proven guilty was a civilian value, worthless at the frontier of American empire. The important thing was a conviction that the world set an example, maintain the principle of order, and reëstablish the social priorities.

It didn’t happen. After deliberating for ninety-seven hours, a jury composed of five haoles and seven non-whites announced that it could not reach a verdict. “I was informed reliably that the vote of the jury began and remained to the end, seven for not guilty and five for guilty, the exact proportion of yellow and brown to whites on the jury,” Admiral Stirling wrote in “Sea Duty.” “The defendants were not men who might be given the benefit of a reasonable doubt.” Admiral William Pratt, Chief of Naval Operations, went even further. “American men will not stand for the violation of their women under any circumstances,” he said in a statement leaked to the press. “For this crime they have taken the matter into their own hands repeatedly when they have felt the law failed to do justice.” Stripped to its essence, the statement sanctioned lynch law, and the message did not go unheeded. A group of sailors grabbed one of the five accused, all of whom were free pending a second trial, badly beat him up, and nearly pitched him off a cliff.

Thalia Massie’s mother, Grace Fortescue, a Maryland grande dame who had come to Honolulu to be with her daughter, was hatching a more elaborate plan. She wanted to kidnap a defendant and force a confession that, she thought, could be used at a second trial. Her son-in-law lent a receptive ear to this folly. Their strategy called for a sailor to serve a summons on Joseph Kahahawai as he left the Honolulu judicial building to which he reported every morning. The sailor would push him into a car driven by Massie, and they would then drive to Mrs. Fortescue’s house, where Kahahawai would be beaten at gunpoint until he confessed. The level of dementia at work could be seen in the heading of the crude, handwritten summons. “Teritorial [sic] Police,” it read, in pencil. The delirium was compounded by a headline from a feature article in a Honolulu newspaper that was pasted onto the fake document: “Life Is a Mysterious and Exciting Affair, and Anything Can Be a Thrill If You Know How to Look For It and What to Do with Opportunity When It Comes.”

Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Within ten minutes of arriving at the house, Kahahawai was dead, with a steel-jacketed .32-calibre bullet in his chest. Massie, Grace Fortescue, and Edward Lord, one of two sailors who had been recruited as their accomplices, were stopped for speeding on their way to a remote volcanic site where they intended to dump the body into the ocean. They were arrested when the police found Kahahawai wrapped in a sheet on the back seat. Albert Jones, the other sailor, who had remained at the house to finish washing away the blood, was picked up later. “A life had been taken,” Admiral Stirling wrote, “but was it a life worth saving?” Thalia Massie was a “martyred woman,” and her husband had redeemed her honor.

What the Navy did not expect was that a haole judge would negotiate a second-degree-murder charge against the conspirators after a grand jury balked at returning a first-degree indictment. In Washington, Southern congressmen threatened to bring the territory of Hawaii under direct mainland supervision. The Hearst press called the case “The Honor Slaying,” and ran an editorial saying, “The whole island should be promptly put under martial law and the perpetrators of outrages upon women promptly tried by court-martial and executed.” Not good enough for the Corvallis Times: “It should be death by torture.” A columnist for a Los Angeles paper wrote, “The filthy hoodlums and woman attackers of Honolulu are not Hawaiians. There is not a full-bred Hawaiian among them. The problem rests with one of the strangest and most fantastic potpourris of alien blood that was ever mixed into a hell’s broth and forced on an innocent race.”

Temporary insanity was the only plausible defense, and there was only one attorney to make it—Clarence Darrow, who had argued evolution with William Jennings Bryan in the Scopes trial and was able to keep Leopold and Loeb from the gallows for the murder of Bobby Franks. Now slowed by age—he was seventy-five—and ill health, the shambling, two-hundred-and-twenty-five-pound stem-winding orator suffered no illusions about the difficulty of his task. His clients had murdered Joseph Kahahawai; he would have to fight the case, he told an associate, in the press and in the court of public opinion. The composition of the jury—eight whites and four men of mixed blood—made Admiral Stirling uneasy. “Would the white men on the jury bow to the dictates of the orientals?” he wondered. Spectators paid fifty dollars for seats. To remove suspicion from his mother-in-law, Massie, an officer and a Southern gentleman, took responsibility for the gun’s going off, although thirty years later one of the sailors told Van Slingerland that it was he who had pulled the trigger.

In a summation that lasted four hours and twenty minutes, Darrow missed none of the stops. Occasionally brushing away a tear, he invoked the Almighty, the flag, duty, home, motherhood, the sanctity of women, and the lust of those who had debased Thalia Massie. The prosecutor was succinct: “The best you can say for Massie is that he lied like a gentleman and had a very convenient memory.” Aloha prevailed in the jury room; all four defendants were found guilty of manslaughter—a verdict calling for ten years at hard labor—with a recommendation for leniency. The fix, however, was already in; President Hoover and Congress had leaned on the territorial governor, who used his power of executive clemency to commute the sentences to one hour served. The only thing the governor did not offer was a pardon.

The Massies, Grace Fortescue, and Darrow left Honolulu for the mainland on a Matson liner. There was, however, a matter that authorities still had to consider—the hung jury eighteen months earlier that had ended the assault and rape trial and precipitated the murder of Joseph Kahahawai. It seemed unlikely that sufficient new evidence existed to warrant a retrial, but, since local police agencies had been so compromised during the initial investigation, the governor summoned the Pinkerton Detective Agency to make an impartial study of the evidence. Pinkerton delivered a two-hundred-and-seventy-nine-page report that found that it was “impossible to escape the conclusion that the kidnapping and assault was not caused by those accused, with the attendant circumstances alleged by Mrs. Massie.” About the rape, the agency was unequivocal:

We have found nothing in the record of this case, nor have we through our own efforts been able to find what in our estimation would be sufficient corroboration of the statements of Mrs. Massie to establish the occurrence of rape on her.

The Navy has always been the most feudal of the services, the most class-conscious, the most in thrall to an Academy ring. Across the generational and cultural divide, it was the service most resistant to President Truman’s 1948 order integrating the military. In 1966, Raymond Spruance, then eighty and deservedly rich in military and civilian honors, was awaiting surgery. “It has been interesting, while sitting around the Army hospital, to observe the considerable number of Negroes on duty,” Thomas Buell quotes him as writing to the director of naval history. “I would not desire to have a ship manned with them.” Pearl Harbor has been an available metaphor for the Navy, the symbol of heroic sacrifice that rendered its social rigidity irreproachable. It is the metaphor invoked when congressional critics seek to cut its budget, the memory tripped when some gaffe at sea threatens embarrassment. It was, inevitably, the name recalled in February when the nuclear-powered submarine Greeneville sliced up from the deep off Oahu, right into the hundred-and-ninety-foot fishery training ship Ehime Maru, tearing a hole in the hull that sank the vessel in moments, and killing nine of those on board, including two instructors and four teen-age students.

The stricken vessel was Japanese, the accident happened “off Pearl Harbor,” a location indefinite enough to cover practically the entire leeward coast of Oahu (the collision actually took place off Diamond Head). For the Navy, it was as if the propitious conjunction of “Japanese” and “Pearl Harbor,” with all the attendant memories, would lessen the impact of a maritime and public-relations disaster. The Greeneville, as it happened, was not even supposed to be at sea that day; the trip was laid on for sixteen V.I.P.’s and big-ticket political contributors, called “D.V.s,” Navy talk for distinguished visitors. On a D.V. cruise, the Greeneville was essentially reduced to an underwater theme park, Submarine Land. The D.V.s would sit at the controls, look through the periscope, experience combat training exercises, have lunch with the captain, Commander Scott Waddle, Annapolis ’81. Climaxing the February trip was a maneuver known as an emergency blow: air was forced into the main ballast tanks, and the boat shot straight up, breaking the surface like a ballistic missile. Commander Waddle’s periscope scan of the horizon before the blow was perfunctory; he saw planes landing at Honolulu Airport, but he did not see the Ehime Maru, which was heading straight for the spot where he would surface.

Through the Japanese consul in Honolulu, Commander Waddle apologized to Japan’s Prime Minister and to the families of the nine dead, taking responsibility. In an interview with Time magazine, however, he spoke of the effect of the accident on him, about his suffering and his pain, focussing somehow more sharply on his own victimization than on the ship he sank and the lives he cost. He was selling himself as Job (“Job is the closest corollary to what has just happened in my life”), and Time packaged the sale. Tearfully and artfully, he stepped back from responsibility and spread blame around as if it were manure. “This was something I had no control over,” he said. “I couldn’t change what happened. . . . I didn’t cause the accident. I gave the orders that resulted in the accident.” On Commander Waddle’s behalf, some Navy people put forth what might be called a Massie Defense. “The Japanese boat was the ocean’s version of a Ford Pinto,” John Peters, a retired submarine skipper, told Elaine Sciolino of the New York Times. “The hole was caused by the sub, but the sinking and loss of life was not. It’s like a normal car accident, but the car belongs to the mayor so it’s not investigated as a normal accident. We’re mixing a Navy investigation with politics. Things are starting to smell.”

An editorial in the Honolulu Advertiser raised the historic sense of purpose: “We must not forget that it is the mission of the Greeneville and the rest of the Pacific Fleet to keep the sea secure for vessels such as the Ehime Maru.” In the Washington Post, Richard Cohen was just damn sick and tired of all the wimpy apologizing, especially to Japan, which has never owned up to the Rape of Nanking, Korean sex slaves working in Japanese military brothels in the Second World War, and other perfidies. “This was Hawaii, for crying out loud,” Cohen wrote in his column. “So, one more time: we’re sorry . . . and of course we apologize for the loss of the Ehime Maru and the apparent deaths of nine persons aboard. But we are the same guys who have provided Japan with a security shield ever since World War II, helped rebuild the country and have been its steadfast ally and best friend. Don’t make us sorry.” One senses that Cohen had to restrain himself from using the word “Nips,” for crying out loud.

In the wake of the Greeneville inquiry, the Navy has resumed D.V. tours. Not even the tours will have the good-feeling impact of the Bruckheimer version of Pearl Harbor. Produced with the full coöperation of the Navy and the Defense Department, it will probably become the “Titanic” of war flicks. Audiences will feel a pull of pride at the way men behaved at Pearl and Schofield Barracks and all the other bases on Oahu on December 7, 1941. By the end of the picture’s opening weekend, the Ehime Maru may be seen as the last Japanese casualty of the day of infamy, and the ruined career of Scott Waddle conflated with the dead on the Arizona. Commander Waddle is certainly doing his part, with the Navy acting as his complicit enabler. Navy brass allowed Time and NBC’s “Dateline” (which ran an hour-long special on the incident) unlimited access to him and to Pearl Harbor and its facilities. Time photographed Waddle standing beside a narrow channel in front of his house at the base, saluting the Greeneville as it returned to sea under a new captain. To call this staged photo op contemptible would be to miss the point: it was an anchors-aweigh moment that confirmed the rule of the Raj over mare nostrum. ♦

More Info: newyorker.com

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