Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day offers chance to reflect on past

Photo of an American flag at half mast
Joshua Jordan/File
On Monday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared Dec. 7 as Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. This is in accordance with a congressional act passed in 1994 that established Dec. 7 as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.

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Eighty years ago, the course of history in the United States — and arguably, the entire world — changed.

On Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese imperial forces launched a surprise attack on Naval Station Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii. The attack killed almost 2,500 people, injured just more than 1,000 and destroyed nearly 20 U.S. naval vessels and 200 planes, according to campus history professor Mark Brilliant.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom proclaimed Dec. 7 as Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day on Monday in accordance with a 1994 congressional act passed that established Dec. 7 as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.

“It’s useful for a society to be aware of its history, and the utility of these kinds of proclamations is that they call upon us to remember the past,” said campus history professor Daniel Sargent. “What remembering history does is remind you of the improbability of the various contingencies and conjunctions that brought us to where we are today.”

For Capt. Travis Petzoldt, commanding officer of UC Berkeley’s Navy ROTC unit, the Pearl Harbor attack is an important event to remember for the U.S. Navy.

Petzoldt was stationed at Pearl Harbor three times during his time in the Navy. Sometimes, depending on the ship’s mooring, Petzoldt was able to view the USS Arizona Memorial from the deck of the submarine to which he was assigned.

In particular, he recalls standing aboard the submarine to “observe colors,” the ceremonial raising of the U.S. flag at 8 a.m. each sunny Hawaiian Sunday morning.

“Seeing the Arizona Memorial, in that context … impressed upon me the importance of my job in that moment – to be ready to lead the Sailors in my charge with honor, courage, and commitment,” Petzoldt said in an email.

Petzoldt noted that UC Berkeley has a link to Pearl Harbor, as the school’s Navy ROTC chapter was founded by Cmdr. Chester Nimitz, who oversaw the fleet at Pearl Harbor after the attack.

According to Brilliant, the significance of remembering Pearl Harbor today centers around the sacrifices of those who lost their lives and the long-term effects of World War II on the United States.

“More abstractly, Pearl Harbor symbolizes just how intertwined – as opposed to isolated – America was (and remains, all the more so) in the world beyond the oceans that seem to separate us from so much of it,” Brilliant said in an email.

While Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day is first and foremost a day to honor the American lives lost in the attack, it can also be a painful reminder of a darker side of American history, according to campus Nikkei Student Union President Matthew Kojima.

Kojima is referring to executive order 9066, which was passed in February 1942 by president Franklin Roosevelt and resulted in the forcible incarceration of more than 100,000 Japanese Americans in internment camps.

“For the Japanese American community in particular, it’s a day where we reflect on the fact that our loyalties were questioned so easily and our rights were taken away so easily,” Kojima said.

Sargent, however, cautioned against a direct correlation between the events of Pearl Harbor and Japanese internment, stating that doing so might suggest that Japanese Americans were involved with Pearl Harbor, when in fact they were not.

For Graham Haydon, an Army veteran and campus graduate student in business, Pearl Harbor serves as a lesson for the future.

“All of the horrors of war began before Pearl Harbor and they continued long after it ended, but it serves as a reminder that we must be ready to fight for goodness in the world every single day,” Haydon said in an email.

Contact Amy Zeng at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @amyzengg.