Memorializing Pearl Harbor: Unfinished Histories and the Work of Remembrance
Geoffrey M. White is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i. He is the coeditor of Perilous Memories: The Asia-Pacific War(s), also published by Duke University Press, and author of Identity through History: Living Stories in a Solomon Islands Society.
This chapter introduces the national memorial to Pearl Harbor as a social space by focusing on the visitor center and the activities that continually reproduce Pearl Harbor history there through storytelling, lectures, film presentations, and casual interactions of all kinds. The account focuses especially on the role of Pearl Harbor survivors who, in volunteering time at the visitor center, acted as both objects and agents of history. Drawing from fieldwork in the 1990s and 2000s, when a significant cadre of veterans spent time at the memorial to speak to visitors, the chapter discusses the kinds of history that emerge from personal and moral narrative. Then, with an eye toward the disappearance of the Second World War generation, the chapter explores the ways survivor voices are recoded and deployed in electronic media, losing much of the irony, uncertainty, and ambivalence characteristic of in-person witnessing.