"A day that will live in infamy," is the oft-quoted FDR pronouncement after he denounced the Japanese imperial forces’ bombing of Pearl Harbor in a joint session of Congress. I am a resident of Hawaii, so those words and the pictures that often go with it are deeply embedded in my mental coconut!
Educational theory favors the proposition that the human mind holds images. Those images are a product of experience, emotion, cognition, and action. They gel through time and transmitted through culture. Images then turn as trigger mechanism on behavior. Education’s task clarifies the operating images that determine behavior.
Images can change. When images change, behavior changes. Social activism is often about change of images. Entrenched status quo finds alternative images threatening. Those outside established parameters often find alternative images refreshing, making the promotion of them revolutionary.
We found in our youth JFK’s daring images on the exploration of outer space very alluring, and we tolerated the young President’s bellicose pronouncements against Cold War opponents. The U.S. at the time saw itself as shamed by the Sputnik program. Its finger was also caught in the cookie jar when one of our U2 secret spycraft was downed. The idealistic President exhibited all the imperial braggadocio of the Boston Brahmin sense of superiority but after Dallas ’63, JFK was enshrined into the pantheon of our national heroes. The image prevailed over facts.
FDR shares the same fate in a sector of the American electorate. His New Deal program saved the American economy from the ignominy of the market crash of ’29 by stimulating the economy with public works’ jobs. We now know that FDR’s administration did not have clean hands in egging Japan into war when it cut off Japan’s oil supply, making imperial Japan, already ravaging the resources of Manchuria, drool for the southern resources of minerals and oil in Indochina and Southeast Asia. Treachery was not a one-way street.
World War II was good for the American economy, emerging as a superpower after the Axis and the Allies exhausted their resources in annihilating each other. The U.S. was the manufacturing base for war materiel, made possible by accessible and inexpensive fossil fuel for energy. That is, until OPEC decided to flex its muscles. Accommodations were made where we Americans handled the finances. If we did not control the spigots on crude, we could at least dominate its distribution, manage its refinement, and fix the price on the global market.
We did that until the Congo and Nigeria, Venezuela, Iraq, and Iran, then Libya, Egypt, and Syria, started dancing to a different beat. We only have to point to any military conflict after WWII to realize that oil is the determining factor in bringing combatants into the conflict. The conflict over the Diaoyu islands is not a quarrel on sovereignty, in the first instance. It is the promise of oil that has the U.S. Marines’ M-16s cocked on the ready to protect Nippon’s and our corporate interest.
In Shenyang, the image of Sept. 18, 1931 (China’s declared national day of humiliation when the Japanese occupied Manchuria, its 9/11) is enshrined in an annual day of remembrance. Not surprisingly, though ironically, Pearl Harbor receded in American memory as U.S. military policy now backs Japan’s continuing administration of the Diaoyu islands without actually acknowledging sovereign ownership.
We talk about China in our Oral English class. We include the United States in our discourses, particularly the recently held U.S. presidential election and CPC’s National Congress. One of the frequently asked questions is the role of race in the U.S.
I borrow John Lennon’s Imagine (his song is in our class songbook) and ask the class to imagine the new CPC General Secretary and soon to be President Xi Jinping’s lineage. If his mother was Han and father was from Dong Bei (Manchuria) whose ancestors were from Japan (this is when I duck just in case a projectile comes slashing through the air), the reflexive response of unbelieving, "Oh, no," or the defensive, "No way," saves us from connecting the dots.
Nor will I need to explain MLK’s I Have a Dream speech (also in class handout) a century after Lincoln’s Emancipation Declaration. Hollywood came up with an imaginal assist in the newly released Lincoln movie. With superb Oscar-quality performances by Daniel Day Lewis and cast, it portrays the hoops Honest Abe had to go through to get the legislation passed. We can use more image-rectifying examples like this.
Dutiful heirs to Class-A war criminals in Japan (by Western classification) faithfully visit their tombs. And why should they not? We never condemn visits to graves in Britain and France, Portugal and Spain, Germany and the Netherlands, for all their atrocities against their colonial peons! It took Vietnam to show that our military behavior, including our continuing presence in the Philippines, differs not in kind or degree, but on operating image.
We’ve manipulated images long enough. Infamy is in the eye of the beholder. Let Pearl Harbor, and other "infamy" designated places, alone. May they rest in peace.