Pacific Postcards

Pearl Harbor: Attack On Hawaiian Sovereignty (Daniel Han)

Section 1: Introduction

On December 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese military performed a surprise attack on the naval base located at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii. Because of the event’s significance in the timeline of World War 2, the Pearl Harbor National Memorial was later built in 1962 and has been a popular destination for militourism in Hawaii. Gonzalez reflects on his experience from his visit in Hawaii as his tour was led by two demilitarization activists that aim to bring about a grander and more inclusive perspective on the island’s lasting history of militarization. From this tour, Gonzalez writes of this false narrative of Pearl Harbor and how the US is seeking to uphold such “Hawaiian” values by utilizing that falsely glorified image of the military as justification for the US militaristic involvement in the island against Hawaiian sovereignty. In this paper, I will be arguing that the US military has continued the militarization of the islands and will continue regardless of whatever image that exists around the area.

Section 2: Understanding Gonzalez

The article begins with setting up the Hawaiian scene in terms of military involvement, explaining that the island of Kaho’olawe “has been used by the United States Navy for live-fire exercises since World War II” (177). This damaging usage of the island by the US military is considered as the motivation for the two tour guides Keko’olani and Kajihiro to begin the “Detour” tour narrative. Gonzalez explains here that the two faced a challenge with gaining traction for their new and unique collaboration due to the narrative Pearl Harbor creates about the area and its impact. Specifically, Gonzales talks about “how powerful the mythology of Pearl Harbor is to the militarization of Hawai’i and its occupation by the United States”, defining the impact of the narrative to the “long history as one of protection and liberation” (178). In order to understand this argument, a brief look into the history of Pearl Harbor is needed. Previous to the attack in 1941, Pearl Harbor functioned as one of the main naval bases at the Pacific frontline, already harvesting significant militaristic attention. The actual attack is often considered by historians as the final blow to convince the US into joining World War II. In the status quo, as provided by Gonzales, “1.8 million tourists who come to Pearl Harbor plan their visit around the immersive and nostalgic experience of World War II history” (179). Clearly, the location has significant name value both in terms of history and militourism, and this, Gonzalez argues, allows for overall acceptance of militarization of the area by the public’s and government’s eyes. This correlation makes logical sense. Especially when “Pearl Harbor’s identity as a place [...] remains firmly tied to an effective narrative arc of innocence, betrayal, sacrifice, and triumph” (179), the militaristic image of the location would feel natural and part of the existing culture. However, this connection is possible when only given the context of this article and no updated evidence.

Section 3: My Argument

My argument against Gonzalez is not to undermine the significance of Pearl Harbor; in fact, I agree with Gonzalez on the supposed false narrative that surrounds the location. The problem with Gonzalez’s argument arises from her correlation between the US military’s constant militarization with live-fire testing on the island and Pearl Harbor. The US military does not care what the narrative is and will continue their misuage of the island lands.

Jon Letman, from Honolulu Civil Beat, writes of an interview he shared with Army public affairs officer Eric Hamilton in regards to the constant military testing of the island of Pohakuloa. Hamilton gives his opinion on the training by claiming practicing for whatever danger that may lie ahead is essential and beneficial in the long term, a conclusion that I have no strong opposition against. However, Letman continues and writes that Hamilton “conceded it’s also at odds with the world view of many in Hawaii” (Letman). This means that the US military is aware of the strong opposition by the people of Hawaii who call for demilitarization and continue their training with live-fires regardless. It is important to note that this conversation revolves around the island of Pohakuloa, not Honolulu where Pearl Harbor is. Even without the military-supportive narrative of Pearl Harbor at Honolulu, the US military maintained and maintains their position on live-fire testing. Of course, there is no way of materializing and quantifying the true motivation for militarizing the area; however, the truth is militarization is happening in both areas regardless of the supposed Pearl Harbor narrative. Thus, the correlation between Gonzalez’s perception of the military and Pearl Harbor could be challenged as no real impact seems to exist.

To add to the ignorant nature of the US military, a look into the DLNR (Department of Land and Natural Resources) court case reveals the lack of care the military seems to have on Hawaiian land despite the people’s requests. As claimed by Gonzalez and Letman, military testing has been occurring in the Hawaiian islands for decades. However, with these testing lands, the military must lease the land from the state for their use; in the case of Pohakuloa, the military had to lease the PTA (Pohakuloa Training Area), an area “as large as the island of Guam” (Letman). Putting aside the correctness of militarizing the islands, the ignorance of the military towards Native Hawaiian values is shown when in April 2018, Judge Gary Chang ruled that the “Defendants (US military) have failed to preserve and protect the Subject Lands as required by their duties as a trustee of the public land trust” (Chang) in the court case, explaining the impact of such violation as having “harmed, impaired, diminished, or otherwise adversely affected Plaintiffs’ cultural interests in the Subject Lands” (Chang). The issue of lacking care for the environment and the Native Hawaiian people’s values is mentioned by Gonzalez as well when she explains her experience at the Hanekehau Learning Farm. She writes about the conversation the tour’s participants share with the farm’s leaders regarding “reclamation and restoration of the land in an area they mark out as ‘heavily impacted by a long history of military misuse, illegal dumping, and pollution’” (183). In a hypothetical world where Gonzalez’s proposed “overdetermined American nationalistic narrative” doesn’t exist around Pearl Harbor, would the US military discountinue their testing efforts and seize to misuse the island lands? The US military has maintained and maintains and will maintain its control of the testing grounds and it is questionable whether this narrative has any impact on the institution’s decisions to stay.

Finally, the US military is seen to be not only ignorant, but also deceptive about their use of the land. Letman’s photograph of the remains of the PTA training range shows a 20mm ammunition shell that is on the ground. This becomes problematic as part of the agreement to use the PTA is to not bomb the land, and a 20mm ammunition is a far larger shell than simple gun bullets, nearing the “bomb” category. Hamilton defends this act very technically, claiming that “what many refer to as ‘bombs’ are, in fact, very targeted precision munitions” (Letman). Granted Hamilton is correct about his claim, this idea that the military still choose to continue their use of such large ammunition despite being aware of its damaging nature to the environment and the people around the area is contrasting to the “long history [...] of protection and liberation” and the “narrative arc of innocence, betrayal, sacrifice ,and triumph” around Pearl Harbor. Gonzalez’s line of reasoning where this glorified image functions as a part of the justification for the militarization of the area is challenged here. The military isn’t justifying their actions for the sake of upholding Pearl Harbor’s history; rather, they are justifying their live-firing exercises in order to maintain control of the island.

Section 4: Conclusion

Pearl Harbor serves as an important place in American history. It is a place where the US military was able to shine despite the attack. Therefore, the existence of the glorified narrative makes sense. However, at a point in time where the power of the military heavily impacts the national politics and economy, it is hard to say that the single narrative of the USS Arizona is allowing militarization of the land. Perhaps, it is time for Pearl Harbor to take another important place in US history, not just as a place of remembrance, but also as a place of exposure for the general public to become aware of the existence of militarization in the islands.

 Works Cited

Gonzalez, Vernadette Vicuña. “Wars of Memory at Pu‘Uloa / Pearl Harbor.” Radical History Review, vol. 2017, no. 129, 2017, pp. 177–185., doi:10.1215/01636545-3920751.

Hofschneider, Anita. “Judge: Hawaii Failed To Ensure Cleanup On Military Training Range.” Honolulu Civil Beat, 4 Apr. 2018,

Letman, Jon. “Military's Live-Fire Training Ignites Resistance From Some Big Island Neighbors.” Honolulu Civil Beat, 5 June 2018,

Letman, Jon. Military’s Live-Fire Training Ignites Resistance From Some Big Island Neighbors, Honolulu Civil Beat, 5 June 2018,

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