Articles: Pearl Harbor: Memorial or Tourist Trap?




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Laurence Washington

   Pearl Harbor, the block-buster movie event of the summer, starring heart-throb Ben Affleck, Dan Aykroyd, Alec Baldwin, and Cuba Gooding Jr., opens nationally May 25.
   Produced by high-octane summer blockbuster guru Jerry Bruckheimer, this all-star A-list popcorn muncher should draw huge box office receipts during the Memorial Day weekend.
   The only problem for the film are those moviegoers who lived through that period of time.
   To put a finer point on it; this Pearl Harbor rendition has Bruckheimer (The Rock/Con Air) doing the retelling, and in Hollywood vs. history, Bruckheimer films have often delivered too much of a good thing.
   The question is can Bruckheimer handle the human drama of that sleepy December morning which jolted America from peaceful isolationism to war without going over the emotional and violent special effects top.
   As a baby boomer, I’m too young to remember the actual Pearl Harbor event. I did, however, attend Hickam Air Force Base Elementary School, which is only a few hundred yards from Pearl Harbor’s shoreline. I remember that I was on the school playground overlooking the Harbor on Nov. 22, 1963, when I heard that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated – the second event besides Dec. 7, 1941 during which every American seems to recall where they were.
   I was too young to fully understand the impact of either event, but several months earlier, I had visited the Arizona Memorial with my father, Master Sargent Robert M. Washington, who showed me the bullet holes along the walls of PACAF Headquarters at Hickam, which were made by Japanese Zeros during the attack. It was a somber learning event in my life.
   Last March I returned to Hickam Elementary School for it’s 50th anniversary and saw Pearl Harbor behind the school. I felt compelled to visit the Arizona Memorial the next day.
  Looking into the weathered faces of surviving veterans visiting the Memorial that day, I finally began to appreciate the full report of what the attack meant to Americans, and the gallent men who served and died in World War II, and I wonder and worry if Bruckheimer looked into those same faces before he made his film?
At the Memorial, I was disheartened by the actions of my fellow visitors. The Veterans and Military personal removed their hats while aboard and spoke in quiet reverence, as did I. Unfortunately, few other visitors seemed to realize or even care that they were aboard a floating memorial, a military cemetery - not at tourist attraction.
   Most visitors were too busy taking pictures, shouting greetings or calling out to children to remove their hats or even realize where they really were.
   I worry if Bruckheimer was too busy telling a special effects laden story to remove his producer's hat and let us see the humanity of Pearl Harbor as it really happened? Will he show the reality of the horror? The gut wrenching fear behind the heroism of those who lived through it? Will we see the humanity? Or will this be a box-office driven, hero-take-all special-effects bonanza? A film with a special guest star single-handedly defeating the Japanese Imperial Air Force?
   I can only hope that before making this film, Bruckheimer paused for just a brief moment and looked into the faces of the veterans – the real heroes of Pearl Harbor.

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