The Weight of History

Last month, I went on a great vacation to Hawaii with my parents and sister. As you might expect, I spent quite a bit of time relaxing the beach while reading and basking in the sun. However, while we spent most of the trip lazing around, we also went on an excursion to Pearl Harbor. Along with a handful of other places I’ve visited, such as Dachau, the World Trade Center Memorial, and a slave fort in Africa, Pearl Harbor is a place where I felt the weight of history.

The first part of excursion involved seeing the Arizona Memorial. The USS Arizona was one of the battleships docked in Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, when Japanese forces attacked. When a bomb struck the forward magazine of the ship, causing them to detonate in a catastrophic explosion. Over 1,100 crew members perished on the Arizona alone, many of them still entombed in the sunken vessel. It’s difficult to put into words the emotions one feels watching drops of oil, called “black tears,” float up from the remains of the ship. The weight of reflecting on those who perished and the events that followed sat heavy in my gut.

After visiting the Arizona Memorial, we ventured to the USS Missouri, docked not far away. Walking around the deck of the Missouri is a drastically different experience from visiting the Arizona. The USS Missouri is the ship where the Articles of Surrender were signed in Tokyo Bay, bringing an end to World War II. Instead of a tragic beginning of years of violence and destruction, it represents the end of the worst war in human history. Being able to read the original Articles of Surrender on the spot on the deck where they were signed was a pretty amazing experience.

Visiting both of these ships in the same day, especially in the order that we did, enhanced the experience. It was a bookend tour since we saw both where the war for the United States began and where it ended. Together, they signify one of the most extraordinary periods in history. They also serve as a reminder to avoid such violence in the future. Overall, this experience will stay with me for quite some time as I reflect on the history of those two vessels.