We know the facts about Pearl Harbor. We learn them in school and memorize them for tests …
- The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, was a catalyst propelling America into World War II.
- December 8th, 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war with Japan.
- December 11, 1941, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States.
- More than 2,500 people died in this attack that lasted less than two hours.
- On the USS Arizona alone 1,177 crew members perished, making it the greatest loss of life on any U.S. warship in American history.
Sometimes getting beyond the facts is harder than we might think because what we are taught can at times limit our understanding of the whole story. Countless times on this journey we have entered into major landmarks in World History and have been humbled by how little we knew of the personal stories behind each event.
From the beaches of Normandy to the Berlin Wall, to the Freedom Trail in Boston and beyond, what we will forever remember are the voices. Sometimes it was a recorded story or a journal entry we would stop to listen to or read. Sometimes it was a first-hand account of someone we met that experienced the event. At Pearl Harbor, it was all of these things and more.
The kids listened to recorded stories of the Japanese American citizens taken away from their homes and businesses and sent to Honouliuli internment camp. They made connections to our home town of Bainbridge Island, Washington where many Japanese Americans were forcibly removed after the attack on Pearl Harbor. In February of this year, President Obama named Honouliuli a national monument.
Our 12-year-old questioned the National Park Ranger about the sheets of oil surrounding the USS Arizona. He learned that there were 1.4 million gallons of fuel onboard the Pennsylvania-class battleship when she sank. More than 60 years later, approximately nine quarts surfaces from the ship each day.
Our 10-year-old was talking to a civilian who witnessed the attack. He now volunteers to “talk story.” He saw our boys together and shared that in the USS Arizona there were 37 sets of brothers that died.
The Hawaiians have a word for talk story, it is mo’olelo. The basic belief is that anyone who has a story to tell has the potential to teach. If we, as students can quiet what we know long enough, we may be able to open ourselves up to new chapters. It does not mean we are subjects of a lecture and we don’t converse. In Hawaiian tradition, talking story is about sharing, questioning, and building understanding from the inside out. It is a powerful learning tool, and it transcends curricula as it builds community by connecting the past and present for the future generation.
As the stories unfold for us on this journey, from differing vantage points and perspectives around the globe, one thing is clear. Where the facts may mark a winner and loser, or a beginning, middle, and end on a timeline, there really is no such thing. One story can change our entire understanding of the world past and present. One person can make a difference, which we have all heard, but some days may not remember. It is a continuous unfolding and it is never too late to “talk story.”