Pearl Harbor Museum: Analyzing Both Sides of History

Japan in the 1930s, what was it like? Babe Ruth toured the country, the nation struggled for natural resources, political uproars disrupted the capitol city, and modern culture blended with Japanese tradition. But why should visitors to the Pearl Harbor Museum in Hawaii care to know?

Both Sides of the Story

When the National Park Service (NPS) started planning the $56 million renovation of the Pearl Harbor memorial site on Oahu, the organization gathered the top historians in the nation to plan new Pearl Harbor exhibits. Telling Japan’s story was important, they agreed, but it wasn’t going to be easy.

Bitter Feelings

The first Pearl Harbor exhibit, built in 1980, featured American relics of the war, that’s about all. The museum planners didn’t give room for a Japanese perspective. “It was just too recent and the wounds were still open,” Daniel Martinez told USA Today in 2011. Martinez is the chief Pearl Harbor historian for the NPS. “[In the 1980s] the idea of exploration of history would have been found unsavory by some of the Pearl Harbor survivors who were still dealing with the wounds of that war,” Martinez said.

Closing Open Wounds

In 2006, the team of historians consulted with both American and Japanese survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack to create objective recollections for the new museum. It’s important for people to learn the complete story—a complex history of events in Japan and America predating December 7, 1941. Survivors of Pearl Harbor began to reconcile bitter feelings toward their past enemies. With the museum’s opening set for December 7, 2010 (the 69th anniversary of the attacks), the park service consulted with survivors to ensure the history of Pearl Harbor would be told fairly.

Visitors Share Their Thoughts

A broad perspective of history helps future generations avoid past mistakes. USA TODAY interviewed Pearl Harbor visitors in 2011, asking people what they thought about the new Pearl Harbor museum.

“You can only get a complete picture if you look at all sides. There had to be reasons why things were done, just like there are reasons why things are done today.” — Bill O’Rourke, 69, from Wycoff, New Jersey

“You always want to hear not just one side of the story but the other. If we went to Hiroshima, how would we feel, at their memorial? It’s kind of a give and take thing. Yes, it happened and you have to acknowledge it. It was a mistake, and you know, we move on.” Dharmik Desai, 27, from Marlborough, Massachusetts

Visitors appreciate the objective approach to retelling Pearl Harbor’s history. Learning both sides of the story empowers us to do what is right.

Visit the Pearl Harbor Museum

Any trip to Hawaii should include a visit to Pearl Harbor. Have you visited the new museum yet? What do you think about the new exhibits?

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