Sunday, December 07, 2008

The day that lived in infamy.

And still does, in some circles.

Today is the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, which led directly to the US entering World War Two, and to Hawaii becoming a state. (In Hawaii, the second fact is sometimes considered more significant. For the indigenous Hawaiians, I think statehood was more traumatic.)

I spent my ten years living in Hawaii within sight of the Arizona Memorial; the first place I could see it from my back yard (and in fact a house up the road - up the hill - had been used by the Japanese during WW2 to spy on ship movement in the harbor), the last two places, we couldn't see it due to buildings in the way but were close enough to hear the base play Taps at night if it was quiet.

I regularly met people who had lived through the attack, the subsequent martial law that was declared (Hawaii was not a state yet) and the eventual forced statehood that grew out of the military protectorate issue. A friend of mine worked in a building that had been used as a hospital after the attack; he, a confirmed agnostic and non-believer, insisted the building was haunted. The husbeast worked in an area where there was a warehouse that had bullet holes still in it. Everyone who boated in Pearl Harbor, recreationally or for business, gave Ford Island (where Battleship Row was) a wide berth, due to chunks of wreckage still in the water. And as you can see, on a clear day, from up hill, you can still see the Arizona sitting on the bottom of the harbor, holding the remains of the 1,177 sailors that went down with her.

The morning of December 7, in Hawaii, always started with a flyover from the US Air Force, of a group of fighters doing the Missing Man formation. They did it at 7:48 in the morning, when the attack originally started, and it was always a shock, even if you remembered what day it was. You'd be drinking tea and having a piece of toast, or studying for a math exam, or any of a million other normal things, and those planes would go over and the sound would give you a jerk. Then you'd realize on the original December 7, the sound was accompanied by shooting. A lot of shooting. During the attack, civilian targets were also attacked, and portions of Honolulu were shot up. There aren't reliable figures for civilian casualties, but everyone agrees they did exist.

Then there's the funny bit. Because it's Hawaii, and that's just the way the clash of cultures always shakes out.

Before the attack, Hawaii was a protectorate of the US, not a state. So legally, things were kinda iffy. In particular, the prostitutes of Honolulu got treated badly, and the chief of police in Honolulu made a mint, charging them a fortune to stay in business and avoid police harassment. The women were allowed to go to one beach on the far side of the island, and forbidden from nearly all public areas.

When the Pearl Harbor attack hit, two things happened; prostitutes from the red-light district near the base took injured sailors into their own beds to nurse them. And law enforcement for the entire island fell to an enlisted guy over on that Navy base, the Master at Arms.

Well. The MA saw the prostitutes as nice girls - they helped out, didn't they? - and vital to morale. So he struck down all the laws discriminating against the prostitutes, gave them equal rights to everyone else on the island, and fixed the price for, ah, 'visits' at three dollars an hour. (At one point, the madames asked if they could raise the price to five dollars, just because they were sick of handling so many single dollar-bills. He said no.) The prostitutes' response to this was, of course, to take good care of all the military guys going through Pearl Harbor for the next five years of the war, and everyone was happy.

Except for the chief of police. He'd lost a huge source of income when he lost the right to shake down the prostitutes, and now they were making more money than ever, and it made him mad. There were various false arrests and other harassment, and it eventually led to all the prostitutes GOING ON STRIKE and PICKETING THE POLICE DEPARTMENT. (Is it any wonder I love this place?)

After a few days of that, the military stepped in AGAIN, on the side of the prostitutes, told the chief of police to get stuffed, and all was, once again, well.

At least until Hawaii became a state and prostitution became illegal.

If anyone looks for this information, they aren't likely to find it. I've searched for it myself for years, because SOMEONE needs to write a book about it. To my knowledge, there's one documentary about it that's shown at three AM on local-access Hawaiian TV about once a year. And there's a single book, in the University of Hawaii archives, a self-published memoir from the leading madame of the island during the time in question (and one of the women who got thrown in jail unjustly, which led to other women going on strike). Rumor has it the local paper, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, has photos of the women picketing the police station, but they looked totally blank when I asked about it. Too bad. It's a good story.

It's interesting, how living in a place makes the history of it yours, even after you move away and think you've forgotten about it. But Badass of the Week did an article on a guy who died during the Pearl Harbor attack, and immediately brought back memories of those early-morning flyovers, and me sloshing tea out of my cup and thinking "Imagine if there was shooting, too." And now I'm going to push 'Publish' at just about the proper time for the flyover.


amy said...

Thanks for this post. My husband had a business conference in Hawaii five years ago. He doesn't usually do touristy things during conferences--he's too busy--but he made sure he visited the Arizona Memorial, and I'm more jealous about that than the fact he was in Hawaii. His pictures gave me goosebumps, just as yours does. Thanks for making sure the rest of us remembered today.

ellen in indy said...

thanks, julie --

my bro and sil now live in hawaii. i'm going to e-mail bro your text. he'll be amused by the hooker part -- sil, not so much.

i just retired semi-voluntarily, and hope to be able to afford a visit to them after my dd graduates and gets her nursing license and moves herself and her dd outta my house so i can move . . .

anyway, visiting the memorial is among the musts for me when i finally get to hawaii. i'm 64, and an uncle on my dad's side was stationed at pearl for awhile (not at the time of the attack). he was a fire-control officer in ww2.

as for those who don't like your reviews, tough! nobody said they had to read them, let alone like them.

i'm a longtime intermittent knitter, but hadn't tackled anything complicated before joining a couple of groups filled with better knitters who've saved me from disasters. reading your reviews is like hanging out with them -- snarky, honest critiques of designs with limited usefulness (at best), along with praise for good designs, wide size ranges and yummy yarns.

oh -- and pet sekhmet for me. her evil boy-twin in indy lately has taken to warming his furry bod on the mac mini. it's hilarious to see a 10- or 12-pound cat trying to sit on something not much bigger than a cd case, and even funnier to see him lying half on, half off it. i avoid letting him make it overheat by sleeping the computer shortly after he gets cozy or shooing him away if i really need to keep typing.

Alwen said...

But now we are living in the days of internet-searchable books. Gad, I love the internet!

Our Mothers' War, by Emily Yellin
"women of Hotel Street", p. 313

Radical History Review, p. 65

The First Strange Place, by Beth L. Bailey & David Farber, p. 108

Anyway. Before I got sucked into the joy of spontaneous research, I was going to say that one of my great-uncles was there. My dad was born the day before, which meant I always got the date right on history tests.

Nancy said...

Thank you. And as I posted today, May all our veterans and active duty soldiers be safe today as they are defending our freedom.

Amy Lane said...

Thank you--that was wonderful. I'll make sure to forward this to my social science teacher friends--that story will live on!

Sarah said...

Thank you.

I was in Hawaii on my honeymoon and made sure to visit the Arizona memorial.

One thing I was struck by was how most of the history related to the military personnel stationed there. It's fascinating to get a glimpse into the lives of the civilians who were also deeply affected by WWII.

Anonymous said...

My husband finally lost his battle with cancer about 2 a.m. 12-7 appropriate, cuz I sure feel as if I've been severely bombed... and I'm a native Arizonan. So was Walt. DeborahinAZ

Roxie said...

I'm vacationing on Big Island. There was no fuss in the tiny town where we're staying, but the news was full of the commemorations, and of course every veteran's hospital and home honored the day.