Today marks the 73rd commemoration of the ‘Day of Infamy,’ the Japanese bombing of the US Naval Base at Peal Harbor.
In a ceremony this morning, more than 50 WWII veterans remembered Dec. 7, 1941, also a Sunday, and the 2,403 Americans killed in the surprise attack, which in less than two hours changed the course of history. And provoked more than a bit of anger — survivor John Mathrusse, 91: ‘“I had a rifle, which I used,” he said, describing how he fired away at the planes. “It didn’t do any good but it sure made me feel better.”‘
An event of historical-milestone significance, and twisted history in a violent snap, sucking America into a conflict already running amuck in Europe. Sixty million people died due to WWII, most-likely a major chunk after December 1941 — and this day’s horror ended four petrifying years later with an even worse gesture, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
(Illustration: ‘Hiroshima,’ by Maxime Taccardi, found here).
In tune, too, and a sort of bookend to ‘Pearl Harbor Day‘ — recent release of restored introspective, dream-like, “Hiroshima Mon Amour” (1959), an existentialist-surrealistic and guilt-ridden view of the bombing. French ‘New Wave‘ film director Alain Resnais took a way-negative view of the tragedy.
Entangled, unmoving limbs covered in ash, the bodies of two lovers: French actress Emmanuelle Riva (2012 Oscar nominee for Amour), in Japan to make a “peace” film about Hiroshima, finds in the course of her brief affair with Japanese architect Eiji Okada (Woman in the Dunes, The Ugly American) compulsively returning to her traumatic post-war experiences, her love for a German soldier and her own shaming.
Asked to do an anti-nuclear documentary in the wake of his powerful Holocaust doc Night and Fog, Resnais opted instead for a feature exploring mutual guilts and the power of memory via multitudes of sometimes tiny timeshifts intercut with the present day lovers’ marathon conversation — all by first-time scripter but already-distinguished novelist Marguerite Duras, whose screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award.
This year marks Duras’ centennial.
A pillar of the French New Wave, Hiroshima was awarded the International Critics’ prize at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival.
Due to its harrowing anti-nuclear stance, it was kept out of the main competition to avoid offending the U.S.
Read a nutshell review of the restored version at HuffPost.
I took a film class at the University of Florida in the early 1970s, and one of the movies focused upon was Resnais’ “Last Year at Marienbad” (1961), and became hooked on the wonderment of surrealism as story device to propel the narrative. My first intro into film as poetry started with Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Blow Up” (1966), and then most of Antonioni’s work.
And the imagination of poetry in surrealist dreams, as Resnais says (via Wikipedia): ‘“I hope that I always remain faithful to André Breton who refused to suppose that imaginary life was not a part of real life.”‘
Breton was a French writer and poet, considered founder of Surrealism. He died in 1966.
My Resnais favorite, “Providence,” (1977), a beautifully-cast poetry-on-film — though, at the time, not appreciated at all by Vincent Canby of the New York Times.
Pearl Harbor ended at Hiroshima. One war horror vindicated in a racist, unnatural way to finish the deal, and make America big boy on the planet — for a time. Bombing of the naval base, complicated, and surreal.
From HistoryNet (h/t The Big Picture):
Even after 10 months of arduous planning, rehearsal, and intelligence gathering, the attack was plagued by inflexibility, a lack of coordination, and misallocated resources.
A plan for a likely contingency was cobbled together by three midgrade officers while en route to Hawaii.
The attack itself suffered significant command blunders.
Though armed with enough firepower to destroy up to 14 battleships and aircraft carriers, the Japanese landed killing hits on only three battleships; luck, combined with American damage control mistakes, added two more battleships to their tally.
Not only was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor far from brilliant, it also narrowly avoided disaster.
But examining the attack’s planning and execution blunders offers a key perspective on the Pacific War.
Defeat forces change; victory entrenches the current system, with all its faults.
By celebrating its success at Pearl Harbor, Japan sheltered myriad problems.
Victory obscured poor planning, to be seen again at Midway; poor staff procedures were evident later at Guadalcanal.
Poor target selection, attack tactics, and accuracy appeared again in the carrier battles; poor aerial command and control manifested throughout the war.
Victory perpetuated a samurai approach to aerial combat that led to horrendous losses.
Most significantly, Pearl Harbor cemented the Japanese belief that they could achieve stunning victory against all odds—that with sufficient will and the favor of the gods they could achieve the impossible.
This sustained Japan when defeat was inevitable; it prolonged the war; it nurtured the Bushido warrior spirit—and its dark side, the kamikaze.
Paradoxically, the Japanese victory at Pearl Harbor firmly entrenched the seeds of the destruction of their navy, and near destruction of their nation.
A good read on the Japanese viewpoint, too, is John Toland’s “The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936–1945” (1970), which also won the 1971 Pulitzer Prize. The section on the attack is detailed, and way-readable.
Seemingly, though, the nowadays every day feels some kind of ‘day of infamy‘ — surrealistic sunsets abound.