Pearl Harbor on my mind


Today is Pearl Harbor Day.  On this day 64 years ago, the Japanese launched a military attack on the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, sinking virtually the entire U.S. Pacific fleet.  2,390 people lost their lives in the attack, including 1,777 sailors who were aboard the U.S.S. Arizona.  The battleship, submerged in Pearl Harbor, now serves as a graveyard and a memorial dedicated to those who lost their lives.  Most Americans know the story of Pearl Harbor and the day that "will live in infamy," even those of us who were born long after the attack.  Although surpassed in magnitude by the events of 9/11/2001, the attack on Pearl Harbor still stands as one of the greatest tragedies in U.S. history and as the event that triggered U.S. involvement in World War II.  I still remember visiting Pearl Harbor and the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial in 1998.  I was surprised to see so many Japanese tourists visiting the site while I was there.  I believe it’s a testament to how relations have improved between the U.S. and Japan that so many Japanese visit Pearl Harbor on vacation, just as many Americans visit the A-Bomb Dome left standing in remembrance of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945.  Times have changed, thankfully.
 
I pondered the ramifications of Korea’s connection to Pearl Harbor as a former colony of Japan.  Many of the U.S. naval vessels used to liberate Korea from Japan and during the Korean War are or were based at Pearl Harbor Naval Base.  As a Japanese colony, Korea unwillingly supplied materials such as coal and steel to support the wartime Japanese military-industrial complex.  It’s unclear whether any Korean materials made their way into weapons or military vessels and aircraft used to attack Pearl Harbor.  However, a Korean man stationed in Hawai’i at that time could have changed the course of American history.  Haan Kil-soo, an intelligence officer for the Japanese consulate in Honolulu, reportedly warned several U.S. officials of the impending attack on Pearl Harbor shortly before it happened, including Iowa Senator Guy Gillette.  Mr. Haan purportedly mapped out areas of Hawai’i and gave these maps to Japanese officials to help them prepare for the attack.  One can only conjecture as to why Mr. Haan warned U.S. officials of the Japanese’ plans.  Perhaps Korean patriotism played a role, because in 1941 many Koreans living in Hawai’i were hopeful that the Allies would liberate Korea from Japanese rule.  Mr. Haan may have felt likewise.  Perhaps he felt sympathy towards the Americans he knew would be killed in the attack.  Whatever the reason, it seems clear that he did warn U.S. officials of the attack beforehand.  He also went on to live a long life as a Korean American, living in both Korea and in the United States.  One can only conjecture as to why U.S. officials did not heed his warnings.  I will let you, Dear Reader, ponder that.  Suffice it to say, the actions of one Korean man living near Pearl Harbor in 1941 might have dramatically altered U.S. history and perhaps even World War II.
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