Yesterday we went to Pearl Harbor. Since I was there last, it has undergone a substantial seven million dollar remodel adding two buildings with exhibits, a gated entry-way, and a place to check your bags.
The first time I went to Pearl Harbor, we were traveling with our two older boys, who were still in elementary school. After an informational film, visitors to the USS Arizona Memorial are shepherded onto a boat for the ride out into the middle of the harbor. To younger children, the serious tone of the movie helps to try to set the tone that this is a solemn place, but the boat ride and the lining up and moving along feels more like Disneyland than anything else.
On our first visit, there really was something creepy and solemn about the place, and my kids were quiet and thoughtful the whole day. Our big take-away then was that it was spooky and intense. I felt like my kids and I had a better idea of how the attack on Pearl Harbor finally pushed the United States into the Second World War, ending any desire there may have been to stay out of the conflict. December 7, 1941 felt like the day the United States had to grow up.
Since the remodel, the entire site is much more like a theme park than before, and the mood of the many Australian families with us was not disrespectful, but it was not altogether serious. Headsets are sold in several locations, and many visitors walk around like zombies, all in a cluster, all lingering in the same spots to listen to the same descriptions that take the same amount of time. There are now two snack bars, and one serves hotdogs. There are two gift shops, as well.
It was much less crowded for us this time, I think because of the addition of two more rooms of exhibits. There is a lot more to look at, and somehow, less to think about.
Long lists of names of the American dead appear on plaques overlooking the harbor. Each name represents a life ended by war, a family that suffered a real personal tragedy. My older son pointed out that if the names of the Japanese who died there were displayed, it was not in a spot easily found by a visitor. My younger son thought it was boring.