Daniel O’Dowd is a M.A. student at the University of South Florida, concentrating on European History in the Early Modern Period.
COVID-19 and Pearl Harbor
Much of the talk about the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States has centered around comparisons to earlier national crises and the relative efficiency of the government and public response. Some of the most common non-disease comparisons have been to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the surprise attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy on Pearl Harbor in 1941. As the sites of these attacks have their own related museums and memorials, public memorialization of those events has been impacted by the current pandemic. While the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor is a National Park Service administered site, the USS Missouri Memorial, the USS Bowfin Memorial and Museum, and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum are all non-profits without direct government funding. All of these sites have been closed since March 17th, following guidance from the CDC. I wanted to take a look at how these sites were handling the pandemic and resulting closures, and to see if any of the parallels in public response to crises were being recognized by the museums themselves.
The Pearl Harbor National Memorial has been posting updates on Twitter, along with images from the memorial exhibits, referring to this as a #VirtualVisit. While there are some short videos about the exhibits available on the official website, these predate the current situation. The @PearlHarborNPS account did promote a Zoom educational talk on April 8th featuring an eyewitness to the attack, which shows there is some effort being made at replacing events which would normally have been done in person. As the memorial is government funded, there are no appeals for extra support from the public.
The Battleship Missouri Memorial is offering free guided virtual tours over Skype, although these tours are not a new COVID related effort and have been done for over a decade. The Memorial does not appear to have made any special appeals for public support at this time. The USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park is still posting updates on Twitter but does not appear to have any new virtual content available. However, the museum was undergoing substantial renovations prior to the pandemic, and while the submarine itself was still open to the public prior to March 17th much of the grounds and the main museum building had been closed and under construction since August 2019. For this reason, the current disruption in attendance and income from the pandemic may be less keenly felt by the institution.
The Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum has added a section to their website, called Pearl Harbor At Home, to provide educational materials for parents at home with children during school closures. In addition to materials that were available before the pandemic, the museum is offering web seminars over Zoom. The museum is also making special appeals for donations, and offering discounted membership, to try to raise funds. Using the iconic image of Rosie the Riveter and the WWII propaganda catchphrase “We Can Do It”, the museum is making appeals to patriotism and national civic identity to help drive support and try to keep spirits up. It is interesting that this is the only one of the four main Pearl Harbor museums and memorials to do this, as I expected to see more attempts to appeal to WW2 patriotic sentiment in relation to the pandemic given how frequently the comparison is being made outside of the museum context, in news media and politics.