Romancing the Republic

Disney and the U.S. Military Whitewash Pearl Harbor and Woo Patriots

"Paradise" to the movie's promoters, Hawai'i is an "occupied colony," according to Trask, as far as the indigenous population is concerned. Strategically located between the mainland and Asia, Hawai'i was annexed by the U.S. in 1898, made a territory in 1900, and declared a state in 1959. With more than 100,000 military personnel and dependents in the area, the federal government owns at least one-sixth of the land. Sovereignty activists have for decades protested the environmental destruction, interference with cultural practices, overpolicing of natives, and housing shortages they argue come with U.S. military domination.

"Hawai'i is a symbol of U.S. imperialism," says Berkeley professor Takaki. Its true history, says Johnson, is as likely to show up in a blockbuster as the struggles between Viequenses or Okinawans and the U.S. military. It's "taboo," he says, "to talk about the place of the military in our society and how it seems to be genuinely out of control."

Illustration by Jeff Crosby

The cotton candy artifice of the "master narrative," has gotten Pearl Harbor universal pans from critics. But Americans are still flocking to see it. As Johnson says, "Don't kid yourself about what an incredible PR apparatus the U.S. military has." Disney's no PR slouch, either. And for both beneficiaries, the ticket to victory lies in the seductive power of the American myth.

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