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Sara Whitman Headshot

Oil Tears

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Boat, the woman said to her small toddler she was holding. See that? It's a boat...

I've been to many war memorials, having grown up with two great aunts who were members of the Daughters of the Confederacy and lived in Lynchburg, Virginia. But I have never heard something that made me as profoundly sad as a young mother pointing to the wreckage of the Arizona battleship in Pearl Harbor.

Boat? Not really anymore. Try graveyard. Try 1,177 dead men lying just below our feet.

I leaned over the railing and watched the small bubbles of oil come to the surface. Two quarts a day, they say, still rise from the ship. The sailors who survived say it's the tears of their fallen shipmates. That when the last survivor dies, oil will stop leaking. No attempt to clean it up will happen as it would disturb what is clearly a tomb.


I was stunned by the indifference, the laughter and the chatting at the memorial. Maybe I was raised differently, maybe all those battlegrounds I visited as a small child, mostly just fields, described in hushed voices made me more sensitive to the countless lives lost.

We were the greatest nation in the greatest war, most say of WWII. The truth is, we avoided entering the conflict as long as possible. The truth is, we fought Japan over natural resources- and they attacked us because we cut off their oil supply. Even as they slaughtered people in China, we sent them oil. It wasn't until the Pacific islands came into question- rich with resources- did we get nervous.

There are some who say we knew about the concentration camps and turned a blind eye, not willing to enter the fight.

We are still at war over oil. Watching the small bubbles expand into a hue of bright colors on the water, I wondered what we have learned. Nine years into a war, what have we learned? We can say we care about Afghan's women and girls, Iraq's democracy but it's all bullshit.

We care about the oil.

On the back of each ticket for the Arizona memorial, there is a serviceman, his picture and his story on the day of the attack. How will we remember the men and women who have lost their lives in this war? Where will their stories be told?

Or have we gone so numb we point to a grave and say, "Boat" to our children?

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