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TV re-examines Pearl Harbor attack in compelling new documentaries


    The battleship USS Arizona belches smoke as it topples over into the sea during a Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in a Dec. 7, 1941 photo.

“December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy …”

Thus began one of the most memorable speeches in presidential history.

But imagine if Franklin Delano Roosevelt hadn’t made one savvy editing change before delivering his post-Pearl Harbor address to a joint session of Congress.

In the debut episode of Smithsonian Channel’s “The Lost Tapes,” which opens with a timely episode as we approach the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, viewers get a glimpse of Roosevelt’s typewritten first draft, with two words of the first sentence scratched out and another penciled in.

The phrase originally was to be “a date which will live in world history.”

Not the same, is it? The original wording doesn’t quite capture the shock, anger and outrage this nation felt after Imperial Japan launched a Sunday surprise air strike against the U.S. Naval Base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, killing more than 2,400 Americans and severely damaging the U.S. fleet.

Infamy. Yes, that was precisely the right word to describe the event that brought America into World War II.

“The Lost Tapes” — which premieres at 8 p.m. Sunday, one of several new Pearl Harbor-themed documentaries airing this weekend — tells the story of that dark day entirely through the use of rare combat photos, film footage and audio (which includes the only as-it-was-happening radio dispatch).

The approach allows viewers to experience what the battle looked and sounded like to those who were there.

Some of the primary media sources used in the Pearl Harbor episode of “The Lost Tapes” have not been seen or heard in more than 70 years.

Future episodes of “The Lost Tapes” in 2017 will chronicle the Los Angeles riots of 1992, the Son of Sam serial killings of 1977 and the kidnapping of Patty Hearst by the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974.

“This is TV at its most raw, its most visceral,” David Royle, executive vice president of programming and production at the Smithsonian Channel, says of the series. “It’s a unique approach. It plunges us into the midst of events and lets us witness the drama unfolding as if we were there at that time.”

It’s a remarkable hour of television.

Here are some other notable Pearl Harbor specials premiering this weekend.

—“Pearl Harbor: The Truth”

9 p.m. Sunday, History

This one-hour special tells how military and intelligence blunders allowed the early-warning signs of the Japanese attack to be missed.

Based on the book “A Matter of Honor: Pearl Harbor: Betrayal, Blame, and a Family’s Quest for Justice” by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan, the documentary looks at what some consider to be a scandalous cover-up concealing these errors, which made a scapegoat of Admiral H.E. Kimmel.

The documentary also addresses the conspiracy theory that President Roosevelt knew the attack was coming.

—“Ghosts of Pearl Harbor”

89 p.m. Sunday, National Geographic Channel

This incredible one-hour documentary focuses on the relentless efforts of family members to identify the remains of fallen Pearl Harbor sailors decades after their deaths.

Many of casualties, including Ensign John Charles England, who died aboard the USS Oklahoma when the battleship capsized, were buried in graves marked “Unknown.” But their remains have recently been identified, disinterred and reburied with their families at sites throughout the country.

—“Pearl Harbor: 75 Years Later”

8 p.m. Saturday, History

This two-hour documentary explores the biggest stories and lesser-known details that still surprise us three-quarters of a century later.

Accounts from experts, military minds and even those who lived through the attack will show how the tragedy continues to shape our country.

—History also will air short-form pieces in primetime this weekend called “Pearl Harbor: The Last Word.” These vignettes feature interviews with some of the last living Pearl Harbor survivors. Twenty-five veterans, ranging in age from 92 to 104, discuss a variety of topics, including the horrors they witnessed the day of the attack, their thoughts about the atomic bomb and PTSD.

—Repeat Pearl Harbor specials include “Tora, Tora, Tora: The Real Story of Pearl Harbor” (noon Saturday, History), “Deep Sea Detectives: Japanese Sub at Pearl Harbor” (6 a.m. Wednesday, History), “Codes and Conspiracies: Pearl Harbor” (7 p.m. Wednesday, American Heroes Channel) and “Pacific Secrets: Pearl Harbor” (8 p.m. Wednesday, AHC).

—A couple of action-packed feature films also recount the story of the infamous battle: the 2001 movie “Pearl Harbor” (7 p.m. Wednesday, AMC) and the 1970 movie “Tora! Tora! Tora!” (7 p.m. Wednesday, Turner Classic Movies).

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    • How about names, dates, times, location for your accusations? Also if your accusations are accurate, why did AJA’s like Medal of Honor awardee Inouye and his generation fought so bravely and valiantly for the US against not only against the Germans in Europe but ALSO against Imperial Japan with groups like Merrill’s Mauraders in the Asia/ South Pacific where AJA’s directly fought, killed, interogated, etc imperial Japanese soldiers to help defeat Imperial Japan in the South Pacific. Actually those are rhetorical questions there is no evidence whatsoever. We all know Trump won, but even Trump at least publicly denounced the KKK and publicly says he does not tolerate racist behavior.

      I did read about the Japanese spy who was in Hawaii before the attack and what he did was take a taxi to some Tea House (house of prostitution?) at the top of Waimano Home Road that overlooked Pearl Harbor. This Imperial Japanese national spy was so careful, when he was spying he took NO notes or pictures and in his apartment there was absolutely no evidence he was a Japanese national spy. The taxi driver who I think was an AJA, and drove the spy to the teahouse or a regular basis had absolutely NO idea he was spying for Japan by observing the US military ships going in an out and berthing at Pearl Harbor. The taxi driver only thought they guy wanted to get some at the tea house. US military intelligence probably had a lot more clues about the impending Imperial Japanese attack than local AJA’s. Like 9/11 there was too much complacency and lack of communication between government organizations such as NSA, FBI , etc. With 9/11 Bush2 had high level briefings warning top US officials to not take commercial flights even though the did not have specific information.

      • It may surprise you to know that there were families who had prior knowledge of the pending attack. The patriarch of one of those families saved my mothers’ dearest friend, and her entire family. As far as Dan Inouye; it is unfortunate that his brave and valiant behavior in battle didn’t follow him through his political career. He spent half a century dipping his beak, clutching his power and position until he died at his desk. One I might add he gained with the entrée’ of his military record. John McCain is yet another example. Tragic, in more than one sense. You seem obsessed with racism. This has nothing to do with racism, and everything to do with reality. If one can’t discuss reality without myopically focusing through the prism of racism, you shroud yourself in ignorance.

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