Today, we meet the ghost of a Japanese navy. The
University of Houston's College of Engineering
presents this series about the machines that make
our civilization run, and the people whose
ingenuity created them.
On February 17th, 1944,
American carrier-based bombers ambushed a large
Japanese fleet in Truk Lagoon. Truk is a circle of
coral, 40 miles across, with 11 small islands in
it. It's a perfect natural anchorage in the western
Pacific ocean. Our bombs put sixty ships and
thousands of Japanese sailors to rest in a
stunningly beautiful cemetery -- among coral,
plumed hydroids, and white sponges -- with curious
damselfish and squid nosing through the tanks,
skulls, and fine tableware that have found a
strangely natural place in the fantastic landscape
on the shallow ocean floor.
Here sits a three-man tank, stridently green in a
cloak of marine flora. There are the controls for
the stern-gun of the Fujikawa Maru, festooned with
orange sponges and soft corals. Below is a bin of
huge spheres, blanketed in green and orange -- live
mines with small blue fish darting among them.
The Truk site adds practical and moral dilemmas to
the perennial question of historical preservation.
I do not speak metaphorically when I call it a
cemetery. After the war, Japanese divers retrieved
what remains they could find. But so many washed
bones lie just beyond reach.
The government of Truk protects this phantom navy
from looters, but the ghosts also mount their own
guard. In the waning days of the war, the Japanese
ran low on the materials normally used to make
explosives. They resorted to untried chemical
alternatives in their ordnance. Old munitions are
dangerous enough, but many of the bombs and mines
in these hulks are so unstable that they've been
known to go off spontaneously. It isn't just that
they can't be moved -- they can't even be jiggled.
Oceanographer Sylvia Earle swims through this
landscape asking how it should be treated. The
ocean will eventually eat it up; and, she argues,
we should yield to that due process. Oil tanks will
corrode away and spill their limited contents.
Munitions will gradually leak into the surrounding
water. The small creatures of the sea will slowly
weave the devastation of Truk Lagoon into the reefs
But for a while longer, brilliantly colored fish
will continue to steer divers through this remnant
of WW-II. That terrible conflict will show itself
to a few people in terms that no record-book
reveals. History will live, and education will be
completed. The next world war won't be started by
people who still have this kind of intimacy with
the last one.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds