Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ninety-nine years ago today the U.S.S. California transited the channel entrance to Pearl Harbor and effectively opened the historic port to the world.  The ship that took center stage this morning is not to be confused with the battleship California, or BB-44 which found herself on Battleship Row in 1941.  This California was an armored-cruiser weighing in at about 14,000 tons and laden with 8, 6 and 3 inch guns.  Her entrance into Pearl Harbor was historic because she was the first large warship to enter the harbor following extensive dredging of the channel. 
Sanford Dole
On board the California on December 14, 1911 was the first and last President of the Republic of Hawaii Sanford Dole, and Queen Liliuokalani the last monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii.   Also along for the ride was the son of Sun Yat-Sen, whose father eventually lead the revolution in China which ended two-thousand years of imperial rule.  Sun Yat-Sen would be elected the first President of the Republic of China two weeks later on December 29.
Queen Liliuokalani
All of this resulted in an incredible juxtaposition of history in this famed haven on Oahu’s idyllic South shore.  Hawaii had undergone a great deal of turmoil in the years following Queen Liliuokalani’s ascension in 1891 and her subsequent attempts to restore control of the kingdom to the monarchy.  The Queen was overthrown in 1893 and in 1898 the new Republic of Hawaii was formally annexed as a territory of the United States.
The events that were occurring in the Far East, including the European colonization of coastal enclaves in China and South-East Asia and the genesis of the ascendancy of the Japanese Empire were important drivers that led to the United States growing interest in the Pacific region, and a recognition of the need for military facilities to provide American influence in the area. 
On the decks of the California that afternoon, all of those streams of history came together to open Pearl Harbor to the world.  None would fathom the importance of Hawaii’s place in the events that would soon set the world on fire.
Later in September of 1912 President Taft closed the harbor to all but American military traffic and Pearl Harbor's long legacy as America's central pacific bastion had begun.
USS California in Pearl Harbor.  December 14, 1911