If "The Pacific," the 10-part miniseries that just concluded on HBO, has piqued your interest in the war against Japan, then I'd suggest you make your way to this little town about 90 miles west of Austin. It's home to the National Museum of the Pacific War, which tells the story of Pearl Harbor, Midway, Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima in exquisite and engaging detail. Having been to all the major war museums in Europe and the U.S., I left here thinking this is perhaps the most comprehensive, well-organized and informative military museum I've ever seen.
Images of the Pacific War
When visitors enter the newly remodeled George H.W. Bush Gallery, their tickets are given a 48-hour time stamp. Many will use all 48 hours. The museum is organized into small galleries that proceed chronologically from the opening of Japan and China by the Western powers in the 19th century to the war-crimes trials that followed the Japanese surrender that ended World War II. Each gallery provides an overview of the topicÃ¢â¬âa particular island campaign, U.S. treatment of the Nisei, flying "the Hump" in IndiaÃ¢â¬âand then breaks it down with informative plaques, interactive kiosks and relics that keep visitors engaged without overwhelming them with too much information. I particularly liked the panels posted periodically that told visitors what was going on in the European theater at the same time.
The museum opens with a film about the Depression and the economic hardships that made Germany and Japan vulnerable to the fervent promises of nationalism. It then steps back nearly 100 years to examine the internal struggles and regional conflicts that ultimately led to war in the Pacific. Most interesting is the fact that while China shunned Western imperialism, Japan embraced it as a model, especially its expansionist ambitions. Given this and Japan's martial shogun culture, it's no surprise that when Japan's 1890 education code asked students, "What is your dearest ambition?" the correct answer was "To die for the emperor."