A Navy veteran-turned-civilian machinist at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard had “the unusual presence of mind” to sound the air raid alarm 75 years ago, never thinking he was witnessing one of the most cataclysmic events in history…
The first wave of Japanese carrier-based aircraft began to cross Oahu’s western coast at approximately 0740. They began their attack on U.S. Pacific Fleet ships and installations at Pearl Harbor several minutes before 0800, shattering what had been a quiet Sunday morning…
Rudy’s initial thought was that a large fire was raging out of control and that aircraft were being used to drop fire-retardant chemicals to suppress the flames, which had been practiced at the base during a recent exercise. “The fire must be too hot, and they’re dropping chemicals from the air,” he told a man next to him. Rudy alerted another watch engineer to monitor pressure in the fire mains controlled by the plant’s large saltwater pumps. He quickly realized, however, that what was transpiring was something entirely different from an exercise—and far worse…
As Rudy’s daughter, Carol, recalled, “December 7th is vivid in my mind. Grammie [Rudy’s mother, Irma] and I were outside hanging up washing on the clothesline. We heard whizzing noises. Our neighbor came over on the run, told us Pearl Harbor was being bombed, and said to get inside our house. We could see smoke rising in the distance from Pearl Harbor…”
After her mother-in-law and daughter ran into the house, Viola was shocked by their description of the attack and reports that ships were being sunk at Pearl Harbor. “I was dumbfounded that such a thing could happen,” she said. “Looking out the window I could see smoke billowing up from Pearl Harbor. I knew that what she had told me was true, but still felt that it couldn’t be…”
Daddy was shaking. I could see bullet holes in the fender. He was dumbfounded the Japanese could penetrate our defenses. Having served in the Navy, he had implicit faith in the ability of our men to protect us. He had a great deal of confidence in the Navy, so it took a while before he realized what was happening…”
Life was never the same in Hawaii during the war years following the attack.
You can see what a violation of expectation adds to an amygdala hijack, and how it affects amygdala activity. The whole piece is very reminiscent of the cognitive effects of the 9/11 attacks, which included a similar violation of expectation.
If you know your defenses are weak, if you know the hit is coming, there is a limitation to the amygdala activity it will precipitate when it goes down. If periodically we knew the Japs were going to bomb our harbor, and suddenly it began happening, it is one thing. You recognize what is coming when it starts. You know what to expect. You know what you need to do, and focusing on it occupies your amygdala, calming it. It isn’t pleasant, but you cope as you execute what needs to be done.
But the article captures what the element of disbelief adds to the hijack. You can feel the spacey, disoriented feeling. You can feel the way your mind would bounce from one option of action to another, as you try to figure how best to contribute to the response on the fly. You can feel how that would amp up the amygdala and the feelings of agitation as the brain bounces frantically between different ideas – and the way the brain could begin flying out of control if that wasn’t controlled.
The thing is that this effect doesn’t require Jap fighters bombing your position out of the blue. The pathways work on a variety of similar stimuli, many of much less significance, if similar in cognitive nature. Trigger the amygdala, and do it with something that the individual is surprised by, and you can use this effect in civilized interpersonal interactions to manipulate cognition, and trigger the amygdala-addled neurotics ever more forcefully.