I wonder how many people know what’s special about this coming Saturday, the seventh day of December. Well, 78 years ago, on a Sunday morning, at about 7:48 a.m. the Japanese launched a surprise attack on the American Naval Base at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii. It was this single event that brought the United States into World War II, which had been raging in Europe since 1939.
Since that day, people have wondered why the Japanese attacked the United States. Here are some of the reasons: First, Japan intended to destroy important American naval units which were docked at Pearl Harbor, thereby preventing the US Pacific Fleet from interfering with the Japanese conquest of the Dutch East Indies and Malaya. Second, to make it possible for Japan to conquer Southeast Asia without interference from the United States.
The day after the attack, December 8th, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked the Congress to declare that a state of war existed between the United States and the Empire of Japan. On December 11th, both Nazi Germany and Italy declared war on the United States and World War II was officially underway. After the attack the Japanese commander, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, is reported to have said, “I fear that all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”
The attack itself was by more than 350 Japanese aircraft of various types, including fighters, level and dive bombers, and torpedo bombers. There were eight American battleships at Pearl Harbor: four were sunk and the remainder were all damaged. In addition, the attack sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, and one mine-layer. The US also lost 188 aircraft destroyed and another 159 damaged. Worse than that, 2,403 American service men were killed and 1,178 were wounded. All the battleships where raised and put back into service except for the USS Arizona. The Arizona was hit by four armor-piercing bombs which exploded eventually killing 1,177 men, many of whom are still entombed in the sunken hull of the ship. I can’t imagine many things more horrible than to be trapped in a battleship turned upside down, gradually sinking and slowly filling up with water. What a horrible way to die – any many of those who were trapped lived for several days before the banging on the hulls of the sunken ships finally stopped…
Following the attack, 15 Medals of Honor, 51 Navy Crosses, 53 Silver Stars, as well as additional decorations were awarded to American servicemen.
The unannounced attack by Japan led President Roosevelt to call December 7, 1941 “a date which will live in infamy.” Because the attack happened without a declaration of war and without an explicit warning, after the war the attack was later determined at the Tokyo War Crime Trials to have been a war crime.
The net result was immediate and eventually overwhelming war fever in the United States. The idea of a sneak attack, although the Japanese did not intend it, so incensed the American people that recruiting stations were flooded with young men eager to avenge Pearl Harbor.
Two of the greatest mistakes of World War II were the Pearl Harbor attack and the declaration of war on the United States by Nazi Germany and by the Italians, although when things got tough for the Italians, they immediately switched sides against the Nazis and promptly executed their leader, Benito Mussolini.
There was a strong anti-war sentiment in the United States prior to December 7th, as a result of United States involvement in World War I, but that sentiment quickly disappeared with the attack on Pearl Harbor. Nothing, many have said, would infuriate the American people more than the notion of a “sneak attack” by the Japanese. It’s interesting to note that both the Japanese and the Germans doubted the ability and courage of the Americans – they thought we were soft – to fight a modern war. Churchill heard those sorts of comments and said that he had read about the American Civil War, fought out to the last desperate battle and he “went to sleep feeling saved and grateful.” Obviously, the Axis powers underestimated badly the determination and will of the Americans to avenge Pearl Harbor and to undertake the conquest of occupied Europe. They also underestimated the vast resources of the United Sates to produce the weapons of war in greater quantities than any other nation. Those miscalculations led to the utter destruction of both Germany and Japan. Japan, in particular, suffered the most when two atomic bombs destroyed two of their major cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While the use of atomic weapons was criticized by some, when measured against the projected loss of American forces in an invasion of Japan, the use of the atom bomb saved, undoubtedly, thousands of American lives and also brought the war to a much quicker end against the Japanese.
In a broader sense, the attack on Pearl Harbor began a chain of events that changed the world in dramatic ways. The United States, for example, emerged as the post powerful nation in the world. Post war politics led to what was called the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union for years thereafter. China emerged also as a world power. Europe took decades to rebuild, with our help. Germany was divided into four sections supervised and administered by the US, the Soviet Union, Britain, and France. It would be decades before Germany was allowed to rejoin the family of nations as an autonomous state. The Soviet Union would collapse 1991, proving that Socialism actually does not work.
The world is a far different place in 2019 than it was on December 7, 1941, and all because a few maniacs thought they could rule the world and who underestimated the power of what free people can do when confronted with real evil.
That’s –30—for this week.