Pearl Harbor – Day of Infamy

More than 16,000,000 Americans served in the Second World War, and only about 1.7 million are alive today, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.  It is unclear how many veterans who survived the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor are still living.  We remember our veterans on December 7 and thank them for their service.

The bombing of Pearl Harbor is famously remembered as a surprise attack and one that precipitated the US entry into World War II. It may surprise many to know that while the attack was a surprise on that particular day, there was as much as two decades of animosity between Japan and the United States leading up to December 7. President Franklin D Roosevelt and his advisers believed that a Japanese attack on the United States was possible; they just didn’t know where or when.

Japan had overrun Manchuria and nearly 1930’s and by the late 30’s was threatening China and Southeast Asia. By early 1941, the US, Netherlands and Great Britain froze Japanese assets in their respective countries and imposed economic restrictions that cut off much of the raw materials to Japan needed for war production.  This effectively forced Japan into choosing between abandoning its expansion efforts or redoubling its efforts to seize other areas rich in raw materials. Japan chose the latter course.

There were rumblings of a possible attack on the US by Japan by October 1941, but these were discounted in Washigton because the Japanese were believed not to have the equipment necessary to mount an attack and because they were believed to be overextended in pursuing their actions in China and Southeast Asia. For their part, the Japanese army believed that all that stood between them and victory was the US Pacific fleet.  The attack on Pearl Harbor was supposed to be a preventive measure used to scare the United States and keep us from interfering with Japans’ plans. The attack was a strategic victory for the Japanese, but they used huge amounts of resources for this one operation.

A main target of the Japanese attack were the US battleships station in Pearl Harbor; for these were destroyed,  the USS Arizona, the USS Nevada, the USS Oklahoma, and the USS West Virginia. The Japanese attack sank or damaged 188 aircraft, eight U.S. Navy battleships, three destroyers, three cruisers, and one minelayer. There were three aircraft carriers stationed at Pearl Harbor as well but they were at sea on training maneuvers on December 7. The Pacific fleet was rendered temporarily useless, 2,400 Americans were killed and 1,200 were wounded during, the attack. Japan’s lost about 30 planes, five midget submarines, and fewer than 100 men.

Following the attack, Roosevelt asked Congress to approve a resolution declaring a state of war between the United States and Japan. In a show of unity we could only wish for today, the Senate voted for war against Japan by 82 to 0, and the House of Representatives approved the resolution by a vote of 388 to 1. There was only one nay vote. Representative Jeannette Rankin of Montana was a pacifist who had also cast a dissenting vote against the U.S. entry into World War I.

The rest, as they say, was history. Those three aircraft carriers that had escaped destruction at Pearl Harbor spearheaded the victory over the Japanese Navy in the Battle of Midway six months later. That action began to reverse the tide of World War II in the Pacific.

The USS Arizona is now a National Memorial President Dwight Eisenhower signed legislation to create a national memorial funded in part through the efforts of Elvis Presley.  Elvis had recently finished two-years in the U.S. Army and performed a benefit concert that raised over $50,000—more than 10 percent of the Memorial’s final cost.

Note: the attached photo from the Naval Archives public domain, via Pingnews, photo credit unknown.

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