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December 7, 1941: Infamy at Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor Research Topic via ProQuest eLibrary

Pearl Harbor Research Topic via ProQuest eLibrary

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941–a date which will live in infamy–the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the empire of Japan.”

With those words, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked for a declaration of war against Japan.  Seventy-five years ago tomorrow Japan attacked the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor in the Hawaii Territory.  The surprising assault came in the early hours of a tranquil Sunday morning, and it hastened the United States’ entry into World War II.  Over 2,400 servicemen and civilians lost their lives that day.  For the Greatest Generation, Pearl Harbor was their September 11th.

The attack at Pearl Harbor was a pivotal moment in American history.  Until December 7, 1941, the United States’ policy regarding World War II was one of isolation.  The provocation by the Japanese that day transformed America from the once fourteenth-ranked military power to the world’s leading superpower.  It moved the United States to be more involved on the world stage.

Very few, if any, American military and government leaders thought Pearl Harbor would ever be attacked.  It was believed to be “the strongest fortress in the world” and too far from Japan.  The Philippines was a more likely target.  Two waves of Japanese Zero fighters, more than 350 in total, launched from six aircraft carriers within 300 miles of the Hawaiian islands took aim at Battleship Row and Hickam Airfield where over 300 American warbirds stood tip to tip.  Japan’s goal was to prevent the United States from hindering its military actions in Southeast Asia by neutralizing the U.S. Pacific Fleet.  In just 90 minutes, Japan devastated the American forces at Pearl Harbor.  The attack was a great tactical victory for the Japanese.

The numbers were staggering: 2,403 lives lost, 1,178 wounded, five battleships sunk and almost 200 planes destroyed.  The sight of the sunken USS Arizona remains one of the most iconic images of that day.  To this day, 1,177 men lie at rest in her remains on the harbor floor.

Department of the Navy [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Wreckage of the USS Arizona [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

The numbers of World War II veterans dwindle each day and their personal accounts go with them.  To read their stories and learn more about the attack at Pearl Harbor, search eLibrary and its vast resources of timely newspapers, magazine articles and primary source materials.

Related Research Topics

World War II

Japan in World War II

U.S. Navy

 

Hiroshima and Nagasaki: 70 Years Since the Atomic Bomb

August 6, 1945 and August 9, 1945 saw the only times a nuclear weapon has been used during war.  It was on these dates the United States dropped the atomic bomb on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki respectively.  The mass destruction killed nearly 138,000 Japanese men, women and children in Hiroshima and 74,000 in Nagasaki, but the death toll would continue to rise in later years as the effects of radiation became known.  Hiroshima and Nagasaki lay in ruins and World War II with Japan effectively ended.

Destruction of Hiroshima After the Dropping of the Atomic Bomb

Hiroshima After the Atomic Bomb [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]

A military base and city of 343,000, Hiroshima was the primary atomic bomb target.  The bomb was dropped by the Enola Gay around 8:15 a.m.  What followed was “a blinding flash in the sky, and a great rush of air.”  Within two minutes 60 percent of the city was destroyed.  Radio in Tokyo described the scene as one of ruins and with so many dead there would be no way to count all of them.

Atomic Cloud Over Nagasaki

Atomic Cloud Over Nagasaki [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]

Nagasaki was an industrial port city and had a population of approximately 258,000.  It became the second city ravaged by nuclear warfare when the atomic bomb was dropped at 11:00 a.m. on August 9.  The scene was described in colorful terms as a flash of “bluish-green light” and “pillar of purple fire.”  Nearly 74,000 were killed and the same number injured.

The reason for using the bomb, according to President Truman, was to end the war with Japan swiftly and more importantly to save the lives of American service members.  While that argument has been debated, the impact of the bomb did lead to the Japanese surrender on August 15.