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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

 

Remembering Pearl Harbor

Tracking the Japanese Attack

Tracking the Japanese Attack, 1941

Saturday, December 7 will mark the 72nd anniversary of the Japanese attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor. In honor of this solemn occasion, here are five interesting facts—plucked directly from the extensive resources of eLibrary—that can help provide historical context and promote general knowledge about that fateful day.

  1. Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the principal architect of the attack, had initially wished to avoid hostilities with the United States. However, when the political climate in Japan made war with America inevitable, Yamamoto insisted on a lightning-fast strike against the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, believing it the best way to neutralize the U.S. and ensure Japan a free hand in the Pacific.
  2. The attack consisted of two waves of bombing aircraft and utilized over 350 planes. It began at around 7:50am on Sunday December 7 and lasted for 110 minutes.
  3. Kazuo Sakamaki became the first Japanese prisoner of war captured by the United States after his submarine, HA-19, was seized. After the war, he was denounced by many Japanese who felt he should have committed suicide rather than allow himself to be taken prisoner.
  4. The attack took place before any formal declaration of war had been issued by Japan—but this was not Admiral Yamamoto’s intention. He originally stipulated that the attack should not commence until thirty minutes after Japan had informed the United States that peace negotiations were at an end. In fact, Tokyo had transmitted the information in a 12-part, 5,000-word notification to the Japanese Embassy in Washington, but transcribing the message took too long for the Japanese ambassador to deliver it in time.
  5. When Japanese airman Shigenori Nishikaichi crash-landed on the island of Niihau, he was relieved of his pistol, maps and other documents by a native Hawaiian. Nishikaichi subsequently enlisted the support of three Japanese-American residents in an attempt to recover the items. During ensuing struggles, Nishikaichi was killed and a Hawaiian civilian was wounded. The apparent ease with which the local ethnic Japanese residents went to the assistance of Nishikaichi became a source of concern for many, fueling the sentiment that local Japanese could not be trusted.

For an overview of this event, check out eLibrary’s Research Topic on Pearl Harbor.

Pearl Harbor Research Topic