Friday, December 7, 2012
December 7: "A day..."
This quote, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt tells the American people that Japan has attacked them, is well known as part of history. It allows me to easily recall the date when Pearl Harbor happened.
It was a turning point in World War II.
A single carefully-planned and well-executed stroke removed the United States Navy's battleship force as a possible threat to the Japanese's southward expansion. America, unprepared and now considerably weakened, was abruptly brought into the Second World War as a full combatant.
Just a year-and-a-half earlier, FDR had ordered the United States Fleet to Pearl Harbor as a deterrent to Japanese aggression The Japanese military, engaged in the seemingly endless war it had started against China in mid-1937, badly needed oil and other raw materials.
In July 1941 the Western powers effectively halted trade with Japan. From then on, as the desperate Japanese schemed to seize the oil and mineral-rich East Indies and Southeast Asia, a Pacific war was virtually inevitable.
By late November 1941, with peace negotiations clearly approaching an end, informed U.S. officials (and they were well-informed, they believed, through an ability to read Japan's diplomatic codes) fully expected a Japanese attack into the Indies, Malaya and probably the Philippines.
Completely unanticipated was the prospect that Japan would attack east, as well.
The U.S. Fleet's Pearl Harbor base was reachable by an aircraft carrier force, and the Japanese Navy secretly sent one across the Pacific with greater aerial striking power than had ever been seen on the World's oceans. Its planes hit just before 8 AM on December 7.
Within a short time five of eight battleships at Pearl Harbor were sunk or sinking, with the rest damaged. Several other ships and most Hawaii-based combat planes were also knocked out and over 2400 Americans were dead.
These great Japanese successes, achieved without prior diplomatic formalities, shocked and enraged the previously divided American people into a level of purpose-driven unity. and resolve.
However, the memory of the "sneak attack" on Pearl Harbor fueled a determination to fight on. Once the Battle of Midway in early June 1942 had eliminated much of Japan's striking power, that same memory stoked a relentless war to reverse her conquests and remove her, and her German and Italian allies.
History was written and December 7, 1941 is a date that will live in infamy.