Canada Free Press
Online Monday, December 7, 2009
Pearl Harbor bombed
At 7:55 a.m. Hawaii time, a Japanese dive bomber bearing the red symbol of the Rising Sun of Japan on its wings appears out of the clouds above the island of Oahu. A swarm of 360 Japanese warplanes followed, descending on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in a ferocious assault. The surprise attack struck a critical blow against the U.S. Pacific fleet and drew the United States irrevocably into World War II.
With diplomatic negotiations with Japan breaking down, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his advisers knew that an imminent Japanese attack was probable, but nothing had been done to increase security at the important naval base at Pearl Harbor. It was Sunday morning, and many military personnel had been given passes to attend religious services off base. At 7:02 a.m., two radio operators spotted large groups of aircraft in flight toward the island from the north, but, with a flight of B-17s expected from the United States at the time, they were told to sound no alarm. Thus, the Japanese air assault came as a devastating surprise to the naval base.
Much of the Pacific fleet was rendered useless: Five of eight battleships, three destroyers, and seven other ships were sunk or severely damaged, and more than 200 aircraft were destroyed. A total of 2,400 Americans were killed and 1,200 were wounded, many while valiantly attempting to repulse the attack. Japan’s losses were some 30 planes, five midget submarines, and fewer than 100 men. Fortunately for the United States, all three Pacific fleet carriers were out at sea on training maneuvers. These giant aircraft carriers would have their revenge against Japan six months later at the Battle of Midway, reversing the tide against the previously invincible Japanese navy in a spectacular victory.
The day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, President Roosevelt appeared before a joint session of Congress and declared, “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.” After a brief and forceful speech, he asked Congress to approve a resolution recognizing the state of war between the United States and Japan. 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. The sole dissenter was Representative Jeannette Rankin of Montana, a devout pacifist who had also cast a dissenting vote against the U.S. entrance into World War I. Three days later, Germany and Italy declared war against the United States, and the U.S. government responded in kind.
The American contribution to the successful Allied war effort spanned four long years and cost more than 400,000 American lives.
December 7, 1941
FDR reacts to news of Pearl Harbor bombing
On this day in 1941, at around 1:30 p.m., President Franklin Roosevelt is conferring with advisor Harry Hopkins in his study when Navy Secretary Frank Knox bursts in and announces that Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor. The attack killed more than 2,400 naval and military personnel.
For weeks, a war with Japan had appeared likely since negotiations had deteriorated over the subject of Japan’s military forays into China and elsewhere in the Pacific during World War II. FDR and his advisors knew that an attack on the U.S. fleet at the Philippines was possible, but few suspected the naval base at Pearl Harbor would be a target.
In her account of Roosevelt and first lady Eleanor during the years of the Second World War, No Ordinary Time, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin recounts the scene at the White House on that tragic and pivotal day: Eleanor had just finished hosting a luncheon and walked into FDR’s study just as he received confirmation of the attack via telephone. While aides and secretaries scurried around the room, Eleanor overheard some of her husband’s conversation and knew that, in her words, “the final blow had fallen and we had been attacked.”
Although Eleanor, who knew Roosevelt best, later recalled her husband’s demeanor on that day as “deadly calm,” she knew that he was incensed by the attacks. He was concerned that it might only be a matter of time until Germany, too, would officially declare war on the United States and that, at that moment, U.S. forces would be hard-pressed to fight a war on two fronts. According to Goodwin, he told Eleanor that it would take time for the United States to build up its military and that he feared the nation would “have to take a good many defeats before we can have a victory.” Indeed, FDR and his advisors had discussed the possibility that the Japanese were already planning an invasion of the mainland somewhere on the West Coast.
As the day wore on, Roosevelt displayed a calm and steady efficiency: He consulted with military advisors, enlisted his son James’ help to work with the media and spoke by telephone with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who told him “we are all in the same boat now.” Early that evening, Roosevelt dictated a speech to his secretary, Grace Tully, which he planned to deliver to Congress the next day. (Eleanor actually addressed the nation on the subject of war before her husband. That evening she delivered a scheduled weekly radio broadcast in which she told listeners that although the United States had been thrust reluctantly into the war she was confident that “whatever is asked of [America] we shall accomplish it; we are the free and unconquerable people of the U.S.A.”) Late that night, Roosevelt updated his cabinet and Congressional members on the situation: “this is probably the most serious crisis any Cabinet has confronted since the Civil War.” One cabinet member later noted that the president, a former Navy man, was visibly distraught while recounting what he had been told of the strafing of sailors and the destruction of most of the Pacific fleet. After the meeting, Roosevelt went to bed.
The next day, Roosevelt addressed Congress and the nation with a somber yet stirring speech in which he swore that America would never forget December 7, 1941, as a “date that would live in infamy.”
December 7, 1941
“A date which will live in infamy”
On this day, in an early-morning sneak attack, Japanese warplanes bomb the U.S. naval base at Oahu Island’s Pearl Harbor-and the United States enters World War II.
President Roosevelt and Secretary of State Cordell Hull knew a Japanese attack was imminent. Having received intelligence reports of intercepted coded messages from Tokyo to the Japanese ambassador in the United States, the president anticipated Japanese reprisals for his government’s refusal to reverse economic sanctions and embargoes against Japan. The Roosevelt administration had remained firm in its demand that the Japanese first withdraw from China and French Indochina, which it had invaded in 1937 and July 1941, respectively, and renounce its alliance with fascist Germany and Italy.
But Japan refused, demanding that the United States first end the embargo on oil shipments vital for Tokyo’s war machine. Although negotiations between the two nations continued up to the very last minute, Roosevelt was aware of a secret November 25 deadline, established by Tokyo, that confirmed military action on the part of the Japanese should they not received satisfaction from the negotiations. While forewarned, Washington could not pinpoint the time or place of an attack.
Despite initially objecting to war with America, Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto believed that if Prime Minister Hideki Tojo was determined to go to war, it was Japan who had to make a preemptive strike. Yamamoto studied the devastating November 1940 British attack against the Italian fleet at Taranto, and planned and led the sneak attack against the United States. Approximately 360 Japanese warplanes were launched from six aircraft carriers, reinforced by battleships, cruisers, and destroyers. The first dive-bomber was spotted over Pearl Harbor at 7:55 a.m. Hawaii time. It was followed by 200 aircraft, which decimated the American ships anchored there, most of which were only lightly manned because it was Sunday morning. Among the 18 U.S. ships destroyed, sunk, or capsized were the Arizona, Virginia, California, Nevada, and West Virginia. More than 180 planes were destroyed on the ground and another 150 were damaged (leaving but 43 operational). American casualties totaled more than 3,400, with more than 2,400 killed (1,000 on the Arizona alone). The Japanese lost fewer than 100 men.
In the short term, the Japanese goal of crippling U.S. naval strength in the Pacific, and thereby giving Tokyo free reign to gobble up more of Southeast Asia and the South Pacific in its dream of imperial expansion, was successful. But the war had only just begun.