Day of Infamy


Kaleb Bielfeldt, Reporter/Writer

On the morning of December 7, 1941 a wave of Japanese Zeros began their first of many attacks on the island of Oahu. This day would become the largest attack on US soil until 9/11.  The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise, but the US and Japan had been edging toward war for years. The US was unhappy with Japan’s belligerent attitude towards China. Japan believed that the only way to solve their economic and demographic problems was to expand into their neighbor’s territory and take over its import market. To this end Japan declared war on China in 1937, resulting in the Nanking Massacre and other atrocities. 

The US responded to the aggression with a battery of economic sanctions and trade embargoes on Japan. They reasoned that without access to money and goods, and especially essential items such as oil, Japan would have to rein in its expansionism. Instead this made the Empire of Japan more determined to stand their ground. During months of negotiations between Tokyo and Washington D.C. neither side would budge. It seemed as though war was all but inevitable. 

Pearl Harbor, Hawaii is an island located near the center of the Pacific Ocean, roughly 2,000 miles from the US mainland, and 4,000 miles from Japan. No one believed Japan would attack the distant islands of Hawaii. Additionally, American intelligence officials were confident that any Japanese attack would take place in one of the (relatively) nearby European colonies in the South Pacific: the Dutch East Indies, Singapore or Indochina. Because military officials were so confident that no one would attack Ford Island and Pearl Harbor that they were relatively unguarded and an irresistible target for the Japanese empire. 

So just before 8 o’clock on the Sunday morning of December 7, 1941 the Empire of Japan launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. In about an hour and fifteen minutes Japanese dive bombers, torpeado bombers, and fighter planes had managed to cripple or destroyed nearly 20 American ships and more than 300 airplanes. Dry docks and airfields were likewise destroyed. Most importantly, 2,403 sailors, soldiers and civilians were killed and about 1,000 people were wounded. The day after the assault, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan.

The Japanese plan was simple: destroy the Pacific Fleet so that the US couldn’t fight back as Japan’s armed forces spread across the South Pacific. But the Japanese had failed to cripple the Pacific Fleet. By the 1940s, battleships were no longer the most important naval vessels: Aircraft carriers were, and as it happened, all of the Pacific Fleet’s carriers were away from the base on December 7. They had also left most of the base’s most vital facilities- oil storage depots, repair shops, shipyards, and submarine docks intact. As a result the US Navy was able to rebound relatively quickly.

As a result of this attack the US finally entered World War 2 in the European and Pacific theaters. And 4 short years later forced the Empire of Japan to surrender after dropping nuclear bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The day Japan attacked the US had then come back to haunt them by the end.