Pearl Harbor

Just before 8am on the morning of December 7, 1941, hundreds of Japanese fighter planes carried out a devastating attack on the Pearl Harbor American Naval base in Honolulu, Hawaii, on the island of Oahu.  The Japanese aircrews managed to achieve complete surprise and for two hours, Japanese fighter, bomber and torpedo planes carried out a shocking assault on the naval base.

Pearl Harbor will be on Thursday, December 7, 2017.

How is Pearl Harbor Observed?

The White House and all United States government buildings fly the American flag at half-mast as should all homes and private buildings to honor those who died in the attack at Pearl Harbor.

Pearl Harbor survivors, associations and the military community typically commemorate the day with memorial services, wreath laying ceremonies and the retelling of the days events. Many schools and museums have activities to educate students and the public on the historical importance of Pearl Harbor.

Why did the Japanese attack?

Prior to the Pearl Harbor attack, World War II had been going on for almost ten years in China and two years in Europe.  The Japanese began invading China in 1931, and this was when the war began to brew.  The Japanese had been unsuccessfully negotiating with the United States in the hopes of continuing expansion within Southeast Asia, namely the Philippine Islands (an American Territory at that time), Dutch West Indies, and Malaysia.  In response to their aggression, the United States had placed strict embargos on Japan, which brewed hostility between the two countries.  By late 1941, many Americans expected war with Japan to be imminent, though they had no idea it would begin with such a sneak attack.

The December 7th attack was carried out with the intention of destroying the U.S. Pacific Naval Fleet before an announcement of war was even made.   The hope was that the surprise attack would devastate the power of the United States Navy and allow valuable time for Japan to strengthen its own naval capabilities once the war with the Unites States had been engaged.  Japan also hoped to severely cripple American morale, aiming to hinder their acceptance of the war and diminishing overall U.S. involvement in Japan’s aim to conquer.

Significance of Pearl Harbor to the United States’ WWII Involvement

Pearl Harbor commemoration
Pearl Harbor commemoration
Photo by Jonathan Colon

 

Prior to the attacks on Pearl Harbor, the United States had maintained formal neutrality in the global escalation of conflict.  Up until this point, America had isolated itself from the conflicts in Asia and Europe, but over time, these conflicts had built unimaginable tension. The attack on Pearl Harbor was essentially the breaking point.  On December 8, 1941, just one day after the attack, the United States declared war on Japan.  As a result, on December 11, 1941, Germany and Italy retaliated with a declaration of war on the United States, as they were allied to Japan under the Tripartite Pact (or the Axis Pact) of 1940.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed December 7, 1941 as, “a date which will live in infamy.” After years of a global conflict, the United States had officially entered into World War II.

Pearl Harbor numbers and facts

  • The base was attacked in two waves by a total of 353 Japanese fighters, bombers and torpedo planes
  • There were 165 U.S. Naval ships invovled. 20 were damaged. 12 of those were back in service in less than 1 year.
  • All 8 U.S. Navy battleships were damaged; 4 were sunk
  • All but one battleship were raised and 6 were returned to service and fought in the war
  • No Aircraft Carriers were in port at the time of the attack.
  • Casualties:
    • 2,008 naval officers killed; 710 wounded
    • 218 Army personnel killed; 364 wounded
    • 109 Marines killed, 69 wounded
    • 68 civilians killed, 35 wounded
    • A total of 2,402 Americans were killed, 1,178 wounded

Museums, Memorials & Resources

USS Arizona Memorial – National Park Service
Battleship Missouri Memorial – Honolulu, Hawaii
USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park – Honolulu, Hawaii
Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor – Honolulu, Hawaii
Pearl Harbor Tours, Memorials and Museums – Hawaii

Although the Japanese attack was overwhelming, it was not complete, nor did it achieve what they had hoped.  No United States aircraft carriers were present at the time of the attack, and they neglected to damage the shoreside facilities of the naval base, which later went onto play a crucial role in the Allied victory at the end of the war.  Additionally, all but three ships damaged in the attack were raised, repaired, and later used in victorious war efforts.  Most notably, the outrage caused by the attack fueled the strength of the United States and its citizens to commit to victory in World War II.