Every year on December 7, Pearl Harbor Survivors, veterans, and visitors from all over the world come together. They honor and remember the 2,403 service members and civilians who were killed during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. A further 1,178 people were injured in the attack, which permanently sank two U.S. Navy battleships (the USS Arizona and the USS Utah) and destroyed 188 aircraft.
Japan & the Path to War
The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise, but Japan and the United States had been edging toward war for decades. The United States was particularly unhappy with Japan’s increasingly belligerent attitude toward China. The Japanese government believed that the only way to solve its economic and demographic problems was to expand into its 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. American officials responded to this aggression with a battery of economic sanctions and trade embargoes. They reasoned that without access to money and goods, and especially essential supplies like oil, Japan would have to rein in its expansionism. Instead, the sanctions made the Japanese more determined to stand their ground. During months of negotiations between Tokyo and Washington, D.C., neither side would budge. It seemed that war was all but inevitable.
The Japanese plan was simple: Destroy the Pacific Fleet. That way, the Americans would not be able to fight back as Japan’s armed forces spread across the South Pacific. On December 7, after months of planning and practice, the Japanese launched their attack.
At about 8 a.m., Japanese planes filled the sky over Pearl Harbor. Bombs and bullets rained onto the vessels moored below. At 8:10, a 1,800-pound bomb smashed through the deck of the battleship USS Arizona and landed in her forward ammunition magazine. The ship exploded and sank with more than 1,000 men trapped inside.
How the Attack Affected Our Nation
Following the attack, on December 8, President Roosevelt stated: “the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked.” He continued, “No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory. I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.”
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, it was clear that the American people were done debating about whether or not they should go to war, they were ready and determined to. On this day, Congress approved Roosevelt’s declaration of war.
The Impact of the Pearl Harbor Bombing
In all, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor crippled or destroyed nearly 20 American ships and more than 300 airplanes. Dry docks and airfields were likewise destroyed. Most important, 2,403 sailors, soldiers, and civilians were killed, and about 1,000 people were wounded.
But the Japanese had failed to cripple the Pacific Fleet. By the 1940s, battleships were no longer the most important naval vessel. Aircraft carriers were, and as it happened, all of the Pacific Fleet’s carriers were away from the base on December 7. (Some had returned to the mainland, and others were delivering planes to troops on Midway and Wake Islands.)
Moreover, the Pearl Harbor assault had left the base’s most vital onshore facilities—oil storage depots, repair shops, shipyards, and submarine docks—intact. As a result, the U.S. Navy was able to rebound relatively quickly from the attack.
We must take time to reflect on this day in history as we show our undying appreciation for those who choose to fight for this great country. Those who are willing to pay the ultimate price for our freedoms deserve our respect and gratitude. We hold our military close to our hearts, they are the reason we can live as we do. Let’s not forget those who lost their lives on this tragic day, as well as those who continued to fight for us.