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Thursday, December 7th 2006

A Date Which Will Live In Infamy

On This Day In 1941 Pearl Harbor Was Attacked

Tensions involving Japan’s aggressive expansionist tactics in SE Asia had been growing. In response to invasions of its neighbors, the U.S and Britain had cut off oil and metal shipments to the Japanese. For a locked in country this was a major problem.

As early as 1924 an army report had admitted war with Japan seemed inevitable.

In one of the most famous moves, Japan attempted to break off diplomatic relations thirty minutes before the attack. The message sent to the embassy was encrypted and stunningly it took the Japanese embassy longer to decode the message than American signal intelligence who had intercepted it. The last part of the memo delivered to the Secretary of State, hours after the attack, read:

Obviously it is the intention of the American Government to conspire with Great Britain and other countries to obstruct Japan’s efforts toward the establishment of peace through the creation of a new order in East Asia … Thus, the earnest hope of the Japanese government to adjust Japanese-American relations and to preserve and promote the peace of the Pacific through cooperation with the American Government has finally been lost

As mentioned, U.S. signal intelligence decyphered this message hours before and General Marshall famously sent a warning to Pearl Harbor. Unfortunately because of confusion in the transmission and at Pearl Harbor itself the message wasn’t delivered to General Walter Short until the attack was actually over.

The 1st Air Fleet task force commanded by Vice Admiral Nagumo hit Pearl Harbor

at 7:53 a.m. December 7 Hawaiian Time; this was 3:23 a.m. December 8 Japanese Standard Time. Japanese planes attacked in two waves; a total of 353 planes reached Oʻahu. Vulnerable torpedo bombers led the first wave of 183 planes, exploiting the first moments of surprise to attack the most important ships (the battleships), while dive bombers attacked U.S. air bases across Oʻahu, starting with Hickam Field, the largest, and Wheeler Field, the principal fighter base. The 170 planes in the second wave attacked Bellows Field and Ford Island, a Marine and Naval air station in the middle of Pearl Harbor. The only significant air opposition came from a handful of P-36 Hawks and P-40 Warhawks that flew 25 sorties,[5] and from naval anti-aircraft fire.

Nearly 2500 Americans lost their lives in the attack.

Read Admiral Kidd Was Killed On The Battleship Arizona Along With 1100 Other Men

Despite the horrific loses the attack was a strategic disaster for the Japanese (and not just because we went on to kick their ass). For two main reasons,

  • No Carriers Were In Dock…The Most Important Targets The Japanese Raid Could’ve Taken Out
  • The Japanese Failed To Hit The Oil Depots…Which Would’ve Forced The U.S. Fleet To Retreat All The Way To San Diego, Seattle, and San Francisco (You Can’t Get Fuel Into Ships You Can’t Have A Naval base)

Of the eight battleships hit at Pearl Harbor six were righted, repaired and returned to service before the end of the war. As most people who’ve taken the trip know the famous Arizona was left in the dock as a memorial. It took a direct hit to its ammunition storage and suffered a mighty explosion and the worse outcome of any of the ships hit that day.

The attack has many conspiracies flowing around it. The Japanese’s apparent ineptitude in planning the attack (see above) is one comment the theorists bring up. The most prominent conspiracy theory however, and the one potentially with the most evidence, is that the U.S. knew the attack was coming and intentionally did nothing about it.

I don’t think there is any doubt that President Roosevelt was itching to enter World War II. Those who want to believe point to Marshall’s ineptitude in communicating the Japanese’s intentions to Pearl Harbor before the attack, specific instructions given to the Pearl Harbor command which seem to have put them at a disadvantage in the case of an attack, and to evidence in Roosevelt’s communications that despite campaign promises he was looking for a way to enter the war.

While no one can point to a flash of light and say “there, there’s when the U.S. knew!” there was plenty of “evidence” if you go poking around that Pearl Harbor would be attacked on the 7th.

Do a Google search and make up your own mind whether FDR sacrificed 2500 American lives in order to justify entering World War II.