I remember learning about Pearl Harbor in high school – I think we touched on it around 11th grade history? They covered the surprise attack by the Japanese that left 2400 Americans dead and became the catalyst for US involvement in WWII. As a high school student learning about the very basics of this event, it was just history – I didn’t feel any emotional attachment to the event, and I definitely didn’t comprehend the shock, horror, and violation of human rights that took place that day.
It wasn’t until I visited the Pearl Harbor Memorial in Oahu as an adult that I began to fully understand the events that happened on Dec 7th, 1941. Watching the USS Arizona Memorial Documentary and learning the details that triggered the bombing, and fully understanding the consequences that changed the world for Americans from that day forward brought tears to my eyes.
On Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, I think it’s important to know that Pearl Harbor is a US naval base on the southern coast of Oahu, near Honolulu, Hawaii. It was the scene of the devastating surprise attack by Japanese forces. Yes, Pearl Harbor is a place, but the events that took place there in 1941 were so shocking and devastating that the name itself is associated with the attack.
It helped me understand the events at Pearl Harbor when I learned that World War II was underway in Asia and Europe, and the US was trying really hard to stay out of it. America was finally emerging from the Great Depression and rebuilding our country after WWI. The last thing we wanted was to be part of another global war.
The sad thing is, the US and Japan were engaged in peace negotiations which is why the attack on Pearl Harbor is considered such a military crime. Japan had sent a proposal in the negotiations and the US responded with an agreement that was delivered to Tokyo just a few days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Heartwrenchingly, Japan‘s forces had already left for Pearl Harbor and they never got the letter!
I always wondered why the attack was such a surprise, but it makes sense that the navy base at Pearl Harbor was relatively undefended. No one suspected that Japan was going to attack because they thought a peace agreement had been reached. Under radio silence, the US had no way of knowing about the breach in communication. The first Japanese bomber appeared over Pearl Harbor around 8 AM on Sunday morning December 7, 1941. Within 15 minutes nearly 200 Japanese fighter planes descended on the base, and in less than an hour and a half 347 American aircrafts were destroyed and 21 US warships were sunk or damaged beyond repair, several entombing their crews. By the time the ambush was over, the world was changed forever.
Interestingly enough, the Japanese’s motive for attacking the US was to prevent America from getting involved in the power struggle over the Pacific Theater. They underestimated our American pride and their attack had the opposite effect – Americans united and declared war. On December 8th, President Roosevelt addressed our nation and promised that America would defend themselves and achieve victory. That same day Congress approved Roosevelt’s declaration of war on Japan and the US became officially a part of World War II.
Through all the holiday cheer this December, let’s not forget to remember that 80 years ago 2400 brave Americans lost their lives in the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This Tuesday, take a moment to raise a glass to those who have given the ultimate sacrifice, and thank the survivors of the day of infamy.
Are you related to survivors or veterans of Pearl Harbor?
Did you know there is a Museum of the War in the Pacific in Fredericksburg that has a large focus on Pearl Harbor?
Have you visited the Pearl Harbor National Memorial in Hawaii?