Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor is one of the most well-known military installations in the world. Pearl Harbor is located on the south coast of Oahu, the third largest of the eight major islands generally considered to be Hawaii. In the vicinity of Pearl Harbor are there many U. S. military installations: the U. S. Pacific naval base, Hickam Air Force Base, Pearl Harbor Naval Air Station, and Camp H. M. Smith, headquarters of the U. S. Pacific Command. The U. S. first gained rights there in 1887 when the Hawaiian monarchy let them build a coaling and repair station In 1900 Pearl Harbor was made to a U.
S. naval base.
In 1940 after the signing of the Pact of Berlin by the Axis nations (Germany, Italy, and Japan) the Harbor was improved by building fortification. (UNT, Department of History) In 1941, warplanes took off from the decks of six aircraft carriers of the Japanese Imperial Navy. Their mission was to strike a crippling blow to the United States military forces stationed at Pearl Harbor.
Japanese leaders were ready to seize the rich oil fields of the Dutch East Indies, now known as Indonesia, and believed a pre-emptive attack on the American military was necessary to prevent American interference in the invasion plans.
To accomplish what they hoped was a “knockout blow”, Japanese forces planned to launch attacks on U. S. forces in the Philippines, Wake Island, Guam, and, most importantly, at the U. S. Navy ships stationed at Pearl Harbor. (Isserman, 1991) 2. A day of Infamy The final attack took place on December 7, 1941 when Japanese fighter planes attacked the United States Naval base Pearl Harbor killing more than 2400 Americans. Despite numerous historical precedents for unannounced military action, the lack of any formal warning by Japan, particularly while negotiations were still apparently ongoing led President Franklin D.
Roosevelt to proclaim December 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy”. (Costello, 1994). 2. 1 Background of the attack The road to war between Japan and the United States began in the 1930’s when differences over China drove the two nations apart. In 1931 Japan conquered Indonesia, which until then had been part of China. In 1937 Japan began a long and ultimately unsuccessful campaign to conquer the rest of China. In 1940 the Japanese government allied their country with Nazi Germany in the Axis Alliance, and, in the following year occupied all of Indonesia.
The United States, which had important political and economic interests in East Asia, was alarmed by these Japanese moves. The United States increased military and financial aid to China, created a program of strengthening its military power in the Pacific and cut off the shipment of oil and other raw materials to Japan. Because Japan was poor in natural recourses its government viewed these steps, especially the embargo on oil, as a threat to the nation’s survival.
Japans’ leaders responded by resolving to seize the resources and territories of Southeast Asia, even though that move would certainly result in war with the United States. (Hoyt, 1986) The United States had received many warnings stating there would be an attack on Pearl Harbor. In October, the Soviets top spy, Richard Sorge, informed Kremlin that Pearl Harbor would be attacked in sixty days. Moscow had then informed him that this had been passed on to the United States. The United States completely ignored all references to an attack on Pearl Harbor.
On December 6th at 9:30pm, President Roosevelt had read the first thirteen parts of the decoded declaration of war that the Japanese had sent. The document stated “This means war. ” This is when Roosevelt decided that it was time to proclaim war on Japan. Unfortunately, his decision did not reach Pearl Harbor in any helpful form before it was too late. (ibid) 2. 2 The Attack In the hours before dawn, on December 7, 1941, United States Navy vessels spotted an unidentified submarine periscope near the entrance to Pearl Harbor.
It was attacked and reported sunk by the destroyer USS Ward and a patrol plane. At 7:00 a. m. An alert operator of an army radar station at Opana spotted the approaching first wave of the attack force. The officer to whom this report was relayed did not consider them significant enough to take action. The report of the submarine sinking was handled routinely, and the radar sighting was passed off as an approaching group of American planes due to arrive that morning. The Japanese aircrews achieved complete surprise when they hit American ships and military installations on Oahu shortly after 8:00 a. . They attacked military airfields at the same time they hit the fleet anchored at Pearl Harbor. The Navy bases at Ford Island and Kaneohe bay, the marine airfield at Ewa and the army air corps fields at Bellows, Wheeler, and Hickman were all bombed and wounded as other elements of the attacking force began their assaults on ships moored in Pearl Harbor. The purpose of simultaneous attacks was to destroy planes before they could rise to intercept the Japanese fighters.
There was a short silence in the fury of the attack at about 8:30 A. M. At that time the USS Nevada, despite its wounds, managed to get underway and move down the channel toward the open ocean. Before it could clear the harbor a second wave of 170 Japanese fighters appeared over the harbor. They concentrated their attacks on the moving battleship, hoping to sink it in the channel to block the narrow entrance to Pearl Harbor. Following orders from the harbor control tower the USS Nevada beached itself at hospital point and the channel remained clear. When the attacks ended shortly before 10:00 a. m. less than two hours after it began the American force shad paid a fearful price. 21 of the ships of the United States pacific fleet were either sunk or damaged: the battleships USS Arizona, USS California, USS Maryland, USS Nevada, USS Oklahoma, USS Pennsylvania, USS Tennessee, and the USS West Virginia, cruisers USS Helena, USS Honolulu, USS Raleigh, the destroyers USS Cassin, USS Downes, USS Helm, and the USS Shaw; sea plane tender USS Curtis; target ship USS Utah; repair ship USS Vestal; minelayer USS Olga; tug USS Sotoyomo; and floating dry-dock number two.
Aircraft loses were one 188 destroyed and one hundred 59 damaged, and the majority of them were hit before they had a chance to take off. The American fatalities numbered 2403. That figure included 68 civilians, most of them killed by improperly fused anti-aircraft shells landing in Honolulu. There were 1178 military and civilian wounded. Japanese losses were comparatively light, and less than ten percent of the attacking force failed to return to their carriers. Just 29 were damaged or destroyed. The Japanese success was overwhelming, but it was not complete.
They failed to damage any United States aircraft carriers, which by a stroke of luck had been absent from the harbor that day. They neglected to damage any shore side facilities at the Pearl Harbor Naval base, which played an important role in the allied victory in World War II. American technology skill raised and repaired all but three of the ships sunk or damaged at Pearl Harbor during the first and second wave of the surprise attack. The USS Arizona was considered too badly damaged to be salvaged; the USS Oklahoma was raised but was considered too old and costly to be worth repairing, and the outdated
USS Utah was considered not worth the effort. The attack on Pearl Harbor caused great damage, sinking several powerful battleships, but the top prize, America’s Pacific Fleet aircraft carriers, were not in port at the time. Japan damaged the U. S. Navy, but did not cripple it. What they did do was make America extremely angry and thirsting for revenge and retribution on their new enemies. Thus began the four-year Pacific War portion of World War Two between the U. S. and Japan.
2. 3 The Aftermath. The death toll at Pearl Harbor by the end of December 7th had risen to two thousand four hundred and three servicemen and women. Another one thousand one hundred and seventy-eight had been wounded. In addition to the grievous loss of human life, wartime materials suffered. The Oklahoma and the Arizona battleships were destroyed beyond repair. The Nevada, California, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Maryland were all heavily damaged, or sunk and raised again. Many other support ships were damaged and destroyed as well.
One hundred and eighteen planes were destroyed, and one hundred and sixty two were damaged. The attack did, however, force the United States to recognize the danger to the world that the Axis was. Before the incident at Pearl Harbor occurred a poll was taken of the U. S. citizens opinion about Roosevelt taking them into the war, ninety-four percent were against the United States getting involved. Therefore if Roosevelt had attacked Japan first he would have lost a great share of the support he was getting from the general population of the United States.
But the attack on Pearl Harbor enraged the American people so much that they completely changed their views and wanted Japan to pay for the attack in Hawaii. President Roosevelt wasted no time in reacting to the attack; by the afternoon of December 7th Roosevelt had already ordered protection for Washington, other major cities along the western coast and major bridges. The next day delivered Roosevelt a speech to congress asking for the declaration of war. Pearl Harbor sent a shockwave felt throughout the world.
It alerted the American people to the fact that neutrality did not make a country exempt from anything and it brought the United States into World War II. Before the events at Pearl Harbor, America was divided on the issue of war. More of the country was inclined to let Europe sort out its problems by itself, holding painful memories of the First World War However, some people saw the inevitability of war between the United States and the Axis. In the end, Germany would not be content staying in Europe. Although it did so in a tragic way, Pearl Harbor had sufficient gravity to open people’s eyes to the reality of the situation. . Conclusions The attack on Pearl Harbor is considered one of the greatest tragedies in American history. Seventy years after the attack, it still remains one of the worst defeats of the United States in our history. At many points along the time line of events could this tragedy have been prevented, but through a series of errors and poor decisions, nothing was done until it was too late. Today, the USS Arizona National Memorial now stands above the remains of the battleship, commemorating those Americans who died.
Despite the tremendous losses that day, the patriotism of many Americans only increased, and pride was not lost. The crews on many of the ships at Pearl Harbor were on the decks for morning colors and the singing of The Star-Spangled Banner. Although one band was interrupted by the gunfire and bombing from Japanese planes, not a single crew member moved until the last note was sung. World War II was well under way when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. It came as a shock to many and is a very reminiscent incident.
The event that took place on December 7, 1941, has and always will be a very significant event in American and world history. It shaped the way of the war and left a huge impact on American society. Just the name Pearl Harbor brings to mind “A day that will live in infamy” when the United States was forced into World War II. Over the years, Pearl Harbor and all things surrounding it has been a controversial and sometimes tense subject. Some people would insist that president Roosevelt was a war-monger who could be held directly responsible for the loss of American lives.
Others would say that he simply faced the facts. Both groups would be forced to agree that this country, indeed, this entire world, would be a much different place if the Japanese had not made their fateful sneak attack. Much has changed in the world since December 7, 1941. The world has seen several other wars – Korea, Vietnam, and Desert Storm. The entire face of the globe, as we knew it in 1941, has changed. The Soviet Union no longer exists. China has grown to the status of a world power just as the sun has set on the British Empire. Hawaii has become the 0th state and people of Japanese descent and those of mainland roots reside together in peace. The economic vitality of Hawaii today depends largely on tourism from both Japan and the U. S. mainland. However, that was not the world on December 7, 1941. With the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese became an enemy of the United States. After almost four years of war, and countless dead on both sides, the Allies were victorious and Japan and Germany were left in ruin. Japan, however, like Germany, has recovered even stronger than before.
Today, Japan is an ally of The United States and one of their largest trading partners. Despite recent economic problems, Japan remains an economic power and arguably the major world power in the Pacific region.
At Dawn We Slept– by Gordon W. Prange Dunnigan J. & Nofi. A. (1998) The Pacific War Encyclopedia . New York : Facts on File Costello, J (1994). Days of Infamy. New York. Hoyt, E (1986). Japan’s War: The Great Pacific Conflict . New York Isserman, M. (1991) America at War: World War II. New York Internet (UNT, Department of History) http://www. hist. unt. edu/
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