Lest We Forget: Pearl Harbor - December 7, 1941

  • 01 of 08

    Prelude to War - The Plan for War is Completed

    photo and caption credit: National Archives and Records Administration Public Domain Photographs

    The outbreak of war between the United States and Japan on December 7, 1941 was, in many ways, inevitable. An oil embargo and the freezing of Japanese assets in the summer of 1941 were signs of the United States' foreign policy of opposition to Japan's aggression and conquests in China and Southeast Asia.

    Japanese policy was one of non-compromise. The need for additional resources was becoming paramount.

    Once a stalemate was reached it was only a matter of time before war would break out, but the summer and fall of 1941 were needed by both sides to prepare for the inevitable.

    The civilian government in Japan had hoped for a peaceful resolution. The militarists needed time to plan their strategy. The United States also needed time to prepare for war on the home front and to reinforce its army and naval forces in the Pacific.

    When General Hiddeki Tojo was appointed premier of Japan in mid-October 1941, any chance of a peaceful resolution was gone. In early November, the Japanese Army and Navy concluded a "Central Agreement" outlining the scheme for conquest.

    A principal part of that scheme involved the destruction of the United States Pacific Fleet based at Pearl Harbor. The plan for war was completed.

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  • 02 of 08

    Were American Leaders Aware of the Attack in Advance?

    Department of the Navy - Naval Historical Center

    While history is unchangeable there is often lack of agreement by historians of the precise details of many major events. Historians will forever argue over how aware the U.S. government was of the impending attack. There is even strong speculation that our leaders were well aware of the attack in advance and did nothing to prevent it. Had the attack on Pearl Harbor not occurred, public and political sentiment might not have allowed U.S. involvement in the war until it was too late.

    Much of history is based on one's perspective, and dependent on the outcome of the event. Many of us have grown up being taught that the attack on Pearl Harbor was a "cowardly sneak attack" upon an unsuspecting nation. How many times have we all heard those words in Franklin D. Roosevelt's Pearl Harbor Speech describing December 7, 1941 as "a date which will live in infamy"?

    In reality, the attack on Pearl Harbor was a brilliantly designed and well executed plan, devised by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander-in-Chief of the Japanese combined fleet. The failure was not in the plan or the execution of the attack. The failure was on the part of those in power in Japan to understand that such an attack, while providing a great victory, would so unite and arouse a nation and so stir their resolve, that the defeat of Japan was as inevitable as the war itself. Had the Japanese, however, won the war, the attack on Pearl Harbor would be viewed in much different light.

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  • 03 of 08

    Tora! Tora! Tora! - The Japanese Navy Attacks U.S. Bases on Hawaii

    The headline in the Extra edition of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin on December 7, 1941 was clear. "War! Oahu Bombed by Japanese Planes".

    At 6:00 a.m. Hawaiian time, the Japanese carriers stationed about 200 miles north of O`ahu began launching the first wave of the attack. This wave consisted of 183 airplanes including dive-bombers, torpedo bombers and fighters. Using a Honolulu radio station to home in on their targets, the Japanese planes headed for the island. Of the six Army mobile-search radar units on O`ahu, only one was operating on the morning of December 7, 1941. While detecting the incoming planes, no serious consideration was given by their superior that this was an attack force speeding towards them.

    At about 7:40 a.m., upon sighting the coast of O`ahu, the first wave of Japanese planes took up their attack formations and proceeded towards their targets. It was at about 7:53 a.m. that Commander Mitsuo Fuchida advised the carrier force that the U.S. Pacific Fleet had been taken by total surprise. His message consisted of one word, repeated three times, "Tora! Tora! Tora!" ("Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!"). By this time the second attack wave was already half way to their targets.

    Attacked that morning were Ford Island, the airfields at Wheeler, Hickam, Ewa and Kaneohe, and later Bellows Field. Within minutes the majority of American fighters, bombers, and patrol planes were destroyed or damaged. Any chance of resistance was eliminated.

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  • 04 of 08

    Battleship Row is Attacked - U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor Destroyed

    Naval Historical Center, Department of the Navy.

    With air opposition eliminated, there was a clear path to the primary target, the U.S. Pacific Fleet moored at Pearl Harbor. We have provided a Map of the Ships' Positions on December 7, 1941 for your reference.

    As outlined in their feature on Pearl Harbor at The History Place: "The Americans are taken completely by surprise. The first attack wave targets airfields and battleships. The second wave targets other ships and shipyard facilities. The air raid lasts until 9:45 a.m. Among U.S. ships, eight battleships are damaged, with five sunk. Three light cruisers, three destroyers and three smaller vessels are lost along with 188 aircraft. The Japanese lose 27 planes and five midget submarines which attempted to penetrate the inner harbor and launch torpedoes.

    The battleship USS Arizona after a bomb penetrated into the forward magazine causing massive explosions and killing 1,104 men.

    Escaping damage from the attack are the prime targets, the three U.S. Pacific Fleet aircraft carriers, Lexington, Enterprise and Saratoga which were not in the port. Also escaping damage are the base fuel tanks.

    The casualty list includes 2,335 servicemen and 68 civilians killed, and 1,178 wounded. Included are 1,104 men aboard the USS Arizona battleship killed after a 1,760 pound air bomb penetrated into the forward magazine causing catastrophic explosions."

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  • 05 of 08

    Aftermath - Martial Law Declared and the Military Takes Over Hawaii's Government

    Hawaii Army Museum Society

    Shortly after the attack and in anticipation of a possible Japanese landing on Hawaii, Army troops took up positions around the perimeters of all of the main islands. Beaches where troops could land were covered with any obstacle that could obstruct a landing.

    Civilian airports were taken over by the Army. All private planes were grounded. The Hawaii Territorial Guard was mobilized as were all ROTC units from the University of Hawaii and high schools.

    Late in the day on December 7, and after initial opposition by Governor Joseph B. Poindexter, martial law was declared and the writ of habeas corpus was suspended. General Walter C. Short issued a proclamation in which he announced that he was taking over the government and assuming the position of military governor of Hawaii. Initially it was assumed that martial law would last only a short time, however, in reality it lasted for almost three years.

    Government buildings including the Iolani Palace were turned into military offices. The islands were, in essence, turned into one large military base. With martial law came blackouts, curfews, rationing, censorship of news and mail, prohibition and other restrictions. Japanese owned businesses and publications were shut down.

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  • 06 of 08

    Detention Centers Established - Military Law Governs Hawaii

    Hawaii Army Museum Society

    Arrests of residents who were considered dangerous or suspicious were begun by local police, Army Intelligence and the FBI. Many of Japanese descent were moved to detention centers but the number of residents of Japanese descent and those of other hostile powers was too great to allow the moving of everyone. A plan to evacuate up to 100,000 Japanese from Hawaii was considered, but rejected.

    Military courts replaced the civil courts and military law was the law of the land for soldiers and civilians alike.

    All residents were fingerprinted and required to carry identification cards at all times. Civilians were prohibited from holding more than $200 in cash. Businesses were likewise restricted.

    Despite ongoing debate between the civilian and military rulers martial law continued in one form or the other until October 24, 1944. Even after the termination of martial law, Hawaii continued to be designated as a military area and curfews and blackouts remained until July 11, 1945.

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  • 07 of 08

    Hawaii Today - We Remember Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona

    Photo by John Fischer

    Today, reminders of the war are seen in many places in Hawaii. When tourists climb to the top of Diamond Head they exit through a bunker used as a lookout for attacking enemy aircraft. Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial remind all who visit them of the important role of Hawaii in the war and of the many who died on that fateful morning.

    Throughout the islands other memorials are found, such as the huge War Memorial at the National Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl, the World War II Memorial in downtown Honolulu or the smaller, but just as moving, Waialua-Kahuku World War II Memorial at Haleiwa Beach Park, Oahu.

    There is one thing that cannot be overlooked when one stands before these memorials that honor those who died in World War II. The list of the dead includes many men of Japanese descent whose parents, grandparents or great-grandparents came to Hawaii from Japan to start a new life. The names of these men stand above, beside and beneath those of mainland roots, of Chinese roots, of Filipino roots and those of Hawaiian blood, all of whom sacrificed their lives to preserve freedom for themselves, their families and us.

    Wars are fought by men. Many of these men die. Wars are begun by others, often less brave, who sit many thousands of miles from the death.

    Those who fought and died in the battles of World War II were, in most cases, honorable men, whether they be American, British, German, French, Japanese or from any one of the many other nations involved.

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  • 08 of 08

    We Remember Lest We Forget

    Much of the world has changed since the end of World War II. Hawaii has become the 50th state and people of Japanese descent and those of mainland roots, Chinese roots, Filipino roots, and Hawaiian roots reside together in peace in these islands.

    Ironically, the economic vitality of Hawaii today depends largely on tourism not only from the United States mainland but also from Japan.

    Yet, on this day each year, we pause to remember those who died on that morning 74 years ago. We remember not so as to bring back memories of a time when the world went mad. We remember not so as to condemn those who attacked us. We remember lest we forget those who died and lest we forget that we must never allow it to happen again.

    In the event that you missed it we invite you to read A Brief History of Pearl Harbor Prior to World War II in which we examined the history of the area also known as "Wai Momi", meaning "Water of Pearl" or "Pu`uloa", from its ancient days until just before the outbreak of World War II. We also examined the effects of the development of the area by the U.S. military on the culture of Hawaii.