This Thursday marks the 76th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, which led the United States to enter the Second World War. A series of invasions by the Japanese into China and rising tension with the U.S. made conflict between the two countries “inevitable” but American military forces did not expect that Pearl Harbor, 4,000 miles from Japan and 2,000 miles from the U.S. mainland, would be targeted.
Pearl Harbor: Date and time of attack
The Japanese attacked the U.S. Naval base in Hawaii on December 7, 1941. The assault took American forces by surprise early in the morning. The first wave of Japanese fighters fired on the island at 7:55 a.m. Hawaiian time and five additional attacks followed throughout the day, until 9 p.m.
Defenders of the military base were caught unprepared as they expected any attack, if one occurred, would come from the sea rather than the air.
How many people died during the Pearl Harbor attack?
More than 2,400 Americans sailors, soldiers, and civilians died during the attack and another 1,000 were wounded.
Few of the veterans who experienced the attack are still alive. On this anniversary, two men will be awarded medals posthumously for their bravery in saving the lives of fellow sailors in 1941. The late Lt.j.g Aloysius Schmitt, the Navy chaplain who sacrificed his life to save his shipmates, will receive the Silver Star. The remains of Schmitt, chaplain on the USS Oklahoma, were identified last year using DNA evidence. Chief Boatswain's Mate Joseph George of the USS Vestal, who died in 1996, will receive the Bronze Star for saving the lives of several sailors aboard the USS Arizona.
Ira “Ike” Schab, 97, is the lone survivor of Navy Band Unit 13. He was a 21-year-old tuba player when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and he returns there whenever possible.
"I feel I have a duty to go back. At least to, you know, talk to the guys. I go back to that memorial and I'll sit there and I'm having conversations with them,” he told The Oregonian.
How many ships were sunk in the Pearl Harbor attack?
Nearly 20 American naval vessels were destroyed in the attack, including eight massive battleships. More than 300 airplanes were also lost.
Japanese forces did not target the most important vessels in the U.S. Pacific Fleet, aircraft carriers which were all away from the base on December 7, or vital facilities like oil storage depots, repair shops, and shipyards. This made recovery easier for the U.S. Navy after the attack.
Earlier this week, a crew of researchers explored the wreckage of the USS Ward, the first U.S. ship that fired on the Japanese vessels during the Pearl Harbor attack. The ship has remained unseen at the bottom of the Ormoc Bay in the Philippines since it was destroyed by a kamikaze plane in 1944.
The U.S. response to the Pearl Harbor attack
President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed the nation at a joint session of Congress the next day calling December 7 “a date which will live in infamy” and called on legislators to approve a declaration of war against Japan.
In the wake of the attack, prejudice-fueled rumors spread about Japanese-Americans sabotaging the war effort. Many American media outlets, including Fortune, painted a racist picture of the enemy as well as Japanese immigrants and their American-born children living in the U.S.. Time magazine published “How to Tell Your Friends from the Japs” two weeks after the Pearl Harbor attack, outlining the differences between stereotypes of Chinese and Japanese people.
The New York Times also contributed to anti-Japanese rhetoric, explaining how the Japanese “have kept their savage tradition 'unbroken through ages eternal,’ from the fabulous age of their savage gods to the present day," as did Newsweek and the Los Angeles Times.
Hollywood also participated in the response with films—such as those by director Frank Capra, who is known for It’s a Wonderful Life and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington—that included racist anti-Japanese propaganda despite being presented as documentaries.
Two months after the attack, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which initiated an evacuation of all Japanese-Americans from the West Coast of the U.S. This resulted in the creation of internment camps across the country where approximately 120,000 people, many American citizens, were held for years during World War II in a serious violation of their civil liberties.