Remembering Pearl Harbor 75 Years Later

As we reach the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, it is a time to look back at the sacrifices that were made and the events that occurred which led us up to that faithful moment that will live on in infamy.

The Initial Attack On Pearl Harbor

Just a few moments before 8:00AM on Sunday, December, 7, 1941, the first two waves of Japanese aircraft launched a devastating attack on the US Pacific Fleet, moored at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. There was no warning before the raid, and there was no declaration of war. Four battleships were destroyed and four additional were damaged within two more hours. The attack also destroyed the 188 US aircraft. While 100 Japanese perished in the attack, more than 2,400 Americans were killed and another 1,200 were injured.

The attack commenced at 7:48 a.m. Hawaiian Time. The base was attacked by 353 Imperial Japanese fighter planes, bombers, and torpedo planes in two waves; launched from six aircraft carriers.

All eight U.S. Navy battleships were damaged, with four sunk. All but the USS Arizona (BB-39) were later raised, and six were returned to service and went on to fight in the war. The Japanese also sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, and one minelayer.

188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed; 2,403 Americans were killed and 1,178 others were wounded. Important base installations such as the power station, shipyard, maintenance, and fuel and torpedo storage facilities, as well as the submarine piers and headquarters building (also home of the intelligence section) were not attacked. Japanese losses were light: 29 aircraft and five midget submarines lost, and 64 servicemen killed. One Japanese sailor, Kazuo Sakamaki, was captured.

The Shock of the Attack

The attack came as a profound shock to the American people and led directly to the American entry into World War II in both the Pacific and European theaters. The following day, December 8, the United States declared war on Japan. Domestic support for non-interventionism, which had been fading since the Fall of France in 1940, disappeared. Clandestine support of the United Kingdom (e.g., the Neutrality Patrol) was replaced by active alliance. Subsequent operations by the U.S. prompted Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy to declare war on the U.S. on December 11, which was reciprocated by the U.S. the same day.

The Reason Behind the Attack

The cause of the attack on Pearl Harbor started from the intensifying Japanese-American rivalry in the Pacific. Japan’s ambitions had been clear from as early as 1931, when they invaded Manchuria. The conquered region’s bountiful resources were then used to supply Japan’s war machine. As they officially left the League of Nations in 1933, Japan pursued an aggressive foreign policy that was aimed at creating the “Great East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere’, which was an euphemism for a Japanese empire modeled after the European ones of the 19th century.

Japan intended the attack as a preventive action to keep the U.S. Pacific Fleet from interfering with military actions the Empire of Japan planned in Southeast Asia against overseas territories of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and the United States. Over the next seven hours there were coordinated Japanese attacks on the U.S.-held Philippines, Guam and Wake Island and on the British Empire in Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

Japan Seen as a Serious Enemy

Japan was soon seen as a serious threat to the economic interests and influences of the United States and European powers in Asia. By July of 1937, when Japan engaged in all-out war with China, relations plunged to an all time low. President Roosevelt imposed economic sanctions and Japan turned to the Axis powers, signing the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy in September of 1940.

Congress Declares War on Japan

The Pearl Harbor attack severely crippled U.S. naval and air strength in the Pacific. However, the three aircraft carriers attached to the Pacific Fleet were not at Pearl Harbor at the time and thus escaped. Of the eight battleships, all but the Arizona and Oklahoma were eventually repaired and returned to service, and the Japanese failed to destroy the important oil storage facilities on the island. The “date which will live in infamy,” as U.S. Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt termed it, unified the U.S. public and swept away any earlier support for neutrality. On December 8 Congress declared war on Japan with only one dissenting vote (Rep. Jeannette Rankin of Montana, who had also voted against U.S. entry into World War I).


“Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt