I couldn’t be a World War II history “fanatic” and not make some mention of the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7th, 1941. “…a date,” proclaimed President Franklin Roosevelt, “which will live in infamy…” One-hundred and twenty survivors of that attack on the US Naval Base at Pearl Harbor are there today to honor the 2,403 soldiers, sailors, Marines and civilians that were killed on that day.
A lot has been made over the years about the bumbling surrounding the official notification of the attack by Japanese diplomats in Washington. The attack was a complete surprise…or was it? Not being a World War II “Scholar,” I would still lean toward the idea that the diplomats had no real intention of notifying officials in Washington. “Operation Z,” as it was known by in planning, had to be a complete surprise attack to work. The Japanese were trying to buy time. Time to build more ships. Time to get more oil supplies from their conquest of the Dutch East Indies and Malaya. More time by killing the morale of the American people to fight a war so far away from home, and the possibility of war in two hemispheres. As we know, that latter part failed.
President Roosevelt addressed a joint session on December 8th at 12:30 p.m. The address was live on radio. From the President’s speech…”It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned for many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time, the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.”
Whether it was a “complete surprise” or not, it turned into the perfect “card” for a president that was desperately trying to get isolationist America into the war. And by all historical accounts, it was a good thing for the world. If the Japanese, for their own interests, had not attacked Pearl Harbor and the napping US Fleet there, the US probably would have gone years, if at all, before full-scale involvement in the war in Europe. The majority opinion of the American people was that the war was over there, not over here. Secure our borders and wait for the Gerrys to try and invade us. The President signed the Declaration of War against Japan at 4:00 in the afternoon on December 8th. The only dissenting vote to that declaration was Jeanette Rankin, a pacifist Representative in the House from Montana.
Most importantly, the ramping up of the military and change-over to war production in the United States, clearly brought us out of the worst depression in our economic history. It wasn’t the alphabet socialist programs of FDR, but World War II that made that happen. And it changed the world in more ways than we imagine. Our world, the way we lived and worked in America. The home front.
So I always take a moment on December 7th to remember those that died in the attack, including the 55 Japanese that perished, and how that incident woke the American people to the danger they faced to their freedom and democracy from outside. Yeah, it was a different time, I guess, but it sounds really familiar.
“I speak the will of the Congress and the American people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will see to it that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.” –President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.