Today, I wanted to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor. But I don’t just want to look at the events on that day in isolation. This is a recounting, but there will be a little bit of explication, as well.
Above is a video of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt giving an address to the U.S. Congress on December 8, 1941 in response to the attack. He was asking Congress to declare war on the Japan.
Beyond that, the United States would take some actions that served as dark marks on FDR’s presidency. I think there are things we can learn about it, as their lessons should really resonate today.
What Happened at Pearl Harbor
On Sunday, December 7, 1941, the Japanese launched a surprise attack on the United States at Pearl Harbor. The attack began at 7:55 am Hawaii Time and it would last two hours.
The damaged caused by the Japanese that day included: the destruction and severe damage of 19 naval vessels and the destruction of 188 aircraft. About 2,280 U.S. military personnel were killed with 1,109 wounded. Sixty-eight civilians died in the attack.
By comparison, Japan’s Losses totaled to 30 planes, five midget submarines, fewer than 100 men.
The most devastating hit in the attack was on the USS Arizona. A 1,800-pound bomb hit the deck and landed on the battleship’s ammunition magazine. About 1,000 men were trapped inside the sinking ship.
The USS Utah was also destroyed.
Damaged ships included: the USS California, USS Maryland, USS Nevada, USS Oklahoma, USS Pennsylvania, USS Tennessee, and USS West Virginia. All these were ultimately salvaged and repaired.
Ultimately, the United States fleet was able to rebound from the attack.
At the time, aircraft carriers were becoming the most important naval vessel. As it turns out, all 3 of the U.S. air carriers stationed at the base were not at Pearl Harbor during the attack. In fact, all of the U.S. carriers were deployed in some fashion.
Additionally, oil storage depots, repair shops, shipyards, and submarine docks, were left intact.
FDR’s Speech the Following Day
I was able to find a transcript of the entire speech, but I want to look at the first part of it. As everyone knows, this is the speech were the words “a date which will live in infamy” were uttered, but I want to look at the full context.
Yesterday, December 7th, 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.
The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.
Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.
At the time of the attack, the United States was in months-long negotiations with the Japanese government. At the time of the December 7, 1941 attack, the Japanese ambassador to the United States was in Washington, D.C. The United States had enforced economic sanctions and embargoes on Japan because the latter had declared war on China in 1937 and was trying to take over China’s economic territory (“Pearl Harbor”).
It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned 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.
The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.
Although President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his advisors felt that war between Japan and the United States was imminent, no precautions were taken to bolster the defenses on the area (“Bombed”).
The Island of Oahu (where Pearl Harbor was located) was 4,000 miles from the nation of Japan. The U.S. figured that Japan would hit closer targets, like Singapore.
However, the Japanese saw Pearl Harbor as a prime target. The land-locked harbor was on the southern coast of Oahu island, Hawaii, West of Honolulu, and it housed the U.S. Pacific Air Fleet. The goal of the Japanese was to destroy the fleet.
FDR would go on to talk about the totality of Japan’s offensive in the Pacific (as the United States was not the only country hit) as reason enough to enter war with Japan.
The Congressional Response
The resolution was approved by an 82-0 vote in the Senate. The House of Representatives approved the resolution by a 388-1 vote.
Rep. Jeanette Rankin of Montana was a pacifist. Hers was the lone dissenting vote. She also voted against U.S. action in World War II. Her reasoning:
As a woman, I can’t go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else.
Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S. three days after the U.S. resolution was passed (“Pearl Harbor”).
The United States’ Response Within Its Own Borders
The United States was involved in World War II for four years. During that span, the nation lost 400,000 lives due to the fighting.
But shortly after the United States declared war on Japan, negative sentiment against Japanese Americans became an issue. Many feared that those who were Nisei — of Japanese descent — could act as sleeper agents and carry out attacks from within U.S. borders.
In February 1942, President Roosevelt succumbed to public pressure. He passed an executive order that would place 127,000 Japanese-Americans in 10 internment camps in 7 states: California, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Arkansas. And until those camps were built, evacuees were forced to live in temporary lodging, which included stables at local racetracks.
Even members of the military were required to evacuate, as long as they had Japanese ancestry (“Internment”).
Many of those subject to the order sold their homes and property because they couldn’t be sure they would be able to retain those things once the war was over. They were right, since many were banned from ever returning to their hometowns in postwar years.
One in the internment camps, Japanese Americans had to abide by strict rules. They lived in tarpaper barracks and had to dine in community mess halls. Children were required to go to school. And anyone who tried to escape the premises would be shot on sight.
In addition, people of Japanese descent were taken from their homes in 13 Latin American countries. Most were Peruvians who were of Japanese descent. Those families were placed in a camp in Crystal City, Texas that was surrounded by barbed wire. Many of these detainees were deported to Japan and weren’t allowed to return.
Japanese-American Survivors of the internment camps were offered $20,000 dollars remittance each as part of the Civil Liberties Act. The act was signed by President Reagan in 1988 (Lewis).
Ten years later, a formal, official apology was given to survivors from Latin America. President Bill Clinton signed that statement, and also pledged that the U.S. government would give $5,000 to each survivor (Rainey).
To Avoid Repeating History
Now, there have been many Americans who have expressed fear that we may regress (due to the results of the recent election). Some of us fear that he will deport hardworking immigrants and separate families.
The worst fear is that American Muslims will be put on registries, which may lead to a reprisal of internment camps.
The fears are understandable, given what has happened and what has been said. There is a long-smoldering distrust of Muslims that was fully awakened after the September 11, 2001 attacks and attacks by militant Islamists have only added to that mistrust. Also, the president-elect has said on the campaign trail (and who has his ear).
In particular, Steve Bannon has expressed troubling views and revealed his own deep-seated prejudices against women, minorities, and those of the Jewish faith. For him to serve as top council is troubling.
Another troubling prospect is having Rudy Giuliani serve as Attorney General (A.K.A. America’s “Top Cop”). He has expressed a desire to make “Stop and Frisk” a national policy, despite the evidence that it discriminates and has little if any effect on curtailing crime.
From the above concerns, I seriously doubt we will have something liked internment camps. The American public would be largely against it and would not want to repeat anything resembling the internment camps.
However, I am concerned about law enforcement in general and its effect on our civil liberties. That is a subject I would like to talk about in depth and it is something we all need to watch closely.
“Franklin Delano Roosevelt – Pearl Harbor Address to the Nation.” American Rhetoric. Web. Retrieved 7 Dec 2016. <http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/fdrpearlharbor.htm>.
History.com Staff. “Pearl Harbor bombed.” History.com. A+E Networks; 2009. Web. Retrieved 7 Dec 2016. <http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/pearl-harbor-bombed>.
History.com Staff. “Pearl Harbor.” History.com. A+E Networks; 2009. Web. Retrieved 7 Dec 2016. <http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/pearl-harbor>.
Lewis, Danny. “Five Times the United States Officially Apologized.” Smithsonian.com. 27 May 2016. Web. Retrieved 7 Dec 2016. <http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/five-times-united-states-officially-apologized-180959254/>.
“Pearl Harbor.” Infoplease. Sandbox Networks, Inc. Web. Retrieved 7 Dec 2016. <http://www.infoplease.com/encyclopedia/us/pearl-harbor.html>.
Rainey, James. “U.S. Apologizes to Internees.” The Las Angeles Times. 13 June 1988. Web. Retrieved 7 Dec 2016. <http://articles.latimes.com/1998/jun/13/local/me-59411>.
UShistory.org. “Japanese-American Internment.” U.S. History Online Textbook; Copyright 2016. Web. Retrieved 7 Dec 2016. <http://www.ushistory.org/us/51e.asp>.