“Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Members of the Senate, and of the House of Representatives: 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.
I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost.”
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese navy attacked American naval forces at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in a two-hour assault that opened the Pacific theater on American soil. The Japanese targeted “Battleship Row” to protect their oil interests in southeast Asia. They aimed specifically at battleships because they believed, left intact, these vessels would decide the war for the Americans, a supposition that turned out to be wrong. On that day, aircraft carriers were out to sea and the Japanese attack disregarded targets such as repair yards and oil tank farms. It is said that a high-ranking Japanese naval officer later stated his country had won a tactical victory that lost them the war.
Nineteen U.S. Navy ships were devastated, however, including the USS Arizona and USS Oklahoma, destroyed beyond repair. Over two thousand U.S. personnel, including civilians, were slaughtered in the attack that raged from all sides. About half of military personnel killed were onboard the Arizona. Today, the sunken ship, American flag flying on a memorial constructed above it, continues to leak fuel, referred to as “tears of the Arizona.” This fact sheet provides more specific details, including the human cost, reduced to numbers there, and increasingly forgotten in our society today. Numerous sets of brothers were stationed together in Pearl Harbor, for example, and died in the attack. Sailors jumping overboard to escape sinking ships landed in the midst of oil fires. Japanese-Americans in Hawaii feared their families would be executed. Perhaps what many Americans are unaware of is that at least some of the Japanese pilots had no idea the Americans would be caught by surprise. One later expressed his shame and collected signatures for a letter of apology, as detailed here.
In 2020, seventy-nine years after the assault, few survivors are around anymore to provide details, give speeches or talk on the radio about their horrific experiences. And as awful as this morning was for them, we need to remember their sacrifices—including in the years following the war—and those of their fellow Americans who lost their lives that day. What they gave up has enabled us to strive for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Our country is imperfect, but our freedom allows us to work together to make changes for the better, and these men and women are a huge part of the reason we still enjoy this gift. If we forget them, we risk losing everything they sacrificed and died for.
In our bookish world, we have lots of ways to pay tribute to our courageous brothers and sisters, without whom we simply would not be. Below is a selection from the books spotlighted on this page, 10 Books on Pearl Harbor Every History Buff Should Read (be sure to see them all). Reading, blogging the topic or book reviews, sharing or gifting the works are just a few ways we can contribute to the meaning of Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day and give back at least a little bit.
Day of Infamy: The Bombing of Pearl Harbor by Walter Lord – You probably know author Walter Lord’s name from his definitive work A Night to Remember, about the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912. Here, “Lord provides intimate glimpses of those most affected by the bombing—from both the American and Japanese sides. Through primary and secondary research, Lord highlights moments of heroism and sacrifice, closing the distance between the past and present to create a humanizing portrait of the tragedy.”
Pearl Harbor: The Verdict of History by Gordon W. Prange with Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon – “Like Pearl Harbor: Final Judgment, this book explores the failures of American intelligence prior to the attack. Why didn’t the United States recognize the dangers threatening their Pacific fleet? Could Pearl Harbor have been prevented? Prange and his co-authors have the benefit of hindsight, but their analysis is level-headed and fair.”
The Attack on Pearl Harbor: Strategy, Combat, Myths, Deception by Alan D. Zimm – “Pearl Harbor was a history-changing event, but it was also something fairly straightforward: a military strike. Author Alan D. Zimm analyzes the attack from this latter perspective, examining Japanese strategies and the oft-held belief that the attack was flawless in its planning and execution. The book strips away myth and emotional response, taking a more tactical approach that will captivate military buffs.”
Sunday in Hell: Pearl Harbor Minute by Minute by Bill McWilliams – “McWilliams’ book breaks down the events of Sunday, December 7 through a minute-by-minute analysis. His attention to detail conveys a devastating sense of immediacy: Dozens of perspectives offer a collection of specific moments that form a well-rounded view of the attack.”