By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News
Posted 12/07/16 (Wed)
Today is a grim date in American history. It should be noted that of all the conflicts the United States has fought in its 240-year history, Dec. 7, 1941 is the one day that personifies an entire war in which 417,000 Americans lost their lives.
So what was Japan’s motivation for “awakening a sleeping giant?”
Apparently, there was a sea-going rivalry in the Pacific for years between Japan and the United States leading up to Dec. 7, 1941. At the time, Japan was the aggressor and the United States stayed back and gathered intelligence.
Japan knew the United States had a weak Navy and its intelligence pointed toward an attack that could further cripple the American Pacific fleet.
Why? Japan felt the U.S. was meddling in its military affairs in Southeast Asia through surveillance.
So Japan launched the attack early on that Sunday morning as a preventative action to keep the U.S. fleet from interfering in Japan’s military actions from Manchuria to Cambodia.
Obviously it didn’t work and Hirohito’s theory of controlling the Pacific was a gross miscalculation.
In the years leading up to Dec. 7, there were plenty of red flags in the United States indicating the aggressive nature of Imperial Japan.
In one example, Roosevelt actually went to Congress in 1938 and told them the Japanese were amassing a fleet in the Pacific. His message was largely unnoticed.
By 1940, Roosevelt wanted the United States to get involved while publicly saying time and again during campaign speeches to get re-elected, the U.S. wouldn’t send its boys into a Pacific battlefield.
Roosevelt’s private rationale was such that if the United States entered the war with England, the two allied nations could keep Japan from getting stronger than it already was.
Unfortunately, Roosevelt got his wish and the war jumped right into high gear at 7:55 a.m. on Dec. 7.
The Japanese had planned the attack for a long time and studied American habits before putting their plan together. They knew that if they attacked early on a Sunday morning, Americans would be relaxed and couldn’t react as quickly.
That calculation was correct as most were either sleeping or just getting breakfast.
What the Japanese didn’t realize was that the American aircraft carriers, the target of the 110-minute attack, were out to sea.
Ironically the “zeroes,” as service members called the Japanese airplanes, only attacked airfields and the ships in Pearl Harbor Naval Base. Unscathed were repair facilities and fuel depots.
Eight U.S. battleships were either sunk or severely damaged, 2,343 men were killed, 1,272 were wounded and 960 went missing, 188 U.S. airplanes and 11 other ships were destroyed.
There were 1,177 crew members who died on the USS Arizona that included 37 sets of brothers.
And to aid its aerial attack, the Japanese sent five mini submarines to target U.S. battleships.
There were 353 Japanese planes that hit Pearl Harbor that morning, planes that traveled 3,400 miles in two waves to carry out the carnage.
If you can imagine the chaos that was happening, Americans were able to sink four of the mini subs and capture the fifth.
In fact, while the “zeroes were en route, the USS Ward is credited with firing the first shot that sank the first mini sub. That happened at 6:37 a.m., one hour and 18 minutes before the first Japanese bombs went boom.
In addition, five American pilots were able to get their planes airborne and give chase to the Japanese in an almost impossible task.
The Japanese lost 28 planes that were shot down and 65 men were killed. One Japanese soldier was captured.
A day later, Roosevelt went to Congress with a much stronger message than in 1938. He sought a war declaration and got it.
For the next four years, all five branches of service were involved in the Pacific in one way or another stretching from Australia’s Sydney Harbor to the waters off the coast of Los Angeles.
If things weren’t bad enough in those two days, Adolph Hitler declared war on the United States on Dec. 11, 1941 for what he called a flagrant disregard for neutrality and favor of Germany’s adversaries such as England.
It’s no wonder people thought the world was coming to an end. It almost did and it was all because of one attack on Dec. 7, 1941.