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It's been known as "a day which will live in infamy," and the attack on the U.S Naval base on Pearl Harbor, located on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, on Dec. 7, marks an anniversary that most Americans will remember for years to come.
Tensions had been rising between the United States and Japan during the 1930s. In the previous years, the battle over raw materials had escalated. Japan strived to expand upon China, with the United States threatening to halt provisions of iron, steel and oil. In 1940, Japan allied with Italy and Germany to continue their expansion, prompting America to place an embargo on aviation gas, scrap metal, steel and iron. Once Japan became successful in obtaining all of China (known at that time as Indochina), President Roosevelt added oil to the embargo list and closed off the Panama Canal for Japanese shipping.
Negotiations were dealt, but both sides viewed war as an inevitable end. In late November of 1941, the Japanese began to dispatch aircraft carriers toward Hawaii and troops on the border of present-day Malaysia. American intelligence and military leaders, including Admiral Husband E. Kimmel and General Walter C. Short in command on Oahu, believed that attacks would take place, but somewhere in southeast Asia. Because of the reports from the available intelligence, Pearl Harbor was not on high alert at that time. Nothing was set in preparation of attacks, and few precautions were taken. And as on any Sunday morning, ships were lightly manned and many of the officers and crewmen were leisurely enjoying their weekend.
The horror, however, began around 7:55 am Hawaiian time that Sunday morning, Dec. 7. The first assault from the Japanese consisted of dive bombers, torpedo bombers, high-level bombers and "Zero" fighters, in an effort to target the airfields and battleships. Completely caught off guard, the Americans struggled to defend their territory. An hour later, the Japanese sought to ruin other shipyard facilities and other ships in a second attack which lasted until 9:45 a.m. By that time, a majority of the American planes were wrecked in Oahu. Spared from the damage were the base fuel tanks and three U.S. Pacific Fleet aircraft carriers (Lexington, Enterprise, and Saratoga) that were not in the port.
Equipment lost in the raid included eight battleships, three destroyers, three light cruisers, three smaller vessels and approximately 180 aircraft. The battleships Oklahoma and the Arizona were total losses, with the Arizona suffering from the fate of explosions from an air bomb that weighed 1,760 pounds. But the numbers pale in comparison to the lives lost that day. Various sources note that the American casualties range anywhere from 2,323 to 3,400. The Japanese forces only lost 27 planes, five midget submarines and fewer than 100 men.
We know the rest of the story. The radio airwaves were flooded with the news of the attack. Shock resonated throughout the United States and the world. Then-President Roosevelt publicly addressed the nation and in a united front with Congress declared war on Japan. And men across the country volunteered to join the war effort, leading America and a slew of countries into the devastation of World War II.
The air attack on Pearl Harbor and its aftermath have forever been etched in history's timeline. The shock and panic from the 9/11 attacks in 2001 seemed to mirror the events from Pearl Harbor. But even in the midst of today's war on terror, may we never forget the lives lost on that fateful December morning in Hawaii while we remember those who are still fighting for our freedoms today.