From the flight deck of the aircraft carrier, the sunken battleship Arizona was vivid beneath the surface water of Pearl Harbor, a stark image of the “Day of Infamy” ‑ December 7, 1941.
More than 60 years have passed since USS Princeton shipmates lined the rail in silence as the carrier glided to its berth. The experience could have been last summer, so memorable is the image.
The Arizona, which sank swiftly after a Japanese torpedo bomb hit an ammunition magazine, has been an icon of the attack. The USS Arizona Memorial was constructed over the sunken ship. Visitors are taken by boat to the memorial. Like many others, I was impressed by the number of Japanese visitors, probably related to high Japanese interest in their history as facts replaced propaganda in recent decades. Truth ultimately prevails.
On the white marble of the memorial are the names of the 1,177 sailors, Marines and officers lost on the Arizona that Sunday morning 80 years ago. The cremains of many Arizona shipmates who survived the attack have been added to the 1,102 entombed.
The naval base at Pearl Harbor took the heaviest losses, but other U.S. military installations were attacked, including Wheeler Field. The attack on Hawaii killed more than 2,400 people and it was the beginning of a massive Japanese offensive throughout the Pacific that continued for six months.
For a decade, Japan had been aggressively expanding its empire, and sources of strategic resources such as oil and rubber: Manchuria in 1931; China in 1937. U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt set an oil embargo on Japan and negotiations continued about ending the embargo.
Germany was at war in Europe. The United States was officially neutral; isolationism was the prevailing American attitude. Japan joined the German-Italian Axis in 1940. Following the Dec. 7 attack, Germany declared war on the United States.
The attack was a surprise, although many U.S. political and military leaders anticipated war with Japan at some point. Dec. 7 settled the question of when and where. By the way, two top Japanese admirals, who had served in diplomatic posts here and understood U.S. attitudes and capability, argued against the attack.
On Dec. 7, the United States was in a world war most Americans wished to avoid. Isolationism, at least the 1920s and 1930s version, ended.
“Remember Pearl Harbor” was a rallying slogan for the years of World War II which continued until 1945. Fifty years passed before Congress got around to declaring Dec. 7 a date of remembrance.
It’s puzzling that recognition took so long, while Sept. 11 was declared Patriots Day soon after the 2001 terrorist attack. Comparisons have been made to the two attacks, 60 years apart. For one thing, both brought the nation together, Pearl Harbor in more significant ways and certainly for a more sustained time.
My generation does not appreciate the monumental impact of Pearl Harbor in the same way our parents – “The Greatest Generation”, thanks to Tom Brokaw – understood, even as they put behind them the tremendous sacrifices Americans made.
Our children and our grandchildren scarcely know the significance of Dec. 7, 1941, let alone the important socioeconomic lessons leading up to date and the following years of war that shaped the world today. In his war message on the following day, President Roosevelt famously termed Dec. 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy.”
Remember Pearl Harbor. Its significance will continue into the future long after the last members of The Greatest Generation and Baby Boomers have passed.
D.G. Schumacher is a part-time senior writer for The Sun News.