Throughout the 1930’s, America negotiated with Japan for the cessation of hostilities in the Asian Pacific. Japan had taken Manchuria by 1931, then grew to all-out war with China by 1937. They then took French Indochina to open better supply routes in 1940. In response to their tacit refusal to stop invading other Asian countries (atrocities reported in China were a major factor), America placed an oil embargo on the Japanese. The Japanese then began to take over oil production in the Dutch East Indies, though it did not give them the resources they needed to continue their war efforts. Japan needed to hit America where it hurt, and they had a brilliant plan. Their diplomats began presenting our politicians with “friendship medals” to hold American suspicions at bay.
Then, on December 7, 1941, the suspicions of Naval Intelligence were confirmed as reality arrived in the skies over Pearl Harbor–90 Nakajima B5N bombers, 54 Aichi D3A dive bombers, and 45 Mitsubishi A6M fighters (also known as “Zeros”) began dropping bombs on US Navy Destroyers, Minelayers and Cruisers as well as US fighter planes on the airfields at Hickam, Kaneohe and Ewa. The first wave consisted of a total of 183 planes. The USS Arizona was the first ship to be sunk early in the attack when a modified 16″ shell hit her forward magazine.
The USS Oklahoma, USS California and USS West Virginia were all sunk; the California and the West Virginia were able to be raised and repaired, but the Oklahoma had capsized. For days after the attack, sailors could be heard rapping on the hulls of their sunken ships, hoping to be freed before the air ran out in the lower compartments. During the second wave of the attack, American anti-aircraft defenses had dramatically improved. As a result, Admiral Nagumo decided against a third wave. Japanese honor held that maintaining strength was preferable to total destruction of the enemy, and Nagumo faced the possibility of abandoning two carriers en route back to Japan if he launched the third wave. It was his honor that stopped the third wave, and as a result American munitions, storage, maintenance and dry dock weren’t hit. If it had, Pearl Harbor would have been far more devastating.
The USS Arizona as the forward magazine was hit:
The USS Arizona today:
The attack on Pearl Harbor drew America into World War II after a decade of attempting to avoid fighting. American involvement in World War I had been remarkably unpopular; today’s anti-war protests pale in comparison to the protests then. The idea was that Europe’s problems didn’t concern us, and we should just stay out of it. But when news of atrocities being committed by the Japanese made American headlines, popular opinion wanted our government to try to find a peaceful end.
The lesson we should take from this is that peace should be attempted; you should try diplomacy. However, when it becomes clear that peaceful negotiations aren’t getting anyone anywhere, you must be willing to roll up your sleeves, pick up your weapon and fight. This world will always have its share of evil men, willing to kill as many innocent people as they must to get what they want. When intelligent reasoning fails, you have to take it a step further. If we are unwilling to fight, we do not deserve the freedom we have. It’s that simple.
We lost 2,335 sailors, soldiers and marines during the attack; we also lost 68 innocent civilians. Japanese Zeros strafed near at least one hospital, showing the cowardice and the low levels to which they were willing to sink. Raise a glass today to those souls. Thank them for the price they paid to make sure we remained free. And the next time you think about how horrible war is, think of what it could be like if nobody’s willing to stand up for what’s right.