|The burning hulk of the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor.|
Well, a little background and context:
First, Pearl Harbor is itself is a lagoon of the Hawaiian island of Oahu. By 1941, Hawaii was a US territory in the Pacific, and host to one of the nation’s military outpost—a big one. President Roosevelt moved a massive chunk of the US Navy Pacific Fleet from San Diego to Pearl Harbor as a bristly warning for the Japanese to stop their conquest efforts throughout the Pacific islands and Asia. It was an act that only added to deteriorating relations between the US and Japan. The result was the now infamous surprise attack.
The attack itself was planned months ahead of the event with Japanese pilots rehearsing every detail of the raid. And this is key—preparations were in full swing while still in negotiations with the US. Indeed, six Japanese aircraft carriers and support craft secretly steamed for Hawaii a week and half before the attack. At about 7:48 am local time, waves of nearly four hundred planes descended on Pearl Harbor, dropping bombs and torpedoes, as well as strafing vehicles, aircraft and personnel on the ground. Because it was a Sunday, the American forces were literally caught sleeping.
|Japanese scale model of Pearl Harbor used to plan Dec 7.|
By contrast, Imperial Japanese losses were a fraction of those suffered by the US. Four midget submarines were sunk with one captured. Only 29 Japanese aircraft were destroyed. Japanese killed in action during the attack totaled 64.
December 7th was a blow, to be sure. And while a fine stroke from a military perspective, Pearl Harbor did not have the decisive impact Japan hoped. The US did not sue for peace, nor was there irreparable damage sustained to most vessels. And for the most part, the Pearl Harbor facilities were left largely untouched.
Certainly the human toll, damages and havoc wrought by the attack is one attribute of the event. Witnesses and survivors know the horror of the experience—and horrific it was to those trapped in capsized ships, strafed in the water, or in and near explosions. Burning oil, mangled ships and planes, along with human carnage everywhere leaves an indelible image. The other, however, the one that stung most—and for some never permitted forgiveness—was the treachery of Japan's conduct. So awful in the whole event was the fact that it took place while Japanese diplomats were negotiating with the US government. No declaration of war, no formal diplomatic warning—nada. It was an intentional dupe into the possibility for peace. Part of the cause was from the time it took Japanese diplomats to decipher messages from Tokyo, and then to retype them for a meeting scheduled with the US Secretary of State Cordell Hull. The final part of a 14-part message was delivered more than hour late and read as follows:
Thus, the earnest hope of the Japanese Government to adjust Japanese-American relations and to preserve and promote the peace of the Pacific through cooperation with the American Government has finally been lost.
The Japanese Government regrets to have to notify hereby the American Government that in view of the attitude of the American Government it cannot but consider that it is impossible to reach an agreement through further negotiations.Despite transcription issues, the original intent was to time a hint of war only mere minutes before the attack. Japan, it turns out, never really wanted peace. Secretary Hull admonished the Japanese diplomats and dismissed them from his office. They would be taken to a nearby hotel and held until war’s end. But before the day was out, and within hours of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Japan also invaded the Philippine Islands, that itself had tragic and horrendous consequences for American and British forces there. However, it compounded the already unthinkable and wicked idea that Japan had attacked during negotiations to keep the peace.
Adding to our collective cringe at the thought of events during the attack at Pearl Harbor, is the fact that it is a living memory. This is not an incident with impact softened by centuries. Many of its victims are still alive today and can recount their experiences. While much of the wreckage at Pearl Harbor was removed, repaired or even left cloaked by water, the Arizona Memorial marks one of the greater tragedies of the attack—nearly an entire crew lost with the ship, accounting for almost half of all the deaths suffered during the attack. The US Navy continually pays homage to the fallen of the Arizona. Its decaying hulk is marked and protected. It is hallowed ground. And crowds come to view it every day. She represents what is considered an unprovoked attack at a time when deceptions of peace were used to mask murderous intent, marking a day that will live in infamy.
|An aerial view of the Arizona Memorial.|