Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
December 7, 1941, was a quiet Sunday morning in Hawaii. That all changed at 7:55 AM when planes and submarines from the Empire of Japan attacked the U.S. military base at Pearl Harbor. Most of the U.S. Pacific Fleet docked at Pearl Harbor. U.S. fighter planes at the base were clustered together on their airfield—making easy targets for the Japanese warplanes.
2,403 Americans were killed, and 1,143 were wounded. 1,177 of the dead were aboard the USS Arizona. Eighteen ships were sunk or run aground, including five battleships, 188 U.S.warplanes were destroyed, and 159 were damaged.
A memorial to the people killed on the USS Arizona Memorial rests over the ship’s wreckage. Another monument was erected to honor the USS Utah, which rests on its side in the harbor. To this very day, whenever a USN ship nears either memorial, everyone onboard comes to the ship’s deck in their dress whites to salute the American heroes who died in the attack.
Tensions Between The U.S. And Japan
In the months before the attack, Japan joined Germany as an axis power in WWII. The U.S. was trying to stay neutral (at least publicly). Japan began to expand its territory with attacks on European colonial holdings, such as French-Indo China (Vietnam), British Malaysia, Singapore, Dutch Indonesia, and the Philippines, which was a U.S. territory. The invasions led to an American embargo of oil exports to Japan. American oil represented about 80% of the Japanese supply.
Those Japanese invasions of European and American holdings and the U.S. oil embargo led to negotiations between the U.S. and Japan. It was an attempt to cool down the tension between the countries. On December 7, as their warplanes were bombing Pearl Harbor, Japan’s negotiators were in Washington D.C. preparing for a meeting with Secretary of State Cordell Hull, adding to the surprise of the Pearl Harbor attack.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s December 8th Speech To America
The day after the Japanese attack on Hawaii, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke before a joint session of Congress. His speech was broadcast across America. There is much to criticize about the Presidency of FDR, but on December 8, 1941, he was brilliant.
FDR did not mention gun control. Nor did he bring up global warming or vaccines. He did not rationalize that the Japanese bombers weren’t representative of all Japanese people worldwide. He did not mention negotiations. Nor did he mention the need for more negotiations. Instead, FDR calmed Americans’ fears. He instilled in them the confidence and hope they needed as citizens from their leader. Still reeling from the Great Depression, now shaken by the first attack on American soil since the War of 1812 almost 130 years earlier. America needed to be reminded of its exceptionalism and rallied for the battle ahead.
Roosevelt’s speech was broadcast on the radio and greeted with a standing ovation from both political parties in Congress.
Within an hour after Roosevelt was done speaking, a near-unanimous Congress declared war on Japan. The vote was 82–0 in the Senate and 388–1 in the House. Jeannette Rankin, a pacifist Republican from Montana, was the only vote against the war resolution.
Judge Samuel Irving Rosenman, who served as an adviser to Roosevelt, described the scene:
It was a most dramatic spectacle there in the chamber of the House of Representatives. On most of the President’s personal appearances before Congress, we found applause coming largely from one side—the Democratic side. But this day was different. The applause, the spirit of cooperation, came equally from both sides. … The new feeling of unity which suddenly welled up in the chamber on December 8, the common purpose behind the leadership of the President, the joint determination to see things through, were typical of what was taking place throughout the country.
Two days later, Germany joined Japan in declaring war against the U.S. Congress responded by declaring war on Germany the same day. The United States was now engaged in the Second World War.
Interestingly the U.S. Constitution, Article I, section 8 gives Congress the power to declare war. The declaration of war against Japan and Germany was the last time Congress declared war. Congress may have supported the Presidential decisions to wage war since WWII, but they did not consider or pass a war declaration.
Below is the text and video of President Roosevelt’s Day Of Infamy speech:
Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
The United States was at peace with that nation, and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.
Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And, while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.
It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time the Japanese Government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.
The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.
Yesterday the Japanese Government also launched an attack against Malaya.
Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.
Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam.
Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.
Last night the Japanese attacked Wake Island.
And this morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island.
Japan has therefore undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.
As Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense, that always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.
No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people, in their righteous might, will win through to absolute victory.
I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.
Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.
With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph, so help us God.
I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.
Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor
Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor