December 7, 2019, marks the 78th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. This was a pivotal day in world history, ultimately leading the United States to enter the Second World War.
Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan participated in a series of invasions into China, believing the only way to solve its economic and demographic problems was to expand into China and take over its import market. This attitude helped create rising tension with the United States, and American officials ultimately responded with economic sanctions and trade embargoes. Although it seemed war was inevitable, the Japanese preempted the American military with a surprise attack targeting Pearl Harbor, which is 2,000 miles from the U.S. mainland and 4,000 miles from Japan.
Pearl Harbor is a U.S. naval base located near Honolulu, HI. On a Sunday morning on December 7, 1941, just before 8:00 a.m. local time, Japanese fighter planes descended on the base in a surprise attack. Five additional attacks followed throughout the day. The Japanese managed to destroy nearly 20 American naval vessels, which included eight battleships, and more than 300 airplanes. While the military equipment could ultimately be replaced, the more than 2,400 military personnel and civilians who died paid the ultimate price.
It is believed the United States was especially surprised by the attack, as American military leaders felt, if an attack were to take place, it would come from the sea rather than the air. In addition, American intelligence officials were confident that any Japanese attack would take place in one of the European colonies in the South Pacific, such as Singapore or Indochina, which are closer to Japan than Hawaii.
Despite devastating Pearl Harbor, all hopes were not lost that day, and the Japanese could not cripple America’s Pacific Fleet. Aircraft carriers were not docked at the base, and the key onshore oil storage, shipyards, repair shops, and docks were left largely intact. From a functional standpoint, the U.S. Navy was able to quickly rebound. However, even 78 years later, the residual emotional effects of the attack continue, particularly among WWII veterans, as well as the family members of those who perished.