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Today is Pearl Harbor Day...the day that will live in infamy. We should make every effort to see the images, to hear the stories, to find ways to make the horror of that day real to a new generation of Americans that struggle to understand the significance of an event that changed the world 70 years ago. Pearl Harbor is a story of survival, a story of treachery, a story of shock, a story of heroism, a story that adds an integral piece to the puzzle that is the story of this great nation.
Professor Jim Lacey wrote an excellent summary of the events here, including this excerpt:
Just before 8:00 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941, the first of two waves of attacking aircraft swept over Pearl Harbor. Barely 15 minutes later the most powerful battleships of the mighty U.S. Pacific Fleet were either sunk or burning wrecks. The California was half submerged, with her keel lying in the harbor's mud. Nearby, the West Virginia had her port side torn open. Her twisted metal was burning, but for now she was still afloat. Two other ships, the Tennessee and the Maryland, were battered, but in better shape than their sisters. Beside them, the Oklahoma had been struck by a barrage of torpedoes and capsized. The U.S.S. Nevada was the only battleship to get underway that morning, but she was damaged and had run up onto the beach. The worst fate was suffered by the U.S.S. Arizona,which blew up and sank, taking over 1,000 of her crew with her.
It's an important point to remember: the Japanese never thought they would conquer the United States. That's not what the purpose of the attack was. Japan wanted the oil fields of Southeast Asia and the islands of the South Pacific, largely because of the loss of trade with the United States - the result of their decision to ally with Hitler. Japan knew that the American Navy would never stand idly by while they overran the Pacific, and so they decided a crippling blow would buy them enough time to get firmly entrenched in those islands and territories they would conquer. The hope was that by the time our Navy was reassembled we would lack the resolve or dedication to prying the Japanese loose of their gains. They clearly calculated wrong:
Fewer and fewer Pearl Harbor survivors are among us today. But their spirit, and the spirit of those who have already passed on - on December 7, 1941 or since - must survive. They've done their duty to the cause of America. Let's do ours.
In those dark first months after the Pearl Harbor disaster, it was not apparent to many that Japan had already lost the war. For, despite sinking much of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, the Japanese had missed a couple of crucial targets. Foremost among these were the huge oil-storage facilities on Oahu. Their loss would have delayed the American counterattack in the Pacific by as much as a year. One can only imagine how much more costly the conquests of Tarawa, Saipan, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa would have been had the Japanese had another year to fortify them. Just as important as the oil facilities were the American aircraft carriers, which were at sea when the Japanese attacked. The first of them to return, the Enterprise, sailed into Pearl Harbor the day after the attack. Surveying the wreckage from the bridge, Adm. William Halsey could not hide his dismay and anger. When asked later about how America would recover, Halsey replied, "When this war is over the Japanese language will be spoken only in hell." America had found the first of its fighting admirals.
In fact, even the Japanese naval genius who planned the Pearl Harbor attack, Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, understood that Japan had made a horrible strategic mistake. Before the attack, he told the Japanese prime minister, "In the first six to twelve months of the war . . . I will run wild and win victory upon victory. But, if the war continues after that, I have no expectation of success." His words proved prophetic. Almost precisely six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the American carriers that the Japanese strike had missed inflicted a crippling blow on the Japanese Imperial Fleet at Midway. In a gratifying turn of events for the Americans, the four Japanese carriers sunk at Midway ? the Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu, and Shokaku ? were all part of the fleet that had struck Pearl Harbor. In the time it took the Japanese to replace these losses, American industry, which had turned its pitiless might to war, had rolled out of its dockyards over two dozen carriers. To paraphrase Admiral Yamamoto, Japan had awakened a giant it could not hope to defeat.