A day which will live in infamy
“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.” President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dec. 8, 1941
Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, will be the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the event that catapulted America into World War II. The war actually started on Sept. 1, 1939, with Germany’s invasion of Poland. During the following two years, America aided the Allies, but we were not officially at war. That changed on Dec. 7, 1941.
On Dec. 8, the U.S. declared war on Japan. On Dec. 11, Germany declared war on the U.S.; by Dec. 13, the other Axis nations had also declared war on us. We were now at war on two fronts, Europe and the Pacific.
The attack happened on a quiet Sunday morning. Servicemen were relaxing or at their posts on the ships stationed at Pearl Harbor or at one of the airfields. During the attack, 2,403 Americans died and 1,178 Americans were wounded. One ship, the USS Arizona, had 1,177 Americans serving aboard. Only 333 of those sailors survived the attack; the rest are still entombed below the surface, where the Arizona sank.
The Japanese attack was an attempt to deter America from interfering in Japan’s plan to conquer large areas of the South Pacific and Asia. Part of the purpose of the attack was to weaken our military by destroying the ships and planes stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hickam Field, Wheeler Field, and the other military airfields. The attack damaged or destroyed 21 American ships and 347 American aircraft. The three Pacific fleet aircraft carriers (Enterprise, Lexington, and Saratoga) had been out on duty, and were supposed to return to Pearl Harbor on Dec. 6. They were delayed by bad weather, and so were spared any damage.
One of the most inspirational stories from the attack was the response by the USS Nevada. The Nevada was a battleship, launched in 1914, and was actually the oldest battleship at Pearl Harbor.
The Nevada was hit by a torpedo during the attack, but was able to get moving about half an hour later. As she headed for the Navy Yard, she was repeatedly bombed by Japanese planes. Because of the resulting damage, the ship began to sink. To prevent the ship from sinking in deeper water, the crew was ordered to ground the ship, which they did near Hospital Point. Before the ship finally stopped, the crew had shot down three Japanese planes.
That morning on the Nevada, 60 crew members were killed and 109 wounded. Because the ship had grounded in shallow water, she was able to be salvaged and was later overhauled and modernized. The Nevada subsequently served in the Pacific, at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and in the Atlantic, escorting other ships and serving during the invasion of Normandy. The Nevada was decommissioned on Aug. 29, 1946, and then used by the Navy for target practice until she finally sank on July 31, 1948, serving our country to the end. Our state can take great pride in our namesake ship.
Pearl Harbor was a horrific event. It led our country into WW II. It also led to a shameful event in our history, the internment of over 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry; 62 percent were American citizens. Most of the internees lost everything they owned. Later, thousands of these internees served in the U.S. military, defending the country that had imprisoned them. None were ever found to have committed espionage or any war crimes against the U.S.
As terrible as the war was, most Americans understood what was needed. It meant sacrifice and unity and supporting our troops in truly meaningful ways, not just using patriotic-sounding words. People worked together, enduring hardships such as rationing, because they understood it was for the war effort. I don’t want to ever have to go through anything similar, but I am sad that today we seem to have lost that spirit.
Today, wars are fought by a tiny fraction of our population, and the rest of us barely know anything is going on. That makes it too easy to talk about bombing other countries and acting in other irresponsible ways. As we observe this anniversary, I hope each of us reflects on what war is, and resolve to make sure we never go to war again unless there is no other choice.
Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.