“A Date Which Will Live in Infamy”


December 7, 2016

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the bombing at Pearl Harbor. The surprise attack by Japan was an attempt to destroy the Pacific Fleet of the U.S. Navy. During the 90-minute attack on the Hawaiian naval port, 188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed, 2,403 Americans were killed, and 1,178 others were wounded. The next day, President Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war and enter World War II, which had already been raging for over two years in Europe and elsewhere.

As to the main objective of the attack, the results, from Japan’s point of view, were moderately successful: of the eight U.S. battleships docked at Pearl Harbor on that fateful Sunday morning, all were damaged to varying degrees. However, all but two (the USS Arizona and the USS Oklahoma) were salvaged and eventually returned to service. Of greatest disappointment to Japan – and of greatest relief to the U.S. – none of the U.S. aircraft carriers were at Pearl Harbor when the attack took place.

In his famous speech made before Congress the following day, President Franklin Roosevelt memorably described the events: “Yesterday, December 7th, 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.”

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Japan was able to take advantage of the crippling blow it had dealt to the U.S. by seizing much more territory and consolidating its grip on the entire Pacific region. But the U.S. recovered and mobilized quickly, and by the following April had regained sufficient strength to strike a blow at the very heart of Japan with the Doolittle Raid, in which U.S. bombers launched from the deck of an aircraft carrier – a bold and risky venture – attacked Tokyo itself. Final U.S. victory in the Pacific would be achieved only after more than three additional years of incredibly bloody conflict.

In the intervening decades, Pearl Harbor has become a popular tourist destination and a focal point of patriotic pride and remembrance for Americans. While a few thousand veterans of the attack are still living, with a handful of them on hand this week for commemorations taking place in Hawaii, their numbers will be rapidly dwindling in the coming years, so this 75th anniversary is especially important in that it represents what is perhaps the last significant opportunity for honoring living survivors of these horrific, historic events.