Photo: The Pearl Harbor National Memorial in Honolulu, Hawaii.
This year marks the 80th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a U.S. naval base in Honolulu, Hawaii. In his speech to Congress following the attack, President Franklin Roosevelt depicted December 7, 1941, as “a date which will live in infamy.”
The Pearl Harbor attack came as a surprise. Japan had been communicating its hope for peace in the Pacific right until the attack. However, American intelligence officials believed that if an attack were to happen, it would occur in the Dutch East Indies, Singapore, or Indochina—European colonies in the South Pacific—and not so close to home. Japan, though, had been planning the attack for some time. Because the naval facilities at Pearl Harbor were relatively undefended, the Japanese saw Pearl Harbor as an easy target.
On a Sunday morning on December 7, almost 360 Japanese planes attacked the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, and before the day was over, more than 2,403 Americans would have died. The battleships Arizona and Oklahoma were destroyed, and numerous other vessels were damaged.
President Roosevelt asked Congress for a declaration of war against Japan a day after the attack. Before Pearl Harbor, the United States’ involvement in World War II included supplying the Allied Powers with aid (Britain, China, the Soviet Union, and French forces). During the 1930s, isolationists advocated non-involvement in World War II. But the attack on Pearl Harbor officially launched the U.S. into World War II. Three days after the United States declared war on Japan, Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S.
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