Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor Propels U.S. into WWII
Speaking to a solemn joint session of Congress on Dec. 8, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt made this famous declaration: “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.” Although the Japanese attack was a stunning example of military planning and execution, and resulted in a smashing victory, it was indeed smeared with infamy—for the two nations were not at war, and the attack was completely unprovoked and came with absolutely no warning. In fact, one hour after the attack commenced two Japanese officials met with the U.S. secretary of state in Washington, D.C., to submit a formal reply to an overture made to the Japanese government on November 26 to maintain peace.
The attack on Pearl Harbor dealt a severe blow to the U.S. Pacific Fleet. All eight battleships were damaged and four sunk, 10 other ships were damaged or sunk, over 300 aircraft damaged or destroyed, and over 2,400 men killed. The Japanese only lost 29 aircraft, 5 midget submarines, and 64 men killed. It appeared the Japanese had triumphantly achieved their objective of crippling the U.S. fleet so that it could not oppose their expansion in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific.
The Japanese victory was not total, however. Perhaps most importantly, the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s three aircraft carriers were not in Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack and escaped harm. Naval warfare in WWII established that the era of the battleship was over; the aircraft carrier ruled supreme, and in that sense the U.S. fleet was very lucky. Also, the Japanese concentrated on attacking warships and aircraft and ignored the support facilities on the shores of Pearl Harbor, essentially leaving that vital military facility intact to help the U.S. Pacific Fleet recover and prepare to carry the war to the Japanese.
The day after the attack on Pearl Harbor the U.S. declared war on Japan. Nazi Germany and Italy, Japan’s allies, then declared war on the U.S. America was now fully engaged in WWII, a contest that would test the strength and resolve of the entire nation for 3½ years before victory was finally won—after the loss of more than 400,000 U.S. military personnel.
The following newspaper articles were some of the first news the American public received about the attack on Pearl Harbor. These copyrighted articles all appeared on the front page of the Dec. 8, 1941, issue of the Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia):
U.S., Japan at War
Honolulu and Pearl Harbor Bombed by Japanese Planes
President Roosevelt Is Expected to Ask for War Declaration Today
Washington, Dec. 7 (AP)—Japan declared war upon the United States today and an electrified nation immediately united for a terrific struggle ahead.
President Roosevelt was expected to ask Congress for a declaration of war tomorrow.
During the day, Japanese planes bombed Honolulu, Pearl Harbor and Hickam Field, Hawaii, without warning. In a broadcast from Honolulu, some 350 soldiers were reported dead at Hickam Field, with numerous casualties at the other points of attack.
The War Department’s first official estimate of deaths was much lower, however. Army chiefs told the White House there were 104 known dead and more than 300 wounded in the army forces. These figures did not include civilian casualties.
The Japanese aggression, which the United States officially and unequivocally described as treacherous and utterly unprovoked, bore these first fruits for the empire, as summed up from official and unofficial sources:
350 Soldiers Killed
• Up to 350 U.S. soldiers killed and more than 300 wounded at Hickam Field, Hawaiian Island;
• The U.S. Battleship Oklahoma set afire and two other U.S. ships at Pearl Harbor attacked;
• Invasion of northern Malaya and bombing of Singapore;
• Invasion of Thailand (Siam) and bombing of Bangkok;
• Heavy damage to Honolulu residential districts, where there were unnumbered casualties;
• Torpedoing of a lumber-laden U.S. army transport between Hawaii and San Francisco;
• Bombing of the Philippine Islands;
• Capture of the U.S. Pacific islet of Wake and bombing of Guam;
• Seizure of the International Settlement at Shanghai;
• Capture of the U.S. Gunboat Wake at Shanghai and destruction of the British Gunboat Peterel nearby.
There was heavy damage in Honolulu residential districts and the death list among civilians was large and uncounted.
The German radio reported that a sea battle between the Japanese navy on one side and the British and U.S. on the other was in progress in the western Pacific, with a third U.S. warship hit in addition to the West Virginia and Oklahoma.
There was little news of U.S. defensive actions, except the report that a number of the attacking planes at Honolulu had been shot down in dog fights over the city; and unconfirmed report that a Japanese aircraft carrier had been sunk off Hawaii; and announcement that U.S. army and navy forces had started carrying out secret instructions long since issued to them in event of just such an emergency.
At first the White House announced that Manila also had been bombed. But The Associated Press correspondent there reported later that all was quiet. The White House later said it had been unable to get substantiating reports of the attack on the Philippine capital and that President Roosevelt hoped the report of the bombing “at least is erroneous.”
Shortly after the Hawaiian bombings became known the Tokyo government announced that Japan had entered a state of war with the United States and Great Britain as of 6 a.m. tomorrow (Monday).
As day broke over the far Pacific, the White House announced that Japanese planes also had attacked the American-owned island naval base at Guam. Just previously the navy had told of an unidentified squadron of planes appearing over the island. No further details were available immediately.
Fliers in Battle
Army airmen engaged Japanese fighting planes over Honolulu. In the city below them, the White House said, a heavy loss of life had been inflicted, together with extensive damage to property.
The capital went on a full wartime basis within an hour after the attacks were reported. In addition to the president’s orders to the army and navy, Secretary [of War] Stimson ordered the mobilization of all military personnel. All officers were ordered to report in uniform.
The capital was amazed and surprised at the day’s tragically dramatic developments. At most a Japanese attack on Thailand had been foreseen. That the Japs had attacked the distant Pearl Harbor stronghold and Honolulu seemed incredible.
But the capital was calm about it, too. A small, subdued crowd gathered in front of the White House, looking for all the world like any Sunday accumulation of sightseers. To all outward appearances that was the only indication that war finally had engulfed the nation.
Apparently at almost the exact time of the Pacific bombings, the Japanese embassy called the State Department for an appointment which carried the futile peace negotiations of the last few months to a fitful and flickering conclusion.
Envoys See Hull
Tokyo’s two ambassadors here, Kichisaburo Nomura and Saburo Kurusu, were seeking an appointment. They arrived 20 minutes late for it and Secretary of State Hull kept them waiting for 15 more before receiving them.
Gone was the blithe breezy aplomb, which had characterized their numerous previous visits to the department. There was a tight-lipped, almost embarrassed smile for newsmen, and an absolute refusal to answer questions. Kurusu paced the diplomatic reception room. Nomura sat stolidly upon a leather divan, only a frequently tapping foot betraying his perturbation.
Finally they were admitted to the secretary’s office. To him Nomura handed Japan’s reply to this country’s formula for Peace in the Pacific. Gravely, Hull read it. Then the secretary of state turned toward the Japanese ambassador and in a “tone of the greatest indignation,” as the department later described it, told him he had never seen a document so “crowded with infamous falsehoods and distortions.” Wordlessly the Japanese left.
It was apparent immediately that the nation was uniting for the struggle ahead, forgetting the bitter battle of words between those who had opposed the administration’s foreign policy and its supporters.
Senator Wheeler (D-Mont.), a leader of the Senate bloc opposed to the president’s foreign policy, promptly made this statement:
“The only thing now is to do our best to lick hell out of them.”
New York, Monday Dec. 8 (AP)—NBC reported from Manila early today that it had received a report that the U.S. Transport General Hugh L. Scott, formerly an American president liner, had been sunk about 1,600 miles from Manila.
Singapore, Monday Dec. 8 (AP)—The Japanese have landed in north Malaya, it was announced officially today.
Shanghai, Monday Dec. 8 (AP)—The Japanese took over the American Shanghai Power and Light company this morning.
Los Angeles, Dec. 7 (AP)—Premier Hideki Tojo told the Japanese people in a broadcast from Tokyo “I hereby promise you that Japan will win final victory.”
He said Japan was declaring war on the United States for “self-protection and self-existence.”
New York, Dec. 7 (AP)—The NBC correspondent in Manila reported tonight that the Pan-American Airways base on the Island of Guam had been bombed by the Japanese.
New York, Dec. 7 (AP)—The Berlin radio tonight broadcast a Tokyo announcement that the U.S. Battleship West Virginia had been sunk and the U.S. Battleship Oklahoma set afire in an engagement between the Japanese and the U.S. and British navies. The broadcast was heard by CBS.
Washington, Dec. 7 (AP)—President Roosevelt has authorized the arrest of Japanese nationals regarded as “dangerous to the peace and security of the United States,” Attorney General Biddle announced today.
San Jose, Costa Rica, Dec. 7 (AP)—Costa Rica declared war on Japan tonight.
Before the declaration the government ordered the arrest of Japanese engaged in cotton and rice-growing along the coast near Puntarenas.
New York, Dec. 7 (AP)—The Netherlands East Indies declared war on Japan tonight, NBC reported.
New York, Dec. 7 (AP)—An Axis-controlled radio station at Shanghai broadcast a Japanese report tonight saying “a large number of Thai military forces have commenced moving towards the southern border of Burma.”
Hull says Japanese Reply to U.S. Crowded with Lies
Washington, Dec. 7 (AP)—Following is the text of the statement issued at the State Department today in connection with Secretary Hull’s meeting with Japanese representatives who called upon him to deliver their nation’s reply to a document previously given to them by Hull:
(The Hull document had stated the principles governing the policies of the government of the United States toward the situation in the Far East and had given suggestions for a comprehensive peaceful settlement covering the entire Pacific area.)
“At 1 p.m. today the Japanese ambassador asked for an appointment for the Japanese representatives to see the secretary of state. The appointment was made for 1:45 p.m. The Japanese representatives arrived at the offices of the secretary of state at 2:05 p.m. They were received by the secretary at 2:20 p.m. The Japanese ambassador handed to the secretary of state what was understood to be a reply to the document handed to him by the secretary of state on Nov. 26.
“Secretary Hull carefully read the statement presented by the Japanese representatives and immediately turned to the Japanese ambassador and with the greatest indignation said:
“I must say that in all my conversations with you (the Japanese ambassador) during the last nine months I have never uttered one word of untruth. This is borne out absolutely by the record. In all my 50 years of public service I have never seen a document that was more crowded with infamous falsehoods and distortions—infamous falsehoods and distortions on a scale so huge that I never imagined until today that any government on this planet was capable of uttering them.”
Canada Declares War against Japan
Ottawa, Dec. 7 (AP)—Canada declared war on Japan tonight.
Prime Minister W. L. Mackenzie King made the announcement after a long emergency meeting of the cabinet.
A declaration of war has been drawn up for formal submission to the king, to take effect as from today, he said.
British Parliament to Convene Today
Declaration of War against Japan Expected
London, Monday, Dec. 8 (AP)—The British Parliament was called into special session for 3 p.m. today (9 a.m. EST) to hear a government statement which everyone agreed would be a declaration of war against Japan expected to coincide with similar action by the United States.
Japan already had declared war on Great Britain and the United States last night as Prime Minister Churchill conferred with U.S. Ambassador John G. Winant and as London awaited fulfillment of Churchill’s now unneeded pledge to declare war on Japan “within the hour” if Japan attacked the United States.
Belief was expressed in British quarters here that the Japanese already had attacked “some British possessions” as well as the Pacific bastions of the United States.
The Japanese embassy, which had been inaccessible by telephone for hours, late last night completed arrangements to quit Britain immediately, including the burning of its secret documents.
Japanese Ambassador Kamimura was expected to be called to the Foreign Office today to receive his passports. The Tokyo government previously had ordered the ambassador home for consultation.
The ambassador said he expected all the 500-odd Japanese in Britain to be interned immediately “at least in principles.”
Japanese Third Secretary Matsui said the news of war “comes as a surprise, but not as a shock.”
The only documents from Prime Minister Churchill’s official residence said both the House of Commons and the House of Lords would meet at 3 p.m. and “a statement will be made in both houses.”
German Intentions Not Made Public
Official Berlin Silent on Course of Action
Berlin, Monday, Dec. 8 (AP)—Obligated under the three-power pact to go to Japan’s assistance if Japan is “attacked,” Germany referred early today to hostilities in the Pacific as “clashes.”
A special communiqué failed to clarify Germany’s intentions, but termed President Roosevelt a “war incendiary.”
Article three of the tripartite pact, signed by Italy, Germany and Japan on Sept. 27, 1940, provided that those three countries “undertake to assist one another with all political, economic and military means” if one of the three contracting parties was attacked by a power not then involved in the European or Asiatic wars.
“The war monger Roosevelt has reached his aim,” said the Berlin statement.
The statement referred to what was described as President Roosevelt’s “blind hatred against the Reich of Adolf Hitler.”
The special announcement was divided into two sections. The first said:
“As a result of constantly increasing war mongering of the American President Roosevelt in recent weeks, the first clashes between Japanese and United States armed forces occurred today.”
Joint Session of Congress Will Hear President Today
Senator Connally Makes Announcement after Cabinet Meeting at White House
Washington, Dec. 7 (AP)—Senator Connally (D-Tex.) announced from the White House steps tonight that President Roosevelt would address a joint session of Congress at 12:30 p.m. tomorrow.
Emerging from the front door of the White House as a meeting of the president’s cabinet ended, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said:
“The president will address a joint session of Congress at 12:30 p.m. tomorrow. That is all I can say.”
As he made the statement to newspapermen, Secretary of War Stimson left the White House and Senator Hiram Johnson (R-Calif.) departed a moment later.
Speaker Rayburn said that the president did not tell the conference what he was going to say in tomorrow’s message. And when he was asked whether the chief executive would propose a declaration of war, he replied solemnly:
“I don’t know.”
Rayburn said that the chief executive, cabinet and congressional leaders went over the entire situation and that the president had remarked that some rumors were going about which were unconfirmed.
What those rumors were, the speaker did not say. A declaration of war, Rayburn asserted, would be one thing on which there would be congressional unity.
Asked whether there had been discussions of discarding politics during the present crisis, House Republican Leader Martin remarked:
“This is a serious moment. We were not talking about politics. Of course there will be none.”
The Senate Republican leader, McNary of Oregon, declined to speculate whether the president would request a declaration of war but told reporters:
“The Republicans will go along with what is done, in my opinion.”
Cabinet members and congressional leaders had met with Mr. Roosevelt to discuss the ominous implications of Japan’s declaration of war upon the United States and Great Britain.
Solemnly, ten cabinet members and Vice President Wallace filed into the White House at 8:30 p.m. Grim-faced senators and representatives of both parties followed in half an hour.
“Of course it’s war,” remarked Senator Austin (R-Vt.).
Secretary of Commerce Jones was the first of the ten department heads to arrive.
Vice President Wallace shook Jones’ hand at the door.
Secretary of State Hull arrived on the dot at the hour set for the momentous meeting. Secretary Knox was last and five minutes late. He rushed in without pausing.
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