Saturday, December 7, 2013

Today In History - The Sneak Attack On Pearl Harbor

At 7:48 Hawaiian time,  on Sunday, December 7, 1941, the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor commenced. It was the worst single attack on U.S. soil prior to the attack on 9/11, specifically the attack on the World Trade Center in which 2,606 people perished (not including those on the plane). At Pearl Harbor, there were 2,402 Americans killed and 1,282 wounded, many ships of the Pacific fleet were sunk and otherwise damaged, hundreds of aircraft were destroyed and many ground installations likewise. The attack brought President Franklin D. Roosevelt to call on Congress for a declaration of war on Japan, on December 8, 1941, the very next day.

It was a quick and almost unanimous decision on the part of the president and Congress to declare war. At 12:30 in the afternoon, on December 8, 1941, Roosevelt commenced a brief speech, of  7 minutes, to a joint session of Congress in which he made the eternal statement that December 7, 1941 was a date that would live in infamy.

Immediately after the speech, the issue was brought to a vote, first in the Senate and then in the House. The vote in the Senate was unanimous, 82-0, the vote in the House was 388 to 1 (the first woman elected to Congress, an avowed pacifist, was the sole no vote). The votes were lightning quick and a declaration of war achieved by 1:10 PM. It took only 33 minutes, from the conclusion of Roosevelt addressing Congress, to the completion of the vote and for war to be declared on Japan! The president signed it within three hours. The speech and declaration of war brought applause from our elected representatives. Only Great Britain declared war on Japan faster than did the U.S. after the attacks of December 7th. (British territory in the Pacific has also been attacked simultaneously.) Winston Churchill essentially lived up to his promise to declare war on Japan within an hour of any attack by Japan on the United States.

The attack on Pearl Harbor brought about instant and dramatic change to the spirit of Americans - a nation that had been very politically divided at the time.

"It was a most dramatic spectacle there in the chamber of the House of Representatives. On most of the President's personal appearances before Congress, we found applause coming largely from one side—the Democratic side. But this day was different. The applause, the spirit of cooperation, came equally from both sides. ... The new feeling of unity which suddenly welled up in the chamber on December 8, the common purpose behind the leadership of the President, the joint determination to see things through, were typical of what was taking place throughout the country." (source)

What was taking place throughout the country was national unity! The speech by Roosevelt was broadcast on the radio and was the most listened to radio broadcast in U.S. history. The peace and isolationist movements crumbled. Charles Lindberg (remember him, first to fly non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean from the USA to Europe), a leading anti-war proponent and critic of President
Roosevelt said:

 "Now [war] has come and we must meet it as united Americans regardless of our attitude in the past toward the policy our Government has followed. ... Our country has been attacked by force of arms, and by force of arms we must retaliate. We must now turn every effort to building the greatest and most efficient Army, Navy and Air Force in the world." (source)

Recruitment for the U.S. military was at an all time pace.  Never before, not even after the U.S. got involved in WWI, had it been so high, recruiting stations were kept open round the clock. Civilians agreed to rationing to support the war effort and worked toward that end causing U.S. manufacturing of military ordnance to boom. The national spirit had risen to heights never before seen and never seen since and it lasted until the war's end in 1945. It was a different world, most certainly a different country, populated by a different class of people - United Americans.

All the best,
Glenn B


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