War: Japan launches reckless attack on US (1941)

Original publication: LIFE Date: December 15, 1941
Categories: 1940s, Events, Magazines, Places, War
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Japan launches reckless attack on U.S.

In desperate gamble on victory or suicide it strikes first blow at Hawaii

Japan attacks Pearl Harbor - WWII - Life Dec 1941 (4)

Out of the Pacific skies last week, World War II came with startling suddenness to America. It was 7:35 a.m. on a Sunday morning — the aggressors’ favorite day–when two Japanese planes, wearing on their wings the Rising Sun of Japan, flew out of the western sky over the Hawaiian island of Oahu.

Japan had seized the initiative and was making the most of the aggressor’s privilege to strike the first blow.

With reckless daring Japan aimed this blow at the citadel of American power in the Pacific, the great naval fortress of Pearl Harbor. Close observers of Japan have said for years that if that country ever found itself in a hopeless corner it was capable of committing national hara-kiri by flinging itself at the throat of its mightiest enemy. Japan has found itself in just such a corner. It could not retreat without losing all and it could not advance another step without war.

It took the desperate plunge and told its enemies in effect: “If this be hara-kiri, make the most of it.”

Japan’s daring was matched only by its barefaced duplicity. There was no warning — not even such an ultimatum as Hitler is wont to send while his legions pour across some new border.

>> Writer tells story of attack on Pearl Harbor (1941)

At the very moment the first bombs fell on Pearl Harbor, Japan’s two envoys in Washington were in Secretary Hull’s office at the State Department, making their blandest protestations of peaceful intent. Ambassador Nomura and Envoy Kurusu had come with the answer to Hull’s note. He read it through and then, for the first time in many long, patient years, the soft-spoken Secretary lost his temper.

Into the teeth of the two Japanese, who for once did not grin, he flung these words: “In all my 50 years of public service, I have never seen a document that was more crowded with 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.”

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The two Japanese scurried out of his office and home to their Embassy. Even as Hull spoke, America sprang to arms. Wherever it was in the wide ocean, the U. S. Fleet went into action and all over the Pacific U. S. garrisons stood ready.

America goes to war

In Washington, President Roosevelt dictated his war message to Congress. From Army and Navy headquarters, the prearranged orders went out which transformed the U. S. into a nation at war.

In the face of an attack so clear that no man could argue it, the nation stood absolutely united. Senator Wheeler, the leader of Isolationists, spoke for all when he said: “The only thing now is to do our best. to lick hell out of them.”

How much or how long it would take to lick Japan, no man could say. The U.S. Navy has always been supremely confident of its ability to sink the Japanese Fleet in open battle or, if the enemy ships refused battle, to strangle the island empire by blockade.

>> 350 killed in Japanese attack on Hawaii (1941)

In recent months, the vulnerable Philippine station has been strengthened by the addition of squadrons of heavy bombers. With new British warships at Singapore, plus the combined land-air strength of the British, Dutch and Australian forces, America has a long-range superiority over Japan. It may be, indeed, that America’s greatest danger is overconfidence.

There will surely be more naval losses and more strong attacks on American islands because Japan has a strategic and tactical advantage at the outset of this Pacific war. It will take not only all-out U. S. military might but great persistence and great courage to hurl back attack and to win the final victory.

Jap bombers aim first blow at Oahu base

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Great Pearl Harbor Naval Base is center for defense of entire US Pacific coast

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>> Japan declares war (1941)

The US fleet takes first punishment

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Japs sneak in close for Hawaiian attack

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Source publication: LIFE

Publication date: December 15, 1941


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