Grateful American® Foundation

Could Pearl Harbor happen again?

December 7th

December 7, 1941 — Today marks the anniversary of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor — a surprise military strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the United States naval base in what was then the Territory of Hawaii that led to the United States’ entry into World War II.

Here’s what happened:

  • The attack commenced at 7:48 a.m. Hawaiian Time.
  • The base was attacked by 353 Imperial Japanese fighter planes, bombers, and torpedo planes in two waves, launched from six aircraft carriers.
  • All eight US Navy battleships were damaged, with four sunk. All but the USS Arizona (BB-39) were later raised, and six were returned to service and went on to fight in the war.
  • The Japanese also sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, and one mine-layer: 188 US aircraft were destroyed, 2,403 Americans were killed, and 1,178 others were wounded.
  • Important base installations such as the power station, shipyard, maintenance, and fuel and torpedo storage facilities, as well as the submarine piers and headquarters building (also home of the intelligence section), were not attacked. Japanese losses were light: 29 aircraft and five midget submarines lost, and 64 servicemen killed. One Japanese sailor, Kazuo Sakamaki, was captured.

The following day, Dec. 8, the United States declared war on Japan. Domestic support for non-interventionism, which had been fading since the fall of France in 1940, disappeared. Clandestine support of the United Kingdom (e.g., the Neutrality Patrol) was replaced by active alliance. Subsequent operations by the United States prompted Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy to declare war on the United States on Dec. 11; the United States reciprocated the same day.

There were numerous historical precedents for unannounced military action by Japan. However, the lack of any formal warning, particularly while negotiations were still apparently ongoing, led President Franklin D. Roosevelt to proclaim Dec. 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy.” Because the attack happened without a declaration of war and without explicit warning, the attack on Pearl Harbor was judged by the Tokyo Trials to be a war crime.

Pearl Harbor Day: On Aug. 23, 1994, the US Congress, by Pub.L. 103–308, designated Dec. 7 of each year as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. Today it is observed annually to remember and honor the 2,403 Americans who were killed in the surprise attack.

Could Pearl Harbor happen again? Check out this article by writer Annie Holmqvist for her perspective. 

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