The Pearl Harbour Attacks

Today marks the 68th Anniversary of the Pearl Harbor Attacks. In mid 1941, the United States reacted to Japanese occupation of French Indochina by freezing Japanese assets. In October, the moderate cabinet in Tokyo was replaced by a hardliner government headed by General Tojo. At 7:58 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941, the alarm went out: “Air raid, Pearl Harbor. This is not drill!” as many naval personal were at their Sunday masses.

Although the Americans had received warnings (and ignored them), surprise was complete. Despite the fact that within seven minutes after the first attack, nearly all navy shipboard antiaircraft guns were manned and in action, American losses were heavy: USS West Virginia, Tennessee and Arizona, along with the battleships ShawCalifornia, Oklahoma and Nevada sank. However, the aircraft carriers were at sea and escaped much to the disappointment of Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku, Commander-in-Chief of the Imperial Combined Fleet. He hoped that a quick, surprise attack on the U.S. fleet would make the Americans petition for peace, leaving the Pacific open for the Japanese expansion. He was said to have commented: “we can run wild for six months or a year, but after that I have utterly no confidence.”

On the U.S side, 188 aircraft were destroyed and 155 aircraft damaged as opposed to the Japanese losses of 27. Over two thousand U.S. militarymen were killed, but most of the civilian casualties during the attack came from them being hit by antiaircraft bullets falling back to earth. The loss was humiliating and total. Japan quickly emerged as a major world power–within a year, it had taken over the Dutch East Indies, Malaya, Singapore, Siam, Burma, China, the American Commonwealth of the Philippines, and many South Pacific islands; it already controlled Korea, Manchuria, and Taiwan.

The attacks left many enduring legacies. It ended the era of isolationism in the States; it increased the security measures surrounding the American interests home and abroad. Before the Pearl Harbour, the White House “security perimeter” began at the front doors of the building and citizens wandered around on the grounds of the White House as they did in Jefferson’s days. After Japan’s attack, the perimeter was moved outward to the high cast-iron fence, where they remain to this day. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was repealed when the Kuomintong China became an US ally against Fascist Japan, while xenophobia would lead to the Japanese internment camps.

On the Asian side, one of the greatest anthropological discoveries in history fell prey to the Pearl Harbour. Since the 1920s, a gifted Canadian amateur named Davidson Black was excavating in China at a place, Dragon Bone Hill. Among other things, he discovered there Sinanthropus pekinensis, or more commonly the Peking Man. On the day after the Pearl Harbor, a contingent of U.S. Marines, tried to smuggle the bones out of the country. They were intercepted by the Japanese and imprisoned. Their bone crates were left them at the roadside. It was the last that was ever seen of the Peking Man.

(Above pictures: from U.S. Navy Archives)

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