7 DECEMBER 1941 marked an abrupt turning point in world history. The treacherous Japanese air attack on the United States Fleet at Pearl Harbor and the Army Air Forces in Hawaii triggered a World War of unprecedented proportions.
On 8 December 1941 the Congress of the United States declared war on Japan, whereupon Germany and Italy three days later, on 11 December 1941, declared war upon the United States. Their action was in compliance with their mutual assistance treaty with Japan known as the Tripartite Pact of 27 September 1940. It is worthy of note that the United States did not formally enter the European War until after Germany and Italy declared war on the United States.
Thus the Pearl Harbor attack brought the full potential of the United States into the European War which had continued since September 1939 and which up to that time seemed destined to bring victory to the aggressors. But, as a consequence of United States involvement, an all-out war was touched off around the globe. The tide of battle was gradually turned against Hitler's Nazi Germany and Italy's Fascist Mussolini. Their dictatorships, as well as the brutal militarism of Japan, were doomed to ignominious defeat. The war lords of Japan's efficient military machine eventually suffered complete rout, and were doomed to humiliating defeat and unconditional surrender. The defeat of these three powers was accomplished only after a long series of bloody battles, land, sea, and air, which continued at an ever-increasing tempo for nearly four years.
The titanic world struggle not only changed territorial boundaries and governmental framework, but affected basically the whole fabric of civilization, even the manner of living and the peoples' attitudes, standards, and ways of life. Indeed, the consequences of Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and Hawaii were world-shaking, and they are of a continuing nature which will influence history in all phases for years yet to come.
The immediate result of the Pearl Harbor attack was seeming disaster to the sea power of the United States, but this proved only temporary. The
psychological effect on fleet personnel was to arouse a fighting spirit which turned disasters into victories.
Among the American civilian population too, the attack unified wide diversities of viewpoint and opinion, and solidified the total population in a spirit of willing sacrifice and determined effort which gave unlimited support to the armed forces. The mobilization of moral, mental, physical, and spiritual effort produced a miracle of production such as has never been imagined by man. The output of ships, airplanes, tanks, guns, and landing craft was astronomical. Likewise, the over-all logistic support to the millions of Americans and their Allies who manned these weapons of war, was quite beyond calculation.
Thus, the Japanese militarists who had planned the Pearl Harbor attack over many months of careful and arduous preparation triggered for themselves a disaster quite the opposite of their dreams of conquest. Rather than conquerors they became the supine victims of their own machinations. The Japanese. government had been led into violating its solemn agreements signed at The Hague in 1907 not to attack another nation without a declaration of war or an ultimatum. That government was entirely dismantled and re-instituted as a democratic government by a generous and compassionate America.
So, in retrospect, the ambitions of the military forces of Japan, which culminated in the treacherous attack on the Fleet and Hawaiian Air Forces, proved calamitous. Its perpetrators failed entirely to understand that unrighteousness, although flourishing for a time, cannot eventually prevail in a world whose major powers stand for peaceful pursuits and fair dealing. The Japanese government failed miserably in underestimating the recuperative power of its newly made enemy and the American potential for all-out combat. The success of the Japanese attack was more than compensated for by the aroused moral and spiritual powers of the American people as they applied themselves to the task before them.
However, it must be recognized that the Japanese performed a masterful job in planning, preparing, practicing, and executing the attack. The efficiency of all aspects was well-nigh unbelievable, especially by people who habitually underestimated the capabilities of the Japanese. It is worthy of note that the weapons employed by Japan were the airplane and the aerial torpedo. Both of these were developed by the United States, but not as efficiently as used by the Japanese. Why? Because the United States was unprepared for war due to a public fetish that preparedness invited international misunderstanding and eventual conflict.
So, before outlining the damage wrought and the remedial measures taken, it seems appropriate to describe in some detail the strategy and tactics employed in delivering the attack, and why it was so successful. Thereafter we might cover the Fleet's response to the onslaught, the effect on specific ships, remedial action taken including details of salvage operations, and so forth. But first it would seem profitable to pinpoint the basic causes underlying and overlying the international situation which set off the holocaust.
Although much has been written regarding the world turmoil which developed during the 1930's, a short and specific recounting of the fateful events which culminated in World War II is necessary. Now it is quite clear that the war was the result of wanton military aggression by Germany, Italy, and Japan, and that the United States was forced to take up arms against these predatory forces if freedom and peace were to survive in the world. These basic facts have never been fully comprehended by the American people; neither have they understood how it was possible for the Pearl Harbor disaster to occur. One of the purposes of this book is to enlighten the public on these points, especially the new generations. Such is a responsibility of historical writings, and it is particularly important that the oncoming personnel of the Navy and the other military services should have a ready reference from which to select guidelines when confronted with comparable problems and circumstances. It is well to take account of the words of George Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
It is interesting to note that our wartime enemies are now our closest friends. Japan, Germany, and Italy enjoy the compassion and generosity of America, and are industrial leaders in their parts of the world. When we speak of Germany we mean, of course, West Germany, under the influence of the United States and her Allies. East Germany is a satellite of Russia and has been subjected to Soviet influence rather than to the influence of the Western World.
Changes have also occurred among Allies in the war, including Russia and China. Russia has been the mother country of communism and has been our principal adversary for at least twenty years while she has fomented unrest throughout the world. China, whom we befriended against Japan, has fallen to communism and has turned out to be our mortal enemy. Strange indeed are the anomalies that occur in international relations.