No moment in the history of the United States casts a longer shadow than Pearl Harbor. “Remembering” it has become a national imperative, a patriotic duty for the American people, and reminding us of that duty has become a ritual of media and political discourse—repeated so often and in so many ways that it’s become part of the routine of our communal life.
– Rob Citino, PhD
It was on December 7, 1941 that 353 Japanese bombers attacked the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, destroying 19 ships, 188 aircraft and killing more than 2,000 Americans. It was this act that drove the United States into World War II.
“December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy,” President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously proclaimed.
The surprise raid on the major U.S. Navy base near Honolulu killed more than 2,400 Americans.
According to the National Park Service, Congress designated Dec. 7 as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day in August 1994. Remembrance events are held every year at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial.
Here are some facts surrounding that fateful day in U.S. history:
What happened during the attack on Pearl Harbor?
Just before 8 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, hundreds of Japanese planes made the surprise raid on Pearl Harbor. During the attack, which was launched from aircraft carriers, nearly 20 American naval vessels, including eight battleships, were damaged or destroyed, as well as more than 300 aircraft, according to the History Channel.
Why was Pearl Harbor a pivotal moment in WWII and U.S. history?
Until the raid, the U.S. had hesitated to join World War II, which had started on Sept. 1, 1939, after Germany invaded Poland.
In those nearly 2 1/2 years, the U.S. had extensively aided the United Kingdom, virtually the sole source of resistance to the Nazis in Europe, but a general mood of isolationism – brought on, according to the State Department’s Office of the Historian, by the Great Depression and the memory of huge losses during World War I – led Roosevelt and Congress to be wary of intervention.
Pearl Harbor reversed that in a day, with Congress issuing a declaration of war after Roosevelt’s speech on Dec. 8, 1941.