This day, 78 years ago: Remembering Pearl Harbour, the attack that changed World War II

Mehr Gill
Pearl Harbour attack, Pearl Harbour, Pearl Harbour shooting, US-Japan relations, Donald Trump, indian express, Nanking Massacre, Rape of Nanking

At about 7:55 am on December 7, 1941, about 180 aircraft of the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked the US Naval base at Pearl Harbour on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. (Wikimedia Commons)

Earlier this week, (on Wednesday, December 4), a United States sailor shot dead two civilian shipyard workers at the Pearl Harbour Naval Shipyard in Hawaii, and injured another before killing himself.

The incident happened days ahead of Pearl Harbour Remembrance Day, the anniversary of the horrific attack on the naval base by Japan on this day (Saturday) 78 years ago during World War II.

The December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbour was among the most significant moments of the War -- it signalled the official entry of the US into the hostilities, which eventually led to the dropping of nuclear bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

Significantly, in December 2016, Shinzo Abe became the first sitting Japanese Prime Minister to visit Pearl Harbour.

What led up to the attack on Pearl Harbour?

Before Japan attacked Pearl Harbour in 1941, relations between the US and Japan were already worsening.

In 1910, Japan annexed Korea and, in 1937, it invaded China, sending alarm bells ringing in the US and other Western powers about Japan’s manifest expansionist agenda.

Between December 1937 and January 1938, an episode which is referred to as the “Nanking Massacre” or the “Rape of Nanking”, occurred — Japanese soldiers killed and raped Chinese civilians and combatants.

Japanese historians estimate that anywhere between tens of thousands and 200,000 Chinese were killed. According to estimates by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, over 200,000 Chinese people were killed, and roughly 20,000 Chinese women were raped by Japanese soldiers. These figures do not include the bodies that were destroyed by burning or were thrown into the Yangtze river.

According to the Nanjing War Criminals Tribunal, “at least 300,000 Chinese were killed”.

The US was against Japan’s aggression in China, and imposed economic sanctions and trade embargoes after its invasion. Japan was reliant on imports for oil and other natural resources -- this was one of the reasons why it invaded China, and later French Indo-China (present day Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia). The intention was to take control of the major Chinese ports to have access to resources such as iron, rubber, tin, and most importantly, oil.

In July 1941, the US ceased exporting oil to Japan.

Negotiations between the two countries ended with the “Hull Note”, the final proposal delivered to Japan by the US. Essentially, the US wanted Japan to withdraw from China without any conditions.

Ultimately, the negotiations did not lead to any concrete results, following which Japan set its task for Pearl Harbour in the last week of November, 1941. Japan considered the attack to be a preventive measure against the US interfering with Japan’s plans to carry out military operations in some parts of Southeast Asia.

What happened at Pearl Harbour?

About 7.55 am on December 7, 1941, about 180 aircraft of the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked the US Naval base at Pearl Harbour on the island of Oahu in Hawaii.

The bombing killed over 2,300 Americans, and destroyed the battleships USS Arizona and USS Oklahoma. Roughly 160 aircraft were destroyed, and 150 were damaged.

The Naval officer at Pearl Harbour sent a hurried dispatch to the fleet units and major Navy commands that morning, “AIR RAID ON PEARL HARBOR X THIS IS NOT DRILL."

Is Pearl Harbour still in use today?

Today, the Pearl Harbour is home to the USS Arizona memorial, the Battleship Missouri, and the Pacific Aviation Museum. It is also a working Joint Naval and Air Force Base.

Overall, the eight islands of Hawaii have 11 military bases, including Pearl Harbour.

In 2010, Pearl Harbour was combined with Hickam Air Force Base to create the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, and is home to over 18,000 service members. It is also visited by over 2 million visitors annually.