Pearl Harbor

The Doomed Arizona



This was the headline for the article that appeared on December 15, 1941 in LIFE magazine. As we approach the 66th anniversary of what was called by President Roose­velt a “Date that will live in infamy” we feel compelled to remind people of this event and to bring a renewed sense of what this country has been through in the past and what it is facing today in the constant battle for freedom.


As the article goes on to say “Out of the Pacific skies last week World War II came with startling suddenness to America. It was 7:35 a.m. on a Sunday morning the aggressors’ favorite day—when two Japanese planes, wearing on their wings the Rising Sun of Japan, flew out of the western sky over the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Japan had seized the initiative and was making the most of the aggressor’s privilege to strike the first blow. With reckless daring Japan aimed this blow at the citadel of American power in the Pacific, the great naval fortress of Pearl Harbor. Close observers of Japan have said for years that if that country ever found itself in a hopeless corner it was capable of committing national hara-kiri by flinging itself at the throat of its mightiest enemy. Japan has found itself in just such a corner. It could not retreat without losing all and it could not ad­vance another step without war”.


This could just as well be an article in today’s papers by substituting Al-Qaeda for Japan, New York for Hawaii or terrorism for other words. It seems all together fitting that we should review the past, as George Santayana stated Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.  The article goes on “It took the desperate plunge and told its enemies in effect: “If this be hara-kiri, make the most of it.” Japan’s daring was matched only by its barefaced duplicity. There was no warning—not even such an ultimatum as Hitler is inclined to send while his legions pour across some new border. At the very moment the first bombs fell on Pearl Harbor Japan’s two en­voys in Washington were in Secretary Hull’s office at the State Department, making their blandest protes­tations of peaceful intent. Ambassador Nomura and Envoy Kurusu had come with the answer to Hull’s note. He read it through and then, for t he first t line in many long, patient years, the soft-spoken Secretary lost his temper. Into the teeth of the two Japanese, who for once did not grin, he flung these words: “In all my 50 years of public service I have never seen a document that was more crowded with infamous false­hoods and distortions—on a scale so huge that I never imagined until today that any government on this plan­et was capable of uttering them.” The two Japanese scurried out of his office and home to their Embassy. Even as Hull spoke, America sprang to arms. Wherever it was in the wide ocean, the U. S. Fleet went into action and all over the Pacific U. S. gar­risons stood ready to defend the island outposts of American power.


In Washington President Roose­velt dictated his war message to Congress. From Army and Navy headquarters the prearranged orders went out which transformed the U. S. into a nation at war. In the face of an attack so clear that no man could argue it, the nation stood abso­lutely united. Senator Wheeler, the leader of Isolationists, spoke for all when he said: “The only thing now is to do our best to lick hell out of them.” Mow much or how long it would take to lick Japan, no man could say. The U. S. Navy has al­ways been supremely confident of its ability to sink the Japanese Fleet in open battle or, if the enemy ships refused battle, to strangle the island empire by blockade. In recent months the vulnerable Phil­ippine station has been strengthened by squadrons of heavy bombers. With new British warships at Singapore, plus the combined land-air strength of the British, Dutch and Australian forces, America has a long-range superiority over Japan. It may be, indeed, that America’s greatest danger is overcon­fidence. There will surely be more naval losses and more strong attacks on American islands because Japan has a strategic and tactical advantage at the outset of the war. It will take not only all-out U. S. military might lint great persistence and great cour­age to hurl back attack and to win the final victory.


This is just the beginning of this fantastic article, one of many that would in the years to come take forefront in many issues of LIFE magazine as this mainstay of American publications continues to cover the war.


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Excerpts of this article are from LIFE and


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