Next Tuesday marks eighty years since the surprise attack on Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service. In perhaps the most famous speech of his presidency, Franklin D. Roosevelt declared to the American people during a joint session of Congress that December 7, 1941 was “a date which will live in infamy.” I like that word—infamy. A couple of days ago, I grabbed my somewhat tattered copy of Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus (3rd edition) and turned to page 459 to see what Roget had to offer. Which synonym would you pick?
Shameful, bad reputation, abomination, atrocity, disapprobation, discredit, disesteem, disgrace, dishonor, disrepute, enormity, evil, ignominy, immorality, impropriety, notoriety, notoriousness, obloquy, odium, opprobrium, outrageousness, scandal, shame, stigma, villainy, wickedness
President Roosevelt made a last-minute edit to his speech in which he formally requested a declaration of war with Japan, changing “a date which will live in world history” to “a date which will live in infamy.” Sometimes less is more—a lot more.
On the morning of Sunday, December 7, 1941, there were 102 ships present at Pearl Harbor. Most of those ships were part of the U.S. Naval Pacific Fleet, but a few were assigned to the Fourteenth Naval District. By chance, the three aircraft carriers assigned to the Pacific Fleet (USS Enterprise, USS Lexington, USS Saratoga) were out to sea on maneuvers that morning, so they escaped damage. The battleships USS Arizona, USS Oklahoma, and USS Utah were sunk in the attack and declared total losses. Battleships USS California, USS West Virginia, and minelayer USS Oglala (named after a sub-tribe of the Lakota who resided in the Black Hills of South Dakota) were sunk but later floated and rebuilt. Additionally, twenty-four other ships sustained varying degrees of damage that morning. Sixty-six ships managed to remain unscarred during the attack that lasted less than two hours.
Also struck during the attack were several airfields on the island of Oahu. One hundred and twenty-three naval aircraft were damaged or destroyed, and two hundred and five Army Air Corps planes met a similar fate.
In all, 2,403 precious American lives were lost during the attack and 1,178 were wounded. There were also Japanese losses that day. Sixty-five men were killed, twenty-eight Japanese planes were shot down, and five Japanese midget submarines were sunk.
(Estimated damage report against surface ships on the air attack of Pearl Harbor, December 8, 1941)
As I searched for images I could use for this blog in the Library of Congress’ digital collection, I found this fascinating map showing the post-battle damage assessment of Pearl Harbor. The cartographer was Captain Mitsuo Fuchida who led the first wave of air attacks on that fateful morning. Fuchida used this map when he briefed Emperor Hirohito on December 26, 1941. Approximately sixty American ships are shown, with red dots, arrows, and crosses indicating the types of weapons that were used in the attack. Red lines indicate the severity of the damage, and red arrows show the direction and location of the torpedoes that struck the ships. Cross marks designate bomb impacts, and the black dotted line shows the course of the USS Nevada as it attempted to leave the harbor during the attack. “Confidential” is written in red in the upper right corner, ahead of the title.
In October 1975, Emperor Hirohito was in Washington, DC to promote the Japan-United States Friendship Act of 1975. President Ford welcomed the Emperor to the White House, and I was there. His limousine passed about ten feet from where I was standing on the White House lawn, and I managed to snap a few pictures as the President (blue arrows) and the Emperor (green arrows) inspected the troops. (Joe was one of the inspected troops which is why I was able to get a ticket or pass to the event.) When we lived in Northern Virginia in the 1970s, I toured the White House two or three times, but attending that event was my only opportunity to stand on the south lawn of the White House.
As you might expect, Hollywood got involved in telling the Pearl Harbor story. As early as 1943, there were two films released: one by Director John Ford called December 7th, and Air Force, a wartime propaganda film that won the 1944 Best Film Editing Academy Award. Ford’s December 7th won an Oscar for Documentary Short Subject that year. Several of the film’s reenactments have often been confused for actual war footage. The U.S. War Department censored (cut) almost an hour from the original release because they felt it exposed the military's lack of preparedness for the attack.
Perhaps the most well-known Pearl Harbor movie to be produced is From Here to Eternity starring Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, Montgomery Clift, Donna Reed (who was born on a farm near Denison, Iowa, by the way), and Frank Sinatra. It won eight Academy Awards in 1954, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Sinatra), and Best Supporting Actress (Reed). Many of us will remember the iconic kissing scene with Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr locked in an embrace on the beach while the surge of the tide overtakes them. Apparently, it was Lancaster’s idea to do the scene horizontally. (The script called for them to stand.) Great idea, Burt!
Arguably the most accurate film depiction of the attack on Pearl Harbor is Tora! Tora! Tora!, a joint U.S.-Japanese production released in 1970. The movie, directed by American Richard Fleischer and the Japanese duo of Toshio Masuda and Kanji Fukasaku, accurately depicts how the relationship between the Japanese and the Americans had deteriorated leading up to December 1941. The battle scenes are amazingly realistic. However, according to one online review I found, the movie attempts to suggest the attack was not a surprise—it was. Also, the portrayal of Emperor Hirohito in the movie was that of a figurehead who was not responsible in any way for the attack. In reality, Hirohito was sympathetic to the aims of his military leaders and their plans for the attack. None of that is shown in the movie.
From Here to Eternity was one of the first major Hollywood productions to be filmed in Hawaii. I’ve never been there, but I would like to see it someday. Better add it to my bucket list.
The holidays are upon us. It seems a good time for me to take a break from my routine. Maybe it’s a good time for all of you to take a break, too. So, no Sally’s Soliloquies until January (unless I change my mind). See you in the New Year.
Holiday blessings to all.
Sally Jameson Bond is retired and lives in Southwest Virginia with her husband and two dogs. My Mother’s Friend is her first novel. You can find her web site here: www.sallyjamesonbond.com.