Pearl Harbor: An Event That Continues to Live in Infamy

“December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy…”
— President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

December 7 marks the 80th anniversary of the Japanese attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, which resulted in the deaths of 4,335 United States military personnel and 68 civilians in 1941. The attack took everyone by surprise, and the devastating loss catapulted the United States into World War II.

Relying heavily on interviews with survivors on both sides of the attack, American and Japanese, Gordon W. Prange set out to write as comprehensive and accurate a representation of events as possible in “At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor.” Prange spent 37 years studying and researching the events surrounding Pearl Harbor. After his death, his work was edited down to this single volume, which examines many of the factors that culminated in this turning point in history.

Pearl Harbor book coverIn “Pearl Harbor: From Infamy to Greatness,” Craig Nelson also delves into the circumstances and events in Japan that ultimately contributed to the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. From there, he moves on to the events immediately leading up to the attack and firsthand accounts of sailors aboard the ships. Finally, he examines the legacy of the attack and its effects on the relationship between Japan and the United States.

Pulitzer Prize winner Steve Twomey analyzes the days leading up to Pearl Harbor, including the misunderstandings, assumptions and decisions that influenced events in “Countdown to Pearl Harbor: The Twelves Days to the Attack.” Twomey bases his book primarily on the testimonies and exhibits from the official inquiries held after the attack.

One subject of official inquiries was Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. In the aftermath of the attack, Kimmel was accused of dereliction of duty, disgraced and stripped of his command and four-star rank. Kimmel spent the rest of his life fighting to clear his name, a fight taken up by his family after his death. In “A Matter of Honor: Pearl Harbor: Betrayal, Blame, and a Family’s Quest for Justice,” Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan join Kimmel’s family in that fight. They make the case for Kimmel’s exoneration by detailing the mistakes in Washington that allowed the attack and arguing that Kimmel was made a scapegoat.

In contrast to Twomey, who focused on the days prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, Brendan Simms and Charlie Laderman narrow in on theHitler's American Gamble book cover days immediately following in “Hitler’s American Gamble: Pearl Harbor and Germany’s March to Global War.” They argue that despite the tragedy of Pearl Harbor, the true turning point in the war came with Hitler’s declaration of war on the United States on December 11, 1941. According to Simms and Laderman, Hitler’s declaration brought the United States fully into World War II, as immediately following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States had only declared war on Japan.

While previous accounts of Pearl Harbor were based extensively on interviews with survivors, Donald Stratton’s “All the Gallant Men: An American Sailor’s Firsthand Account of Pearl Harbor” is a full firsthand account of the attack he witnessed as a sailor stationed aboard the USS Arizona. Stratton survived the blast that killed 1,177 of his shipmates, but suffered severe burns that covered much of his body. He was one of only 334 survivors. Stratton wrote his memoir at age 95 in the months coming up to the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. He wanted to share his story, preserve his memories and ensure “[t]hat people would remember Pearl Harbor so that it would never happen again.”

Brothers Down book coverTaking a different perspective of the events aboard the USS Arizona, Walter R. Borneman focuses on the familial connections between service men in “Brothers Down:  Pearl Harbor and the Fate of the Many Brothers Aboard the USS Arizona.” In his research into the attack, Borneman discovered that a surprising number of blood relatives served together on the USS Arizona — 38 sets of brothers, a large number of whom died during the attack. Borneman tells their stories and those of the families left behind.

In commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 2016, Life magazine published “Pearl Harbor: 75 Years Later: A Day of Infamy and Its Legacy,” a book full of historical images from its archives alongside stories of the attack and its aftermath. Included are reproductions of pages from the issues of Life published in December 1941, following the attack. It ends with a glimpse of Pearl Harbor today and examines the lasting impact of the date that continues to live in infamy.



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