12-7-41

Good morning, it’s Thursday, December 7, 2017. Whatever is happening today in our nation’s fractious capital, or in violent hotspots around the world, today’s date is a reminder that this country has experienced truly dark and frightening days and that we saw our way through even if it took a long time.

For Americans living on this date 76 years ago — and their numbers dwindle each year — the fact that Pearl Harbor was attacked on a Sunday added to the perfidy of the attack. In his riveting book “December 1941,” author Craig Shirley set the scene this way:

“Sunday in America was a day for relaxing, whether you followed the fourth commandment or not. It was a day for church, for family meals, for reading the newspapers, listening to the radio, going for long walks, for afternoon naps, for working in the yard and visiting with neighbors. Sunday, December 7 was different.”

That the Japanese Imperial Navy managed to move a huge attack force across 4,000 miles of open water without detection was, and remains, a source of incomprehension and controversy. A couple of things can be said with certainty, however. First, being caught so out of position reflected a troubling lack of imagination in the U.S. Navy and the U.S. government. By that, I mean that Japan’s technical and operational capabilities were underestimated by Americans in charge of national security — who should have known better — and that this dismissiveness owed itself, at least in part, to attitudes of racial superiority.

A second point is that Japanese stealth depended on naval skill and discipline, and in fleet commander Isoroku Yamamoto, Japan had an officer up to the task.

The invading armada refueled at sea on December 3. After that, the orders were for radio silence, only to be broken on the morning of the invasion with the code words “Tora! Tora! Tora!” (“Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!”) if the surprise element of the attack had worked.

That very call went out a few minutes before 8 a.m. In Hawaii, residents could see and hear the attacking planes. On the mainland, the news was first conveyed by CBS broadcaster Webley Edwards, who interrupted his popular program, “Hawaii Calls,” with a terse bulletin. “Attention. This is no exercise. The Japanese are invading Pearl Harbor.”

“Tora! Tora! Tora!” would become an infamous phrase in the United States, but Yamamoto’s fleet, as the decorated Japanese admiral himself soon realized, had awakened the tiger in the hearts of tens of millions of Americans. Pearl Harbor roused an enemy who would be neither cavalier nor passive any longer.

Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics
@CarlCannon (Twitter)
ccannon@realclearpolitics.com

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