Pearl Harbor Bombed!

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Author: Vincent P. DeSantis

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in our Autumn 1986 issue.


At about 7:55 a.m. local time on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, a Japanese airman released a bomb over Pearl Harbor. It was the first of many bombs to fall in the next two hours upon the sprawling, important American naval base in Hawaii where most of the United States Pacific fleet was moored. The bombs exploded the United States into the Second World War and placed Japan on the road to ultimate disaster.

The battleship USS Arizona burning at Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941

Within the first two or three minutes, the Pacific fleet and every military air installation on the island of Oahu (except one army airstrip unknown to the invaders) were under attack by Japanese planes which had split up to hit all the targets almost at once and from different directions. The Japanese knew that a big prize — the American aircraft carriers delivering planes to Wake Island — had probably eluded them. But all eight battleships were in Pearl Harbor.

“When I flew over Kahuka Point at the head of the first formation, I was confident that we would succeed in our mission,” said Captain Mitsuo Fuchida of the Japanese navy, who led the attack. “Pearl Harbor is still asleep in the morning mist,” he wrote in his log. “The orderly group of barracks, the wriggling white line of the automobile road climbing up to the mountaintop; fine objectives all directions. . . . Inside the harbor were important ships of the Pacific fleet, strung out and anchored two ships side by side in an orderly manner.”

Most of the damage was done in the first 15 or 20 minutes. By 8:30 the planes of the first wave were leaving; they had met almost no air opposition. The combat air patrol from the American carrier Enterprise had flown inadvertently into the midst of the battle but could do little. So had B-17 planes arriving from San Francisco without armament; all but one managed to land without much injury. The army sent a few fighters up from its overlooked airstrip about 8:15, and some more later in the morning, but the air defense of Pearl Harbor had been put out of business in the first attack.

About 9 the second wave of Japanese planes began to arrive. Their mission was primarily to mop up, so they went over the airfields again. Had they been alert and more flexible, they might have attacked some good new targets, like the exposed oil tank farms essential for the operation of the American fleet, the submarine flotillas, and the dockyards from which the Pacific fleet would reappear. But these were not on the pre-arranged schedule.

By 9:30 the attack was just about over and the second wave of planes returned to the carriers. While the Americans at Pearl Harbor spent much of the rest of the day in furious but ineffective efforts to find the Japanese task force that had launched this shattering blow, the Japanese naval officers on board the ship of Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, the commander of the Pearl Harbor Attack Force, were debating whether to continue the raid south around the Hawaiian Islands in the hope of catching the American carriers. Tempting as it was, the idea was dropped because of logistics and the fuel supply. About 1 p.m., “Nagumo reversed course and retired more or less as he had come,” as one writer put it, “undetected from beginning to end.”

The Pearl Harbor attack was a remarkable success for the Japanese — a complete surprise that caught the American forces unprepared. While every American Pacific garrison from the Philippines to the Canal Zone had been alerted to the fact that war was imminent and had taken some precautions against sudden attack, American forces in the Hawaiian Islands were in a state of only partial readiness. The Saturday afternoon before the attack, about a third of the Pacific fleet’s captains and half its officers were ashore for weekend liberty. Only a third of its anti-aircraft batteries were fully manned. Seven of the eight battleships of the fleet were moored two by two at Ford Island and the other was in drydock. More than 80 additional combat ships and auxiliaries were tied up at other docks.

The army and the shore-based naval air forces were not even partly ready. Most of their planes were parked wing-to-wing, a protection against sabotage that made things convenient for the Japanese bombers; many were without gas or ammunition. Army anti-aircraft was not in position and ammunition was in storage. The army had just one operational radar set, but it was used solely for training and ran only between 4 and 7 in the morning. Outside the Pearl Harbor entrance, a destroyer and two mine sweepers were on guard duty.

Rear Admiral W.R. Furlong, the senior U.S. officer afloat at Pearl Harbor that morning, saw the initial bomb drop while taking a walk on the deck of his ship, the mine-layer Ogala. At first he thought it was an accident, but as the plane swept by he recognized the Japanese insignia on its wings. He hardly had time to call for general quarters or to order the fleet to move out before Pearl Harbor was overcome.

In Honolulu many people who were preparing for breakfast or getting ready to go to church saw the thick smoke and heard the exploding bombs but thought it was a very realistic drill. Others had seen the Japanese planes overhead after their first run but thought they were army planes practicing.

The Japanese attack was devastating. Of the 394 American airplanes on Oahu at the time, 188 were demolished and 159 were damaged. Of the 80-some navy ships in Pearl Harbor, 18 were sunk or badly damaged. All eight battleships were either destroyed or disabled, and three cruisers and three destroyers were heavily damaged. Dead were 2,403 Americans, military and civilian; 1,178 were wounded. Nearly half of those killed were lost when the battleship Arizona blew up.

The main Japanese striking force consisted of six aircraft carriers with 414 airplanes, two battleships, three cruisers, nine destroyers, three submarines and numerous auxiliary craft. Well ahead of the principal force was a group of about 18 submarines, five of which had midget two-man subs piggybacked to their decks. Out of this large task force the Japanese lost 29 aircraft, one large sub and all five midget submarines. They lost 55 airmen, nine crewmen on the midget subs and an unknown number on the large submarine.


Nearly every American alive on that never-to-be-forgotten day [in 1941] can describe how he or she heard the news. All were shocked to learn that American planes and battleships, bristling with gunpower and symbolic of military strength, were burning and turning over. Most marked the moment carefully, “carving out a sort of mental souvenir,” as one writer recalled, “for instinctively he knew how much of his life would be changed by what was happening in Hawaii.” Some, as they heard the news of the attack broadcast around the world, asked themselves, “Where’s Pearl Harbor?”

Probably no one fully realized that the world itself had changed forever. They did not yet know that the death of the battleship age would lead to the dawn of the nuclear age. Nor did they see how a world in which a nation might be defeated and survive could turn into a world in which a nation might conquer and yet not survive.

American and Japanese leaders of the time had very different views about Pearl Harbor. President Franklin D. Roosevelt described it as “a date which will live in infamy” when “the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the naval and air forces of the empire of Japan” as he put it in an address to a joint session of Congress shortly after noon on December 8. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, commander-in-chief of the Japanese combined fleet and formulator of the attack plan, correctly concluded, when informed that the attack was successful, “All we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”

Emperor Hirohito, who had signed the declaration of war against the United States, publicly denied 30-some years later that he had planned the attack, although he had been connected with its planning and execution by some writers including David Bergamini. Hirohito, who called the American war the low point of a reign that began in 1925, maintained that while he knew of the plan he was powerless to prevent it.

From the stories of contemporary observers and survivors, the records of the investigations, and the many studies of what happened, there emerges a picture of an archaic world. The way people fought [during World War Two] was different, and so was the way they thought.

Most people in Hawaii in late 1941 believed war with Japan might come at any time, but somehow neither the military nor civilians could imagine an attack aimed at Pearl Harbor. On Saturday night there had been a dance at the Officers’ Club and several private military dinner parties. Civilians went dancing at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. People at these events talked about the danger of war, but they thought it would occur in some other part of the Pacific. “Academically, a man might know that ships could be destroyed by aerial bombardments, but who could really believe that this sight of glory (the American fleet) could be smashed in minutes” observed one writer. “Until 7:55 a.m., men still inwardly relied on an image of power that, unknown to them, had become a mockery. Then power crumbled, and the unassailable was destroyed.”

Pearl Harbor produced innumerable tales of heroism and anguish. Walter Millis tells of “men who met the appalling tide of savagery with any weapon they could snatch up,” of “men who struggled desperately to get themselves back on board ships already blazing and sinking,” of “men shot down as they tried to get their fighter planes in the air,” of “men who climbed from one sinking ship to the next to help carry on with the anti-aircraft and the firefighting,” and of “countless men, struck suddenly by terror and surprise, some of whom doubtless failed but most of whom did not.”

Pearl Harbor was one of the most stunning and shocking events in American history. Americans had been assured that their government was doing everything possible to stay out of war and that their military forces were ready for anything. So they received the news with disbelief and indignation. Their first response was to support the President in that dark hour and to back his request for a declaration of war against Japan, Germany and Italy.

Despite that support, Americans were soon asking incisive questions about Pearl Harbor. How did it happen? Why? Who was responsible? Why were we taken by surprise? Were American commanders and military forces in Hawaii as prepared as they should have been? How did the Japanese manage complete surprise? These questions have been raised countless times over the . . . years. A library of books, essays, studies, memoirs and reports has been written to propose answers. It became the most important and emotional historical controversy in all of American history — a debate that remains unresolved despite nine investigations and voluminous literature.

Controversy raged from the start. Pearl Harbor historians may be broadly classified into two schools of thought. The orthodox school, including Herbert Feis, Samuel Eliot Morison, and Norman Graebner, basically held at fault the army and navy commanders at Pearl Harbor, Lieutenant General Walter C. Short and Admiral Husband E. Kimmel. They were sent there in the face of a rising tension with Japan and with adequate warnings about the imminence of war with one job to do — protect the pacific fleet. They failed. The orthodox view is that the Roosevelt policy of firmness toward Japan upheld the principles that the United States had always championed, and that Roosevelt did not have any prior knowledge of the attack.

The revisionist school, including Charles A. Beard, Charles C. Tansill and John Toland, largely blame Roosevelt and his top military and civilian advisers. Their view is that Roosevelt and Secretary of State Cordell Hull followed a policy of intentional antagonism toward Japan, and that the administration was guilty of exceptional carelessness either because it did not foresee the attack or because it took deliberate steps to withhold or cover up information pointing to the attack.

If there are turning points in history, Pearl Harbor is one for America. It continues to excite the public imagination, and there are millions of Americans alive today who cannot forget the tragedy of that attack. Its effects and “lessons” are still with us — a system of worldwide alliances that replaced isolationism, a Defense Department that includes and coordinates all military services, an intelligence establishment accumulating mountains of information so as to reduce, if not eliminate, the possibility of future surprise attacks, and a recurrent fear that the Soviet Union, like Japan, will resort to such a strategy.

The records of Pearl Harbor congressional hearings, published in 1946, incorporated the testimony and exhibits if previous investigations, making its 39 volumes and more than 10 million words an unparalleled mine of information for writers who have subsequently produced countless books and essays on the attack. These investigations sought to determine how the United States was “caught napping.” That suspicion was sharpened by the fact that the United States had, more than a year before the attack, broken Japanese diplomatic codes and ciphers, and thus possessed an extraordinary amount of intelligence about Japan’s intentions.

The main issue was culpability, and whether the commanders in Hawaii had adequate warning from Washington of impending hostilities with Japan. A presidential commission headed by Chief Justice Owen J. Roberts in January 1942 absolved Admiral Harold R. Stark, chief of staff, and the secretaries of State, War and Navy of responsibility, and placed the blame on Kimmel and Short.

Both military services also convened courts of inquiry and made their reports in October 1944. The navy’s reversed the findings of the Roberts Commission. Kimmel had not received all available information from Washington and thus could not be blamed. Admiral Stark, however, was severely criticized, for the first time, for failing to transmit “to Admiral Kimmel . . . important information which he had regarding the Japanese situation.” The navy court did not recommend disciplinary action.

The army report criticized Short for adopting only a sabotage alert and with failing to reach an agreement with Kimmel to implement joint army-navy plans. But [army chief of staff] General [George C.] Marshall was also reproached for the first time for failing to keep Short fully informed of the worsening situation with Japan and for failing to reply to Short’s sabotage alert report. And General Leonard T. Gerow, chief of the war plans division of the War Department, was criticized for failing to keep the Hawaiian command informed with the substance of intelligence intercepts and for failing to make the November 27 “war warning” a clear, concise directive.

The final official judgment of Pearl Harbor came in 1946 from a special congressional joint committee comprising six Democrats and four Republicans. During late 1945 and early 1946 it heard public testimony from the principal surviving participants. By this time the question of responsibility had been invested with national political significance; many Republicans were charging that President Roosevelt had induced the Japanese to attack the ill-prepared Pacific fleet to give him and excuse to bring the United States into the European war. They also said that Admiral Stark and General Marshall had been the President’s co-conspirators, and that Admiral Kimmel and General Short had been made scapegoats.

Two of the four Republicans on the committee joined the six Democrats in concluding that Roosevelt did not provoke the attack but had made every effort to avoid war, that the disaster was the result of the Hawaiian commanders’ failure to be in a state of readiness commensurate with the imminence of war and commensurate with the warnings and intelligence they received, and that the war and navy departments were not sufficiently on the alert to the imminence of war.

In addition to the issue of responsibility, two other intriguing aspects of Pearl Harbor have continued to interest Americans: Japan’s success in planning and carrying out the attack, and the failure of the Unites States to anticipate it. In the marathon investigations, emphasis, as already noted, was placed on responsibility. Not much attention was paid to how the Japanese were able to bring it off. And yet “they planned and carried out what we must ruefully admit is one of the greatest single naval victories of this century,” concluded a writer who has studied how it was done. Aside from its ethics, “the Pearl Harbor attack was a remarkable feat.” Yet even with brilliant planning the Japanese did not believe they would have such enormous success at so little cost.


It was Admiral Yamamoto who conceived and officially sponsored the idea. He advanced the plan in January 1941, but it did not gain acceptance as a part of the overall Japanese strategic concept until late September or early October. Commodore Minoru Genda, an experienced naval air pilot, was assigned the task of checking out the practicality of Yamamoto’s plan, and he concluded that while it was risky and technically very difficult, it might succeed if Japan used all its large aircraft carriers and could achieve a complete surprise.

Yamamoto’s plan was based on two essential assumptions: that a major portion of the United States fleet would be at Pearl Harbor, and that Japan could deal a crushing blow to this fleet by a carrier-based air attack. The Japanese Naval General Staff opposed the plan at the outset. These naval officers thought it was too risky and difficult. It committed on a single strike all of Japan’s first-line aircraft carriers, three-fifths of her total strength in this class. If anything went wrong, the loss would be calamitous. They also contended it would be very difficult to obtain reliable advance information about the disposition of the American fleet at Pearl Harbor, and that it was too big a gamble to make the entire plan dependent upon the presence of the major elements of that fleet in Pearl Harbor on D-Day. If the fleet were at sea, the strike would be a costly fiasco. There was also doubt whether such a large task force could cover the long distance from Japan to Hawaii without being discovered along the way.

Yamamoto pressed his plan, arguing that it was necessary to reduce and cripple American naval strength so it could not attack Japan’s island-ring defense and cut her all-important lines of sea communication with Southeastern Asia. With the American fleet out of action, Japan could then consolidate her recent gains in the south and elsewhere and could present an impregnable front to the United States.

This argument and the threat of Yamamoto’s resignation wore down the opposition, and in October 1941, the Pearl Harbor scheme was formally accepted and became the Japanese navy’s most pressing project. Detailed orders were prepared to launch the Pearl Harbor attack. It is noteworthy that there was a provision for the postponement or recall of the attack at any time up to the moment of the raid in the event that Japan and the United States reached a successful conclusion of their diplomatic negotiations.

On December 8, 1941 (December 7, U.S. time), the attack would begin. From the standpoint of a dawn attack, December 10 would have been a better time since the dark of the moon fell on that night. But December 10 (Japanese time) was a Tuesday in Hawaii, and the Japanese feared that on that day the American fleet would be at sea. So the Japanese chose Sunday and coordinated the Hawaiian attack with one they scheduled for Malaya at dawn on the same day.

Curiously, it was not the Japanese who first thought of launching a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor; it was the Americans. In 1932, in practice war games testing the defenses at Pearl Harbor, Admiral Harry Yarnell converted some of the attacking force into carriers and used air power rather than battleships to assault the base. Yarnell’s small task force crept up on Pearl Harbor undetected early one Sunday morning and his planes came in from the northeast, as did the Japanese bombers nine years later. The mock attack theoretically demolishes the defenders. A number of Japanese military officers were on hand that morning and watched with interest.

One other notable aspect of the Japanese planning was the extreme secrecy maintained by the Japanese navy. The prewar system of Japanese government allowed the navy to make this undertaking a purely naval affair and to be under no obligation to tell anyone else about it. Despite the world-shaking implications of the decision, it seems that it was not mentioned to anyone outside the navy until a liaison conference of Japan’s political and military leaders on November 30, and the Imperial Conference on December 1, which decided on war with the United States and Britain. General Hideki Tojo, then serving as both Japanese premier and minister of war, explicitly said this was so. Thus the Pearl Harbor attack was almost as much a surprise to the Japanese as to Americans. The Japanese also had to solve important technical problems before they could launch the strike. These included the invention of aerial torpedoes that could be used in the shallow waters of Pearl Harbor; finding a way to refuel the task force ships on their long trip from the Kuriles to Hawaii (about 2,880 nautical miles) and then back to their Inland Sea base (about 3,625 nautical miles); making plans for both dive-bombing and high-level bombing to supplement the torpedo-plane assault; overcoming the shortage of heavy aerial bombs by converting 16-inch armor piercing shells for use as bombs; and assembling enough flight personnel to carry out the bombing mission.

On November 16, the Pearl Harbor task force under the command of Vice-Admiral Nagumo rendezvoused at Saeki Bay, a secluded naval port in eastern Kyushu. The next day the ships left Saeki Bay singly or in small groups and sailed northward by a variety of routes to the isolated harbor of Hitokappu Bay in the Kuriles, where they rendezvoused on November 24. On the morning of November 26 they sailed eastward in complete radio silence.

Since the task force was cruising far to the north of regular steamship lanes, the possibility of being detected was small. If, however, it was discovered prior to the day before D-Day, it was to turn back; if later, the decision as to whether to go on was left to Nagumo’s judgment.

On December 1, the Japanese Imperial Conference decided on war, and the next day the general staff issued the order: “X-Day will be December 8” (December 7, Hawaiian time). Also on that day a brief radio message came over the air from Tokyo: “Climb Mount Nitaka.” This meant that all hope for a diplomatic agreement with the United States had been abandoned by Japan. On December 2, the crews on the Japanese task force were officially informed of their mission. On December 4, the standby position at 42 °N and 17 °E was reached on schedule. All combat ships were refueled to capacity, and the supply ships turned homeward.

That evening the task force turned southeastward and increased speed. The night of December 6-7 (Hawaiian time) the force moved at full speed, momentarily expecting American detection and attack. But the intelligence report on U.S. fleet activities relayed from Tokyo was, “No balloons, no torpedo-defense nets deployed around battleships in Pearl Harbor. All battleships are in. No indications from enemy radio activity that ocean-patrol flights being made in Hawaiian area.”

At 6 a.m. on December 7, the task force was 200 miles north off Oahu. As dawn broke, the first wave of 183 fighters, bombers and torpedo planes took off from the six carriers. The attack was under way.

How could the Japanese have done all this without being detected and counterattacked? Why was the fortress of Pearl Harbor asleep? These never-ending questions still remain to be explained with certainty.


Today’s perception of the chain of events leading to the attack is, of course, different from that of 1941. With hindsight we are free to ignore all the “noise” in which the warning signals were embedded. Roberta Wohlstetter, who has written of the best books on Pearl Harbor, contended that the surprise took place not because of a lack of relevant intelligence, but because there were misconceptions about the information available.

That information did not clearly and unambiguously point to an attack on Pearl Harbor. It could as easily be seen pointing to other parts of the Pacific as well, and American policymakers evaluated the information in accordance with their own preconceived ideas. They believed a direct Japanese attack on American soil very unlikely so long as the United States maintained a strong and uncompromising posture and military superiority over Japan. This strategic assumption was frequently expressed by high administration officials during the months before the Pacific War. Henry L. Stimson, Roosevelt’s secretary of war and an important figure in the decision-making process of government, publicly stated in 1940 that he “did not think . . . the Japanese would attack (American territory) . . . . All the evidence . . . indicates that they are more afraid of war with the U.S. than anything else,” and “the very last thing which the Japanese government desires is a war with the U.S.”

From Japanese messages intercepted and decoded by American intelligence in an operation that had the cover name “Magic” and was known to only a small number in the government and armed forces, tactical indicators of the impending Pearl Harbor attack possibly did exist. But American policymakers, applying their own line of reasoning, concluded that such an attack would be suicidal.

Likewise, the naval commanders in Hawaii were convinced that a Japanese surprise attack on the Pacific fleet was remote and that the fleet would have adequate warning of an air raid.

Much of this complacency resulted from the stereotypes Americans held about Japan. Though that nation’s military leaders were thought to be hostile, they were considered too weak to do anything about it. The Pacific fleet was a major deterrent to an enemy air attack. Even if the Japanese were reckless enough to send carriers to attack us, we could certainly detect and destroy them in time.

“No one in Washington had correctly assessed Japanese intentions and capabilities,” said Secretary Stimson after the attack. He, “like everyone else,” had been “painfully surprised by the skill and boldness displayed by . . . the Japanese.” Moreover, he added, “Washington had not adequately appreciated the importance of keeping its field commanders fully informed.

Stimson’s last statement underscored the bitter debate between Washington officials and Hawaiian commanders, a debate that has continued ever since: Were Kimmel and Short given warnings about war sufficiently adequate to cause them to prepare their defenses against a Japanese attack? One side in this dispute maintains the commanding officers in Hawaii were given a steady stream of warning during 1941, but that Kimmel and Short did not take necessary and reasonable steps to shore up their defenses. The other side contends that no one in authority in Washington took the time to tell the military commanders in Hawaii bluntly to prepare defenses.

Another continuing controversy is about what President Roosevelt knew or did not know. Many have claimed that he deliberately concealed information about the pending attack in order to involve the United States in the war — a most serious change against a President. But the evidence does not substantiate duplicity on Roosevelt’s part. On the contrary, as Ladislas Farago points out in his revealing book The Broken Seal (1967) about Japanese and American code-breaking operations between 1921 and 1941, the President was never shown any of the intercept espionage messages and was never told that there were such reports made to Tokyo.

Recent information suggests the possibility that some administration officials may have had foreknowledge of the attack. In a tape-recorded memoir, the 1941 governor of Hawaii, John A. Burns, said that the head of the FBI office in Honolulu, Robert L. Shivers, informed him a week before December 7 that the Japanese would attack within a week. Burns did not say whether he notified government officials, nor did he disclose the source of the FBI’s information.

Another recent piece of information — a declassified document from the files of the National Security Council — seems to lend support to the foreknowledge theory. Chief Warrant Officer Ralph T. Briggs, a radio intercept operator for the navy, asserted that on December 4 he picked up a Tokyo weather broadcast of East Wind Rain — a message that American intelligence knew was an indication that Japan would go to war with the United States. Briggs relayed the message to naval intelligence in Washington where, according to Captain Lawrence Stafford, chief of the navy’s code and signal section, it was further relayed to higher naval officials, who “spirited away and suppressed” the information.

Again there is no evidence that this information reached President Roosevelt. What the evidence does show is that Roosevelt and his advisers knew by November 1941 that a war with Japan was likely and that there was a possibility of a surprise attack on a major American military base such as the one in the Philippines. They wanted to buy as much time as possible but were unwilling to abandon support for China, Japan’s victim in a war that had begun in 1937, or to give Japan petroleum and other materials for waging war. The evidence does not support the theory that Roosevelt used the Pacific fleet and American lives at Pearl Harbor as bait to lure the Japanese into a war he wished to wage for a variety of reasons. To the contrary, Roosevelt did not want war with Japan and considered Germany to be a more serious threat. When Pearl Harbor came, the President was as deeply shaken as anyone.

[Today] writers, and researchers are still arguing these matters and “Pearl Harbor remains disquieting as one of history’s Halloween tricks — or, more respectably, a paradox,” as a recent writer concluded. “It teaches a lesson we cannot learn, for surprise, by definition, is the danger no one thought of.” In the years since Pearl Harbor, American forces have been surprised by the Germen Ardennes offensive in December 1944; by the North Korean invasion of South Korea in 1950; by the Chinese entry into that war later that year; and by the Tet offensive in Vietnam in 1968. This might mean that Americans are not very good at intelligence. But as some writers have argued, “Pearl Harbor was less a failure of intelligence than a failure to use the excellent data available.”

While virtually every writer about Pearl Harbor ponders about the inexplicable American errors and failures at Pearl Harbor,” yet it would be a mistake of the first magnitude to credit the success of the Pearl Harbor operation solely to American errors,” Gordon Prange has written. “We have seen how meticulously the Japanese perfected their planning; how diligently they trained their pilots and bombardiers; how they modified weapons to achieve maximum damage; how persistently they dredged up and utilized information about the U.S. Pacific fleet. They balked at no hazard, ready to risk a wild leap to achieve their immediate ends.”

In other words, when Americans argue about who is to blame for Pearl Harbor they should recognize that the foe was real — and first class.


The late Vincent DeSantis was a professor emeritus of history at Notre Dame when this article first appeared in our Autumn 1986 print issue.

Professor DeSantis died in May 2011 at age 94. His official University obituary reported that, “during the Second World War, [he] served in the 24th Infantry Division’s 19th Regiment, rising from private to captain in rank. Throughout ferocious campaigns in New Guinea and the Philippines, he kept a diary from which he occasionally read aloud to his students in later and more peaceful years. Discharged in 1945, DeSantis availed himself of the G.I. Bill and earned a doctoral degree from Johns Hopkins University, studying under the pre-eminent American historian C. Vann Woodward, who became a lifelong friend.”


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