Today they may have Tweeted: “Thousands dead in Hawaii after JP attack. Worst ever on homeland. FDR: US in it to win it.”
But on Dec. 8, 1941, one day after the bloodiest attack on U.S. soil by a foreign country, news organizations attempted to make sense of it all. Far removed from the future 24/7 news cycle, the correspondents of the era had only bits and pieces of information from the Japanese assault on Hawaii and did their best to put it into a broader context. Looking back on the articles on the 69th anniversary, the stories are often unclear about exactly how the attack on the Pearl Harbor Naval Base happened. What was evident, however, was that it was destined to bring about another world war. Its conclusion remained unknown.
The crash of exploding bombs in the Hawaiian Islands, Guam and possibly the Philippines, the roar of anti-aircraft guns and the twisted, flaming skeletons of wrecked planes heralded the war of the Pacific, with the principal antagonists the United States and Japan – a war that has been long brewing, a conflict often predicted but previously avoided. But the Japanese aggression yesterday did more than start a Pacific war. It broadened the conflicts already raging into a world-wide struggle whose end no man can know.
Asked whether there was an official information why Japan was able to get inside the outer defenses of the Hawaiian group, Presidential Secretary Stephen Early said it was the consensus of experts that probably all the attacking planes came from carriers which had moved forward during the night and sent their planes aloft. The attack came at dawn on Sunday.
Tonight the war becomes a world war in grim earnest, as Japan, desperate and surrounded by foes, strikes savagely at the United States. … The Japanese have taken a grave risk in sending aircraft carriers to attack Pearl Harbor. The Island of Oahu is one of the strongest and most formidable maritime fortresses in the world. Its striking power is enormous.
It was premeditated murder masked by a toothy smile. The Nation had taken a heavy blow. The casualties crept from rumor into uglier-rumor: hundreds on hundreds of Americans had died bomb-quick, or were dying, bed-slow. But the war came as a great relief, like a reverse earthquake, that in one terrible jerk shook everything disjointed, distorted, askew back into place. Japanese bombs had finally brought national unity to the U.S.
With a promptness and unanimity that left no possible room for doubt, the United States yesterday answered with decisive action Japan’s bloody, treacherous challenge. Hardly 30 minutes after President Roosevelt appeared before the historic joint session of congress to ask a declaration of a state of war, both the house and senate had passed the resolution formalizing the conflict which began with the dastardly attack on Hawaii at dawn Sunday. We are in this thing, now, ALL THE WAY – and we are in to win. OUR VERY SURVIVAL DEPENDS UPON COMPLETE VICTORY. We have answered the defiance of a cowardly, back-stabbing foe who talked peace even while plotting undeclared war. THERE IS NO TURNING BACK NOW; THE DIE IS CAST.