Who planned to attack Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor: the oil tears of the "Arizona"

George Bush (senior) was not a master of the spoken word. On December 7, 1991, however, he gave a special address. Probably his most emotional speech. Perhaps the most emotional of all US presidents. "Look into your hearts," he said with an audibly narrow and vibrating voice and tears in his eyes, "and you will see boys who became men that day and men who became heroes." Fifty years later, 13,000 war veterans had come to Pearl Harbor, the site of one of the greatest tragedies in US military history. And George Bush spoke from their hearts.

Japanese bombers almost completely destroyed the US Pacific fleet in Hawaii in two waves of attack. More than 2,400 Americans died. It was an attack without warning, without a declaration of war. A trauma for the US for decades, on a seemingly harmless Sunday morning.

An attack into ignorance

"Pearl Harbor air raid. This is not an exercise." It is 1:57 p.m. on December 7, 1941, East Coast American time, when the naval direct line report arrives in Washington. Too late. 141 Japanese fighter bombers have been targeting American battleships, destroyers, cruisers and mine-layers at the US naval base in O'ahu in Hawaii for 20 minutes. What is not hit is targeted by the second wave of attacks by the Japanese. 170 machines pounce on the battleships "Arizona", "California", "Oklahoma" and "West Virginia". In the hail of bombs, around 350 US aircraft that are on the ground go up in flames.

50 years later: George and Barbara Bush over the wreck of the "Arizona"

US President Roosevelt is said to have hit the table with his fist when he received the message: "American planes are on the ground, by God, devastated!" In the end, the US Pacific fleet, which was specially relocated from San Diego to Hawaii due to the war, was devastated. A total of 29 bombers are lost on the Japanese side, 55 men are killed. A victory of the empire that bears the invulnerability myth of the USA to its grave.

The background: carelessness and amateurism

The American trauma at Pearl Harbor is also the result of incredible carelessness. The American commanders were convinced that Japan could attack anywhere in the Pacific - British or Dutch colonies, for example - but not in Pearl Harbor. Nevertheless, precautionary measures were taken - albeit the wrong ones. Fearing acts of sabotage from among the 100,000 or so Japanese who lived in Hawaii, the 350 or so US bombers were relocated from the edges to the center of the base. There they parked wing to wing and were ready for the air raids on December 7th. an easy target.

Little trust was placed in radar technology, which was still new at the time. When the first Japanese bombers appeared on the screen, the dots were taken for anything but attacking enemy planes. Anti-aircraft guns were not distributed around the base, but mostly in the depots. After all, it was the day and the hour that played into the hands of the Japanese: early on Sunday morning, many were still in bed and the command posts were only sparsely staffed. The base was almost defenseless.

The consequences: an end to isolationism!

Japan has been waging war in the Pacific since 1937, but with the attack on the US fleet in Hawaii, the country expands the confrontations into world war. Japan has had a free hand in large parts of Asia for months. But the Japanese supremacy in this part of the world was limited in time. This was also due to the fact that neither the aircraft carriers - the new guarantors of military superiority at sea - nor the American fuel depots in Hawaii were hit.

Above the wreck and above the dead: The Arizona Memorial Museum in Pearl Harbor

The floating forts were not in port that day, two had left Pearl Harbor days earlier and the bombing of the oil tanks was planned for a third wave of attacks, which the Japanese no longer flew. So Pearl Harbor remained a Pyrrhic victory for Japan, which was later assessed in Tokyo as a strategic mistake in every respect. In fact, Japan's attack made the US strong in the first place.

"Remember Pearl Harbor!" (Think Pearl Harbor!) Was the rallying cry of the American public that put an end to the isolationism practiced up to that point in one fell swoop. Patriotism replaced the pacifist consensus that had prevailed in US society up to that point. The mobilization against the background of the enormous industrial capacity of the country made the USA rise to a world power in just a few years. And from then on, the humiliation of Pearl Habour determined her security thinking.

Veterans in 2010: Pearl Harbor remains a national trauma - only September 11, 2001 is more disturbing

The immediate consequences are well known: America is actively entering World War II. Just four days after the bombs in Hawaii, Adolf Hitler declared war on the United States, completely misunderstanding the realities. At this point, his divisions were stuck off Moscow in the Russian winter.

The oil drops of the "Arizona"

Of all the destroyed, sunk naval ships off Hawaii, none is more present in memory than the fate of the "USS Arizona". It was 8:06 am local time when an 800 kilo bomb penetrated the deck of the "Arizona" and detonated in the ammunition dump. The ship sinks almost completely in just ten minutes. The "Arizona" becomes a grave for 1,200 soldiers - almost the entire crew. Only a good 200 men of the crew survive. The ship burns for two full days.

Japanese bombers over Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 during the bombing

In 1961 a platform was built at the point where the "Arizona" lay aground in the shallow harbor waters. It becomes a memorial that attracts around 1.5 million visitors annually. And there is a myth surrounding it. At the time of the hit, around 1.5 million galons of oil were stored inside the "Arizona". For decades the "Arizona" only reveals drops of it. Some veterans believe that they are called the "black tears of Arizona" and that no longer flow until the last survivor has died.

Pearl Harbor and the American Collective Memory

But what always remains is the memory. George Bush, who was 17 that December Sunday 1941, volunteered six months later and became the youngest naval pilot in his country. Two years later, the Japanese shot him down over the Pacific, a US submarine fished him out of the water. "Pearl Harbor has become part of my life," he says 50 years later, as President of the United States, exactly where the bombs fell. He admits that he no longer feels the hatred of the Japanese and Germans that he did back then. He had the authority to say such a thing at the time, because he had come mainly as a veteran and less as a president. Pearl Harbor is still more firmly anchored in the memory of the Americans than the landing of the Allied troops in Normandy. September 11, 2001 alone was more traumatic when the twin towers of the World Trade Center collapsed.