Eyewitness Reports in History Pearl Harbor Part 1

An eyewitness account of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor starting United States involvement in World War II.

Pearl Harbor

When: Dec. 7, 1941

How: During the years preceding W. W. II, U. S. relations with Japan had grown increasingly strained. When in 1931 Japan began moving into Manchuria, presumably to stop the spread of communism, the U. S. took Chiang Kai-shek for an ally; the League of Nations called for withdrawal of Japanese troops and a withholding of recognition by member countries of the new puppet state. As a result, Japan pulled out of the League. The Japanese continued their build-up in Manchuria, and the uneasy stalemate with the U. S. continued throughout the thirties. Diplomacy between the two countries broke down in 1941, when President Roosevelt refused to meet with the Japanese emperor, and the U. S. insisted Japan clear out of Indochina and China altogether. By then, Japan had already become a member of the Axis by signing the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy in September, 1940.

Throughout 1941, the U. S. inched closer and closer toward war. After the 1940 presidential election, during which both candidates, incumbent Roosevelt and Republican Wendell Willkie, promised peace, Roosevelt pushed through the Lend-Lease Act in March, 1941. This act officially acknowledged the already existing policy of supplying Britain with war materials. Roosevelt also ordered convoys to protect the Atlantic Ocean, and made speeches stating that, "The war is approaching the brink of the Western Hemisphere itself. It is coming very close to home."

Meanwhile, during 1940, Col. William Friedman, army cryptanalyst, and assistant Harry Lawrence Clark had successfully created a machine that broke the most secret diplomatic code of the Japanese. Given the name "Magic," the code breaker was the first to intercept messages showing that-but not where-Japan planned an attack. On Saturday, Dec. 6, 1941, Mrs. Dorothy Edgers, a new employee in the Office of Naval Intelligence, attempted to inform her superiors that a message showed Honolulu as a target. However, the officers in charge said the message could wait until Monday.

On Sunday, less than three hours before the attack, Gen. George C. Marshall, Army Chief of Staff, received an intercepted message which indicated that an attack in the Pacific was imminent. Marshall sent messages of warning to Manila, the Panama Canal Zone, and San Francisco. But atmospheric conditions prevented the relay to Fort Shafter near Pearl Harbor. The chief of traffic operations sent the message by commercial facilities and the warning arrived in Honolulu 10 1/2 hours later.

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