On December 7,1941, 80 years ago today, a hurried dispatch from the ranking United States naval officer in Pearl Harbor, Admiral Husband Edward Kimmel, Commander in Chief of the United States Pacific Fleet, was sent to all major navy commands and fleet units provided the first official word of the attack at the ill-prepared Pearl Harbor base. It said simply: AIR RAID ON PEARL HARBOR X THIS IS NOT DRILL.
Later that day Japanese planes attacked the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor , Hawaii Territory, killing over 2,300 Americans. The U.S.S. Arizona was completely destroyed and the U.S.S. Oklahoma capsized. A total of twelve ships sank or were beached in the attack and nine additional vessels were damaged. More than 160 aircraft were destroyed and more than 150 others damaged.
The day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, President Roosevelt appeared before a joint session of Congress and declared, “Yesterday, December 7, 1941–a date which will live in infamy–the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”
The Senate voted for war against Japan by 82 to 0, and the House of Representatives approved the resolution by a vote of 388 to 1. The sole dissenter was Representative Jeannette Rankin of Montana, a devout pacifist who had also cast a dissenting vote against the U.S. entrance into World War I. Three days later, Germany and Italy declared war against the United States, and the U.S. government responded in kind.
Also on the day following Pearl Harbor, Alan Lomax, head of the Library of Congress Archive of American Folk Song, sent a telegram to colleagues around the U.S. asking them to collect people’s immediate reactions to the bombing. Over the next few days prominent folklorists such as John Lomax, John Henry Faulk, Charles Todd, Robert Sonkin, and Lewis Jones responded by recording “man on the street” interviews in New York, North Carolina, Texas, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere. They interviewed salesmen, electricians, janitors, oilmen, cabdrivers, housewives, students, soldiers, physicians, and others regarding the events of December 7. Among the interviewees was a California woman then visiting her family in Dallas, Texas.
“My first thought was what a great pity that… another nation should be added to those aggressors who strove to limit our freedom. I find myself at the age of eighty, an old woman, hanging on to the tail of the world, trying to keep up. I do not want the driver’s seat. But the eternal verities–there are certain things that I wish to express: one thing that I am very sure of is that hatred is death, but love is light. I want to contribute to the civilization of the world but…when I look at the holocaust that is going on in the world today, I’m almost ready to let go…”
Adolf Hitler responded by declaring war on the US on 11 December, firmly bringing America into both fronts of the war.