This day in history, December 7: Japan launches attacks on Pearl Harbor, more

On Dec. 7, 1941, the Empire of Japan launched an air raid on the U.S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii as well as targets in Malaya, Hong Kong, Guam, the Philippines and Wake Island; the United States declared war against Japan the next day.

Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor 80 years ago not only ensured the United States’ entry into the second world war. It inadvertently but categorically changed baseball history.

One day after the attack, Major League Baseball’s owners were expected to approve the move of the American League’s St Louis Browns to Los Angeles for 1942 – 16 years before Walter O’Malley’s former Brooklyn Dodgers played their first season on the West Coast. The Browns felt so confident that they even scheduled a press conference in Los Angeles to announce the move on the afternoon of Monday 8 December 1941.

But in the aftermath of the attack in Hawaii 24 hours earlier – and with the radio broadcast of US president Franklin D Roosevelt’s declaration of war resonating vividly in the nation’s consciousness – the owners unanimously rejected the move, at the Browns’ insistence.

In February 1932, the debate over the future of air power in modern combat was still in full swing. Rear Adm. Harry Yarnell was a believer in the power of the airplane, and he set out to prove its value to the Navy.

Japanese spies in Oahu watched as American planes hit the island during war games from over the Koolau Range, and those spies sent the information back to Japan.

Nine years later, the attackers came from Japan, and they dropped real bombs.

The Navy had three aircraft carriers at the time, but deemed them to have little strategic value. The battleship was still the primary figure for naval war planning, as naval warfare was considered to be a slugfest at sea, while naval aviation was given more of a patrol and reconnaissance mission.

Yarnell devised a plan that would show what aircraft could do to any naval installation anywhere. When Pearl Harbor began its yearly defense exercise, it was Yarnell and his planes who were the aggressors. He chose a Sunday morning in February to launch his surprise and hit the naval base early in the morning to catch its defenders unprepared.

Sailing with just two carriers and a handful of destroyer escorts, Yarnell’s task force approached Oahu in thick fog and in the dead of night. His 152 aircraft launched just before dawn in the morning twilight. When day came, the planes appeared over the base from the Koolau Range, striking aircraft on the ground and bombarding the ships in the harbor.

The admiral’s plan went off without a hitch or a casualty. The base itself was strewn with dead flares and sacks of flour, the weapon of choice for the attacking aircraft. It was the first time Pearl Harbor had lost this annual war game.

It should have been a wakeup call for the Navy — and Pearl Harbor in particular. Instead the Navy cried foul and declared the exercise illegal, stating that it would have been on alert if the country were actually at war. It also said that a fleet like Yarnell’s would have been exposed and damaged or destroyed in case of such an attack.

So it went until 1938, when the annual exercise was held again that year. This time, Adm. Ernest King was in command of the opposing forces. Yarnell was watching King’s movements closely this second time around.

King took one aircraft carrier and its escort destroyers on a similar route and time. Just like the first exercise, the attacking aircraft came from the Koolau Range and completely decimated the fleet at Pearl Harbor. And just like the first attack, the Navy claimed the tactic was unfair and vetoed the results. Nothing changed.

Unlike the U.S. Navy, the Imperial Japanese Navy took notice of the first exercise. It watched the1932 attack and studied it closely. Japanese Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto was also a believer in naval air power and structured the Japanese Navy to focus on aircraft carriers.

When it came time for Japan to attack the United States, it knew that a long-term war with a potential industrial powerhouse was not one it could win. The Japanese hoped that by knocking out the U.S. Pacific Fleet, it could keep the Americans out of the war permanently.

Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, using much the same plans Yarnell used just nine years prior, only he used six aircraft carriers and 353 aircraft, many of which hit the harbor from the Koolau Range. It came as Japan launched simultaneous attacks on the Philippines, Guam, Wake Island, Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong.

December 7 stands out for other key moments in history.

In 1787, Delaware became the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution

In 1909, in his State of the Union address, President William Howard Taft defended the decision to base U.S. naval operations in the Pacific at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, instead of in the Philippines.

In 1917, during World War I, the United States declared war on Austria-Hungary.

In 1972, America’s last moon mission to date was launched as Apollo 17 blasted off from Cape Canaveral. The same day, Imelda Marcos, the wife of Philippine President Ferdinand E. Marcos, was stabbed and seriously wounded by an assailant who was shot dead by her bodyguards.

In 1982, convicted murderer Charlie Brooks Jr. became the first U.S. prisoner to be executed by injection, at a prison in Huntsville, Texas.

In 1987, 43 people were killed after a gunman aboard a Pacific Southwest Airlines jetliner in California apparently opened fire on a fellow passenger, the pilots and himself, causing the plane to crash.

Also in 1987, Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev set foot on American soil for the first time, arriving for a Washington summit with President Ronald Reagan.

In 1988, a major earthquake in the Soviet Union devastated northern Armenia; official estimates put the death toll at 25-thousand.

In 1993, gunman Colin Ferguson opened fire on a Long Island Rail Road commuter train, killing six people and wounding 19. (Ferguson was later sentenced to a minimum of 200 years in prison.)

In 2001, Taliban forces abandoned their last bastion in Afghanistan, fleeing the southern city of Kandahar.

In 2004, Hamid Karzai was sworn in as Afghanistan’s first popularly elected president.

In 2017, Democratic Sen. Al Franken said he would resign after a series of sexual harassment allegations; he took a parting shot at President Donald Trump, describing him as “a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault.” Republican Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona said he would resign, after revealing that he discussed surrogacy with two female staffers.

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