A Day to Remember Infamy

Seventy-five years ago today, Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japanese forces resulting in the deaths of over 2,500 soldiers and civilians and the destruction of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Within hours, the Japanese empire had also launched attacks upon Guam, Wake Island, Malaya, Hong Kong, Thailand, and the Philippines, engaging the United States and its allies in a global conflict which would cost many millions of lives in the years to come. The next day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt memorialized December 7, 1941 as “a date which will live in infamy.” He was right. Each year Pearl Harbor Day is observed across our country, especially at Pearl Harbor itself where veterans and survivors of the attack gather each year to remember.

For those wanting to learn more about Pearl Harbor, there are many excellent books including several new titles, such as Nicholas Best’s compelling wide-angle view Seven days of infamy: Pearl Harbor across the world. In Donald Stratton’s All the gallant men: an American sailor’s firsthand account of Pearl Harbor, USS Arizona survivor Stratton offers a first-person view of that fateful day, as well as what led him there and the physical and mental struggles in the aftermath. Many regard Gordon Prange’s epic At Dawn We Slept as the definitive account of Pearl Harbor, while younger readers may appreciate Sherry Garland’s Voices of Pearl Harbor, or Thomas Allen’s Remember Pearl Harbor: American and Japanese Survivors Tell Their Stories.

December 7th, 1941 is destined to be forever linked with another date: February 19, 1942. While less well known to many Americans, it is no less infamous in our history. On this day President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the relocation and interment of Japanese Americans. Over 110,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry, most living on the West Coast and two-thirds of them citizens were forcibly relocated to spartan camps where they were to suffer dire hardships. It was not until the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 that the U.S. Government acknowledged the Internment resulted not from legitimate security concerns, but from “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” Speaking on the 50th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor, President George H.W. Bush stated “No nation can fully understand itself or find its place in the world if it does not look with clear eyes at all the glories and disgraces of its past. We in the United States acknowledge such an injustice in our history. The internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry was a great injustice, and it will never be repeated.”

Readers wishing to understand more about the Internment and how it happened may want to check out Un-American: The Incarceration of Japanese Americans During World War II, by Richard Cahan, Richard Reeves’s authoritative, impassioned account Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese American Interment in World War IIor Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston’s moving memoir of childhood in the camps, Farewell to Manzanar. Younger readers can learn more about this shameful chapter in our history with Albert Marrin’s Uprooted: The Japanese-American Experience During World War II, or Lois Sepahban’s Paper Wishes, the heartbreaking story of a young girl forced from her Bainbridge Island home to the internment camp at Manzanar. For many more titles on both Pearl Harbor and the Internment, we have created this list for adult readers, and this list for children and teens. For a thoughtful discussion of how we must learn from our history, check out the podcast of our recent panel of scholars, Lessons from World War II: Enduring Legacies of Japanese American Incarceration.

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