Pearl Harbor in Images: 'A Date Which Will Live in Infamy'

Pearl Harbor in Images: 'A Date Which Will Live in Infamy'

If you were raised in the United States, you were taught about the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. You’ve heard the famous description of it by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who called it “a date which will live in infamy.” With a lack of declaration of war and without warning — and killing 2,403 Americans — the surprise attack by Japan’s military on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii was judged to be a war crime, and was the impetus for the U.S. officially entering World War II. You know this, but there’s a good chance you haven’t seen many (or any) photos from that day.

What better way to immortalize the events of that day 76 years ago than through photographs? As photographers, we know that photographs are time capsules; the images we create pause time and document history in ways we won’t understand until we ourselves are long gone. Looking back on photos taken during this time is certainly a reminder of that. Here are a few of them from the U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command, along with some of their captions, that I thought were interesting. I encourage you to take a look at that site and look at more of the images -- there are a lot of them, and they certainly have a story to tell.

A Japanese Navy Attack Plane taking off from an aircraft carrier on its way to Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. For some reason I liked the profile in the foreground of the Japanese soldier looking on.

A Japanese Navy Attack Plane taking off from an aircraft carrier on its way to Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. For some reason I liked the profile in the foreground of the Japanese soldier looking on.

Here's a cartoon that was found in a wrecked Japanese plane following the attack on Pearl Harbor. I think drawings and cartoons like this say a lot about the spirit of the times. The Japanese inscription at left reads: "Hear! The voice of the moment of de

Here's a cartoon that was found in a wrecked Japanese plane following the attack on Pearl Harbor. I think drawings and cartoons like this say a lot about the spirit of the times. The Japanese inscription at left reads: "Hear! The voice of the moment of death. Wake up, you fools."

Image taken from a Japanese plane during the torpedo attack on ships moored on both sides of Ford Island.

Image taken from a Japanese plane during the torpedo attack on ships moored on both sides of Ford Island.

A view of Pearl Harbor looking southwest from the hills towards the north. Taken during the Japanese raid, with anti-aircraft shell bursts overhead. Large column of smoke in lower center is from USS Arizona.

A view of Pearl Harbor looking southwest from the hills towards the north. Taken during the Japanese raid, with anti-aircraft shell bursts overhead. Large column of smoke in lower center is from USS Arizona.

View from a pier looking toward the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard's drydocks.

View from a pier looking toward the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard's drydocks.

A photograph taken from an automobile around 9:30 a.m. on December 7.

A photograph taken from an automobile around 9:30 a.m. on December 7.

There aren't as many images like this, showing the U.S. forces fighting back.

There aren't as many images like this, showing the U.S. forces fighting back.

A patrol bomber burning at Naval Air Station Kaneohe, on Oahu, with crews trying to put out the fires.

A patrol bomber burning at Naval Air Station Kaneohe, on Oahu, with crews trying to put out the fires.

"A U.S. Army B-17E at Hickam Air Field, after landing safely during the Japanese air raid. Smoke from burning ships at Pearl Harbor is visible in the distance. Photographer may be Staff Sergeant Lee Embree."

"A U.S. Army B-17E at Hickam Air Field, after landing safely during the Japanese air raid. Smoke from burning ships at Pearl Harbor is visible in the distance. Photographer may be Staff Sergeant Lee Embree."

"Destroyed U.S. Army aircraft at Wheeler Field, Oahu, during post-attack cleanup activities. P-40 pursuit planes are among the types present."

"Destroyed U.S. Army aircraft at Wheeler Field, Oahu, during post-attack cleanup activities. P-40 pursuit planes are among the types present."

The forward magazine of USS Shaw (DD-373) explodes during the second Japanese attack wave. At right is the bow of USS Nevada (BB-36), with a tug alongside fighting fires. Photographed from Ford Island, with a dredging line in the foreground. U.S. Naval Hi

The forward magazine of USS Shaw (DD-373) explodes during the second Japanese attack wave. At right is the bow of USS Nevada (BB-36), with a tug alongside fighting fires. Photographed from Ford Island, with a dredging line in the foreground. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

Explosion of the forward magazines of USS Shaw  in the floating drydock, after a bombing attack by Japanese planes on 7 December 1941. USS Nevada, also hit by the attackers, is at right. Photographed from Ford Island, with USS Avocet partially visible at

Explosion of the forward magazines of USS Shaw in the floating drydock, after a bombing attack by Japanese planes on 7 December 1941. USS Nevada, also hit by the attackers, is at right. Photographed from Ford Island, with USS Avocet partially visible at left. Official U.S. Navy Photograph.

USS Cassin burned out and capsized against USS Downes after the attack. It's hard to imagine the time and effort required to clean up the wreckage from these massive ships.

USS Cassin burned out and capsized against USS Downes after the attack. It's hard to imagine the time and effort required to clean up the wreckage from these massive ships.

"USS Downes, at left, and USS Cassin, capsized at right, burned out and sunk in the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard drydock on 7 December 1941, after the Japanese attack. The relatively undamaged USS Pennsylvania is in the background." Note the man in a white shir

"USS Downes, at left, and USS Cassin, capsized at right, burned out and sunk in the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard drydock on 7 December 1941, after the Japanese attack. The relatively undamaged USS Pennsylvania is in the background." Note the man in a white shirt standing under the gun, in awe.

Here are the wrecked destroyers USS Downes and USS Cassin at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard after the attacks were over. This image has been attributed to Navy Photographer's Mate Harold Fawcett

Here are the wrecked destroyers USS Downes and USS Cassin at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard after the attacks were over. This image has been attributed to Navy Photographer's Mate Harold Fawcett

Sailor lies face down, killed during the air attack at the Naval Air Station in Kaneohe Bay.

Sailor lies face down, killed during the air attack at the Naval Air Station in Kaneohe Bay.

"A Marine rifle squad fires a volley over the bodies of fifteen officers and men killed at Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay during the Pearl Harbor raid. These burial ceremonies took place on 8 December 1941, the day after the attack."

"A Marine rifle squad fires a volley over the bodies of fifteen officers and men killed at Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay during the Pearl Harbor raid. These burial ceremonies took place on 8 December 1941, the day after the attack."

This, to me, almost looked like an old drone shot. "Aerial view of Battleship Row moorings on the southern side of Ford Island, 10 December 1941. ... Note dark oil streaks on the harbor surface, originating from the sunken battleships."

This, to me, almost looked like an old drone shot. "Aerial view of Battleship Row moorings on the southern side of Ford Island, 10 December 1941. ... Note dark oil streaks on the harbor surface, originating from the sunken battleships."

I didn't see many portraits in the archives, but here are a couple. "Divers emerging from a gas-filled compartment aboard one of the ships undergoing salvage, after the 7 December 1941 Japanese raid. Note oily conditions, and face masks worn by the men."

I didn't see many portraits in the archives, but here are a couple. "Divers emerging from a gas-filled compartment aboard one of the ships undergoing salvage, after the 7 December 1941 Japanese raid. Note oily conditions, and face masks worn by the men."

Taking the time to pose during cleanup. "Divers standing in front of a decompression chamber, while they were working to salvage ships sunk in the 7 December 1941 Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor. Note warrant officer standing at right."

Taking the time to pose during cleanup. "Divers standing in front of a decompression chamber, while they were working to salvage ships sunk in the 7 December 1941 Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor. Note warrant officer standing at right."

Looking back on these images is also a reminder of how far photography has come since the 40s. These images are in black and white, taken before the popularity of color film hit in the 1970s. Many are out of focus, no doubt taken with a manual focus camera in a quickly developing, traumatic situation. The question is, would we want these images to be more “technically correct” than they are, so as to get a more accurate picture of what happened on that day? Or, at this point, is there something about the historical "feel" to them that adds something to what they communicate? I don’t have an answer. Either way, they still tell a story that shouldn't be forgotten. And maybe, if we all look back and remember the damage caused during past wars, we'll be less inclined to start new ones.

All images from the U.S. Naval History and Historical Command Archive.

Log in or register to post comments

58 Comments

Previous comments
mark mil's picture

Perhaps then the word truth is being used with multiple meanings at the same time. Truth does not equal fact.

Fact is often not nearly the solid point of reference that many assume it is.

The argument has gone on for a while here, and has taken many twists. I don't want to put words in your mouth, can you tell me where you see others confusing your truth with untruth? Or, fact with preference?

mark mil's picture

I think truth has a pretty fluid meaning. And, truth certainly changes over time.

There is along chain of discussion above, I'm just asking you were you feel that you are being accused of not speaking the truth. I'm not asking you what others think. I'm asking you where you think your truth is being called into question.

As another question, do you really and truly believe that truth is so clear and distinct from preference? You don't see any grey? I'm not judging, just asking.

Anonymous's picture

'Tis you, good sir, who needs to review some meanings of words:

Anonymous's picture

And what, pray tell, are you reporting me for? I merely provide assistance to those who seek definitions of words! I am logophile! I have made no threats, and caused no abuse. I seek to enlighten!

I know not of these accusations you speak of: I have never been banned from this fine website.

Aha! I've found another word of relevance for you!

Michael Holst's picture

Triggered much?

Anonymous's picture

My word! (Aha!)

Lies and threats to my safety offline? How very troubling. And all for providing dictionary definitions to an assumed fellow logophile.

As you have threatened me and accused me of crimes I did not commit, without cause or evidence, I now fear for my wellbeing.

mark mil's picture

I can certainly agree with the bully comment. And as far as it extends to world politics, I can also agree.

Where we disagree is when the someone actually is a tyrant and needs to be stood up to. It's easy, I think, to see certain people as tyrants in retrospect. Harder at the time. More on this in our other conversation.

By the by, I have no problem about a political discussion when the article is essentially about a political topic.

Michael Holst's picture

Don't worry. Bob is on a crusade to purge the nation of political correctness by being obtuse and dense. Take his comments with a grain of salt.

Don't worry, we're used to it.

Anonymous's picture

What a desperate straw man comment. I'd say quit while you're ahead, but that opportunity is long gone.

Michael Holst's picture

So i'm not allowed to agree with anyone and back them up? Don't you believe in others people's right to self-determination?

Anonymous's picture

It’s sad to see someone who simply misread a statement unable to own up to a mistake, and instead dig a deeper hole for themselves in a desperate attempt to save face. Pride cometh before the fall.

Anonymous's picture

You continue to miss to point, Bob. I welcome disagreement, as would a good number of people on this site. If we all agreed, or knew everything, there would be little need for a forum.

What is being addressed is your misread of the text. You start from a faulty comprehension of the article's content, and make arguments based on that inaccuracy. Even if you make a valid point (as I said you did earlier) it is irrelevant to the author's focus.

The author even clarified an already straightforward statement, yet still you persist doggedly. So it is an issue of the messenger, not the message.

Anonymous's picture

That "one relevant closing comment" you mention you mistakenly considered to be a reference to the United States starting WWII. You just didn't read it correctly. Any point beyond this is a non-sequitur, and you've shown yourself to be unable or unwilling to accept this fact.

You were wrong. I have every right to respond to your method of presentation and your faulty line of reasoning. And it's not my problem if you see a critique of how you engage in conversation to be some sort of affront.

Anonymous's picture

Man Bob, I’m at a loss. You really don’t see it, and there’s no clearer way to put it than I and others already have.

You should learn to not see criticism as an offense.

We’re done here.

Michael Holst's picture

"He said "and maybe, if we all look back and remember the damage caused during past wars, we'll be less inclined to start new ones."

That I responded with America didn't start WWII is a fair and reasonable reply to *that specific statement,* and considering the topic of the article, photographic documentation of who actually did, at least in the Pacific."

You won't admit that you could have misinterpreted "we" as not just the United States? You continue to see a request for peace as a statement that war is never justified.

You are a very interesting individual. You're so convinced that you're always right I wonder how often you actually listen when people tell you what they meant vs what you THINK they meant.

So tired of people like Bob. Literally ruining the internet with their fauxlosophy. A blog shares really rad images of WW2 and we have Bob talk circles around himself while he fails to make a point.

mark mil's picture

This discussion has clearly been going on for some time now. I would however disagree that the US didn't have a role in the start of WWII.

As I was saying above (sorry to cut and paste) Imperial Japan was pushed into a corner by US and British policies in the Pacific. Japan was quickly running out of oil and rubber and this was the intention of both the US and the British. All three countries, Imperial Japan, Britain and the US were expanding influence in the Pacific. All three were at a virtual state of war by 1941. The US clearly intended to cut short Japanese imperialism in the Pacific through war by a means other than armed conflict. I'd suggest that if you put a cat in a corner you can't really be surprised when it come out biting. Please note, I don't condone what happened, but it was war. A war that saw the US avenge those from December 7.

It's just that it's more complicated than "the US didn't start of the war in the Pacific."

I'd also suggest that the war in Europe is a little murkier (though I note, much less murky than the Pacific) than most are willing to acknowledge. Would you agree that WWII is a direct offshoot of WWI, which itself really started in the 1870's and the Prussian wars with Austria and France? Essentially, a series of wars that saw the rise of Germany and both France's and Britain's refusal to allow the pie to split with another player. Now Wilson, of all the leaders in 1918/19 really did try to change the world, but nobody listened to him. Which set the world on a direct course for 1939. US politics in the inter-war years certainly didn't do anything to calm the situation in Europe and didn't allow Harding to Hoover (and then FDR) to be stronger with a Germany trying to reassert itself after the smack down of Versailles.

The US was involved in WWII long before 1941. Lend / lease made the US a participant pretty early in the war. Although most the US wasn't willing to send young men (FDR excluded - who seemed to understand faster than most), it was certainly willing to allow the war in Europe to help pull it out of the depression.

I'd note that most of this is long before anyone really realized what was going on in Poland and on the Eastern Front. And nobody was willing to start a world war over what they knew of the treatment of the European Jews from 1933-1944.

To oversimplify, it's all pretty complicated. Were the Western Powers the good guys, CERTAINLY, but that doesn't make US policies and actions from 1918 to 1941 innocent. The US didn't trigger WWII, no, but they did have a measure to do with how it started. Especially in the Pacific.

mark mil's picture

Your statement is not factual. I spent some energy trying to explain that. Your response doesn't really provide an answer to what I said.

Instead, you just reduce your statement to the very moment someone fired a bullet or dropped a torpedo. That is a fallacy. That isn't the start of a war. There are causes to the start of wars. I am of the opinion you know that, but are simply looking to pick a fight instead of discuss. If I'm wrong, I apologize, but I did try to engage you.

If you wanted to be factual, you could say Imperial Japan fired the first round. Sure, I'd agree with that.

Any nation has a reason to go to war, they don't have to be tyrants. Was Nixon or Kennedy or Johnson a tyrant? Was Eden? Was Ike (as president)? Lincoln? Victoria? For that matter, Washington and Adams?

Anonymous's picture

Aloha! No, Mr. Brady, it is YOU who needs to research the definition of the word "war"!

mark mil's picture

We're debating the definition of the phrase 'starting a war' If by starting a war you mean pulling a trigger, we are talking about different things. I can't argue that Japan fired first. I would maintain that that isn't the 'start of a war.' That the start of a war is rooted in causation. I understand you disagree. I understand where you disagree. And, I understand why you disagree. I think that it oversimplifies things, and I think that that oversimplification is dangerous, but I certainly understand.

We don't agree on what the 'start of war' means. I see causation, you see action.

As for my apology, your right. I accept what you're saying and I apologize without qualification for assuming your intentions.

As for continuing to discuss Nixon etc. Perhaps that is better left outside a photographic forum, even if the article is related to politics.

Telling me the definition of the word truth escapes me is a bit condescending. I didn't simply state what I thought truth meant. I took time to explain my understanding to you. My definition may be different than yours, but it isn't wrong.

Han Seoul-Oh's picture

the aerosmith song was for the movie Armageddon, not the equally tragic movie that also featured Michael Bay directing Ben Affleck that in no way reflected actual history, Pearl Harbor.

You're right. I don't know what I was thinking. This is what happens when I write an article before I have coffee.

Oh wait, I don't drink coffee.

Maybe I should drink coffee...

Chad D's picture

I had the honor of diving and photographing the USS Arizona some time ago :)

also did some work in Truk Lagoon (Chuuk)

Anonymous's picture

An incredible opportunity. If any of those images are available online, I’d love to take a look.

Brent Schmidt's picture

"For some reason I liked the profile in the foreground of the Japanese soldier looking on."

Kill yourself.

As one of many members in my family who have served, that line, among some other questionable ones, pisses me off like nothing else.

what a douche bag comment. The author was making a comment on an image. My grandfather fought in WW2, lost his leg in D-Day. I am not offended by this comment and neither would he. Take your own advice.

Brent: I liked the composition of the image. I wasn't commenting on the content or saying I favored the Japanese military or something. The image tells a story. That's it.

"Kill yourself" seems a little dramatic.