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

85 Comments

Alex Armitage's picture

Fun fact - In a time before speech writers really existed, FDR changed the diction last minute from - "a date which will live in world history."

http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/_resources/images/sign/fdr_36.pdf

There are no "fun" facts associated with this tragedy.

Peter Mebli's picture

Thanks for both spending time here to remember the attack, and for sharing these incredible images, many of which I have not seen before.

You mention that all students in United States are taught about Pearl Harbor. I wonder if those in this community that are outside the U.S. were also taught about it, and if so what were they told? I would hope that an event that had repercussions around the world is still taught in classrooms outside of the U.S.

"I wonder if those in this community that are outside the U.S.."

What community are you referring to?

Peter Mebli's picture

The FStoppers community. Apologies if that wasn't clear.

I assume many/most students in most countries are taught some version of U.S. history, for sure, but I don't know what they're taught.

Peter Mebli's picture

Yeah definitely. I'm hoping some commenters outside the U.S. will chime in too. I'd be interested to hear what they've been told.

I've seen a fair amount of footage from Pearl Harbor, but some of these images were new to me and very striking. Really appreciate the post!

Chris Slasor's picture

I'm English and I remember learning all about WWII in History at school. (I'm 36 so that was over 20 years ago) We learned a lot about the whole war, including Pearl Harbor. A very cowardly and sickening attack indeed.

These photos are very interesting and thought provoking. Not only the subject matter, but the fact that now in a digital world, everyone has a camera and can take photos of everything and anything. Historical photos like this seem all the more precious because they could only be taken by the few who happen to have had a camera at the ready, and even then, those people with cameras will have only had so many shots or rolls of film at their disposal.

Peter Mebli's picture

Thank you, Chris. I appreciate your input and perspective.

History, and wars themselves are pretty tricky things if someone is looking to assign blame. As a high school student we were taught that Imperial Japan attacked Pearl in a pretty straightforward and cowardly sneak attack. Much like FDR's speech.

As a graduate student, we worked from a slightly murkier perspective. 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.

FDR's speech, though one of the greatest speeches ever given (in my opinion anyway), was specifically designed to convince congress to go to war. Something FDR had wanted since 1939. There was certainly a political agenda in his speech. Pearl served a very valuable purpose, much the same as the Zimmerman telegraph or the sinking of the Lusitania in WWI. But, in and of itself, simply part of war. Which, should be avoided at almost all costs (almost - but not all).

Surprise attack, yes. A tragedy for those who (and I count myself in) lean more towards a western way of life, yes. But it was war, even if it was 'undeclared.' There are few modern powers who haven't engaged in warfare minus a declaration of war (the US have fought multiple wars without declarations). And NONE who haven't committed war crimes in one form or another.

Don't get me wrong, I mark December 7 as a sad day. As a day that will live in infamy. I ache for all those who died. But I ache for the individuals and their families and the families that never were because of December 7. Not for the country. The same as I ache for those other days that marked the final end of the conflict in August 1945.

Pearl Harbour was attacked for many reasons, the most compelling for the Japanese was their plan for Imperial expansion into the Pacific. In addition they wanted to defeat Singapore which was defended by the Americans. America was weakened in the Pacific theatre both by Pearl Harbour and the loss of the British Colonies which is why the Pacific campaign took so long to ramp up other than small engagements. In addition the US was ill equipped to deal with the type of tactics that the Japanese employed.

The Japanese couldn't go toe-to-toe with either the US or the UK (whom they stole a lot of the technology from after being allies in WW I) without that carrier tech then Pearl Harbour would probably never have happened.

Pearl Harbour or a similar attack would have happened regardless the US policy of non-conflict at them time also showed them as weak (regardless of actual strength) and Japan thought that disparate cultures in the US would not hold up in a conflict compared to their monolithic society which they perceived to be a strength.

Japan has never atoned to the atrocities that Unit 731 carried out both during the Chinese war let alone WWII which included a live vivisection on a US Airman in Japan (and countless thousands of other people). The US granted immunity to all research post-1945 but Russia and China pursued their own courts. It was the existence of Unit 731 and the ghost of biological warfare that was one of the factors of the Atom Bomb which lead to massive civilian deaths in Japan which is America's own atrocity.

The links, miscalculations and arrogance was rife on all sides which led to the loss of too many people. That's not taking into the consideration the insanity in Europe.

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

America didn't start WWII, neither against the Japanese nor the Germans.

Peter Mebli's picture

I read the author's "we all" as in all of humanity, not just America. Maybe Stephen can chime in.

It's politically correct language that chooses to blame the whole rather than the guilty.

Some wars are also justifiable.

Peter Mebli's picture

Oh I think you're reading too much into this. It's a generalized sentiment and call for peace. He squarely places blame on Japan earlier:

"With a lack of declaration of war and without warning — and killing 2,402 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."

It was 2,403 casualties, however.

I was addressing the closing statement, on it's own. It's not relevant what came before it.

As for "reading too much into" the "generalized sentiment," no, I was fairly addressing and criticizing a statement that at best avoids the truth. That so-called "peace" statement and the thinking behind it, that has also made its way into the politics of previously righteous nations, has actually been responsible for even more tyranny, conflict and war throughout the world.

Peter Mebli's picture

Context is always relevant.

Just to be clear, you disagree with the idea that we should remember the damage caused by past wars and use that knowledge before committing to new ones?

Because if you do, I'm going to label you at best stupid and insane, and at worst evil! :P

I never said or suggested that context isn't relevant. The context in this case doesn't change at all the statement I addressed. The statement itself is what is flawed, as I said.

You're also misrepresenting what I said in order to try and justify your mimicry of something I said to you in another post in another article's comments. Sorry Peter, not playing your game.

Peter Mebli's picture

Fair point on the context.

I wasn't misrepresenting what you said, however. I paraphrased what the author wrote to clarify if you disagree with the statement.

And the last part was just in jest. Not meant to be nasty or anything. Sometimes that hard to get across online, hence the :P

Preaching peace and learning from history is always relevant.

The best way to achieve and maintain peace, to prevent wars, is to always be ready and willing to go to war against tyrants.

Tyrants are never deterred by talks of peace. In fact, they thrive in the presence of pacifists and diplomacy.

That is learning from history.

Peter Mebli's picture

Being ready and willing to go to war for a justifiable cause does not distract from aiming for peace, nor is this what the article was stating. You seem to be creating a false distinction from the content of the article.

"Being ready and willing to go to war for a justifiable cause does not distract from aiming for peace,"

Perhaps you should just accept that I believe, as stated, that that is the best way to achieve peace.

"nor is this what the article was stating."

In this portion of the thread I was simply responding to what Adam said.

"You seem to be creating a false distinction from the content of the article."

I'm quite clear in what I say and believe in, but rather than rely on what seems, why not simply ask for clarification? If you are serious, unlike earlier, then you will get a response.

Peter Mebli's picture

Oh I accept what you believe here: it’s a perfectly valid position. Off topic, and based on a misread of the text, but valid.

You do realize you can have a serious conversation and still inject a little humor, no?

Everything I have posted is on-topic and not a misread since everything I have posted is obviously in response to, and regarding, something Stephen wrote.

As for "a little humor", it's safe to say that most people wouldn't find misrepresentations of what they have said in order to engage in mimicry very amusing.

Peter Mebli's picture

Bob I mean this with all sincerity: you misread the text and based your points off a fallacy. If you're too stubborn to see (or admit) this, there's no reason to talk anymore.

Sorry if you were offended by my joke. Certainly not my intent.

So you agree, or disagree with my statement? I can't tell if you're trying to argue or just like listening to yourself talk.

Preaching peace does nothing against tyrants and knowing that is learning from history. That equals no on preaching and yes on learning from history.

As for your second sentence, Adam all that's going to do is eventually cause me to stop responding to you, which is not in accordance with you asking me a question and expecting an answer, assuming your question wasn't simply rhetorical.

The latter. Got it.

Michael Holst's picture

Why do these things have to be mutually exclusive? Of course you make sure you're ready to go to war if it's necessary.

Why is it wrong to want peace?