TCM (Turner Classic Movies) Channel has spent the day showing several wonderful period films relating to this significant historical event. In the months and years immediately after its occurrence, Hollywood did her part to help mobilize America for defense by producing quite a few wonderful, if now all but forgotten, classic films.
Today’s line-up has included December 7th: The Movie (a 1943 documentary style film designed to educate the public on the events leading up to the attack), Air Force ( another 1943 movie chronicling the crew of a B-17 bomber named the “Mary Ann” as she arrived from the U.S. mainland just as the attack was occurring, as well as her additional action in the war), and the 1944 classic, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (about Colonel Doolittle’s heroic retaliatory bombing raid on Japan just a little over four months after Pearl Harbor).
I highly recommend these films, as they were all made during the war itself. For this reason, they give the viewer a little of the sense of uncertainly that still pervaded the American psyche at the time. After all, victory in World War Two would not come for another year or two; and the outcome was in no way certain at the time.
Many in the modern era are more familiar with the story of what happened on December 7, 1941 due to its retelling in the 2001 epic war film, Pearl Harbor, starring Bren Affleck and Josh Hartnett and a whole host of a-list actors. This film portrays the days leading up to Pearl Harbor, the attack itself, the immediate aftermath, and the response of America in her first few months into World War Two, culminating in the bombing of Japan by Doolittle’s Raiders.
As I have shared before in earlier posts, Japan attempted a sweeping conquest of the Pacific, with well-coordinated and near simultaneous Japanese attacks on the U.S. held Hawaiian and Philippine Islands, as well as Guam and Wake Island, along with portions of the British Empire in Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong.
However, Japanese forces failed in at least two major objectives in the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. While America suffered terrible losses in life and among her battleships, the failure of Japan to finish off the numerous fuel reserves stored nearby and, even more consequential, to catch the United States’ aircraft carriers at anchor in Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941 were blunders that would soon prove catastrophic.
What is more, of the twenty-one ships damaged or lost in the attack, all but three were eventually repaired and returned to service by U.S. forces. Thus, what may have seemed like a decisive pre-emptive strike by Japan soon turned into a Pyrrhic victory at best!
Accordingly, six months after Pearl Harbor, on May 4-8, 1942, America essentially fought Japan to a draw in the first ever battle between aircraft carriers, each sinking one carrier of the other’s fleet. One month later, on June 4-6, 1942, in the Battle of Midway, America won a decisive victory, sinking four Japanese carriers against only one carrier lost. Even more significantly, the Japanese had 248 aircraft destroyed and over 3,000 killed, many of whom were their most seasoned pilots.
From that day forward, barely seven months after Pearl Harbor, Japan was on the defensive as America began an island-hopping campaign across the Pacific that eventually reclaimed all the territory Japan had conquered and ultimately led to the defeat of Japan and the occupation of her home islands.
But in the dark days immediately after Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt knew that his fellow Americans were struggling with fear, doubt, and the specter of defeat. As a leader, he understood that it was his job to find a way to inspire them. So he set his cabinet the task of finding some way to retaliate against Japan and give the American people the all-important boost in morale that they so desperately needed.
The result was a surprise raid in April, 1942, led by Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle and consisting of Sixteen B-25B Mitchell medium range bombers that were launched without fighter escort from the U.S. Navy's aircraft carrier USS Hornet deep in the Western Pacific Ocean.
The bold plan called for flying over Japan, dropping bombs on major targets, and then flying on to China before eventually landing in non-Japanese occupied territory. Unfortunately, the U.S. Fleet was sighted and the bombers had to be launched at a far greater distance than anticipated, thus limiting fuel supply.
Many planes finished the mission with little or no fuel, with most crashing far short of their desired landing spots and into Japanese occupied territory. After many harrowing experiences, all but three of the eighty crew members survived and eventually made it back home.
While the mission inflicted very little actual military destruction itself, the damage to the collective psyche on the Japanese due to an attack on their homeland that they had heretofore considered impregnable was considerable.
More to the point, the effect on America’s morale was tremendous. The Doolittle raid, carried out by brave men, conceived by top brass, and inspired by a true leader was of incalculable significance to the outcome of World War Two.
I conclude by sharing a link to a classic scene from the above mentioned 2001 movie, Pearl Harbor. In this scene, Josh Hartnett portrays a pilot named "Danny" who had earlier survived Pearl Harbor and has just flown in the Doolittle Raid, and who has now crash landed in occupied China and been taken prisoner. The Japanese are about kill his best friend “Rafe”, portrayed by Ben Affleck. The imagery is powerful, and also deeply theological, as Danny, lashed to a wooden crossbeam, willingly sacrifices his own life in order to save that of his friend, Rafe.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TasKTohEbaI (Beginning at 1 minute, 50 seconds of the overall 4 minute, 10 second clip).
I cannot watch this scene without being reminded, first of the sacrifice of so many one my behalf in order that I might enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness! Untold Americans in every generation have placed themselves in harm’s way in order that you and I might live and prosper in the land of the free and the home of the brave! May we never forget their sacrifice!
In like manner, on an infamous day in history known as “Good Friday”, another Individual gave His life in order that you and I might have life, and have it to the full. That Individual was God’s Son, Jesus Christ, Who allowed Himself to be lashed and nailed to the beam of a cross, where He willingly sacrificed His life for our freedom from sin and its consequences. In so doing, He set us free not only for this world, but for all eternity.
On this anniversary of the “Day of Infamy”, may we ever be faithful to express our appreciation to Him as well! For not only did He give us the principle that “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”; He also demonstrated it for us by doing this very thing! And that, my friends, is worth remembering!
SCRIPTURE SOURCE: https://biblehub.com/john/15-13.htm.