November 25, 1941, while not the date that would live in infamy, is a date that, in some ways, lives in infamy too. It was on this day that Admiral Harold R. Stark, United States Chief of Naval Operations, told Admiral Husband E. Kimmell, commander of the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, that both President Roosevelt and Secretary of State Cordell Hull thought that a Japanese surprise attack is a distinct possibility. It was their thought that the attack might possibly happen on the following Monday, because the Japanese were notorious for attacking without warning, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had informed his Cabinet. “We must all prepare for trouble, possibly soon,” he telegraphed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Kimmel’s command was at the mid-Pacific base at Oahu, which included, Pearl Harbor. At the time he received the “warning” from Stark, he was negotiating with Army Lieutenant General Walter C. Short, commander of all United States forces at Pearl Harbor, about sending United States warships out from Pearl Harbor in order to reinforce Wake and Midway Islands, along with the Philippines, which were considered possible Japanese targets. But the Army had no anti aircraft artillery to spare. War worries struck due to an intercepted Japanese diplomatic message, which gave November 25 as a deadline of sorts. If Japanese diplomacy had failed to convince the Americans to revoke the economic sanctions against Japan, “things will automatically begin to happen,” the message related. Those “things” were becoming obvious, in the form of Japanese troop movements off Formosa (Taiwan), toward Malaya. In reality, they were headed for Pearl Harbor, as was the Japanese First Air Fleet, but no one had guessed that was the intended target.
Despite the fact that so many in positions of command anticipated a Japanese attack, they had all failed to figure out that Hawaii was the target. When the attack came, they were all taken by complete and deadly surprise. Maybe they should have known, especially given the failure of diplomacy, when Japan refused United States demands to withdraw from both the Axis pact and occupied territories in China and Indochina, but no one guessed Pearl Harbor was the target. Unfortunately they assumed Midway or Wake islands, because they seemed to be more strategic targets, and they expected that Japan would need those locations to have a chance at victory. I don’t know why the Japanese decided on Pearl Harbor, but perhaps it was a way of attacking in the heart of the United States…or as much as they felt they could. Whatever the case may be, the United States came back with a vengeance, and the Japanese would regret their attack on Pearl Harbor, because they would lose the war, date that would live in infamy…or not.