The United States is observing the 78th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor Attack. Japan attacked US Naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. The surprise strike pushed America into World War II and changed the course of world history. The attack on the US Pacific fleet in Hawaii was Japan's biggest war blunder ever.

More than 2,400 people died in the surprise attack. As many as 1,178 Americans were wounded. Most of the US battleships in South Pacific were damaged and four were sunk. On December 8, the American Congress declared war on Japan.

Located near the center of the Pacific Ocean, Pearl Harbor was one of the strategic naval bases of the US. On that fateful day, nobody predicted Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor which was just 2,000 miles off the mainland.

Pearl harbor attack
The forward magazines of the destroyer USS Shaw explode after a bombing attack by Japanese planes Reuters

Japan's expansionism

During the 1930s, Japan turned into an expansionist power and it was up against the American challenge in the Pacific. Tokyo's race to solve the economic instability and demographic problems ended with the expansionist move. After incursions into Manchuria and atrocities like the Nanking Massacre, Japan declared war on China by the late 1930s.

This led to US enforcing sanctions and trade embargoes. The reasoning was simple -- end Japan's expansionist motive by cutting off the supplies. But Tokyo stood its ground. Through the months of negotiations between Japan and America, everybody saw an inevitable war's shadow.

To negotiate or to attack?

The prediction of an attack loomed, but not on the distant lands of Hawaii. But to the Japanese the attack was irresistible. Tokyo continued to negotiate until the day of the attack. The Japanese had already decided on war. Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku, the commander of Japan's Combined Fleet, had already planned the attack on the US Pacific fleet and with great care.

The Japanese airstrike happened at about 8 AM on the December 7. As they dropped bombs and attacked the fleet with bullets more than 2,400 people died, with civilians and armed forces equally being a target of the onslaught.

USS Arizona and the 1,000 men

The Japanese dropped an 1,800 pound bomb on the USS Arizona and the ship sank with 1,000 people stuck inside. This was not the only battleship to be struck, several others were either completely destroyed or damaged. In two hours the attack was over. Out of all the ships in the fleet, only USS Arizona and USS Utah were eventually salvaged.

The attack was part of Japan's mission to secure the Pacific. The Japanese saw it as an opportunity to reduce the American influence in the Pacific waters and this would let them expand towards the region. But, the US was able to bounce back quicker than expected. The attack was not able to completely destroy the Pacific Fleet.

America's entry into World War II

The very next day President Franklin D Roosevelt addressed the Congress and talked about the deliberate attack by the Japanese, a date which he said would live in infamy. The attack had left a scar on the American mind and they were united in joining the war. Japan's intention to make the US lift the sanctions backfired, instead they became a part of the global conflict that would later lead to Japan being occupied by a foreign power.