Say Dec. 7 and every American knows what you’re talking about.


The basic elements of the Japanese surprise attack on the U.S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor are well known.

What is less appreciated is that through coincidence none of the U.S. aircraft carriers were present.

And those carriers were involved in the massive victory of Midway about six months later.

Though readers expect to see recognition of this history every year, it’s difficult coming up with new angles.

However, a new book has come to the rescue.

In “On This Date,” Carl Cannon provides short stories about American history for every day of the year. He devotes three days — Dec. 6, 7 and 8 — to Pearl Harbor.

For Dec. 6, he noted the lucky circumstance that the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier was due back in port but was delayed by bad weather.

There were plenty of warnings about a Japanese attack. And there had been regular war games by the Navy regarding repelling an attack.

Admiral Husband Kimmell spent the Saturday, Dec. 6 wondering if he should order the fleet at Pearl Harbor to disperse.

In Washington, President Franklin Roosevelt learned of an intercepted message from Tokyo to the Japanese embassy that referred to “Final Communication to the United States.”

a “rebirth of reason”

It was more than two years at this point since World War II had been raging in Europe, yet isolationist sentiments remained strong in the U.S.

Congress had enacted the first peacetime draft in 1940 but when Roosevelt asked for an extension of duty for draftees, the bill passed by just one vote in the House a few months before Pearl Harbor, 203-202.

Though the surprise attack was successful — and the USS Arizona sank — many of the ships were able to be restored.

Should the Japanese have attacked on a third wave?

In his book, Cannon tells a typically American story.

The Japanese had sent five minisubmarines into the harbor. All five were destroyed and nine of the 10 Japanese crewmen were killed. Kazuo Sakamaki survived, then tried to commit suicide in shame. The Americans prevented that.

He became the first Japanese prisoner of war and was sent to a prisoner-of-war camp in Tennessee.

“He was surprised by the lack of brutality at the hands of his captors, and by the quality of the medical care and food he was provided and to his access to news accounts of the war,” Cannon wrote.

Sakamaki learned that what he had been taught about America was wrong. He began counseling other Japanese POWs not to commit suicide.

In 1949, Sakamaki’s memoir — “Four Years as Prisoner of War No. 1” — was published. His transformation in America, he wrote, “was a rebirth of reason.”

During his trip across the country to the POW camp, Sakamaki saw the incredible might of American factories and farms. The Japanese had counted on the surprise attack as being decisive because they knew that the American economy would win any long-term war.

On the other hand, the attack did create enough of a panic in the country that Japanese-American families were sent to internment camps in the U.S. These were little more than barracks surrounded by barbed wire.

The shame of this sad event in American history led the country to offer reparations to the survivors.

Japanese-Americans, inspired by the civil rights movement, led this campaign for about a decade.

So in 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act to compensate more than 100,000 people of Japanese descent imprisoned during World War II.

The act included a formal apology and $20,000 for each surviving victim.