Pearl Harbour Remembrance Day: Why Americans observe 'a day that will live in infamy'

Kristin Hugo

Every year Americans observe a day of remembrance for the attack on Pearl Harbour in Hawaii.

December 7, 1941 was famously declared by President Franklin D Roosevelt as “a day that will live in infamy,” and every year, Americans look back on the battle that cost thousands of American lives.

Friday will be the 77th anniversary of the attack on the Pearl Harbour Naval base, an event that was integral to events during the Second World War.

What happened?
Just outside of Honolulu, the naval base of Pearl Harbour suffered one of the most deadly attacks on American soil. The Japanese Military sent hundreds of fighter planes to shoot at the island, destroying eight battleships, 12 other navy vessels, and more than 300 aeroplanes. Around 2,400 Americans died, 1,000 were injured, and President Roosevelt declared war on Japan the next day.

Tensions had been building for almost a decade, with he US wary of what it saw has global expansion from Japan, of which gaining control of the Pacific would be a key component.

Why do Americans still honour the anniversary?
The attack on Pearl Harbour was integral to the US joining the Second World War and both navy personnel and civilians died.

Observing Pearl Harbour Remembrance Day is in part about looking back on a defining moment in American history. Not only is the day commemorated for those who lost their lives, but also commemorates US efforts during the war.

How is the day observed?
Pearl Harbour Remembrance Day is not a celebration as much as a solemn opportunity to honour the dead. All US Government buildings should have their flags at half-staff, and the president typically asks citizens to lower their displayed flags as well. Some organisations have memorials and ceremonies.

Others focus on education. Public schools often implement curriculum to teach students about what happened, often showing the 2001 drama Pearl Harbour. Over the years, there have been several films, miniseries’, and TV specials about the attack.

It also also a chance to educate younger generations about the internment and ill-treatment of Japanese-Americans during the war. The treatment was denounced by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 as “a policy motivated by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership”.

Is it a federal holiday?
Pearl Harbour Day is federally recognised but not a federal holiday, so it’s unlikely that your employer will offer you time off. Federal offices and services like buses and the post office will continue with their regular schedule.

It is also a chance to remember a global conflict in which tens of millions of soldiers and civilians were killed in all the theatres of war.