The surprise, morning attack by Japan on US Navy ships in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941 was called by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt “a date which will live in infamy.” The attack sank four U.S. battleships and damaged four more. The attack also sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, one minelayer, and destroyed 188 aircraft.  2,402 Americans were killed and 1,282 wounded.

Like the Germans in Europe, the Japanese had attacked and invaded their neighbors in Asia in the years leading up to Pearl Harbor.  Under pressure from isolationists in the United States, Roosevelt had struggled to maintain United States neutrality, while at the same time lending support to allies struggling against the invading forces. The Japanese attack was aimed at crippling the U.S. Navy so that Japan’s expansion into Southeast Asia could go on unchecked.

Immediately following the attack, Japan’s allies, Germany and Italy, also declared war on the United States. For the next four years, the United States and its Allies battled in both Asia and Europe until the Axis powers, Germany, Italy and Japan, were defeated. The battles in the Pacific against the Japanese were some of the deadliest for American forces in history. Japan refused to surrender until after President Harry Truman authorized two atomic bombs to be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. The role of the bombings in Japan's surrender and the U.S.'s ethical justification for them is still debated. Supporters of the bombings generally assert that they caused the Japanese surrender, preventing massive casualties on both sides in the planned invasion of Japan. Others who oppose the bombings argue that it was simply an extension of the already fierce conventional bombing campaign and, therefore, militarily unnecessary, inherently immoral, a war crime, or a form of state terrorism.  Nearly 400,000 U.S. soldiers died in World War II.