On Sunday, December 7, 1941 at 7:48 am Hawaii time, Japan shocked a country, staging a surprise attack on a sleepy Pearl Harbor. Five time zones to the east, the country was tuned in to three NFL rivalry games. The Brooklyn Dodgers were ahead of the New York Giants with a score of 21-7. In honor of their star running back, fans at New York’s polo Grounds were celebrating “Tuffy Leeman’s Day.” The festivities were interrupted by the public address announcer telling all servicemen to report to their units. A similar message was delivered at Chicago’s Comiskey Park where the Chicago Bears were leading the Chicago Cardinals by 34-24. The message differed a bit at Washington’s Griffith Stadium where, with a score of 20-14, the Washington Redskins were beating the Philadelphia Eagles. The announcer there paged all high-ranking government and military personnel in attendance, albeit without mention of the attack. Reporters were instructed to check in with their offices. By the next day, having lost 2,499 servicemen and civilians in U.S. soil, Congress declared war on Japan, and on the 11th of December declared war on Germany.
The U.S. found itself fighting a war on two dramatically different geographic and cultural fronts in both Europe and the Pacific while simultaneously supporting Allies whose stocks of manpower and munitions had been depleted by years of fighting. The United States would have been faced with the most formidable challenge in its history had it not been planning for the inevitable. The threat of war had hastened President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Congress to approve the nation’s first peacetime military draft in September 1940. When the Japanese attacked, the U.S. had a standing military of nearly 2.2 million soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines assembled from all walks of geographic and economic life across America.
In what proved to be a fatal miscalculation, the Pearl Harbor attack galvanized a country that had been so encumbered by isolationism that, by the end of 1940, Nazi Germany controlled most of Europe, Scandinavia, North Africa and posed a huge threat to Great Britain, the U.S.’s closest ally.