Black Friday has come and gone -- but what now? The rush for those bargains is now in the next "mad rush for stuff." Where did the "Black Friday" label come from anyway? And why might a "black" day have a greater meaning than shopping?
When I was 11 years old, the Friday after Thanksgiving (the day we thanked God for all our blessings and sat down together to eat that beautiful bird stuffed with the yummy dressing that only my mother made) was just that -- the day after Thanksgiving.
In Denver, where I grew up, there were still leaves to rake if it had not snowed and work to be done. Shopping was the furthest thought from my mind. But I was only 11 years old and did not know the future would drastically change. A day blacker than I could imagine would occur 11 days after that happy Thanksgiving.
On Dec. 7, 1941, my sister and I walked home from Sunday School and found my mother and father somberly listening to the radio. NBC announced, "This is no joke: This is war." Pearl Harbor had been bombed by the Japanese. President Roosevelt would announce, "A day that will live in infamy ..." and ask Congress for a declaration of war.
But problems between Japan and the United States had begun long before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Since the early 17th century, in an effort to prevent military threats and religious and culture changes, Japan had isolated itself from the rest of the world.
At that time, Japan flourished on its own. Only Dutch foreigners were allowed into their country for trade once a year. The Japanese people were not allowed to travel to other countries. Japanese waters were off limits; shipwrecked foreigners would be killed or jailed.
In 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry arrived in what is now Tokyo Bay. He came with armed warships but carried a letter from President Fillmore to the emperor diplomatically proposing a treaty.
The U.S. needed a port to replenish its steamships' coal supply as they sailed the Pacific Ocean. Future trade was also desired, and protection for our sailors shipwrecked in Japanese waters.
On March 31, 1854, after much diplomacy and compromise, the United States and Japan signed the Treaty of Kanagawa, which opened up the Empire of Japan to foreign visitors and trade. A "permanent friendship" was to be established between our two nations.
In 1931 Japan, poor in natural resources, conquered Manchuria, which had been part of China and in 1937, began attempts to overtake the rest of China. The United States increased military and financial aid to China, strengthened U.S. military power in the Pacific, and cut off shipment of oil and other raw materials to Japan.
The embargo on oil threatened Japan's well-being and even survival. Japan's military leaders planned to seize territories in Southeast Asia for their resources regardless if war with the U.S. might result.
In 1940, the Japanese government joined with Nazi Germany in the Axis Alliance. In the following year, Japan occupied all of Indochina.
Admiral Yamamoto, commander of the Japanese fleet, devised a surprise attack plan to immobilize the U.S. Pacific Fleet based at Pearl Harbor. The following excerpts are from records of the Naval History and Heritage Command:
In October 1941 the naval general staff gave final approval to Yamamoto's plan, which called for the formation of an attack force commanded by Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo. It centered around six heavy aircraft carriers accompanied by 24 supporting vessels. A separate group of submarines was to sink any American warships which escaped the Japanese carrier force.
Nagumo's fleet assembled in the remote anchorage of Tankan Bay in the Kurile Islands and departed in strictest secrecy for Hawaii on 26 November 1941 ... At dawn 7 December 1941, the Japanese task force had approached undetected to a point slightly more than 200 miles north of Oahu. At this time the U.S. carriers were not at Pearl Harbor ...
At 6:00 a.m. on 7 December, the six Japanese carriers launched a first wave of 181 planes composed of torpedo bombers, dive bombers, horizontal bombers and fighters. Even as they winged south, some elements of U.S. forces on Oahu realized there was something different about this Sunday morning.
In the hours before dawn, U.S. Navy vessels spotted an unidentified submarine periscope near the entrance to Pearl Harbor. It was attacked and reported sunk by the destroyer USS Ward (DD-139) and a patrol plane. At 7:00 a.m., an alert operator of an Army radar station at Opana spotted the approaching first wave of the attack force. The officers to whom those reports were relayed did not consider them significant enough to take action. The report of the submarine sinking was handled routinely, and the radar sighting was passed off as an approaching group of American planes due to arrive that morning.
The Japanese aircrews achieved complete surprise when they hit American ships and military installations on Oahu shortly before 8:00 a.m. They attacked military airfields at the same time they hit the fleet anchored in Pearl Harbor. The Navy air bases at Ford Island and Kaneohe Bay, the Marine airfield at Ewa and the Army Air Corps fields at Bellows, Wheeler and Hickam were all bombed and strafed as other elements of the attacking force began their assaults on the ships moored in Pearl Harbor. The purpose of the simultaneous attacks was to destroy the American planes before they could rise to intercept the Japanese ...
When the attack ended shortly before 10:00 a.m., less than two hours after it began, the American forces had paid a fearful price. Twenty-one ships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet were sunk or damaged ... Aircraft losses were 188 destroyed and 159 damaged, the majority hit before they had a chance to take off. American dead numbered 2,403..... There were 1,178 military and civilian wounded.
That was certainly "Black Sunday" 69 years ago. We hope and we pray that we have no more "black" days such as "that day that will live in infamy."
Ruth Moriarity is a member of the Generations Advisory Group.