The Day Before

The 6th of December, 1941 was a typical American Fall Saturday. College football ruled the radio waves. UCLA played their big rivalry game against USC. Tens of thousands tuned in, and were disappointed when the game finished tied at 7-7. There was another big game that day: the Evergreen Bowl in Tacoma, where Texas A&M upset Washington State in a 7-0 nail biter. When the games ended, there was a better than even chance that the first song to emit from the speakers was Glenn Miller’s smash hit, “Chattanooga Choo Choo”. That evening, kids and adults alike flocked to the theater to see the new Tom and Jerry short, “The Night Before Christmas”. And when the kids went to bed the adults saw John’s Huston’s genre launching classic, “The Maltese Falcon” starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, and Peter Lorre which was still huge at the box office, despite it’s premier over a month before. The newspapers were filled with bad news: Moscow and Alexandria were about to fall, Japan moved more troops into Indochina, the “Flying Tigers” were having a tough time in China, and U boats were sinking American ships in the Atlantic. So people couldn’t get enough of the Maltese Falcon: it was a dark movie for dark times, and unlike anything they’d ever seen.

That afternoon, about the time Tom was playing on the piano and Jerry, unusually by his side, singing, President Roosevelt made an appeal directly to the Japanese emperor to continue negotiations, which had stalled since the 25th of November. Down the street from the White House, US code breakers were furiously decoding the first 13 parts of a “14 Part Message” detailing Japanese grievances against the US and Western nations. They had cracked the Japanese “Purple” code months before but this message was to be delivered to President Roosevelt promptly at 1pm the next day by the Japanese ambassador, Kichisaburō Nomura. They had to get the text to Secretary of State Cordell Hull before that happened.

Meanwhile, across the world, five Japanese I-boats launched five midget submarines off of Oahu who then began the painstaking process of infiltrating the mouth of Pearl Harbor. Further north, another I-boat, I-72, reported no American ships at Lahaina Roads which removed the last possibility of the Americans detecting the Kido Butai before it launched as it sailed behind a rain squall. Below decks of the six Japanese aircraft carriers, crewmen began rolling the large specially modified torpedoes and armored piecing bombs toward their planes, while pilots continued with ship identification games and route rehearsals for the upcoming attack.

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