In Pictures: 75 Years Since the Start of the Pacific War
On the 75th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor, a look back, through the lenses of Magnum photographers, at the Pacific War that followed
On December 7, 1941, Japan launched a surprise attack on the US Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, propelling the previously neutral US into the Second World War. The bombardment took place in the early hours, with a fleet of Japanese fighter planes bombing the American naval base, killing 2,400 US troops, wounding a further 1,178 and damaging a large number of ships, including eight US Navy battleships. In the several hours following the attack, the Japanese military also attacked the US held Philippines, Guam and Wake Island and the British Empire in Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong.
The air strike was intended to prevent the US naval fleet from interfering in Japan’s planned military actions throughout Asia. The scale and violence of the bombardment shocked both the American people and Congress so deeply that it incited the immediate entry of the US into the conflict, with the then President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, declaring war on Japan the following day. This marked the beginning of the Pacific War, in which the allied powers, now joined by the US, engaged in a four-year conflict with the Empire of Japan, culminating in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Japan’s subsequent surrender.
Although no Magnum photographer was there to capture the battle at Pearl Harbor, both Wayne Miller and W. Eugene Smith committed themselves to capturing the ensuing war as it played out in the Pacific. Fought over a vast area, including the Pacific Ocean and Islands, the South-West Pacific, South-East Asia and China, from 1942, Smith travelled to a great number of these islands documenting the dramatic battles taking place as well as the human suffering of both civilians and the American forces with whom he was embedded. Some of his most arresting images were captured during the Battle of Okinawa, one of the bloodiest in the Pacific. Miller spent much of the war aboard US Navy aircraft carriers, including the USS Saratoga pictured here, producing photographs that provide an insight into the day to day experience of the war from the perspective of a navy soldier.