American History: Pearl Harbor and WWII

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, they had several goals. They wanted to prevent the U.S. from interfering in some of their planned expansion south. They also sought to deliver a blow to the morale of the people, hoping that it would discourage the U.S. from entering World War II. This carefully planned attack included aircraft and submarines and specifically targeted eight of the U.S. battleships. Twenty-one ships were sunk or damaged and over 2000 Americans were killed. Instead of causing Americans to fear the war, it created a sense of patriotism and community that compelled the U.S. into battle with a sense of purpose.

The day after the attack, President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed Congress requesting that they declare war against the Empire of Japan. Outrage was increased by the fact that a note from the Japanese arrived late, making it known that they were breaking off relations with the U.S. That same day, the war declaration was signed and the military began to mobilize. Instead of tearing a nation apart, it brought everyone together with the same goal.

Before the attack on Pearl Harbor, The U.S. was working hard to provide much needed supplies to some of the other Allies through commerce and the lend-lease agreements. Once the U.S. officially joined the Allies, production of vehicles, tanks, and ammunition increased dramatically. One of the most notable contributions was the atomic bombing of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki near the end of the conflict.

 Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany as well as Japan in the Pacific made up the Axis powers. The Allies were made up of a variety of countries, but the Big Three included the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union. China was also considered to be an important ally. The Holocaust was one of the low points of the war, as was the only use of nuclear weapons in warfare, the bombings in Japan.

Germany surrendered in May of 1945 and after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan followed suit. President Harry Truman declared the official end of the hostilities on December 31, 1946. As these nations lost power, the U.S. and their allies became known as the world’s superpowers. The United Nations replaced the League of Nations to try and facilitate cooperation between countries and provide overall international security.

To learn more about Pearl Harbor and WWII, consult the following links:

America on the Sidelines: An interactive site courtesy of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Choose to enter through Europe or Asia for a perspective of each side of the war.

Naval Dispatch from the Commander in Chief Pacific: The first official notice that something was not right at Pearl Harbor. Today, the original document is held at the Library of Congress.

National Archives Collection of Photos and Documents from the Attack on Pearl Harbor: A compilation of primary sources that includes a photo of the explosion aboard the USS Shaw, as well as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s address to Congress on December 8, 1941.

The Department of Defense Remembers Pearl Harbor: Photos of the event as well as an eyewitness account from George Phraner, a petty officer first class, stationed aboard the USS Arizona.

Pearl Harbor: In Their Own Words: A video explaining what a log book is and how the National Archives is preserving them. Photos of the event and different portions of the log books are read to provide an accurate portrayal of the events.

Joseph P. McDonald Remembers: The son of Joseph P. McDonald tells the story of his father’s experience during the Pearl Harbor attacks. His story has been used as a resource for several books and movies on the topic.

Americans Remember Pearl Harbor: A variety of testimonies from different people, in different locations, about what they saw, felt and heard when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Scans of newspaper articles are also included.

An Interview with Johnie and Dale Gano, Pearl Harbor Eyewitnesses: A 1996 interview is transcribed. Details about the day and what it was like to experience this type of event are all included.

Eyewitness Account from a Nurse at the Naval Hospital: LT Ruth Erickson was interviewed about the day of the event. She describes the patients that were coming in for care and how she traveled with the injured.

Pearl Harbor Before, During and After: Jeff Trudell describes the attack on Pearl Harbor. Under each section, he lists a set of websites that apply to the topic.

Timeline of the Attacks: Starting at 0330 hrs, an explanation of the situation at different times is provided. It ends at 1000 hrs. (PDF)

The Attack on Pearl Harbor Photographic Journal: Multiple pictures of the event are featured along with an explanation for each one. The photos include Japanese planes, the first bombs to strike Hickam, and damaged equipment and buildings following the attack.

Pearl Harbor Raid: An overview, along with links to other pages created by the Naval History and Heritage Command, details the events of the day. Photos, documents, and lists of the different ships and planes involved are included.

The FBI’s role in Pearl Harbor: Bernard Julius Otto Kuehn was discovered as a spy and played a crucial role in the attack. Details about his background, his methods, and his sentence are listed.

The President’s Radio Address on December 10, 1941: After consulting with Congress, President Roosevelt addressed the nation about what happened and how the U.S. was going to respond. He lists details about the interactions between the United States, Japan, Germany, and the Soviet Union.

Newscasts of the Attack on Pearl Harbor: Many Americans found out about the attacks through different newscasts on the day of and the days following. Here, different newscasts are available for viewing and one includes a text transcription.

Pearl Harbor and the Preparation for War: Along with different pictures an explanation of the events of Pearl Harbor are listed. It also includes information on the Internment Policy.

Mobilizing for War: Once the U.S. became an active participant in World War II, the effects on the country were immediate. This site explains some of the changes to American’s lifestyles, economics, and the nation as a whole.

I Attacked Pearl Harbor: Information is listed about Kazuo Sakamaki, the first prisoner of war in World War II. Excerpts from his book are included along with a biographical background. 

The History of the USS Arizona: This article provides a brief history on the USS Arizona. Information about the salvage and memorial are featured.

The Pearl Harbor Investigations: The National Security Agency looks into the investigations that followed Pearl Harbor. It provides a list of the different inquiries and the problematic results, including questions asked by Americans that will never be answered.

Pearl Harbor and The National Security Act of 1947: In the aftermath of the attack, intelligence reforms were instituted to try and prevent similar events from happening. The site mentions the changes suggested to coordinate information.

Establishing National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day: This proclamation by the President of the United States sets up a national day of recognition and remembrance. The document was created on December 6, 2011.

The USS Arizona Memorial: This location has become sacred ground to those visiting. Construction was approved in 1958 by Eisenhower and was finally dedicated in 1962.

Pearl Harbor Survivors: This website is dedicated to the individuals that survived the attack. It features photos, written information, and a section on the facts and myths surrounding the event.

A Review of the Differences and Similarities of the Attack on Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 Attacks: John Dreifort is a history professor from Wichita State University. You can view the podcast or the transcribed interview.