Pearl Harbor: Awakening America

On December 7, 1941 Japanese planes streaked across the horizon around eight a.m., over the islands of Hawaii. Shortly after the Japanese arrival, bombs began dropping and explosions and shots rocked Pearl Harbor. Military personnel and troops rushed to action, but it was too late to stop the major destruction and carnage of Pearl Harbor. What seemed to be a Japanese victory over the U.S. turned out to be quite the opposite (Pearl Harbor 2009). Although the outcome and some general facts about the attack on Pearl Harbor are widely known, many things are less familiar. Some of these are Pearl Harbor’s background, the incidents that led up to the attack, what happened during the attack, what happened after, and a common disputed theory.

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Although Pearl Harbor was the location of a devastating attack by the Japanese forces during WWII, its background is very interesting. Pearl Harbor is a lagoon harbor located on Oahu Island, Hawaii. It has many purposes, many of which are still used today. Pearl Harbor is used as a U.S. naval base, and is the headquarters for the U.S. Pacific Fleet. It is also used as a port and refueling station (Wels 2001). The construction and development of Pearl Harbor took quite a while. It was surveyed by Lieutenant Wilkes in 1840, and after harbor rights were secured, construction began in 1898. A naval base was established on the island after 1908, and the drydock was completed in 1919. Pearl harbor was very important because of its natural defensive layout, and launchpad characteristics. The U.S. could house and launch their naval forces from Pearl Harbor, and the Japanese could use it as a base to launch attacks on the west coast (Pearl Harbor 2018).

Before the Pearl Harbor attack, tension had arose between the Americans and the Japanese. As a part of Japan’s military campaign, Japan waged war against China, who seemed like an easy neighboring country to conquer. The U.S., already against the Japanese and their antics, sided with China. To try to stop the Japanese, the U.S. restricted Japanese trade and cut off the oil supply to Japan (Wels 2001). This was an easy fix for the Allies to stop the Japanese war machine, but it posed more of a problem than a solution. Shortly after trade with Japan was cut, negotiations for oil began. The U.S. and Japan tried to work out an agreement, but their objectives seemed too far apart and conflict seemed inevitable. While the U.S. housed meetings, the Japanese began planning for an attack; one that would shake the world (Pearl Harbor 2009).

During the battle of Pearl Harbor many things went in the favor of the Japanese. On December 7, 1941 Japanese planes roared into Pearl Harbor just as many were waking up or getting ready to start their day. Bombs and gunfire rained on the harbor, but not much could have been done to stop this surprise attack by the Japanese. Japan chose to attack Pearl Harbor on this day at this time because of some very appealing occurrences (Wels 2001). Almost the entire U.S. Pacific Fleet was being housed at Pearl Harbor, and an attack in the early morning would catch the U.S. off guard. The U.S. took many losses at Pearl Harbor, but they still had a chance at a comeback. It just so happened their aircraft carriers were away at the time, and later in the war, they would be the main offensive power on the seas and air (Britannica 2018).

Despite the fact Japan had gained a major victory over the U.S., all they did was awaken a major world power that would eventually be their demise. The U.S. took many heavy losses, but that didn’t stop them from rebuilding. The oil storage, repair shops, and submarine docks were also left intact or functional, which helped the U.S. repair quickly and spring into action. The attack also sparked a sense of revenge, patriotism, and nationalism which helped the U.S. bounce back and amass a military made of volunteers geared towards a Japanese destruction. Very quickly, the U.S. had nearly rebuilt their naval force and assembled a prodigious army. By then, the attack on Pearl Harbor had proved to be a major mistake by the Japanese. They had brought upon themselves a powerful and enraged country. Some would say Pearl Harbor was the reason the Axis powers lost WWII.

On the surface, Pearl Harbor only seems to be a surprise attack gone wrong, but there may have been more. It is suspected, but not proven, that FDR may have had ulterior motives such. There are claims that Pearl Harbor was a provoked attack to manipulate the U.S. into war. Originally, President Franklin Roosevelt ran his campaign advertising to keep America out of war and rebuild the economy, but during WWII, he seemed to take sides and strongly supported the Allies. He wanted to involve the U.S., but did not want to blatantly go back on his words (Franklin D. Roosevelt: Foreign Affairs 2018). There were also other suspicious actions that were not thoroughly explained. For example, FDR wanted to create an even larger military with a peacetime draft for security reasons. However, this would not have been necessary if he wanted neutrality and isolationism. Whilst some argue for the largely disputed back door to war theory, many historians don’t agree with it. It is only a speculation or theory that has been unproven, and many facts go against it (Dallek 2018).

The attack on Pearl Harbor was a terrible event that will be remembered forever, but American involvement in WWII was almost inevitable. In spite of what happened, everyone should work towards a future where the same atrocious things will not happen again. One of the things we can do is learn about the event. From learning about where, when, why, and how it occurred, to learning about possible theories, and how to learn from humanity’s mistakes.

Works Cited

  1. Franklin D. Roosevelt: Foreign Affairs. Miller Center, 24 July 2018,
  2. https://millercenter.org/president/fdroosevelt/foreign-affairs.
  3. Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. Pearl Harbor. Encyclopdia Britannica, Encyclopdia Britannica, Inc., 8 Nov. 2017, www.britannica.com/topic/Pearl-Harbor.
  4. Dallek, Robert. Pearl Harbor and the Back Door to War’ Theory. Encyclopdia Britannica, Encyclopdia Britannica, Inc., 7 May 2018, www.britannica.com/topic/Pearl-Harbor-and-the-back-door-to-war-theory-1688287#ref713829.
  5. Pearl Harbor. History.com, A&E Television Networks, 29 Oct. 2009, www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/pearl-harbor.
  6. Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. Pearl Harbor Attack. Encyclopdia Britannica, Encyclopdia Britannica, Inc., 1 Nov. 2018, www.britannica.com/event/Pearl-Harbor-attack.
  7. Wels, Susan. Pearl Harbor. Time-Life/Tehabi Books, 2001.
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Pearl Harbor: Awakening America. (2019, Jun 26). Retrieved August 8, 2022 , from
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