Pearl Harbor Issues

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On December 7, 1941, Japanese forces launched a devastating surprise attack on the United States Naval base, Pearl Harbor. The aftermath resulted in the loss of 2,500 U.S. servicemen, 200 aircraft, 5 battleships, and damage to various other vessels. President Franklin Roosevelt described it as “a date which will live in infamy.” The Japanese naval and air forces, armed with bombs and bullets, executed the strike with the goal of demolishing the Pacific fleet to keep the U.S. from impeding operations in Asia and the Western Pacific.

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Americans were shocked, confused, and outraged but found unity in anger towards Japan. The attack on Pearl Harbor precipitated the U.S.’s entrance into World War II, with Franklin Roosevelt asking congress to declare war on Japan the day following the attack. Like World War I, the United States attempted to stay neutral but was forced into a position of retaliation because of drastic measures taken against them. This essay will establish the importance of the attacks on Pearl Harbor and the role Japanese naval forces played in the U.S.’s entrance into World War II.

Pearl Harbor was predominantly seen as a surprise but U.S. relations with Japan had been deteriorating in the time leading up to December 7, 1941. FDR remained hopeful that using tactics like supporting the allies and deterring Japan would help avoid war. Yet, throughout the year, he was expanding U.S. Naval operations in the Atlantic Ocean, ultimately leading to an undeclared war with German naval forces. With sanctions placed on Japan in the past regarded as weak, FDR deliberately placed strict embargos on oil exports and froze assets. Unsuccessful negotiations between the U.S. and Japan demonstrated how troubled the relations were becoming. The increased possibility of an attack on the United States carried out by Japan induced worry among political strategists about the fate of the Philippines, as the nation heavily depended on support from the U.S. Army and Navy.

Japan’s hostile ideologies towards territory expansion was a factor for the U.S.’s additional support for the Philippines. Unfortunately for the United States, the focus on the Philippines distracted American officials from the possibility that Pearl Harbor could be attacked, therefore leaving the U.S. Naval base in Hawaii vulnerable to assault. World War I pitted the allied forces of the United States, Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan, and Russia against the central powers of the German Empire, the Ottoman Empire, Austria-Hungary, and Bulgaria. While World War II saw the allied powers of Great Britain, United States, China, and the Soviet Union pitted against the Axis powers of Germany, Japan, and Italy. Major leaders among the allied forces were U.S. president Franklin Roosevelt, Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet Union dictator Joseph Stalin. The Allied powers’ goal during the Second World War was to ensure a composed world post-war and therefore defeating the Axis powers was necessary to achieve that goal.

Although there were different ideas of what the world should look like post-war, it was generally agreed that actions needed to be taken that would prevent Germany from rising again. The major leaders of the Axis powers included German dictator Adolf Hitler, Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini, and Emperor of Japan Hirohito. The goals of the Axis powers derived from a vision of a new world order wherein territorial expansion was a key element. World War II could be considered a continuance of issues faced in World War I, specifically naval battles and Germany’s persistent U-boat efforts. The League of Nations was created after World War I in an attempt to prevent such a conflict from recurring. Unfortunately, this attempt was unsuccessful and ultimately led to the onset of World War II.

The Japanese navy was astoundingly successful in its attacks against the Allied powers. The United States, largely considering Japan’s navy to be second-class, markedly underestimated its capabilities. These misconceptions were rapidly dispelled following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Japan’s forces continued their relentless advancement through the Pacific, seizing smaller countries in their path. British and other allied forces proved incapable of hindering the Japanese navy’s aggressive territorial conquest. “Fanning out from military bases in the central Pacific, the Japanese seized Guam and Wake Island and moved south toward Australia through New Britain and New Guinea and the Solomon Islands to the east.” (Millett 375). Japan continued to overpower American naval forces, culminating in the fall of the Philippines, a development deeply concerning for the U.S., given their previous military collaborations.

The profound impact Japan had on the United States during this period can be encapsulated perfectly in this quote from For The Common Defense, “From the Sunday-morning attack on Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941) until the naval victory in the Battle of Midway (June 4-5, 1942), the United States saw its armed forces in the Pacific reel from one defeat to another as the Japanese conducted an Asian version of Blitzkrieg and seized every one of their planned objectives at minimal cost and almost exactly according to schedule.” In response to the discouraging reports from the Pacific, FDR devised a plan to build the fundamental strategic, diplomatic, and political foundations necessary for an Allied powers’ total victory. Bearing in mind the goals of the Allies, FDR collaborated with Winston Churchill on a visionary document that identified fascism as a threat to all mankind, known as the Atlantic Charter. The U.S. president was resolute in pursuing actions that affirmed the Allies’ commitment to human rights. “In January 1942, [FDR] persuaded the British, Russians, and Chinese to sign the declaration of the United Nations, a statement that pledged the Allies to pursue total victory to the limits of their means in order ‘to defend life, liberty, and religious freedom, and to preserve human rights and justice in their own lands as well as in other lands.”

Works Cited

  1. Birnbaum, Gemma, and Laura Sparaco. “Allies and Axis: Who’s Who in WWII?” The National WWII Museum Blog, 11 Jan. 2017,
  2. com Staff. “Pearl Harbor.”, A&E Television Networks, 2009,
  3. Millett, Allan R., et al. For the Common Defense: A Military History of The United States From 1607 to 2012. 3rd ed., Free Press, 2012.
  4. Robinson, Bruce. “History – World Wars: Pearl Harbor: A Rude Awakening.” BBC, BBC, 30 Mar. 2011,
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Pearl Harbor Issues. (2019, Aug 20). Retrieved from