Pearl Harbor: United States against Japan

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The tension between the United States and Japan began during the Great Depression. Japan wanted to fix their “…economic and demographic woes by forcing… [their] way into China, starting in 1931 with an invasion of Manchuria.” “…[The United States wanted to stop Japan’s Global Expansion so they] began passing economic sanctions against Japan, including trade embargoes on aircraft exports, oil and scrap metal, among other key goods, and gave economic support to Guomindang forces.” September of 1940 the Tripartite Pact was signed by Japan along with Germany and Italy (Pruitt).

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The three countries then became known as the Axis powers. Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union are known as the Allied powers. The Tripartite Pact provides help and support to any country that is attacked by another nation who is not part of the war. “This formalizing of the alliance was aimed directly at neutral’ America–designed to force the United States to think twice before venturing in on the side of the Allies” (

As the countries’ governments discussed the situation, the embargoes did not keep Japan from carrying on their plan to expand and push for more land. “To Japan, war with the United States had become to seem inevitable, … [to] defend its status as a major world power. Because the odds were stacked against them, their only chance was the element of surprise” (Pruitt).

“… On November 26th, at the highest level of American government, Secretary Hull sent a note to the Japanese Foreign Office.” The note distinctly ordered Japan to remove themselves from China. “In Japan, the note is seen as an ultimatum.” The day the note arrives in Japan “… the Japanese fleet departs from Japan, loaded and ready… sailing toward Pearl Harbor.” “The Japanese combined fleet heads toward Hawaii through wintry seas, far to the north of ordinary shipping lanes- some 25,000 men in six carriers, nine destroyers, three submarines, [and] eight oilers. [The] surprise is everything now” (Pearl Harbor).

The following day in Hawaii, “General Short reacts to Washington’s war warning and places the Army Air Corps on alert, but Washington specifically directs against alarming civilians.” General Short made the warning known to prevent sabotage. “He still thinks the threat is from the Japanese-American local population. [So] he orders [to have the] planes on all airstrips moved to the center of the field where they can be guarded more effectively” (Pearl Harbor).

For more than a year “… [the] Navy intelligence in Washington has been intercepting and decoding Japanese diplomatic messages.” The first few days of December the traffic within the messages increased. “On December 6th, they intercept a long formal message which is a Japanese response to Secretary Hull’s ultimatum that they get out of China.” The message consisted of 14 parts. “The 14th part was just a line and a half, saying, We must break off negotiations'” (Pearl Harbor).

The morning of December 7, 1941, in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the sun was shining, and there was not a worry in the world until the Japanese ruined it all. “At a few minutes after 7:00 a.m., the primitive radar equipment on a hilltop above Pearl Harbor picks up a remarkable image. It is an image that the two operators on duty have never seen before.” One of the radar operators George Elliott states, ” As I was looking at the five-inch oscilloscope, we saw this large flight of planes out at 137 miles[, ]and instead of a little blip, it was just an enormous thing, almost a quarter of an inch wide and as high as it could go on the screen….” “I sent… [the information about the siting] into the Information Center and talked to the switchboard operator. Well, when the call came back, Lockard, being nearest the phone, answered the phone and spoke to the lieutenant that told him, in essence, to forget it, that there wasn’t anything to be concerned about” (Pearl Harbor).

Commander Logan C. Ramsey was the first person to hear about a sunken submarine at the entrance to the harbor, “…I received a telephone call from the staff duty officer who informed me, he had received a message from 14-Prep-1 (a PBY aircraft in Patrol Squadron 14) to the effect that they had sunk a submerged submarine one mile off the entrance to Pearl Harbor…'”, and the first to have encountered one of the many Japanese planes (Patterson).”The detonation of the bomb dropped by that first plane was my first positive knowledge of an enemy attack'” (Patterson). After the encounter Commander Ramsey went to the communications room to send a message to every vessel in the harbor, “AIR RAID ON PEARL HARBOR X THIS IS NOT DRILL'” (Patterson).

At seven fifty-three in the morning “the first assault wave strikes airfields and battleships with dive bombers, torpedo bombers, high-level bombers[,] and Zero fighters…” (Maben). Around eight o’clock, “Twenty-five Japanese planes dive on Wheeler Field. [The] site is enveloped by smoke, fire, [and] flying debris” (Robbins). Shortly after at 8:10 A.M. the USS Arizona gets struck by a bomb, “…setting off more than 1 million pounds of gunpowder and killing 1,177 men. The ship sinks in nine minutes, entombing 1,102 of those aboard” (Maben). The USS Oklahoma capsized after being demolished by torpedos (Robbins). The second attack followed shortly after with little time for our men to prepare.

Around nine o’clock, “the second wave of planes attacks, targeting other ships and shipyard facilities with fighters, dive bombers[,] and high[-]altitude bombers” (Maben). These planes targeted Wheeler field and the Schofield Barracks. The USS Shaw was struck by three bombs, catching it on fire. A few minutes later there is a huge explosion from the USS Shaw sending flotsam and jetsam flying a half-mile absent (Robbins). “Eight battleships are damaged[,] and five are sunk. Three light cruisers, three destroyers[,] and three smaller vessels are lost. More than 300 aircraft are damaged or destroyed. The three Pacific Fleet aircraft carriers – Lexington, Enterprise and Saratoga – were not in the port.” The attack is finally over at 10:00 A.M. “[The Japanese] flight commander Mitsuo Fuchida sounds the battle cry: Tora! Tora! Tora!’…” indicating that the surprise attack was a success (Maben).

The following day, December 8, 1941, “Japanese planes also bomb American bases and Manila in the Philippines, and a Japanese Army was ashore in Malaya” (Maben). Soon after, President Roosevelt gave a speech talking about the tragedy of Pearl Harbor, “President Franklin Roosevelt called December 7, 1941 a date which will live in infamy'” (Today in History). After his speech, both Great Britain and the United States declared war on Japan. Three days after that declaration, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States and was now considered a World War.

“Also on the day following Pearl Harbor, Alan Lomax, head of the Library of Congress Archive of American Folk Song, sent a telegram to colleagues around the U.S. asking them to collect people’s immediate reactions to the bombing.” Folklorists John Lomax, John Henry Folk, Charles Todd, Robert Sonkin, and Lewis Jones went to large populous cities and interviewed people on the streets in response to the telegram. “They interviewed salesmen, electricians, janitors, oilmen, cab drivers, housewives, students, soldiers, physicians, and others regarding the events of December 7.” These interviews were referred to as “man on the street” interviews and took place on the ninth and tenth of December (Today in History).

One of the interviews given by John Lomax was to a woman named Lena Jameson. In her interview, she states:

My first thought was what a great pity that… another nation should be added to those aggressors who strove to limit our freedom. I find myself at the age of eighty, an old woman, hanging on to the tail of the world, trying to keep up. I do not want the driver’s seat. But the eternal verities–there are certain things that I wish to express: one thing that I am very sure of is that hatred is death, but love is light. I want to contribute to the civilization of the world but…when I look at the holocaust that is going on in the world today, I’m almost ready to let go…. (Today in history)

This interview took place in Dallas, Texas, while she was visiting family.

Six months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor “the Office of War Information (OWI) capitalized on the fear and outrage associated with the bombings to encourage support of war mobilization.” The OWI acted as a propaganda agency. They create pictures that focus “on subjects like aircraft factories, training for war, women in the workforce, and the armed forces, the OWI documented and celebrated American patriotism in the military and on the home front” (Today in History).

The bombing of Pearl Harbor was a devastating event for the U.S., killing more than four thousand service members and civilians and injuring more than one thousand. Many of the historical events following the bombing at Pearl Harbor happened either out of fear, anger, or revenge making this event a very memorable and heartbreaking event for all involved. This tragedy forced the United States to declare war on Japan and persuaded Germany and Italy to declared war on the United States. Thus leading to the beginning of World War II for the U.S.

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Pearl Harbor: United States Against Japan. (2019, Nov 16). Retrieved from