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What Is Pearl Harbor?

The Japanese attacked U.S. military installations on Hawaii's Oahu island on 7 December 1941.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy began to retrofit its existing ships with more anti-aircraft weapons.
Production of the C-47 and other military aircraft was ramped up after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The USS Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
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  • Last Modified Date: 02 September 2014
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Pearl Harbor is a United States Navy base located on the island of Oahu in the state of Hawaii. In addition to being an active naval base and the home of America's Pacific Fleet, this harbor was also the site of an infamous attack which launched the United States into the Second World War. Because Pearl Harbor is an active base, access is restricted, although guests can visit the USS Arizona Memorial, a site set up to commemorate the events of the 1941 attack.

This natural harbor had been used by the native Hawaiians for generations before the Hawaiian Islands were annexed by the United States in 1900. The United States military recognized the potential value of the site, and decided to create a naval base there, using Pearl Harbor to house the Pacific Fleet. The site is ideally situated for the location of a Navy base, since it can be used as a jumping off point to reach much of Asia.

On 7 December, 1941, the Empire of Japan launched a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. The goal of the Japanese attack was to cripple the Pacific Fleet, making it difficult for the United States to enter into the growing World War. In the attack, an estimated 2,350 people were killed, while 19 ships and over 200 planes were destroyed or severely disabled. However, because the Japanese did not attack American shipyards in California, while the Fleet was disabled, the Americans were still capable of rebuilding it.

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The attack on Pearl Harbor startled and infuriated Americans, many of whom heard the news after Sunday church services. It triggered a wave of anti-Japanese sentiment, with many Americans being understandably upset about what they saw as an underhanded decision to make a sneak attack, rather than making a formal declaration of war. The events of Pearl Harbor catapulted the United States into the Second World War, forcing the nation to take a stand and get involved in both the Pacific and European theaters.

Although the attack on Pearl Harbor is typically portrayed as a bolt from the blue, the fact is that most members of the American government were well aware that hostilities between the United States and Japan were escalating, and that war between the two nations was probably inevitable. Some conspiracy theorists even claim that the Americans knew about the upcoming attack, although this is debatable; people like President Roosevelt certainly knew, however, that matters between the United States and Japan would come to a head soon, forcing a decision.

One day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt made a speech to a joint session of Congress, asking Congress to authorize a war against Japan. This speech includes the famous line “a day which will live in infamy.”

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anon340169
Post 9

In an odd way, the attack on Pearl Harbor actually improved the US military's capability to fight wars on the sea. Many of the ships docked at Pearl Harbor were from the World War I era. They were slow, hard to maintain and poorly equipped. The near total destruction of the fleet meant accelerated refits and a new emphasis on more modern aircraft carriers and attack boats. Pearl Harbor also galvanized American resolve to take the war in Europe and the Far East more seriously. We could no longer ignore what was going on around us, now that Japan drew first blood.

anon329541
Post 8

Consider me a conspiracy theorist, but Roosevelt ordered an admiral (who he later fired for not obeying orders) to bring the ships into the harbor. The admiral, who was later fired, expressed his objections about having all the ships in such a harbor which would restrict them from moving into open waters, should an attack occur. Roosevelt wanted war to aid Great Britain. He knew the public wanted to stay neutral.

calabama71
Post 4

@purplespark: That was a horrible day in American history. It is said that 2.335 servicemen and 68 civilians lost their lives. This attack led our country to World War II. The Japanese deceived the U.S. by implying that they were interested in continued peace between the two.

The U.S.S. Arizona sank and has remained underwater with more than 1100 servicemen entombed ever since. A white steel and concrete structure now spans the hull of the sunken ship as a memorial to the loss of lives. Of the 8 battleships attacked, all were repaired and returned to service except the Arizona and the Oklahoma.

Whether this is true or not, I don’t know, but it is documented that a U.S. Army private noticed the large flight of planes on his radar screen. He reported it and was told to ignore it because a flight of U.S. B-17s was expected at that time.

alex94
Post 3

@purplespark: The Japanese force consisted of 6 carriers with 423 planes. At 6:00 a.m., the first Japanese attack wave of 83 planes took off. The Japanese attack force was under the command of Admiral Nagumo. 18 United States ships were hit.

The nickname for Pearl Harbor has been said to be “Gibraltar of the Pacific”. There were 3 prime targets that actually escaped damage. They were the U.S. Pacific Fleet aircraft carriers, the Lexington, Saratoga, and Enterprise. They were not in the port when the attack took place.

PurpleSpark
Post 2

I have to do a report about Pearl Harbor and the attack in 1941 for my history class. Does anyone have any more details about that day?

christym
Post 1

It is a shame that we were not prepared for that dreadful day, especially if our government knew it was a possibility.

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