Today, December 7th, 2021, marks the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. 80 years ago, Japan launched an attack, killing over 2,400 American soldiers and involving the US in World War II.
To this day, many myths and misunderstandings have evolved from what some would call the most significant attack on US soil.
“The attack on Pearl Harbor was a crime, a military attack that took place without a declaration of war,” says Rob Citino, a historian at the National World War II Museum. “But at the same time, all these stories are very, very complex.”
Below are some of the common misconceptions about the attack on Pearl Harbor, based on the research of Rob Citino.
The US Was A “Sleeping Giant” Before Pearl Harbor
The US Pacific Fleet suffered a great deal of damage in the attack on Pearl Harbor. However, Japan neglected to knock out the US aircraft carriers. Two were at sea, while a third was in San Diego.
Isoroku Yamamoto, the Japanese Admiral who planned the attack, said in the aftermath, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”
However, the US was undoubtedly not dormant at the time of Pearl Harbor. The White House had been in conflict with the Japanese for years, trying to get them to diminish their war of conquest in China.
The US embargoed goods and raw materials to Japan such as weapons, fuel, and iron. In the summer of 1941, the White House placed a freeze on all Japanese assets in the US and made it impossible for Japan to purchase oil.
In addition, the US was deep into the process of wartime production, prepping for the inevitable; therefore, the giant wasn’t necessarily “sleeping.”
After The Attack On Pearl Harbor, Most Men Volunteered For Military Service
The myth is that the American people rose as one after Pearl Harbor and rushed to the recruiting offices’ eager to defend and fight for their country. Though many Americans volunteered for some military service in the weeks after the attack, the vast majority of US forces in World War II got drafted.
President Roosevelt had already established the military draft in 1940, a year before Pearl Harbor. The country wasn’t necessarily involved in the war, but it was getting there, and it indeed wasn’t voluntarily.
Pearl Harbor Started World War II
Although the attack on Pearl Harbor pushed the US to enter World War II, it does not mean that is when it started. The US was the last great power to get involved in the war where other forces were already in combat.
Placing a specific moment for the start of World War II undersells its complexity. Asia and Europe are already at war. Japan launched an invasion of China in 1937. Germans invaded Poland.
So many events led to World War II. Therefore, it is inaccurate to say Pearl Harbor started World War II. The attack may have started the war for the US, but even that is pushing it.
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