“Air raid…Pearl Harbor! This is no drill!”
This message, flashed by army and navy radiomen during the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack against Pearl Harbor in the United States Territory of Hawaii, effectively signaled America’s entry into World War II.
As its population exploded in the first four decades of the twentieth century, Japan imported an ever-increasing amount of natural resources from overseas. In order to become self-sufficient, Japan turned to territorial expansion to get a secure, reliable source of raw material. This policy led to increased tensions between Japan and the United States of America as well as with several European powers.
After the outbreak of World War II in Europe in 1939, things changed dramatically for the worse. With Great Britain, France, and the Netherlands locked in a life and death struggle against Germany, the United States was Japan’s only stumbling block to getting what it wanted. The issue for Japan was how to neutralize America’s military power.
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the commander-in-chief of the Japanese Combined Fleet, formulated a daring plan to attack Pearl Harbor, America’s main Pacific Ocean naval base. By doing so, Yamamoto hoped to damage the American fleet severely enough to allow Japan to consolidate her territorial conquests, then negotiate a peace treaty with the United States. To a degree, Yamamoto’s plan worked. A Japanese fleet was able to approach within two hundred miles of Pearl Harbor without being detected, and launch a devastating, surprise air attack against the naval base.
While severely damaging or destroying all eight American battleships in port, the Japanese attackers missed their opportunity to strike the aircraft carriers, which were at sea and safe from harm. In addition, neglecting to destroy the fuel and repair facilities at Pearl Harbor ensured that the base would remain fully operational for the rest of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. In spite of the damage incurred, all but two of the damaged ships ultimately were salvaged, repaired, and placed back into service. In addition, many newer, faster, and better-armed ships would join the fleet during America’s war with Japan.
The attacks at Pearl Harbor and against other Pacific targets ultimately failed to achieve their primary objectives. Now united, Americans rallied around President Franklin Roosevelt as he addressed a joint session of Congress on December 8th, seeking a declaration of war against Japan. The words of Roosevelt’s address remain familiar to nearly every American and still serve to inspire and inflame patriotic passion. From that day forward, Americans of every age, ethnicity, race, and ancestry rallied as one in order to fight and win a world war.
Last updated: April 10, 2015