On the morning of 7 December 1941, an organized and large-scale attack was carried out by the Imperial Japanese Military against American forces at Pearl Harbor.  Perhaps one of the most infamous days in history, the attacks at Pearl Harbor and other locations in the Pacific Theater underscored the initiation of active American participation in World War II.

Up to the attacks by the Japanese against American assets in the Pacific (to include strikes elsewhere in Southeast Asia), the United States had been supplying materiel to the Allies in Lend-Lease in the European Theater.  In the Pacific Theater, the Americans were growing more concerned with Japanese imperialism.  Specifically, the U.S. denounced Japan’s zeal for its Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, and its aggression in the ongoing Second Sino-Japanese War.

The United States and Japan were still in the midst of negotiations when a large Japanese Task Force launched coordinated strikes in two waves against the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor.[1] However, Japanese intelligence failed to reconcile missions scheduled for the aircraft carriers that were supposed to be docked there.  Because of this, the Japanese were unable to remove the American ability to project force into the Pacific.  For this reason, while Pearl Harbor was destructive and a major loss of life, it was an objective failure for the Japanese.

The sneak attack maintained its element of surprise, but as the day continued on, Japanese losses began to increase.  Failure to strike all of the resources at Pearl Harbor allowed for a relatively rapid resumption of limited operations.  However, the most significant losses this day was the loss of life.  The attack killed 2,403 Americans and wounded another 1,178.  18 ships were disabled or lost with 188 aircraft destroyed.  Pearl Harbor represented the first in a multi-month-long string of Japanese raids in the Pacific, to include strikes at Malaya, Hong Kong, Guam, the Philippines, and Wake Island.  It was not until LTC James Doolittle’s raid on 18 April, that the U.S. mounted a counterattack.

However, perhaps most significant was the aftermath of Pearl Harbor and it’s resounding effects that may have brought World War II to an end more quickly.  Just before FDR gave his Infamous Speech, his British equal recalled, “Hitler’s fate was sealed.  Mussolini’s fate was sealed.  As for the Japanese, they would be ground to powder.  All the rest was merely the proper application of overwhelming force.” [2]

The United States declared war on Japan on 8 December 1941, followed by a war declaration on Germany and Italy on 11 December (after Germany had done so on the same day).


[1] Morton, Louis. "The Fatal Turn." Strategy and Command: The First Two Years. Center of Military History, Washington, D.C. 2000.

[2] Churchill, Winston S. The Grand Alliance. Houghton Mifflin, New York, New York. 9 May 1986.

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