Pearl Harbor – the Day of Infamy, a summary

How Japan’s hollow victory spelt the end for Hitler

On 7 December 1941, Japan launched a surprise attack on the US. In just two hours it destroyed a large part of the US fleet docked in Pearl Harbor and, in one stroke, forever destroyed US isolationism, united the country for war and made the conflict global.

The US may have been expecting war but the attack on Pearl Harbor took it totally by surprise. Yet 11 months before, a lone voice had predicted such a possibility. On the 27 January 1941, the US ambassador in Japan, Joseph Grew, cabled the White House warning that the Japanese might ‘attempt a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor using all their military facilities’.

As 1941 wore on, the likelihood of war became more apparent but the US ignored Grew’s prediction, believing that conflict, if it came, would either start in the US-controlled Philippines or the Dutch or British possessions in Southeast Asia.

Certainly, US president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, believed war was a distinct possibility – ‘They [the Japanese] hate us,’ he said privately, ‘sooner or later, they’re going to come after us’. He also feared what would happen to the US if Japan overran Britain’s possessions in the Southeast Asia –  ‘If Great Britain goes down,” Roosevelt said, “all of us in all the Americas would be living at the point of a gun.’

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