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Events, Causes and Effects that LED to The Pearl Harbor

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Neutrality Prior to Pearl Harbor

Prior to World War II, in the 1930s, several laws were designed to prevent the U.S. from being dragged into a war. Many argued that the U.S. involvement in the first world war had been costly and caused by interactions with foreign countries. The first Neutrality Act was passed on August 31, 1935. This act prohibited the export of ammunition/arms from the United States. It also required arms manufacturers in the U.S. to apply for an export license. The act was renewed in 1936 and was planned to be in action until 1937.

The Neutrality Act of 1937 was extended in response to the Spanish Civil War and the growing power of Nazi Germany in Europe. This act forbid American citizens from traveling on ships of countries at war. American merchant ships could not transport arms to these ships even if the arms were produced outside of the United States. All “belligerent” ships could be banned from entering U.S. waters. In November of 1939, the last Neutrality Act was passed. This act ended the arms embargo and put all trade with nations at war under “cash-and-carry.” The ban on loans remained, and American ships still could not transport goods to warring nations.

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Relations with Japan and China

From 1937 to 1941, American attitudes towards China and Japan changed as the conflict between the two countries worsened. On one side, a sense of friendship with China caused opposition to Japanese activity in China and growing Japanese militarism in the area. Others believed that China was of little worth and was not a reason to go to war with Japan. Also, China was internally divided by the conflict due to nationalist and communist sentiments. This led the U.S. to withdraw from helping China in order to avoid provoking Japan in 1937.

However, on July 7, 1937, a battle between the Chinese and Japanese took place on the Marco Polo Bridge, igniting an all-out war between the two countries. Opinions in the United States swung in favor of the Chinese. Tensions rose when Japan bombed the U.S.S. Panay as it was evacuating Americans from Nanjing. However, in the U.S. continued to push for Neutrality and accepted the apology from Japan. A truce was established which lasted until 1940.

Growing Conflict with Japan

President Franklin D. Roosevelt formally recognized American aid to China in 1940 and 1941. As the U.S. government began to make more rigid policies regarding Japan, the U.S. also reached out its arms to help China financially so that they could buy war supplies. The U.S. also provided Japan with artillery. However, when the Japanese repealed of the treaty of commerce with the U.S., the President Roosevelt could establish an embargo and restrict the military supplies that were being sent to Japan in order to stop Chinese attacks there. One significant program established by Roosevelt was called the Lend-Lease program. The Lend-Lease program helped scale an embargo on Japan that would stop the flow of military supplies.

The situation worsened when the Japanese government grounded the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” in 1940. This program made clear of their intention of driving all Western nations out of the Asian continent. This scheme had the façade of liberating the Asian people from Western influence, but in reality, its real prupose was to increase Japan’s wealth in order to become independent of Western supplies. This policy allowed the Japanese to invade and occupy China, as well as other vulnerable Asian nations.

Pacts between Japan and other nations also heightened tensions with the United States. For exampl,. the Tripartite Pact was signed between Japan, Germany, and Italy in 1940; this alliance made China a possible U.S. ally. Then, in 1941, a Neutrality Pact was signed between the Soviet Union and Japn, meaning that the Japanese military would attempt to occupy Southeast Asia, which happened to be an area of interest for the U.S. The last straw was a Japanese agreement with Vichy France. This agreement established Japanese forces in Indochina.

The United States was to cut diplomatic ties with Japan in response to their aggressions across the Pacific. All negotiations between Japanes diplomats was put to a halt and a full embargo established on Japan. In addition, Japanese assets in U.S. banks frozen, and more supplies were sent to China. The embargo and hostility from U.S. officials convinced the Japanese government that they had to act quickly and forcefully. Though the U.S. government did not give up on negotiating with Japan, they also did not think that the Japanese military had the power to attack the U.S., especially on U.S. territory. This fiasco resulted in the Attack on Pearl Harbor of December 7, 1941.

The Attack on Pearl Harbor

December 7, 1941

3:42 AM. The U.S. minesweeper Condor spots a submarine two miles off the entrance to Pearl Harbor. This is unusual because there are not supposed to be any submarines in the area. The Condor sends a message to the destroyer Ward.

6:10 AM. Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, who will lead the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is in flight. Japanese aircraft carriers send the first wave of planes: 183 fighters, bombers, and torpedo planes. The pilots navigate using a Honolulu radio station’s music as a guide.

6:45 AM. The U.S. destroyer Ward sends two shots at the unidentified submarine. The submarine sinks.

7:02 AM. The U.S. Army’s Opana Mobile Radar Station on Oahu confirms a sighting of 50 or more aircraft flying for Oahu. Privates in the station call the Fort Shafter information center.

7:20 AM. An Army lieutenant in training at the radio network operations center at Fort Shafter receives the report from the Opana radar station. At this point the planes are about 70 miles away. The lieutenant mistakes the sightings as the flight of U.S. B-17 bombers heading from California to Hawaii. He cannot tell this to the radar operators for security reasons, and is not worried by the report.

7:33 AM. U.S. code breakers have cracked the Japanese diplomatic codes. FDR and General George Marshall learn something that may mean war with Japan. Marshall warns Lt. General Walter Short, commander of Army forces in Hawaii. The telegraph will not reach Hawaii until 11:45 AM and is received at 3 PM.

7:40 AM. Japanese pilots close in on Oahu’s Kakuku Point

7:49 AM. Fuchida sees no U.S. aircraft carriers on Pearl Harbor, which they hope to destroy. Luckily, the carriers were on missions at this time. The attack commences.

7:55 AM. Commander Logan Ramsey looks out the window of the command center on Ford Island to see low-flying planes dropping bombs. He runs to the radio room and orders a telegraph that says, “AIR RAID ON PEARL HARBOR X THIS IS NOT A DRILL” to be sent out. The Japanese destroy American planes in order to keep control of the air.

8:00 AM. 12 B-17s had been sent to the Philippines as part of the U.S. plan to reinforce Pacific forces. They stop at Oahu, but is unarmed so can only dodge Japanese planes. Most land safely.

8:10 AM. A bomb is dropped from high-altitude which punctures the U.S.S. Arizona. This sets off 1 million pounds of gunpowder which kills 1,177 men. A sailor on the Nevada sees the Arizona “jump at least 15 or 20 feet upward in the water and break in two.”

8:17 AM. The destroyer Helm leaves the channel. Spots a Japanese submarine but misses its gunfire.

8:39 AM. The destroyer Monaghan leaves the channel. Rams a submarine and sinks it.

8:50 AM. The U.S.S. Nevada battleship heads for the sea as it fires anti-aircraft guns. A second wave of Japanese planes bomb the ship as it grounds itself off Hospital Point.

8:54 AM. A second wave of Japanese planes: 35 fighters, 78 dive bombers, and 54 high-altitude bombers, is met with anti-aircraft fire. Bombers hit the battleship Pennsylvania. The Cassin rolls and hits Downes as ammunition on board explodes. Bombs hit the cruiser Raleigh.

9:30 AM Bombs drop on the destroyer Shaw. Every ship except for the Arizona, Utah, and Oklahoma will sail again.

10:00 AM. The Japanese withdraw and discuss a third strike. A third strike is not sent because the superiors believe the attack was already successful and the U.S. carriers are not at Pearl Harbor.

10:30. During the attack people were wounded from burns, bullets, and shrapnel. Horrific injuries and deaths from jumping off ships into a sea of burning oil contributes to the immense number of wounded that come to hospitals. Barracks, dining halls, and schools become temporary hospitals. For many, nothing can be done except administering morphine. The number of deaths reached 2,390.

1:00 PM. The Japanese strike returns home.

A Personal Account From Ed Guthrie, 98, Omaha

During the Attack on Pearl Harbor, Guthrie was a 23 year old Navy electrician’s mate 2nd class on the U.S.S. Whitney, a destroyer tender. “We were anchored in the harbor and had destroyers on both sides of us. We had three or four on one side and about eight more on the other side, all tied up in little nests. I had free time and was getting ready for church. I was up on deck and saw the whole show. They were flying so low you could see the smiles on their faces and their white scarves.”

Infamy Speech by Roosevelt

In this famous speech delivered on December 8, 1941 in Washington D.C., Roosevelt called the Attack on Pearl Harbor a “date which will live in infamy.” The speech that asked Congress for war was nicknamed the “Infamy Speech.” This panel will hold a screen with a recording of the speech delivered by FDR.

Mobilization for War


In 1941, the United States was ill-equipped and needed to train a large military force. Amidst this this hurdle, it also had to provide material aid to allies in Great Britain and the Soviet Union. These challenges called for massive government spending, wartime production, lowered consumptions, and restrictions on aspects of everyday American life.

The primary task for the U.S. was training a military force. The threat of war had convinced Roosevelt and Congress to administer a peacetime military draft in September 1940. In 1941, the American military boasted 2.2 million men. However, a majority of these men were “citizen soldiers”, with little to no military experience. Training was required to procure a credible military force. In 1942, all men between the ages of 18 and 64 were required to register for the draft. 36 million men registered through the draft, and were examined to determine if level of fitness was satisfactory.

At Home

Mobilization for World War II had many effects on American industry and society. First, factories were converted to accommodate the mass production of war machines, weapons, and supplies. Auto production ceased as the automobile industry was used to produce tanks, nylon became very hard to find, and copper was saved by using steel to produce pennies. American society was specifically changed in the field of labor. As men began to be drafted into war, millions that had previously worked in the service sector and held agrarian jobs entered industrial centers. Many students, housewives, and unemployed were thrown into the active labor force.

Rationing and Recycling

A campaign called “Food for Victory” was launched to conserve and produce more food. Civilians saved food and grew their own as well. Americans canned food at home and made the most of rationed goods. Many foods were rationed during this time, such as sugar, meat, and coffee, in order to satisfy the military’s needs. Substitutes for critical supplies that were at a shortage were created. Copper was a metal used in many war materials, and were saved by producing pennies out of steel. Nickel was also removed from coins in order to conserve the metal for war.

Ammunition production was a very important priority of World War II. A key ingredient for explosives was glycerine. Americans were encouraged to save household waste fat, which held glycerine. The military also needed tires for their vehicles. When Japan invaded Southeast Asia, a large source of rubber was cut off for the U.S., causing shortage. This shortage was solved by limiting driving and rationing gas. People carpooled, recycled rubber scraps, and a synthetic rubber industry was established.


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