The Attack on Pearl Harbor led to U. S. Involvement in World War II

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Aidan McParland Brit Lit 336 Mrs. Emery 3 March 2019 21st-Century Pearl Harbor Every American, regardless of race, gender, social status, and ethnic background, remembers exactly what they were doing on the beautiful Tuesday morning of September 11, 2001. Masterminded by Sheikh Mohammed of the multi-national Islamist organization Al Qaeda and claiming the lives of nearly 3,000 Americans, this devastating event remains the single largest terrorist attack in world history. The United States promptly launched “The War on Terror” and, in the following years, both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. The US’s motivations for the war in Afghanistan were genuine, but they invaded Iraq on more convoluted terms: they received knowledge that Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction, but in the end, that proved to be false. Only one other foreign attack on U.S. soil led to U.S. involvement in a major war: the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Many parallels and coincidences exist between 9/11 and Pearl Harbor that could suggest that the United States government had many strong motivations to manipulate both the attack on Pearl Harbor and the September 11, 2001 attacks to achieve specifics results.

The attack on Pearl Harbor led to U. S. involvement in World War II, a justified war, while the 9/11 attacks led the questionable invasion of Iraq. December 7, 1941 is a date that is widely recognized by the American people, just like September 11, 2001. The former is the day that the Japanese army launched a surprise military strike on the Pearl Harbor military base in Hawaii. It is no coincidence that all but one member of Congress elected to join World War II just one day after the attack. The mere principal of a surprise attack of this magnitude was enough to goad the U.S. officials, as well as the common people, into war with Japan. Tensions between the U.S. and Japan in the weeks leading up to the event were astounding because the United States were attempting to halt Japan’s ideology of expansionism. The ally nation even placed embargoes on several Japanese goods, namely aircraft export, oil, and scrap metal. They placed these embargoes in hopes of causing Japan to return to its isolationist roots, but result was the opposite: Japan saw war with the USA as inevitable. The Japanese chose Pearl Harbor as their target because it was completely unlocked the Pacific Ocean. The military base was the U.S.’s main base for its pacific fleet, so it was perfect. According to Archive Technician Zachary Dabbs, Hawaii also lays over 4,000 miles from the Asian archipelago, so the American military deemed it an unlikely target for bombing, which is why it turned out to be so devastating and effective (Lopez). Because of the great distance, most of the battleships were all in the port; they were very easy targets. With modern warfare, these revolutionary attacks are to be expected, but not on this scale and not by complete surprise. The death toll of this defenseless attack is astounding: 2,403 navy personnel, marines, army, and civilians all perished that morning. That number alone is eerily similar to the lives lost in the 9/11 attacks: 2,996 Americans died. Not only did nearly the same number of people die, but the official start date of the global “war on terror” is September 11, 2001. The attacks immediately launched the U.S. into a more administrative and diplomatic war, but a war nonetheless.

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Also, only two years later, the U.S. invaded Iraq based on the rumor of Saddam Hussein possessing Weapons of Mass Destruction. However, there was no proof that Hussein actually had these weapons. While 9/11 was not the direct cause of the Iraq war, its presence was still known to the soldiers. Iraq Veteran Jeff Millard admitted to an interviewer “9/11 became the reason we did everything. If we did a ruck march, it was for 9/11. If we were doing a parade, that parade was because of 9/11. [We] went to Iraq because of 9/11, because that’s where the enemy was,” which emphasizes the impact of the terrorist attack on every soldier involved in the ensuing war. The attitude was much the same during World War II, as “Remember Pearl Harbor” became a sort of patriotic mantra nationwide to boost morale among not only the soldiers but also their families at home. The last sentence in Millard’s quote is not entirely factually accurate, because the vast majority of the terrorists involved in 9/11 were, in actuality, of Afghan origin (Hanna, 0:03-0:21). Just like how nearly every American soldier in World War II drew some motivation from the disaster in Hawaii, 9/11 was a thought in the back of every Iraq soldier’s mind.

In the years following 1941 and 2001, the lives of all U.S. Japanese and worldwide Muslims deteriorated drastically. In 1942, Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066; along the Western United States, twelve internment camps were established. Japanese Americans, illegal and legal, were essentially shipped there, and living conditions were horrible. The order did not specify that only Japanese citizens would be targeted, but over the course of the war, 120,000 Japanese Americans were detained because of a “necessary military precaution”, which turned out to be unnecessary and not an important precaution. Japanese citizens were promised money as compensation in the years following the war but ultimately took nearly 50 years to pay off the debt. Much like the internment camps, the lives of Muslims also intensely worsened after their respective terrorism attacks. To the United States, no Muslim or Muslim descendant would ever be considered “safe” again. Thus, on 11 January 2002, the United States opened a military prison in Cuba, Guantanamo Bay. Those who are bigger fans of the building recognize that while the execution of this idea is miserable, the initial idea was actually noble. The country wanted to eradicate terrorism completely from within its borders. The internment camps and Guantanamo Bay are shockingly similar because of both of their employments and imprisonments of innocent people. In Guantanamo Bay, Andrei Scheinkman states that “of the roughly 780 people who have been detained at the United States military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, 731 have been transferred and 40 remain. In addition, nine detainees died while in custody,” which is an absolutely immoral conclusion to come to. Any number of innocent lives wasted should be enough to warrant the cancellation of any project, but that did not happen in this case (NY Times). There have also been a multitude of suicide attempts in the prison, because of how horrible the conditions and dim the prisoners’ futures seem. It took not a full year for the Japanese Internment Camps to open their doors after Pearl Harbor and it took only around three months for the government to authorize and put into motion Guantanamo Bay. Both buildings had an intended nature of national preservation and keeping surrounding inhabitants safe. Unfortunately, the both ended up being institutions that punished the great many of a selected race as punishment for the actions of a select few. Not only that, but the passage of both executive orders were almost entirely due to foreign surprise attacks on American soil from countries who have high tensions with the US democracy.

Essentially, the motivation behind, the purpose, the execution, and the lasting result of these two horrific institutions are the exact same. Americans everywhere adhere to the belief that the United States had some type of prior knowledge into both the Pearl Harbor Bombing and 9/11. Before the drastic attacks in both of these cases, the United States were just teetering on the edge of joining a war so their decision was followed through with because of the nationalism brought about by these tragedies. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s own Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox once remarked “Prior to December 7, it was evident to me… that we were pushing Japan into a corner. I believed that it was the desire of President Roosevelt, and Prime Minister Churchill that we get into the war as they felt the allies could not win without us,” which alters the whole angle by which one must compare these two events. If war was the one true motivation of allowing the Japanese to bomb an American location, then it succeeded perfectly. If government blind eyes were not turned towards it but the high-ups were waiting for a reason to enter the war, this tragedy came at a perfect time. It is once again extremely similar to the way 9/11 planned out in this case because when it came to U.S. prior intelligence about these terrorists and their motivations, there was plenty. Osama bin Laden was already on the FBI’s wanted terrorist list from another infraction he committed right before the turn of the century. Thus, the government already knew about him and what he was willing to do for his extremist religion.

On August 6, 2001, George W. Bush looked at terrorism threats made by Al Qaeda on the country. In May, even earlier, the CIA warned Bush of a group of people within the borders of the U.S. who were planning a terrorist operation. In June, the CIA reported that the Al Qaeda attack could potentially be “imminent”. Bush believed wholeheartedly that Bin Laden’s warning was just a cover-up to distract the nation from the true enemy: Saddam Hussein. After Bush dismissed the information, nominee for a Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting Kurt Eichenwald stated that “the C.I.A. prepared an analysis that all but pleaded with the White House to accept that the danger from Bin Laden was real” but the White house took absolutely no action. Bin Laden even told journalists that his attack would have “dramatic consequences” (Eichenwald 1). After the attack, the public was infuriated when they learned about all the warnings and information, so the Bush Administration told journalists that they simply did not know when the attack was going to be. Without a clear date to prepare for, there was nothing they could really do. The most frustrating part of the whole ignoring of the CIA warnings is that it is impossible to tell if taking the warnings more seriously would have changed the fate of our country. Both 9/11 and Pearl Harbor launched the United States of America into war. That is undeniable. Both 9/11 and Pearl Harbor lead to the unjust treatment of a particular race for years to come. That is undeniable. The U.S. government possessed information and warnings before the attacks that could have potentially prevented them. That is undeniable.

The government dismissed that information. That is undeniable. The government had motivation to allow the attacks to happen. That is undeniable. The death tolls were even within 500 of each other It is impossible to look at all of these parallels and say that 9/11 is not the most similar event to Pearl Harbor in this country’s history.

Works Cited

  1. Hanna, Mike. “The Connection between Iraq and 9/11.” YouTube, Al Jazeera English, 7 Sept. 2011,
  2. Scheinkman, Andrei. “The Detainees - The Guantánamo Docket.” The New York Times, The New York Times, Matthews, Lopez, et al.
  3. “Remembering Pearl Harbor . . . 70 Years Later.” National Archives, National Archives and Records Administration, 2011,
  4. Eichenwald, Kurt. “The Deafness Before the Storm.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 11 Sept. 2012, Trento, Francesco, director. Zero: an Investigation into 9/11. Eagle, 2009.
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