The 1941 Attack On Pearl Harbor History

On 7 December 1941, the Empire of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. From that point on, fear spread around the United States about how the Japanese were going to bomb the continental United States. Two months later, on 19 February 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. This was the response from the United States government to the attack on Pearl Harbor. The order allowed for the internment of Japanese Americans in various camps located throughout the United States.

The purpose of this essay is to answer the question, “To what extent was the Internment of the Japanese Americans during the Pacific War caused by the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor?” through the analysis of the two events.

Another aim of this essay is to discuss the reliability of sources, and how historians should use them. The essay starts by examining the events that led up to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Then, it will lead into the attack on Pearl Harbor itself. From there, the essay will examine the internment of the Japanese Americans in 1942.

Get quality help now
checked Verified writer

Proficient in: Bias

star star star star 4.8 (309)

“ Writer-marian did a very good job with my paper, she got straight to the point, she made it clear and organized ”

avatar avatar avatar
+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

Once the two events have been established, a link will be presented to find cause and effect, while discussing the reliability of sources.

In conclusion, the aim on this investigation is to show that the internment of the Japanese Americans during the Pacific War was directly correlated with the attack on Pearl harbor in 1941. Historians must be able to find truths within different events to create a narrative for the common people to learn from. In order to do that they must find truths from their research.

Get to Know The Price Estimate For Your Paper
Number of pages
Email Invalid email

By clicking “Check Writers’ Offers”, you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy. We’ll occasionally send you promo and account related email

"You must agree to out terms of services and privacy policy"
Write my paper

You won’t be charged yet!

History is the study of events that have already passed through the flow of time [1] . Historians interpret events and then process them into a narrative that tells causes and effects [2] . History cannot be seen as a whole, because there is so much information to sort through. Therefore, a historian must pick and choose what to view at in order to better understand history.

The Pacific War was, in general, triggered by two events. It was the invasion of British Malaya, and the attack on Pearl Harbor; both by the Empire of Japan in 1941. Officially the war was fought between the Allies of World War II, and the Empire of Japan. The war ended with the 1945 dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima, and Nagasaki.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was an ambush set up by the Japanese against the United States Navy in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The attack on Pearl Harbor was a major blow to the United States militaristically, and politically. The event showed the world that the United States could be caught off guard, and it made America look weak to the international community [3] . Soon after, on 19 February 1942, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 [4] . This order moved Japanese Americans from the west coast of the United States to internment camps called “War Relocation Camps,” which was discrimination against a race, but the government allowed it [5] .

In Part I, this essay will examine the events that led up to the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the Attack on Pearl Harbor itself. In Part II, this essay will examine the internment of Japanese Americans. Finally, Part III will discuss the link between the two events, and the reliability of sources. With this information, this essay will attempt to answer the question “To what extent was the Internment of the Japanese Americans during the Pacific War caused by the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor?”

Part I: The Lead Up Into the Attack

The United States has always entered into the World Wars late; World War II was no exception of that tradition. One of the main things that led to the attack was that tensions between the United States and the Empire of Japan were increasing. The Empire of Japan wanted to “unify” Asia under one flag, the flag of Japan [6] . Emperor Hirohito was a very militaristic type of person, he wanted to imperialize as much of Asia as possible. Japan joined the Triple Alliance with Italy and Germany on 27 September 1940. With that, the United States responded by placing an embargo against the Empire of Japan [7] . This was one of the main reasons that the Empire of Japan attacked the United States, because the United States was one of the main suppliers of steel, and oil to the Empire of Japan. With the Embargo placed the Japanese were left crippled. The only the Emperor could imperialize the south eastern islands was to get rid of the United States Navy which was stationed at Hawaii [8] .

Negotiations between the United States and the Empire of Japan were mild leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Admiral Kichisaburo Nomura [9] and Saburo Kurusu [10] held many long talks with the United States Sate department about Japan invading Vietnam. A part of the Japanese plan to attack Pearl Harbor was to break off negotiations between the Japanese embassy and the United States government 30 minutes before the actual attack. However the plan was not very effective since the United States government intercepted a Japanese communication that told the embassy to break negotiations [11] . When President Roosevelt received the decoded information he sent out alerts to all military bases. However due to technological difficulties the Pearl Harbor base was not warned in time. This was one of the reasons why the United States was caught off guard. Another reason would be that the United States did not know when or where the Empire of Japan would attack [12] .

Part I: The Attack on Pearl Harbor

The attack started at 6:00am 7 December 1941. The United States soldiers were caught by surprise because it was early in the morning and the base was low on staff. The planes of the Empire of Japan kept bombing the United States Navy for many hours without stop, until the Navy was crippled [13] . The response from the United States Navy was rather slow, because they thought it was a drill until they saw the red circles on the planes. Eventually the United States Navy was able to fight back, but their attempts were futile [14] . By the end of the attack 2,403 Americans died, including 68 civilians and 1178 service men wounded. In addition, 21 ships of the United States’ Pacific Fleet were sunk or heavily damaged, and more than 180 aircrafts were destroyed [15] . This shows just how badly the United States was humiliated by the Empire of Japan, and one of the reasons why Roosevelt would order the internment of Japanese Americans later on.

The very next day, President Roosevelt delivers a speech to congress that will be known as the “Day of Infamy” speech. “Japan has therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday speak for themselves…” [16] As a result of this speech, Congress declares war on the Empire of Japan with an 82-0 vote from the Senate, and a 388-1 vote from the House of Representatives [17] .This action is reflects what the American people were feeling at that time, and the extent of their embarrassment. Secretary Knox then tries to rally the public in an attempt to encourage belief in the United States government in order for more support [18] .

Since Americans now supported the war, and the government had declared war, it gave Roosevelt enough power to issue an order to intern the Japanese Americans. The American public had also turned on Japanese Americans because of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The American public thought that all of the people of Japanese decent were spies for the Empire of Japan [19] . The United States needed to think about what their next step was, and they needed to answer the question of “what do they do with the Japanese Americans that are already living in the United States?” There were many options of what they could have done, for example they could have deported the Japanese Americans [20]

Part II: Japanese Internment

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, some Americans suspected that the Japanese were going to come back and launch a full scale assault on the Pacific coast of the United States. The continual conquests all over East Asian in the past few years made Japan seem almost unstoppable [21] . Both civilians and the military had some doubt about where the loyalties of the Japanese Americans currently living in the United States, however it is more likely that this concern came from racial prejudice rather than actual evidence of espionage [22] .

On 2 January 1942, the Joint Committee of the California Legislature sent a manifesto to the newspapers in California that attacked Japanese Americans. This manifesto argued that all people of Japanese decent were loyal only to the Emperor of Japan, and that Japanese schools in the United States were places where they taught that being Japanese was superior to being American [23] . Eventually, Roosevelt crumbled under the pressure of the military, and the people that Japanese Americans were dangerous to the nation. So, on 12 February 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 [24] .

Executive Order 9066 made it so that authorized military officers were allowed to designate “special zones” for which people are to be excluded. “from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion,.” [25] This shows that Roosevelt didn’t want anything to do with the internment, because he passed off the responsibility to the Secretary of Defense. Around 120,000 Japanese Americans were held in internment camps until the end of the war. Of those 62% were second generation Japanese Americans or third generation Japanese Americans with American citizenships [26] . Eleven days after the order was signed by President Roosevelt, 800 hundred Japanese Americans were arrested in California, and put into internment camps [27] .

In California, the local population was very supportive of the notion of interning the Japanese Americans. They wanted the control of “aliens” delegated to the Army and Navy [28] .California was very strict about the liberties of Japanese Americans, because they were very afraid of a full scale attack on the United States [29] . On 18 December 1944, The Supreme Court of the United States defined the legality of Executive Order 9066 with two cases. The first was Korematsu v. United States; where Fred Korematsu [30] sued the government on the legality of interning Japanese American Citizens. The decision for that case was that fighting espionage was more important than the rights of Japanese Americans [31] . However, there was a ruling made by the Supreme court on the same day called Ex parte Endo [32] .

Although, on 2 January 1944 The Supreme Court abolished Executive Order 9066 and the Japanese Americans were released from their internment camps. As a result most of the Japanese Americans returned back to their lives in the United States, although some Japanese Americans went back to Japan [33] . The fact that the United States government released the Japanese Americans before the Pacific War shows that the United States was confident at this point in time during the war [34] .

Part III: The Link

To bring together these two events a historian must look through all that has happened and decide how it must fit in with the rest of history. The historian must find a way to fit the events into a narrative for people to make sense of. History is one long narrative of events told by people, about the lives of other people, which indicate that there is always an undertone of persuasiveness in history [35] .

To relate how the attack on Pearl Harbor impacted the President of the United States to sign Executive Order 9066, a historian must take the known facts and draw connections between the two events. From the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt gave his “Day of Infamy” speech to Congress, which persuaded them to declare war against the Empire of Japan. In doing so, President Roosevelt labeled the entire Japanese race as an evil entity [36] . In doing so, the general public in the United States then felt as if they were in danger whenever they were around a Japanese American, which then led to discrimination, and prejudice [37] .

With the state the general public was in, President Roosevelt started receiving notices about how he should deal with the Japanese Americans in the United States. He was pressured so much that he was eventually forced to sign Executive Order 9066 in order to maintain his popularity with the American Citizens [38] . The public at this time was very afraid of terrorism, espionage, and sabotage from the Empire of Japan, because of the damage they caused in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

With so much compelling evidence, it can be quite clear that there was a connection between the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the decision to enact Executive Order 9066. To show to what extent these two events are connected, a historian would argue that if the Empire of Japan did not bomb Pearl Harbor, there would not have been a great of a fear against the Japanese. Therefore, there would have been less prejudice against Japanese Americans in the United States, and the United States might not have joined World War II. This can be shown by the congressional address that President Roosevelt gave the day after Pearl Harbor, “I ask that Congress declare… war has existed between the United States and the Empire of Japan” [39] . With that in mind it is very clear that the attack on Pearl Harbor had a major impact in the decision to place Japanese Americans into internment camps for three years, during the Pacific War.

Part III: Analysis

There are many problems with history; one would be the individual bias of the historian who is recording a certain part of history. How historians record history is to pick and choose information, and decide what they themselves think is true and what is not true. With this in mind, one usually would ask the question: how reliable are the sources available? [40]

The article published by the New York Times on 15 February 1942, “Knox Statement on Hawaii,” only shows what Secretary Knox had to say about the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was written by someone else other than Knox, and therefore already has an individual bias. However, bias is not a bad thing necessarily, because a historian who knows that a document is bias can make inferences on what the author was thinking or feeling at the time. So, for this actual document, it portrays the perception of what the east coast of the United States about the attack on Pearl Harbor. However, the east coast is not the place of great fear at this time, because it is far away from the Empire of Japan. Therefore, the readers could not experience the same fear or danger as the people in the west coast of the United States.

The limits of this source would be that it only portrays what secretary Knox want the public to view him, and how he wants the public to view the situation instead of the public perception itself. Another limit would be that since it is a newspaper article, the reader would not know Knox’s true feelings on the subject; because of the image he wants of himself for the public to see is what is shown on the article.

Another source that should be assessed for reliability is the biography of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, No Ordinary Time, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. President Roosevelt did not write a memoir for his presidential years, so it is very hard to find out what his actual feelings were about the predicaments he faced as President of the United States. However, this biography still is useful, because it shows the historian how he responded to certain situations. It provides the reader the image of what the author thought President Roosevelt was like. Although the bias is shifted towards the author’s perception of President Roosevelt, a historian can still make use of the information presented in the biography, because it is a reflection of what President Roosevelt has done during his presidential years. It should also be noted that Goodwin is a very experienced presidential historian, and has done other biographies of other presidents besides Franklin Roosevelt, such as Lyndon B. Johnson, and John F. Kennedy.

The limits of this source would be that it was not written by President Roosevelt, so the reader would not know what he was actually thinking or how he felt about a certain subject. Also, the biography only shows what the president did and his life; it does not discuss in great depth the lives of the Japanese Americans in the internment camps, or the lives of the soldiers involved with the attack on Pearl Harbor. Another important limit to discuss would be that it only shows one side of the Pacific War, the American side. In the biography the view points of the Empire of Japan are never discussed. This means that the reader would never know the views of the Japanese.


It appears that the answer to the question “To what extent was the Internment of the Japanese Americans during the Pacific War caused by the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor?” is greatly. The evidence that exists out in the world shows that the Empire of Japan was the one who decided to take action first, and draw the United States into World War II. When the Empire of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, the citizens of the United States were genuinely afraid of the Japanese. This in turn led to paranoia throughout the United States, which led to Executive Order 9066. Historians are able to draw the connections between these two events, because of how much they have in common with each other.

The truth is that history is never absolute. There can never be an absolute truth, because there is always more than one way to analyze an event. When linking to events together, and arguing that one was the cause of the other is a major analytical jump. There will always be the argument about how they are not linked at all. The only way history could be absolute is that all of the historians come to a consensus about how a certain document is to be analyzed, because once that happens they are all picking and choosing the same pieces of information [41] .

In the end, historians must settle on something, even though it may be temporary. They will continue to research and debate whether something is true or not. Although historians exist to question the past and make conjectures about why events happened the way they did, it may not be correct, because of the reliability of the documents they are basing their conjectures off of [42] . It is impractical to say whether President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, because of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. What is known is that both of these events did happen, and that history is not always reliable.

Updated: Feb 22, 2021
Cite this page

The 1941 Attack On Pearl Harbor History. (2019, Aug 19). Retrieved from

The 1941 Attack On Pearl Harbor History essay
Live chat  with support 24/7

👋 Hi! I’m your smart assistant Amy!

Don’t know where to start? Type your requirements and I’ll connect you to an academic expert within 3 minutes.

get help with your assignment