5 myths about Pearl Harbor


Rachel Bunning

With the passing of the 76th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, there are still many myths and misconceptions surrounding that day. A list of the top five fake facts about Pearl Harbor has been compiled as a reminder that history is not always stagnant.

1. Only Pearl Harbor was attacked.

Pearl Harbor received the heaviest damage on December 7, 1941, but Japan had also launched attacks on U.S. troops in Wake Island, Guam, Malaya, Thailand and Midway that same day. Wake Island, Guam, Malaya, and Thailand would all eventually fall to the Japanese. Other than Pearl Harbor, Midway was the only other target on December 7 to not be taken under Japanese control.

Pearl Harbor was part of a larger Japanese campaign to control the Pacific, which was successful through much of 1942,” said Matthew Delmont, professor of history and director of SHPRS. “It included campaigns in the Philippines and Malaya, as well as threats to bomb the West Coast of the U.S.”

2. Japanese Americans were the only ones detained after the attack.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, more than 1,000 Japanese, German and Italian citizens were detained within the first 48 hours following. Although Japanese Americans were restrained the most, other descendants from Axis power countries underwent poor treatment.

“Just over two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066,” according to an article by PBS. “It authorized the War Department to designate ‘military areas’ and then exclude anyone from them whom it felt to be a danger. But the more than 110,000 Japanese Americans living along the West Coast, whom the order would soon force into internment camps. Thousands of German and Italian aliens living in the U.S. would also be locked up, but millions of German and Italian-American citizens would remain free to live their lives as they always had.”

3. The war started after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The attack on Pearl Harbor was a turning point for America and was an attributing action for why America joined the war. However, it was not the start of the war, it was just when America joined in on the war efforts.

The world war started in September 1939, when Germany invaded Poland,” said Delmont. “Even before that, Japan and China were already at war and Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935.  Pearl Harbor did lead to the U.S. to declare war on Japan”

4. The heroes of Pearl Harbor were soldiers in combat positions.

The first African American to be awarded the Navy Cross was a messman third class at the Pearl Harbor attacks. Doris ‘Dorie’ Miller worked in the kitchen, but ended up being a hero. His accomplishments were widely publicized in African American newspapers at the time, making him an icon of the war for black americans.

The U.S. military was racially segregated during the war and African-Americans weren't allowed to serve in combat positions in the Navy,” said Delmont. “But he ended up firing an anti-aircraft machine gun and helping wounded soldiers.”

5. The U.S. was completely unaware of the attack before it happened.

The narrative goes that the Americans were caught off guard about the attack and had no prior notice that an attack would occur. In reality, there was evidence of rising tensions between the two powers and an attack was bound to happen eventually.

In fact, as the attack happened, Japanese diplomats in Washington were about to meet with the Secretary of State to continue negotiations on the situation in Asia,” said Aaron Moore, associate professor of history. “Since the late 1930’s, the U.S. stepped up its economic embargoes gradually. The negotiations were designed to eliminate the embargoes in exchange for scheduled Japanese withdrawals in China and Indochina. For the Japanese, the U.S. embargoes were seen as hostile actions that increasingly strangling Japan. So in the end, the attack was not necessarily a ‘surprise’ given the longer history of tension between the U.S. and Japan.”