How Did the Attack on Pearl Harbour Impact Global Politics? | History Hit

How Did the Attack on Pearl Harbour Impact Global Politics?

Members of the Navy Inquiry (1944) into the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Image Credit: Public Domain

The attack on Pearl Harbor was a turning point in World War Two: whilst it came as a deadly surprise, animosity between America and Japan had been growing for decades, and Pearl Harbor was the destructive climax which brought the two nations to war against each other.

But the events at Pearl Harbor had an impact far beyond America and Japan: World War Two became a truly global conflict, with major theatres of war in both Europe and the Pacific. Here are 6 of the major global consequences of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

On 7 December 1941, Imperial Japan launched an attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor. In this episode 80 years later, James speaks to Adrian Kerrison, a curator at the Imperial War Museums. Adrian takes us through the events of that day, the motives behind the attack and its lasting legacy.
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1. America entered World War Two

Franklin D. Roosevelt described 7 December 1941, the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor, as a date that would live on in ‘infamy’, and he was correct. It quickly became apparent that this was an act of war. America could no longer maintain a stance of neutrality after such aggression, and one day later, on 8 December 1941, it entered World War Two, declaring war on Japan.

Shortly afterwards, on 11 December 1941, America also declared war on Germany and Italy in retaliation to their declarations of war. As a result, the country was fighting a war on two fronts – well and truly embroiled in the conflict.

2. Allied prospects were transformed

Virtually overnight, America became a key member of Allied forces: with a huge army and finances less depleted than Britain, who had already been fighting for 2 years, America reinvigorated the Allied efforts in Europe.

The sheer resources offered by America – not least manpower, munitions, oil and food – gave Allied forces new hope and better prospects, turning the tide of war in their own favour.

3. German, Japanese and Italian Americans were interned

The outbreak of war saw a rise in hostility to anyone who had connections to the countries America was at war with. German, Italian and Japanese Americans were rounded up and interned for the duration of the war in an attempt to ensure that they could not sabotage America’s war effort.

Over 1,000 Italians, 11,000 Germans and 150,000 Japanese Americans were interned by the Department of Justice under the Alien Enemies Act. Many more were subjected to abuse and close scrutiny: many had to move house after the introduction of ‘exclusion’ zones around military bases which allowed the military to force people to leave the area.

Whilst most internment camps were shut by 1945, campaigns from those interned and their families meant that in the 1980s, a formal apology and financial compensation were issued by the US government.

Japanese internees in a camp in New Mexico, c. 1942/1943.

Image Credit: Public Domain

4. America found domestic unity

The question of war had divided America since the outbreak of World War Two in Europe in 1939. Having implemented increasingly isolationist policies throughout the 1930s, the country was split firmly between isolationists and interventionists as they agonised over what should be done about the war raging across the Atlantic.

The attack on Pearl Harbor united America once more. The deadly and unexpected turn of events shook citizens to the core, and the country rallied behind the decision to go to war, enduring personal sacrifices and transforming the economy as part of a united front.

5. It solidified a special relationship between the UK and America

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Britain actually declared war on Japan before America did: the two were allied and closely aligned in their defense of liberal values. With France under German occupation, Britain and America remained the two figureheads of the free world and the only real hope of defeating Nazi Germany in the west and Imperial Japan in the east.

Anglo-American cooperation brought Europe back from the brink and drove the expansion of Imperial Japan back in East Asia. Ultimately, this cooperation and ‘special relationship’ played a vital role in winning the Allies the war, and it was formally acknowledged in the 1949 NATO agreement.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt, photographed in August 1941.

Image Credit: Public Domain

6. Japan’s plans for imperial expansion were fully realised

Japan had been implementing an increasingly aggressive policy of expansion throughout the 1930s. It was viewed as being of growing concern by America, and relations deteriorated between the two nations as America began to limit or embargo the export of resources to Japan.

However, no one expected Japan to orchestrate an attack as major as the one on Pearl Harbor. Their aim was to sufficiently destroy the Pacific Fleet so that America would not be able to stop Imperial Japanese expansion and attempts to grab resources in southeast Asia. The attack was an overt declaration of war, and it highlighted the potential danger and ambition of Japan’s plans.

Don Wildman discovers how Pearl Harbor transformed America, 80 years on from this infamous attack.
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Sarah Roller