On December 7, 1941, Japan launched a surprise
attack on the United States military base on Hawaii's Pearl Harbor.
The four-hour attack was devastating. Approximately 2,400 Americans
were killed and 1,300 wounded. President Franklin Roosevelt described
December 7 as "a day that will live in infamy."
The United States defeated Japan in a deadly
war lasting almost four years. America lost 291,557 soldiers in
the war, but Japan lost about 1,200,000. After the war, the United
States occupied Japan and controlled everything that happened there.
Why would Japan attack the powerful United
States? In December 1941, it looked as though Germany might defeat
the allied forces in Europe. America would not allow Hitler to control
a large portion of the world and would soon enter the war. Japan
was allied with Germany and would be forced to fight America. Also,
if Hitler did win, Japan wanted to seize China and the rest of East
Japan has few natural resources of their
own, but they had a great army and navy. They seized northeast China
and much of Southeast Asia prior to the war. The United States seemed
likely to attack the Japanese in order to support the other Asian
The Japanese felt that war with the United
States was coming anyway, so a sneak attack would give them a head
start on the Americans. Japan destroyed the U.S. naval fleet in
the Pacific Ocean, but they unified the American people.
Americans had not felt strongly about a war fought far away and
had little interest in joining the conflict. Many Americans were
"isolationists," they wanted to be isolated from the world's problems.
Hitler could destroy Europe so long as he remained on the other
side of the Atlantic Ocean. The attack on Pearl Harbor changed everything.
America's factories began operating like
never before. Workers worked double shifts to create war materials.
As young men went to war, many American women entered the workforce
for the first time. American entertainers and sports heroes joined
the effort. Japan had not counted on Americans pulling together
as they had for the war effort.
After the war, America was acknowledged
as the world's strongest military power. The women who helped the
war effort began to demand a voice in American society.