Remembering Pearl Harbor

It has been almost 76 years since the attack on the naval base of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The deadly attack took the lives of more than 2,400 people, including civilians, and left another 1,000 wounded. This attack is one of the few that took place on American soil. According to, the attack crippled and destroyed nearly 20 American ships and more than 300 airplanes. Many dry docks and airfields were destroyed as well.

The surprise attack by Japan was “a pivotal moment in American history,” said Gary Gershman, professor in the department of history and political science. According to, many American military leaders believe that Japan would carry out an attack on one of their bases nearer the European colonies. Pearl Harbor was an irresistibly easy target for the Japanese because the Americans didn’t expect it, which initiated the U.S. entry into World War II.

The involvement of the U.S. after the attack was one of the “key elements in bringing [World War II] to an end,” said Gershman. He believes that the U.S. was slowly being dragged into World War II, adding that “Franklin D. Roosevelt would have found a way to get us into the war despite the strong isolation the U.S. had.” According to, the day after the attack, Franklin D. Roosevelt declared war on Japan.

Was it possible for the U.S. to avoid the strike? Gershman doesn’t know if it could’ve been avoided.

“Radar was new, and if you think back to the way communication worked at that time, to tell the White House that we’ve been attacked, they had to use the Western Union to send a telegram through commercial channels,” Gershman said. “It made sense that [Japan] attacked. They were expanding, they were building this empire. Their miscalculation was that they thought ‘we’ll attack Pearl Harbor and that’s it, the United States is done.’”

“When you teach history, you look for certain moments and some of them are like watershed moments. I believe the attack of Pearl Harbor was one of those moments,” said Gershman. “If you think about it, the United States has only been attacked on soil a couple times in its history. 9/11 was one of them, Pearl Harbor was another one.”  

Pearl Harbor is one of the most tragic events in U.S. history and, as long there’s a remembrance day honoring those who lost their lives in this attack, we will never forget about it. As Gershman said, “it changes as we go through generations, but I think it’s an important event in American history.”

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