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America's Pearl Harbor: The narrative formed through popular

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Josh Whitcomb

on 11 February 2014

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Transcript of America's Pearl Harbor: The narrative formed through popular

America's Pearl Harbor: The narrative formed through popular culture, racism, and misunderstanding.
December 7, 1941
"A date which will live in infamy" - Franklin D. Roosevelt
Surprise Attack?
Most Americans today feel as though Pearl Harbor was a surprise attack. This notion has been widely propagated throughout American culture in the World War II era and still today.
Surprise Attack?
Surprise Attack?
On the morning of December 7th the American Naval base Pearl Harbor in Oahu, Hawaii was attacked by the Imperial Japanese Navy.
The American public, mostly ignorant to Japanese culture, dehumanized them for their perceived "hellbent" nature. Events like the mass suicides performed by Japanese as well as brutal POW treatment led Americans to demonize the Japanese soldiers and stereotype their people.
Racism and dehumanization of Japanese was most prevalent in political cartoons like those of Dr. Seuss
The typical racist portrayal of Japanese people consisted of squinted eyes, big teeth, and the notion that they all looked identical, lacking any individuality. Like in the cartoon below, Americans regarded Japanese as monolithic: if some are a threat, they all are a threat.
Modern Narrative
Although in modern times we have been able to repair some of the fractured Pacific War narrative, the classic "Good War" theme is still prevalent in popular culture.
Pearl Harbor (2001)
The Michael Bay film, although primarily a love triangle romance, is laden with inaccuracies and appears to deliberately shy away from controversial questions of preparedness.
Video Games
Although modern society claims to have overcome the WWII narrative of the past, America's youth is still exposed to inaccurate and simplified, one sided war narratives in video games like Call of Duty. Filled with racist portrayals and fantasied conclusions, games and movies like these are having there influence on the personal narratives of thousands every day.
We interviewed some LHS Faculty and one student to further our research into how Pearl Harbor is Remembered by Americans
The Pacific Theater
2,400 Americans were killed as Japanese Pilots bombed and torpedoed US Ships. Men woke up to the sounds of explosions as shrapnel and fire ravaged the ships. Those trapped in sealed lower levels would have drowned as the steel vessels sank to the bottom of the ocean
In his declaration of war on Japan, FDR states that the attacks were unforeseen and a betrayal of trust. Although he was well aware that Japan had been preparing for war in the Pacific for quite some time , President Roosevelt nonetheless presented the situation to the public as a despicable breakage of peace and act of terror on American soil.
Left: American Propaganda poster published by the Office of War Information. Quoting Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, the poster projects an image of a tattered democracy that has fallen victim to the attacks by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor. This propaganda is representative of America as the helpless terror victim and also calls for American retaliation. Posters such as this would have sparked racism and anger towards Japanese and galvanized young men to join the army and avenge the deaths of their countrymen.
In reality, as America became occupied with supporting the war in Europe, Japan continued its conquest of the Pacific overtaking French and British colonies as well as much of China. After overtaking Indochina, Roosevelt took notice, freezing Japanese assets and cutting off all oil supply. This deeply offended the Japanese. The two nations had in fact met and negotiated several times, but to no avail. These negotiations only heightened tensions and in 1941, 52% of Americans believed war with Japan was imminent. After cracking Japan's diplomatic code, an attack was expected in the southern pacific sometime in November of 1941.
The attack on Pearl Harbor may have been a surprise for Hawaiians, but surely not the U.S. government or navy.
Also a prominent part of the American Pacific War Narrative is the idea that the Japanese soldier was"hellbent" and would stop at nothing to achieve success in war. It was believed they were fearless of death to the point of even using their own aircraft as "kamikaze" bombs, sacrificing themselves for their country. Japanese notions of honor and "Bushido" (the way of the warrior) were misinterpreted by Americans who could not understand such a vastly foreign culture.
Above is a Japanese pilot using his plane as a bomb, sacrificing his life to sink a U.S destroyer. The Japanese Zero did not come equipped with ejector seats or parachutes
"Where's my popcorn?" - Douglas MacArthur
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