Early on the morning of December 7, 1941, people on the island of Hawaii, were awoken by explosions. The United States of America had been suddenly and deliberately attacked by the Empire of Japan, the target; Pearl Harbour. This attack was the turning point in World War II. Like a 'sleeping giant' the United States also awoke to its responsibilities.
Pearl Harbour changed public opinion in the US and marked the entrance of the United States into the war with Japan. It also aligned the full force of American might with the allies in the European theatre. The world was now truly at war. The bombing of Pearl Harbour changed the opinion of the American people. As the smoke settled at Pearl Harbour, a feeling of disbelief arose among the people. "It just could not be possible, our ships were mighty, our men were strong and brave, but we had no warning...
." (Sheehan 2000: 48) In twenty-four hours, more of the country's naval force was destroyed than in all of World War One. More than 2 500 lives were lost. (Brett 1997: 122) Prior to the attack, America had an isolationist policy. Although the US government was opposed to Hitler and wanted to stop Japanese expansion, the American people were unwilling to go to war. Subsequent to the Pearl Harbour tragedy, newsreels and photographs of burning battleships helped to transform the public opinion.
Rallying cries such as "Avenge Pearl Harbour!" and "Remember December 7 th!" (Brett 1997: 120) erupted among the people. The nation united behind Roosevelt's commitment to the war. Isolationism became a spent force. The wake up call, the surprise attack on Pearl Harbour, propelled the USA into the Pacific war. Alarm bells had been ringing for the United States regarding the increasing Japanese expansion in Asia. The US was increasingly worried about Japan's growing power and aggression.
Cambodia and Vietnam, known then as French Indo China, were taken over by Japan in September 1940, and Thailand was forced to accept military bases. Japan, Germany and Italy signed a Three Power Act, expecting a British defeat. This would allow Japan to rule South-East Asia. Japan planned to seize the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia to secure oil, rubber and tin. In retaliation the USA banned exports of scrap iron and steel to Japan and froze bank accounts. Negotiations were ongoing but the USA's stance on a full Japanese withdrawal from China meant that Japan decided to go to war.
Not only did the United States of America become involved in the war in the Pacific, but also in the European war. Shortly after the Pearl Harbour attack, Germany and Italy, under Japanese prompting, declared war on America as a sign of allied unity. From 1939 until December 1941, America was not actively involved in the war. They preferred to remain neutral.
However, badly needed aid was sent to Britain. With Germany quickly advancing in Europe, it seemed as though isolated Britain might also fall. Winston Churchill recognised the Pearl Harbour attack as a turning point in the Second World War. "To have the United States by our side, was to me the greatest joy, I knew they were in the war, up to the neck and in it to the death. So we had won after all!" (Churchill quoted in Tames 1995: 39) With America, a major force, finally involved in the war, the allies were able to defeat the axis powers of Germany, Italy and Japan. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour served to unite the American people for a war as nothing else could have.
Overnight, the American people realised that they were part of a global community. The American entry into the Pacific and European war also united Great Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union, the power base of a fifty-nation Grand Alliance, an overwhelming force that defeated the Axis. America emerged from WWII a superpower, awoken to its global leadership and responsibility.