World War II: America Enters the War

America entering World War II
Figure 1.--Here a newsboy sells the second exta of the 'Searchlight' in Reading, California on December 7, 1941 in front of a store window. The Japanese carrier attack on Pearl Harbor is one of the semenal events in American history. Evvery American remembers where he was when he heard about the Japanese sneak attack. The Japanese attack was a briliantly conceived an executed military action. The principal impact was to unite an industrial collosus and create a buring desire to strike back. Hours before the Pearl Harbor attack, thel Red Army launched their winter counter offensive before Moscow (December 6). Thus within the space of 24 hours, the world balance of powe was fundamentally changed. It would take 4 years of desperate fighting but the Axis countries were now poised on the remorseless path toward national destruction.

When Hitler launched World War II by invading Poland (September 1939), most Americans were admently opposed to entering another war in Europe. Americans had come to believe it was a mistake to have entered World War I. President Roosevelt was hopeful that the British and French with material American support could defeat the Germans. The German defeat and occupation of France and the ensuing Blitz on Britain began a major reassessment in America. Gradually public opinion shifted and despite a vigorous national debate led by the Isolationists, American's came to support President Roosevelt's policy of national rearmament and support for Britain. At the time of Pearl Harbor, however, a majority of Americans still opposed entering the war. The public supported all support for Britain short of war. In the end, the national debate was settled by the Japanese militarists and Adolf Hitler. The decesion for war by Japan and Germany was radically different. The Japanese after more than a year of intense study had convinced thenselves that Americans were soft and would not fight. Few Japanese commanders had any knowledgeable about America and Admiral Yamamoto's misgivings were very rare within the military establishment. Crowds in Tokyo cheered the Pearl Harbor success. The reaction in Berlin was very different. Hitler was shocked by the failure of Barbarossa before Moscow. And President Roosevelt had been ahorn in his side sibce the War began. With the Wehrmacht falling back in Russia, in was the only aggressive step open to him. It would be the last major NAZI initiative. The War would be decided in 1942 and he would spend the rest of the War reacting to Allied moves. The German people received the bews very differently than the Japanese public. The Gernans had fought the Americans in World War I and were aware that American entry in the War had been the turning point. Only the most ardent NAZIs were enthusiastic with the news. And Hitler's announcement that he had declared war on America reached the German people at the same time as the news of the Red Army offensive before Moscow. Unlike the Japanese military, many German military commanders realized that Hitler's high stakes gamble had failed. Presidennt Roosevelt was shocked at the devestation suffered by the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. Inteligence reports had made in clear that the Japanese were preparing to strike, but Ameeican military commanders had not anticipated the blow would come at Pearl or that Japan had the military capacity to deliver such as powerful strike. Perhaps the most sanguine assessment was made in Britain by Primeminister Churchill.

National Debate

When Hitler launched World War II by invading Poland (September 1939), most Americans were admently opposed to entering another war in Europe. Americans had come to believe it was a mistake to have entered World War I. President Roosevelt was hopeful that the British and French with material American support could defeat the Germans. The German defeat and occupation of France and the ensuing Blitz on Britain began a major reassessment in America. Gradually public opinion shifted and despite a vigorous national debate led by the Isolationists, American's came to support President Roosevelt's policy of national rearmament and support for Britain. At the time of Pearl Harbor, however, a majority of Americans still opposed entering the war. The public supported all support for Britain short of war.

Pearl Harbor (December 1941)

It was the Japanese carrier attack on Pearl Harbor that brought America into the War. While Pearl Harbor was a stunning tactical victory, it was a strategic blunder by the Japanese of incaluable proportions. It was a stunningly successful military success, brilliantly executed by the Japanese. Eight battle ships, the heart of the American Pacific fleet were sunk. But the three carriers were not at Pearl. Despite the success of the attack, it was perhaps the greatest strtegic blunder in the history of warfare. The Japanese attack on the Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor changed everything. A diverse and quareling nation, strongly pacifistic was instantly changed into a single united people with a burning desire to wage war. The isolationism that President Roosevelt had struggled against for over 7 years instantly disappeared. Even Lindburg asked for a commision to fight for the United States. In the end, the national debate in America was settled by the Japanese militarists and Adolf Hitler. The decesion for war by Japan and Germany was radically different.

Reaction Around the World

The reactuon around the world was varied. The Japanese people were shocked, but jubilant about what their Navy did, apparentlky struck a mortal blow at the mighty United States. The american people who did not yet know the extent of the losses were stunned, but in an instant the Japanese had turned a deeply duvided country into a united nation and an industrial dynamo. Before the American people were aware of the attack, the Japanese envoys (who were also unaware) showed up at the State Department where Secretary Hull bruskly dismiossed them. Interestingly Churchill and Hitler, who sgteed on almot nothing, were both elated at the News. Hitler believed that Miscow w about to fall and that he had won the War. The older German people who remembered World war I were less enthusiastic. Churchill knew, however, that Britain after over 2 years of desperate struggle was finally saved.

Tokyo

Unlike Hitler's and Mussolini's decesions, the Japanese did not act precipitously or on the authority of any single individual. The Japanese carefully considered the matter for an extended period. Historians after the War ask themselves, how could the Japanese made such an iladvised decesion. Two factions vied for dominance, the Strike North and the Strike South faction. The Strike South Faction eventually prevailed. The final decesion was made at the Imperial Conference (September 6, 1941). However faulty, it was a step that was carefully considered. After a period of intense study, the Japanese militarists convinced themselves that Americans were soft and despite their industrial strength would not fight. And thus the coveted Southern Resource Zone (SRZ) was within their grasp. The Anerican oil embargo forced their had. They either had to withdraw from China or go to war. Few Japanese commanders had any knowledgeable about America and Admiral Yamamoto's misgivings were very rare within the military establishment Captain Fuchida at 7:53 am signaled Akagi "Tora-Tora-Tora! Surprise successful!". Imperial Headquarters in Tokyo after the attack announced that Japan had entered into a state of war with Britain and the United States in the Western Pacific beginning at 6:00 am. The Japanese released the declaration of War on December 8, 1941 (Tokyo time--December 7 in the United States) after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The declaration of war was printed on the front page of every Japanese newspaper edition on December 8. (The declaration was subsequently repeated printed on the 8th day of each month throughout the entire war. The declaration was Orwelian in the true sence of the word. Japan explaining it went to war to preserve the peace. From the beginning China was at the heart of the issue. The Japanese insisted, "More than four years have passed since China, failing to comprehend the true intentions of Our Empire, and recklessly courting trouble, disturbed the peace of East Asia and compelled Our Empire to take up arms." Crowds in Tokyo cheered the Pearl Harbor success.

Berlin

Hitler was at his East Prussian Wolf's Lair command post when he received the new that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. There had been no Axis coordination. Hitller was as surprised as Roosevelt. Jodl testified at Nurremberg that Hitler in the middle of the night came into his chart room to informed him and Field Marshal Keitel of the attack. He was completely surprised, but elated. Amazingly both Hitler and Churchill were related. As history would show, Hitler's strategic vision was again fatally flawed. He still believed that Moscow was about to fall and the war was essentially won. He told his generals that the Japanese had not lost a war in 3,000 years. There was no chance America could change anything. The German people were told very little. Goebbels did allow brief items basically stating that as a result of 'American war mongering' the first clashes between Japan and the United States have occurred--nothing about a sneak attack. Amazingly, as with Italy, there had been no consultation or joint planning with the Japanese. The next morning (December 8), Hitler ordered the Kreigsmarine to begin attacking American shipping. Hitler had for months been restricting German U-boats from attacking American shipping. It shows how much he hated doing this that his first action after Pearl Harbor was to turn the U-boats loose. Hitler's elation did not last long. German officers for the first time admitted to the furious Führer that Moscow was beyond their reach (December 8). And then the Red Army launced a massive counter ofensive before Moscow (December 10). Sespite this, Hitler the next day without asking OKW of the consequences, Hilter declared war on America (December 11). Historians ask why. No one knows, but the best answer seems to be that with the Wgrmacht stopped before Moscow, he felt a psychlogical imperarive to lash out against the country that he had been needling him and supporting the the British since the beginning of the War. . Hitler expected Japan in due time to reciporcate by declaring war on the Soviet Union, but did not ask the Japanese for a quid pro quo. Hitler returned to Berlin. And the reaction in Berlin was very different than the reaction in Tokyo. Hitler was shocked by the failure of Barbarossa before Moscow. He had risked everything in the hope of achieving a quick victory. And President Roosevelt had been a thorn in his side since the War began. With the Wehrmacht falling back in Russia, in was the only aggressive step open to him. It would be the last major NAZI initiative. The War would be decided in 1942 and he would then spend the rest of the War reacting to Allied moves. The German people received the news very differently than the Japanese public. There were no public celebration in Berlin. The Germans had fought the Americans in World War I and older Germans including many in the military were acutely aware that American entry in the War had been the turning point leading to defeat. Only the most ardent NAZIs were enthusiastic with the news. And Hitler's announcement that he had declared war on America reached the German people at the same time as the news of the Red Army offensive before Moscow. Unlike the Japanese military, many competent German military commanders realized that Hitler's high stakes gamble had failed. Other stunning announcenents followed. Goebbels issue an appeal for winter clothese to send to the faltering Eastern Front (December 20). Some Germans might have wondered why the Barbarossa planers had not realized that it gets cold in Russua during the winter, but such thoughts were dangerous to opnly express. Goebbels appeal was followed by the announcement that the Führer himsef was replacing Field Marshall Walther von Brauchitsch as Army commannder (December 21).

Rome

The Pearl Harbor news reached Rome at the same time as bad news of British victories in East Africa and Libya. Italian Foreign Miister Count Ciano writes in his diary that his German counterpart, Von Ribontrop, called during the night and describes him as 'joyful' as he delivered the news of Pearl Harbor attack (December 8). Nodoubt adopting Hitler's view of the news. Ciano was preoccupied with obtaining Bizerte from Vichy, but wrote with the clarity lacking with the NAZI hierarchy, "I am not sure about the advantage [of war with America]. One thing is now certain: America will enter the conflict, and the conflict itself will be long enough to permit her to put into action all her potenial strength." [Ciano, p. 416.] Two days later Ciano writes, "News of the amazing Japanese naval victories continued to arrive. Against this the land fighting in Libya and in Russia is not going well. Such are the incredible surprises of war." (December 10) [Cianop. 417.] Mussolini from his Palazzo di Venezia balcony spoke to a large crowd (December 11). Ciano decribes the reaction of those listening was not very enthusiastic, because they were hungary and cold. [Ciano, p. 417.] Many Italians wondered why they were going to war with America. Most Italians admired America and mny had lived there or had relativds who had emigrated to America and rote home in glowing terms about their new homes. Even Italians with no real knowledge of military affais knew that merica was a large powerful country. A few hours later, Ribbontrop called to suggest a joint Axis declaration of war on America.

Washington

Japanese envoys in Washington had an appointment to see Secretary of State Cordell Hull to deliver what would prove to be a declaration of war. They asked for a delay because of the time needed to translate it. Rear-Adm. Patrick Bellinger at 7:58 am Honolulu time from his HQ on Ford Island sent out in plain language: "Air raid, Pearl Harbor - This is no drill!" War Secretary Knox called the President with news of the Japanese attack (1:50 pm EST). The President was with Harry Hopkins at the time. Hopkins later wrote that the President was unsurprised and expressed "great relief". Mrs Roosevelt wrote, that the President became "in a way more serene". [Roosevelt, This, p. 233.] She also wrote, "December 7 was ...far from the shock it proved to the country in general. We had expected something of the sort for a long time." [NYT] The American people were enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon and did not yet know what had happened. On rhe East coast, people were listening to a football game between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers which began at 2:00 PM EST. At about 2:26 WOR or Mutual interupted the broadcast with a flash bulletin about an attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor. NBC Red network was broadcasting Sammy Kaye's 'Sunday Serenade' featuring Sammy and his Orchestra, Tommy Ryan, Alan Foster, and the Three Kaydettes. The day's broadcast was just about finished when another flash announcement was made at 2:29. The NBC Blue Network broadcast the same bulletin. CBS at 2:30 led a news broadcast with the announcement of the attack. Many other announcements followed. Many Americans heard the news in movie theaters. Ther was no indication as to just how severe the losses were. President Roosevelt was shocked when he learned of the devestation suffered by the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. Inteligence reports had made in clear that the Japanese were preparing to strike, but American military commanders had not anticipated the blow would come at Pearl or that Japan had the military capacity to deliver such as powerful strike. The President spoke with Primeminister Churchill. He called a special cabinet meeting which was eventually joined by Congressional leaders. [Kluckhorn] The next day, the President delivered his stirring address to Congress asking for a declaration of War against Japan (December 8). This left the situation in Europe in limbo. The President would have the tricky job of explaining why America should declare war on Germany because we were attacked by Japan. Hitler relieved the President of this task by declaring war on the United States (December 11).

London

Primeminister Churchill was at Checkers having dinner with the American Ambassador, John Gilbert Winant, when the Japanese attacked. Winant had replaced the isolationist Ambassador Kennedy the year before. They of course had been talking about the War. After dinner, the Primen=miister brought out a radio as he always listened to the evening 9:00 pm BBC news broadcast. It was then that he learned of the Japanese attack. He had no idea at the time how serious the attack was or that the Japanese were also attacking British Far East outposts. His first reaction was to declare war in the Japanese, but his advisers pointed out that he could not declare war on the basis of a radio broadcast. So he plsce a call to President Roosevelt. He immddiately asked the Presidebnt, "Is it true?" President Roosevelt replied, "Yes we are all in the same boat now." Perhaps the most sanguine and insightful assessment of the Pearl Harbor attack occurred in Britain. Primeminister Churchill later wrote in his menoirs, "Silly people, and there were many, not only in ememy countries, might discount the force of the United States. Some said they were soft, others that they would never be united. They would fool around at a distance. They would never come to grips. They would never stand blood-letting. Their democracy and system of recurrent elections would paralyse their war effort. They would be just a vague blur on the horizon to friend or foe. Now we should see the weakness of this numerous, but remote, wealthy, and talkative people. But I had studied the American Civil War, fought out to the last desperate inch. American blood flowed in my veins. I thought of a remark which Edward Grey had made to me than thirty years before -- that the United States is like 'a gigantic boiler'. Once the fire is lighted under it there is no limit to the power it can generate.' Being saturated and satisfied with emotion and sensation, I went to bed and slept the sleep of the saved and thankful." [Churchill, p. 507.] The Primneminister the next day moved a declaration of war through Prliament, hours before America declared war. President Roosevelt wanted him to hold off, but his message did not arrive in time. The Primeminister shortly after sailed for Washington to confer with his new war time ally--President Roosevelt (December 22). The White House would never be the same.

Moscow

We do not know at this time just how Stalin received news of Pearl Harbor and Hitler's subsequent declaration of war on America. Not do we know what his initial assessment was. British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden flew to Moscow, a difficult undertaking at the time, to confer with Stalin and Molotov (December 28).

Arsenal of Democracy

At the time that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and Hitler declared war on America, the Whermacht' invasion of the Soviet Union had become mired in the Russian Winter before Moscow and the Red Army had begun its Winter counter-offensive that would severly damage the Wehrmacht. It would never fully recover. America's entry into the War not only would lead to the creation of a major army that would with the British and Canadians reenter the continent, but bring the enormous resources of American industry into the War. Hitler's calculation was that he could complete the conquest of Europe before American military and industrial capacity could be mobilized. First the British and then the Soviets undid his plan. And the American mobilization for war was one of the spectacular accomplishments of the Amnerican Republic. American production and supplies had helped keep Britain in the War before America came in. After entering the War, deliveries seemed more like a trickle compared to the deluge of industrial production that would bevhurled at the Axis. Not only did American production astound the Germans and Japanese, but it exceeded the expectations of American planners. The United States alone vastly outproduced the Axis which also had to contend with British and Soviet war producrion. The United States not only fully equpipped its own armed forces, but it allies as well. American supplies, especually trucks took some time to reach the Soviet Union, but once they did, the Red Army was trahnsformed and acquired a mobility that the Germans simply could not defend against. In the air, German lost control over its on skies as fleets of bombers protected by long-range escots demolished German cities. At the same time in the Pacific, the Pacific Fleet uterly destroyed the Imperal Navy, leaving Japan to fight a naval war without a navy.

Sources

Churchill, Winston S. Memoirs of the Second World War (Bonanza Books: New York, 1959), 1065p. This is the abridged version by Denis Kelly of Churchill's epic World War II memoirs.

Ciano, Count Galeazzo. Hugh Gibson, ed. The Ciano Diaries, 1939-1943 (Garden City Publishing: New York, 1947), 582p.

Kluckhorn, Frank L. "Japan wars on U.S. and Britain; Makes Sudden Attack On Hawaii; Heavy Fighting At Sea Reported," New Tork Times (December 7, 1941--Late city edition). The press was not told of just how serious the losses at Pearl were.

Roosevelt, Elenor. This I Remember.

Roosevelt, Elenor. New York Times Magazine (October 8, 1944).







HBC









Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Return to the World War II Exchange of diplomats]
[Return to the Main U.S. World War II page]
[Return to Main World War II campaign page]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Biographies] [Campaigns] [Children] [Countries] [Deciding factors] [Diplomacy] [Geo-political crisis] [Economics] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[POWs] [Resistance] [Race] [Refugees] [Technology] [Totalitarian powers]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Return to Main war essay page]
[Return to CIH Home page]





Created: 7:02 AM 10/12/2010
Last updated: 7:08 PM 8/10/2014