Pearl Harbor is a United States Navy base located on the island of Oahu in the state of Hawaii. In addition to being an active naval base and the home of America's Pacific Fleet, this harbor was also the site of an infamous attack which launched the United States into the Second World War. Because Pearl Harbor is an active base, access is restricted, although guests can visit the USS Arizona Memorial, a site set up to commemorate the events of the 1941 attack.
This natural harbor had been used by the native Hawaiians for generations before the Hawaiian Islands were annexed by the United States in 1900. The United States military recognized the potential value of the site, and decided to create a naval base there, using Pearl Harbor to house the Pacific Fleet. The site is ideally situated for the location of a Navy base, since it can be used as a jumping off point to reach much of Asia.
On 7 December, 1941, the Empire of Japan launched a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. The goal of the Japanese attack was to cripple the Pacific Fleet, making it difficult for the United States to enter into the growing World War. In the attack, an estimated 2,350 people were killed, while 19 ships and over 200 planes were destroyed or severely disabled. However, because the Japanese did not attack American shipyards in California, while the Fleet was disabled, the Americans were still capable of rebuilding it.
The attack on Pearl Harbor startled and infuriated Americans, many of whom heard the news after Sunday church services. It triggered a wave of anti-Japanese sentiment, with many Americans being understandably upset about what they saw as an underhanded decision to make a sneak attack, rather than making a formal declaration of war. The events of Pearl Harbor catapulted the United States into the Second World War, forcing the nation to take a stand and get involved in both the Pacific and European theaters.
Although the attack on Pearl Harbor is typically portrayed as a bolt from the blue, the fact is that most members of the American government were well aware that hostilities between the United States and Japan were escalating, and that war between the two nations was probably inevitable. Some conspiracy theorists even claim that the Americans knew about the upcoming attack, although this is debatable; people like President Roosevelt certainly knew, however, that matters between the United States and Japan would come to a head soon, forcing a decision.
One day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt made a speech to a joint session of Congress, asking Congress to authorize a war against Japan. This speech includes the famous line “a day which will live in infamy.”