Every drastic action comes with consequences. On December 7th, 1941, Japan surprised the United States in one of the most stunning moves of the war by bombing the naval base at Pearl Harbor. From that decision to attack the officially-neutral power, a series of consequences was set into motion that changed the course of history forever.
Within the United States
Once the smoke cleared from Pearl Harbor, the United States launched an investigation into the attack to determine how a surprise assault was possible. Taking the fall for the events of the day and the failure to respond were Rear Admiral Husband E. Kimmel and Lieutenant General Walter Short. Both were relieved of their commands shortly after the attack for not preparing the base with an appropriate defense.
Immediately after the Japanese attacked, and as word spread to the mainland, an outpouring of anti-Japanese sentiment became impossible to stifle. Camps on the US mainland were set up to confine people of Japanese descent—as well as German and Italian residents—including many who were American citizens. Known as “relocation camps,” they were justified as a means against espionage. Many Japanese-Americans argued against this treatment, including Fred Korematsu, who took the case to the US Supreme Court, but it wasn’t until 1945 that most of the internees were released.
Fear gripped the nation, but so did pride. As men went off to fight in the war, women stepped up to play a far more important role than they were ever given the chance to in the past. They took over important manufacturing jobs left vacant by the men sent overseas, helping the nation run as smoothly as possible during the war.
The Biggest Consequence
Of course, the most important consequence of the attack on Pearl Harbor was the American declaration of war against Japan. While this was expected, Japan thought the US would be entering the war with a crippled and broken navy. Despite the efforts of the bombing runs on December 7th, the United States Navy wasn’t nearly as hindered as it was meant to be.
In fact, most of the battleships that were damaged during the attack were refloated and repaired to join the war and take part in battles all across the Pacific.
Three days after the United States declared war on Japan, due to the Tripartite Pact signed by the Axis and Japan, Germany and Italy declared war against the United States.
Historically significant not just for the United States but also for the world, the attack on Pearl Harbor is said to have sealed the Allied victory as it provided the other partners with badly-needed assistance. By drawing the United States into World War II—“Awaking the Sleeping Giant,”—the Japanese engaged a formidable foe that eventually led to their total defeat in 1945.
Arguably the most devastating of the consequences of Pearl Harbor had on Japan, however, was the dropping of two atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Estimates vary widely, but at least 100,000 people were killed immediately—with another number at least as large dying over the following months—from the effects of the bombs.