Pearl Harbor and the End of American Isolationism
May 1, 2017
When you look at the policies of the United States today, it’s pretty easy to tell that it isn’t a nation driven by any sort of isolationism. Sometimes chided for being too involved in the world’s affairs, America wasn’t always as involved as it is today. In fact, looking back to the history of World War II, the world was engaged in war for over two years before the US even got involved, and even then it took provocation from an outside party.
While the gears were turning prior to December of 1941, the US Congress didn’t vote on entering into the war until the 8th, one day after Pearl Harbor was attacked. So, what ultimately ended years of isolation from foreign affairs and led to the United States being the global leader that it is today?
It Was a Quiet Sunday…
December 7th, 1941 began as a day like any other. The sailors stationed on the massive vessels lined up on Battleship Row were blissfully unaware of the two hours of terror they were to face at around 0800 that day, and they had no reason think otherwise. Tensions with Japan may have been on the rise, but communications at their level about an attack on American soil was muted. To many, the United States seemed like an unlikely target for an attack, especially considering Japan had been focusing much of its attention on expanding in Asia and the Western Pacific.
Then, at 0755, the sirens started blaring. Some sailors saw the planes, initially assuming them to be American craft on a test run, but the reality struck them as flames and smoke started to rise around them. Somehow, the Imperial Japanese Navy had been able to cross huge distances of the Pacific Ocean undetected to launch an aerial attack on American territory.
Suddenly, it was clear that the United States wasn’t safe, and the members of Congress weren’t blind to that fact. As the death count increased drastically within the first 24 hours, President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed congress and the nation, calling the day Pearl Harbor was attacked a “Date which will live Infamy.” After his plea to Congress, a vote resulting in a near-unanimous result declared that the United States was at war with Japan.
Within a 24-hour period of time, the isolationism that the United States had clung to for so long was shattered, and though it could have been restored after the war’s end and Japan’s surrender, the formation of the United Nations solidified the America’s involvement in foreign affairs.
Following the course of history, it’s evident that returning to isolation isn’t even an option as world tensions continue to mount, leading many to wonder if an event of the same caliber as the attack on Pearl Harbor is a possibility in the future. One benefit of knowing you’re not secluded from the rest of the world is being prepared for the worst-case scenarios, a benefit the nation lacked on the morning of December 7th, 1941.