military conflicts 8 Facts That Will Challenge Everything You Think You Know About Pearl Harbor  

Justin Andress
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On December 7, 1941, Japanese planes descended on the sleeping American naval base at Pearl Harbor. Ever since that fateful day, however, theorists have claimed that things aren’t exactly as they’ve been presented. There are several Pearl Harbor conspiracy theories and myths surrounding the attack that spurred the United States into the Second World War. Perhaps most surprisingly, not all of them are completely crazy.

In the heat of the attack on that Sunday morning, several American service men and women lost their lives as the Japanese air force rained down bombs on the assembled fleet. For a few brief moments, the Hawaiian base was upended in terror and chaos. Officially, the attack by the Japanese air force was a surprise intended to strike fear into the American populace and prevent them from entering the war; however, their “surprise” morning raid had the exact opposite. Riding on the back of a wave of angry patriots, Franklin Delano Roosevelt ushered the country into one of the defining conflicts of the twentieth century.

But how much do we really know about that date that will live in infamy? What secrets have been kept from the public, what Pearl Harbor conspiracy theories make the most sense, and which facts have we been sold that are straight-up myths? Read on for some facts and theories about Pearl Harbor and then draw your own conclusions.

Nine Separate Congressional Investigations Have Been Launched to Investigate Pearl Harbor

Nine Separate Congressional In... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 8 Facts That Will Challenge Everything You Think You Know About Pearl Harbor
Photo: U.S. Navy photo by Journalist 2nd Class John Watts/via Wikimedia

Over the years, more than one person has stopped to wonder at the official story of Pearl Harbor. In fact, the questions surrounding the attack have actually spawned nine separate Congressional investigations, going all the way up to 1995 (yep, more than fifty years after the attack). To date, no official evidence has been uncovered to indicate that the United States government participated in any wrongdoing in regards to the attack, but that hasn’t stopped people from wondering.

Whether or not you believe in conspiracy theories, the amount of official scrutiny that’s been placed on the government’s account of events is enough to cast a lot of doubt on what we know.

Some Historians Believe FDR Had Advanced Warning of the Attack

Some Historians Believe FDR Ha... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 8 Facts That Will Challenge Everything You Think You Know About Pearl Harbor
Photo: Photographer: Unknown, Retouched by: Mmxx/via Wikimedia

This one is by far the most popular theory surrounding the attack on Pearl Harbor. Even more interesting, this theory is so widespread that it’s been reported on by major news outlets. See, historically, surprise attacks aren’t exactly Japan’s thing. Even in the era of modern conflict, Japan has always adhered - typically - to a strict set of rules when engaging in open war.

First and foremost is the Empire’s willingness to declare war before actually engaging in it. As it turns out, in 2011, a previously suppressed memo surfaced from the Japanese government, in which they declared their intention to engage in open combat against America. The date of that memo: December 4, 1941. The clear implication was that Japan declared war on the US three days before they attacked Pearl Harbor, a fact that would implicate the President in not warning his people they were in danger.

There are two possible explanations for this lapse. Either the US government was too incompetent to receive, understand, and act on this information; or, the US government intentionally allowed the attack to happen.

The US Considered Pearl Harbor a Low-Level Target for the Japanese Military

The US Considered Pearl Harbor... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 8 Facts That Will Challenge Everything You Think You Know About Pearl Harbor
Photo: USN/via Wikimedia

When it comes down to it, even if the President had knowledge of Japan’s declaration of war, that declaration of war wasn’t expected to actually result in an immediate attack, and even then no one thought the Japanese would aim their might at Pearl Harbor. 

First, Japan’s declaration wasn’t the first set of angry words aimed at Pearl Harbor. In addition, the American navy considered Pearl Harbor relatively safe compared to myriad bases between Japan and Hawaii. What’s more, the American military had responded to similar threats in the area by sending out air patrols to hunt for enemy vessels and they’d come up empty-handed.

In other words, the American military claims that they’d been keeping an eye out and they’d seen nothing to indicate any real danger to Pearl Harbor.

The Japanese Weren’t the First to Fire at Pearl Harbor

The Japanese Weren’t the First... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 8 Facts That Will Challenge Everything You Think You Know About Pearl Harbor
Photo: US Navy/via Wikimedia

If everything had gone according to plan, the Japanese would have absolutely fired the first volley at the United States military. As it happens, when the Japanese navy sent five small submarines as an advance attack on Pearl Harbor, at least one of them didn’t even make it to its destination.

About one hour before planes began dropping bombs on Pearl Harbor, a destroyer called the USS Ward was signaled that a large object was moving through the water. The destroyer’s fledgling commander pinged the water around his boat, caught sight of a Japanese sub, and sent it to the ocean’s depths. It was the first recorded violence from the United States military in World War II.

Yep, we shot first. Just like Han Solo.