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Did Pearl Harbor Really Force America to Enter WW2?

Updated on May 29, 2016
USS Greer
USS Greer

America in the 1940s was sort of like it is today in foreign policy. It was a more isolationist policy then and the attitude was "what happens in Europe or Russia is none of our business because it will not impact us". These same attitudes echo today but with regards to the Middle East, Africa, South China Sea, Artic region. As Hitler came to power in the mid-1930s, America was not in the least interested because they had their own problems. News coverage of Hitler was scant and provided novelty reading. When Germany entered the Spanish Civil war overtly, not much attention was given. When Hitler seized Czechslovakia and Austria in 1938, it was just a news item in American press. When Hitler seized Poland in 1939, America's position was it was a European problem mainly for France and Britain. When France collapsed under Hitler's blitzkrieg in 1940, only then did America start becoming concerned under British appeals for U.S. aid because Hitler then threatened to seize England.

Of course, while this was going on in Europe, Japan, was seizing parts of China and islands in the South Pacific. Still, the American public was not well informed and the attitude remained the same: It's not our problem.

History often notes that it was the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in 1941, that forced America into WW2, that is not actually true. America began running supply ships to England in 1941 and all nations knew the USA was neutral. Hitler, of course, always knew America would enter the war on England's side. With that said, as American ships sailed across the Atlantic, Hitler was indecisive about whether to attack them or not. This caused U-boat commanders to decide for themselves, so on September 4, 1941, the USS Greer was on its usual mission steaming to Iceland, where American units were based. The destroyer was being shadowed by a German U-boat, 652. In the air, was a British patrol plane who had spotted the U-boat. The British were at war with Germany and attacked the submarine while submerged. Its captain immediately thought the US ship had attacked it with depth charges. Battle stations were sounded and the U-boat fired torpedoes at the USS Greer.

The U.S. destroyer's cargo was mail!

On Sept. 11th, 1941, the President went on national radio to announce to the American people it was in an "undeclared" war with Germany, citing the unprovoked attacked by a German U-boat. The US Navy was then given orders to "shoot on sight" any German submarines operating in the Atlantic Ocean. FDR told the American audience and the British listening to the broadcast that this was an "active defense".


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    • perrya profile image

      perrya 21 months ago

      Not undermining history, how ? Its okay to say that PH was not the reason for declaring war, it was undeclared a few months earlier against Germany.

    • john000 profile image

      John R Wilsdon 22 months ago from Superior, Arizona

      There is a difference between defending yourself if aggressors are putting you in peril, and going after any German moving. This incident had nothing to do with the declaring of war on Germany and Japan by Congress.

      By looking for any excuse to undermine the history of our political process and leadership, you do far more harm than good.

      Yes, Pearl Harbor changed attitudes and galvanized opinion, which made it a whole lot easier to declare war, much the way Sept. 11 did. Now let's cite an event that should have caused a response before the Twin Towers. Write a revisionist history of all that.

    • ScarlaBlack profile image

      ScarlaBlack 22 months ago from Georgia

      Great article! I find that, as with WWI, Americans are often uninformed as to how we became entangled in international affairs. The truth is that it's often our leaders who do the tangling, but unfortunately most public high schools seek to create patriotic youth rather than informed youth.