How the Attack on Pearl Harbor Changed the State of Florida

When one thinks of the sneak attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor, they likely don’t take much time to think about how Florida relates to it. After all, Pearl Harbor is a military installation in Hawaii. The attack took place on December 7, 1941, becoming – as President Roosevelt so eloquently said to Congress – “a date which will live in infamy.”

And now, more than 50 years later, it still is such a date. Pearl Harbor and the deadly sneak attack by the Japanese is infamous. More than 2,400 people died that day, with 1,000 more being left wounded. Battleships were sunk, and military aircraft were destroyed. Japan’s aim had been to keep the United States out of the Pacific region; the tiny country decided that to solve its economic problems, the only solution was to expand into neighboring China.

The United States was not a fan of this action and thus instituted trade embargoes and economic sanctions in the hopes of curbing this expansionism. Japan would not stand for such a slight, and as such they set their sights on the almost irresistible target of Pearl Harbor. Their goal? To destroy the Pacific Fleet. That would teach the United States to meddle in Japan’s affairs… or so they thought.

As Luck Would Have It…

Luck was with the US that day, even if it took decades to see a glimmer of a positive. As fortune would have it, the Pacific Fleet’s aircraft carriers were away from the base, and while Japanese forces focused heavily on sinking on US battleships, aircraft carriers ended up becoming far more crucial to the war effort. This meant that the Japanese failed to cripple the Pacific Fleet, despite the horrific damage on December 7, 1941. (The USS Arizona sank with more than 1,000 men trapped aboard.) President Roosevelt, far from being intimidated or cowed into submission, asked Congress to declare war the following day. Far from keeping the United States away, this only escalated the events of World War II.

Florida’s Part

So what does any of this have to do with Florida? Well, when the base at Pearl Harbor was destroyed, hundreds of military personnel needed some place to go. One of those places turned out to be Florida, where more than 170 military installations were established or extended. The Museum of Florida History has a permanent exhibit dedicated to this day in history, discussing how the international events affected the state of Florida and how the attack and its aftermath shaped everything from the population layout to the economy (there were hundreds of civilian employees working for the military installations, for example). The exhibit touches on how famous Sunshine State industries were affected and tells the stories of German POWs, approximately 10,000 of which were held in Florida. There were even education campaigns to teach the Germans democratic values during their detention.

The point is that Pearl Harbor did not happen in a Hawaiian vacuum. Its tendrils snaked across the entire world, touching every state and every country and every person alive. Even now, all these years later, the echoes of that infamous attack are felt. Learn more about how Florida was involved by visiting the permanent World War II exhibition in Tallahassee, and always remember the soldiers and civilians who died that day.

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