Japan’s surprise attack 80 years ago was intended to bring the U.S. Navy to its knees. Instead, the event jumpstarted America’s transformation into the greatest single social, economic and military superpower in the world.
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Two waves of Japanese warplanes armed with up to 1,760-pound bombs and torpedoes. Two hours on the Sunday morning of December 7, 1941.
Those numbers represent all it took for much of the American Pacific naval fleet to be damaged—along with 188 aircraft and 2,403 military and civilians killed.
The surprise attack was so effective that by 8:00 a.m., just five minutes after the first bomb was dropped, four U.S. battleships were hit—including the USS Arizona that still sits on the floor of the harbor on the Hawaiian island of Oahu with crew members entombed inside.
The scale of destruction, the covert actions by the Imperial Japanese forces, and the horrifying details of the way sailors and others died were vivid in Americans’ minds when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt uttered those unforgettable words before Congress: “Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy…”
The U.S. declared war on the Empire of Japan and soon after on the other Axis powers, Nazi Germany and fascist Italy.
FDR’s words, heard in the halls of Congress and on radios across the nation, united America. In the following days, newspapers predicted a power-hungry Japan would invade the Philippines, Guam and other Pacific territories belonging to the U.S. and Britain. Posters urged every American who might have responded to a war draft with passivity to “Remember Pearl Harbor!” And Jazz leader Count Basie’s song Draftin’ Blues prompted women to encourage their men to sign up for the war effort.
As a result, military recruiting offices were jammed, some open 24/7 to handle those responding to the call to duty. Men waited for hours to enlist. Those who could not serve in the military made personal sacrifices for the war effort—from purchasing government bonds to giving up leisure, school and jobs to work in industrial centers.
The attack on Pearl Harbor left the U.S. limping into war. As Winston Churchill would later reflect: “There were no British or American capital ships in the Indian Ocean or the Pacific except the American survivors of Pearl Harbor who were hastening back to California. Over this vast expanse of waters, Japan was supreme and we everywhere were weak and naked.”
Yet four years saw the greatest transformation of a nation ever witnessed, with the U.S. today the only remaining superpower from World War II and the only nation to have deployed atomic weapons in war.
When fully understood, no other nation throughout history could have responded as America did. An incredible series of miraculous blessings made this possible.
Pre-War Industrial Expansion
Even before entering WWII, the United States was already showing signs of manufacturing greatness. As war in Europe and the Eastern Hemisphere became more extensive and more intense, politicians and businesses saw the potential for a neutral country to provide manufactured goods such as cars and trucks to countries at war. That way, nations engaged in conflict could focus on producing what they needed to survive.
America was sympathetic to the British, French and Chinese causes, but had a general anti-war sentiment and a series of neutrality acts preventing it from joining another large war. The Pearl Harbor attack would change that, but the late start gave the U.S. plenty of time to get ready.
And get ready it did. The U.S. began expanding production in the mid-1930s as the world recovered from the Great Depression. Businesses and politicians navigated loopholes in the neutrality acts allowing them to sell war material to combatants. Each new neutrality act introduced stricter arms and equipment sales restrictions into law, but the manufacturing of war goods increased.
A “cash-and-carry” provision in the Neutrality Act of 1937 allowed the U.S. to sell materials to warring nations if they arranged for their transportation and paid upfront with cash. Since only Britain and France could travel the Atlantic freely, President Roosevelt believed this would aid the Allies without directly involving America in the war.
But a different story played out in Asia with the war between Japan and China. Roosevelt had set a precedent in 1935 after Italy invaded Ethiopia by invoking the neutrality act to stop the sale of arms and ammunition to both countries. He also declared a “moral embargo” to prevent the sale of goods not covered under the act. However, he chose not to do this with Japan and China since they had not officially declared war. Roosevelt then let British ships carry arms and munitions to China while “quarantining” Japan and other aggressors.
The final neutrality act that President Roosevelt signed in 1939 officially allowed the sale of weapons to warring nations under cash-and-carry, ending the American arms embargo. When the Lend-Lease Act became law in 1941, America could produce more war materiel than its future allies could afford to buy with cash.
Throughout the pre-war period, American factories kept improving their ability to produce with a skilled labor force.
Filling the Vacancies
Then the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor. Within days, the U.S. went from neutrality to a full member of the Allies. Over the next four years, more than 16 million Americans would serve in the U.S. armed forces, about 12 percent of the total population.
This boosted working conditions at home. Industrial productivity increased an astonishing 96 percent in four years, creating 17 million jobs. The average rate of pay for an American worker rose around 50 percent. The new productivity raised the standard of living for all Americans and brought growth in consumer goods, even under rationing.
But factories needed to fill in for the massive labor shortage as a result of able-bodied men going overseas.
Industries first hired men too old or otherwise unable to go off to war, then boys too young to fight, and eventually women. Ads like the famous “Rosie the Riveter” successfully brought females into the workforce.
By the end of the war, 22 percent of trade union members were women, one out of every five defense workers was a woman who had recently been a student, and one out of every three defense workers was a former full-time homemaker. For the first time, more married women worked outside the home than single women.
The need for workers reached into minority communities, too, helping to bring a still largely racially segregated country together. Henry Kaiser’s shipyard in Richmond, California, recruited whites and blacks from across the South, many of whom had never worked with other races.
Even with all the extra participation, the labor shortage was not completely filled. American manufacturers turned to technological innovations to further increase output.
President Roosevelt set the tone by telling Congress: “Powerful enemies must be out-fought and out-produced. It is not enough to turn out just a few more planes, a few more tanks, a few more guns, a few more ships than can be turned out by our enemies. We must out-produce them overwhelmingly, so that there can be no question of our ability to provide a crushing superiority of equipment in any theatre of the world war.”
The government took this to heart and created the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD). This department joined contracts worth about $7.4 billion (in 2020 dollars) with businesses and universities developing technologies and processes to aid the war effort.
The endeavor paid off in planes, tanks and ships built after the attack on Pearl Harbor. U.S. factories, safe from enemy bombardment, produced about two-thirds of the Allies’ warfighting equipment: 297,000 aircraft from bombers to fighters, 193,000 artillery pieces, 86,000 tanks, and 2 million army trucks.
The Ford plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan, converted from building cars averaging 15,000 parts to long-range B-24 Liberators with 1.55 million parts. The plant worked 24 hours a day completing a fully operational plane every 63 minutes.
Kaiser brought production time of a Liberty Ship cargo vessel down from 365 days to three ships every two days. Eighteen American shipyards would eventually build 2,710 of these cargo vessels.
The war forced the U.S. to become creative with how it received raw goods. For instance, much of the imported rubber came from regions Japan invaded in 1942, cutting off supply.
President Roosevelt’s administration invested $700 million to find a way to convert abundant petroleum into synthetic rubber. Companies like Goodyear and Firestone shared patents, making synthetic rubber production viable. By the end of the war, synthetic rubber output totaled around 800,000 tons.
Of all the homefront capabilities the U.S. had, its agricultural breadbasket proved in some ways the most potent. All the U.S. industrial production would have been useless if the men using it in combat had nothing to eat. Agricultural mechanization during the war raised production by 26 percent. Demand for crops and livestock more than doubled farm receipts, from $9 billion in 1940 to $22 billion by 1945.
Mobilizing the economy of a single nation to fund and fight a war in Europe and the Pacific required effort, sacrifice and innovation. However, as the war drew to a close, the U.S. was poised to shoot to unprecedented heights.
This was not apparent to some economists at the time. There was concern that 15.4 million returning home and reentering society would cause significant problems. Arthur Herman, author of Freedom’s Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II, described how U.S. factories were “geared around producing tanks and planes, not clapboard houses and refrigerators.”
Some predicted mass unemployment, arguing that factories propped up by government wartime spending could not sustain those production levels during peace.
Those naysayers were proved utterly wrong…
The American people remembered how the attack on Pearl Harbor unified the nation for war. That unity would carry on well after the war.
For one, the nation agreed that returning soldiers should have support. Congress passed the “GI Bill of Rights” providing these men with financial assistance for education, loans, unemployment allowances, and finding work. Most returning soldiers who used the money put it toward education and homes.
The U.S. implemented rationing during the war, encouraging citizens to save their money and keep necessary goods flowing to the soldiers. In A Consumer’s Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America, Lizabeth Cohen wrote that people saved on average 21 percent of their income during the war. With the war over, people started spending their savings.
The automotive industry transitioned from tanks and planes to cars, and Americans bought more than ever. From 1945 to 1955, new car sales quadrupled. The federal government started building the U.S. Interstate highway system in the 1950s improving transportation. By 1960, three of every four American households had a car.
Soldiers returning home to their wives drove a wave of population growth. This baby boom and increased mobility sent many to the suburbs to find room for their growing families.
Companies such as New York’s Levitt & Son supplied them houses using the mass production techniques honed during the war. At one point, Levitt & Son was finishing 30 houses each day. More homes also meant more appliances and furniture.
In addition to these material developments, the war led to societal changes. Millions of citizens had essentially received a collective education that opened their mind to various freedoms and global realities: Soldiers had seen other cultures, factory workers at home worked with other ethnicities, and women had worked outside the home during the war. The civil rights movement grew out of the egalitarian requirements of America at war.
Even though there were social clashes during the 1960s, there was still a national unity stemming from Pearl Harbor. The Cold War with the Soviet Union gave America a common enemy, and the U.S.—having just experienced the atrocities of war—was especially leery of another repressive government.
As if that were not enough, the war did leave the U.S. with the most powerful navy ever, which allowed freedom of passage at sea. This helped nations struggling to rebuild by securing the free flow of goods and people.
America’s economic prosperity buoyed the entire world.
Prosperity’s True Source
All things considered, the calamitous events at Pearl Harbor ultimately led to the nation’s unprecedented growth. The devastating conflict launched a series of successful technical and social innovations that exploded America’s power and influence for decades after in a way that no other event in history has.
But these key accomplishments did not occur by coincidence.
The nation’s citizens take for granted the incredible miracle of America. In addition, the U.S.—not realizing the true reason for its unique power and status—is blind to the role it will play in the future.
Nations are families grown large, and America’s history traces back to a single boy by the name Manasseh. His father, Joseph, had been sold into slavery before becoming the second-most powerful man in Egypt.
Joseph’s father would claim Manasseh and his brother Ephraim as his own children (Gen. 48:5), putting them on equal footing with their uncles. He also blessed the two boys saying, “Let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth” (vs. 16).
The descendants of Ephraim, destined to become the greatest commonwealth of nations, grew into the British Empire that ruled over 25 percent of Earth’s land surface by 1921. Manasseh would become the greatest single nation ever, though in many ways America would never rival the heights of the British Empire.
When Jacob placed his name on Joseph’s two sons, he also passed down the blessings God had promised Abraham: “That in blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate [sea gates] of his enemies; and in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (22:17-18).
All that America accomplished to achieve its prosperity since World War II—the unity, the global economic growth, and “Pax Americana”—stem from God’s promise to Abraham. America grew to such power because it received this promise.
Realize what the Bible clearly shows is not the racist ideology of British Israelism, which espouses the genetic superiority of Anglo-Saxon peoples. Instead, God brought the prosperity of the United Kingdom and America to fulfill His promise to Abraham, and to set up incredible events to occur very soon in world affairs.
To understand the real story of America’s history—and its future role—read our book America and Britain in Prophecy.