Overview | What happened on Dec. 7, 1941? Why is the attack on Pearl Harbor such a historically important event? In this lesson, students learn about the 1941 attack by reading an archival Times article from the day after, and then either create a series of Twitter posts that document the attack and resulting declaration of war, or write a “Historic Headlines”-style summary and analysis of the event and its repercussions — and their connection to today.
Materials | Computer with internet access, Times articles, photographs and graphics (suggested resources linked below).
Warm-Up | Prior to your students’ arrival in class, transform the classroom into a “Memorializing Pearl Harbor″ gallery and when they arrive, invite them to take a “gallery walk.”
A gallery walk invites students to look closely at a range of material that highlights the words, images and sounds of a particular time and place and that is displayed gallery-style on the walls and other spaces of the classroom. To create this gallery walk, gather a broad range of audio, print and visual materials that relate to Pearl Harbor. The New York Times has a number of useful resources on its Times Topics page on Pearl Harbor; a collection of photographs taken during the attack can be found at Boston.com’s “Big Picture,”; oral histories, documents and videos related to the attack are all available Naval History and Heritage; and YouTube provides videos of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Pearl Harbor Speech.
You might choose items that relate to one particular theme within the larger topic of Pearl Harbor, or simply choose as large and varied a range of materials as possible. (For instance, you could include photographs of before, during, and after the attacks; oral histories told by survivors; maps depicting sites of the Dec. 7 bombings across the Pacific; audio and video of Pearl Harbor after the attacks; Times articles reporting the news of the attack; etc.)
Materials can also be found in paper copies of The Times, local newspapers, and news magazines as the anniversary of the attacks will likely receive significant coverage. Items to consider including: photographs, quotations, poems, maps, charts, graphs, essays, editorials, articles, cartoons, primary source documents, music, film or video clips, or artifacts of any other kind. These can be displayed around the classroom in “stations” or other kinds of thematic groupings, or can simply be scattered around the space. Student “visitors” can read, view, listen to and observe what is there while answering questions on a handout distributed at the beginning of class, with the following questions:
-What documents or images are most interesting to you? Why?
-What themes do you see in this collection?
-What questions do these artifacts raise for you about the attack and its effects?
When students have had a chance to view the entire gallery and answer all of the questions on their handout, ask them to pick one document or image from the gallery and bring it with them back to their desk. Split the class into small groups and ask students to share with each other the significance of the document or image that they chose and why they chose it. (Note: This gallery walk can be specific to your classroom, but can also be a shared activity across the disciplines. A school library or multipurpose room can be transformed into a Pearl Harbor gallery and many classes can come visit the gallery all day or all week.)
Related | The article, “Guam Bombed, Army Ship is Sunk,” was published in The Times on Dec. 8, 1941 – the day after the Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. The article reports the news of the attack and impending declaration of war against Japan. As students read, you might ask them to underline the lines, or star the sections, that most surprise, interest or inform them.
Sudden and unexpected attacks on Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, and other United States possessions in the Pacific early yesterday by the Japanese air force and navy plunged the United States and Japan into active war.
The initial attack in Hawaii, apparently launched by torpedo carrying bombers and submarines, caused widespread damage and death. It was quickly followed by others. There were unconfirmed reports that German raiders participated in the attacks. Guam was also assaulted from the air, as were Davao, on the island of Mindanao, and Camp John Hay in Northern Luzon, both in the Philippines. Lieut. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, commanding the United States Army of the Far East, reported there was little damage, however.
Read the entire article with your class, using the questions below.
Questions | For discussion and reading comprehension:
- What happened on Dec. 7, 1941? What, based on this article, did people know about the attacks and what were they still unclear about the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor?
- What steps did the American military take immediately following the attacks? What steps did the government take?
- What did you find in this article that is not in more contemporary accounts of the attack on Pearl Harbor? Why do you think the detail or details were left out in contemporary narratives?
- Is there anything surprising to you about the content or focus of this article? If so, what? Why?
- Why is this event still considered so historically important?
Activity | Choose between two activities to go deeper with this topic. After a description of each, you’ll find resources that can be used for both.
- Students can use Twitter to write about, and “report” from, Pearl Harbor as if it were Dec. 7, 1941, and just after. This project uses TheRealTimeWWII Twitter feed as an inspiration.
- Students can write in the style of our daily Historic Headlines to summarize and analyze the Pearl Harbor attacks and repercussions, then connect some aspect of the attacks and their immediate aftermath to current news today .
Twitter Project: The RealTimeWWII Twitter feed documents the events of World War II in real time using 140 character tweets. Introduce RealTimeWWII to students by having them read excerpted sections of this Times article about the Twitter feed and by taking them to the feed online.
Explain to students that RealTimeWWII began in August and so far has tweeted over four months of World War II in real time. However, the tweets have not yet reached 1941 and the attack on Pearl Harbor. Tell students that they will be creating a series of tweets to post over the course of two days on your classroom Twitter feed that document the events of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and resulting declaration of war in real time. As a class, scroll through the RealTimeWWII tweets and examine different types of tweets. (For example, some include quotations, some document events, some link to photographs, maps or videos, etc.) Together as a whole class, create a few sample using information from the article you just read.
Divide the class into small groups and assign each group a block of time on the days of Dec. 7-8, 1941. Because important events were not evenly dispersed over the course of these two days, be strategic in how you assign blocks of time – some shorter of time will contain several important events (for example, 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941), while others might have fewer (midnight to 9 a.m. on Dec. 8, 1941).
Decide on blocks of time that will allow all groups to have a similar number of events to report, even if the blocks are not all the same lengths. Remind groups that have not been assigned the busiest blocks of time that they can report quotes from survivors of the attacks, quotes from people speculating about what the United States government will do next, etc. (Remind students that all quotes must include links to the quote’s source.)
Each group will be tasked with creating a series of at least 20 tweets, all under 140 characters, that accurately document the events that occurred in their assigned segment of time. Inform students that to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the class will be tweeting the attack and resulting declaration of war in real time on an upcoming day. Real time tweeting can be accomplished by assigning students to Twitter shifts over the course of two days. If possible, you might arrange for the Twitter feed to be displayed on public screens at your school or on your school’s home page during those days.
Historic Headlines Project:
Each day, in collaboration with findingDulcinea, The Learning Network posts a short account of an important historical event that happened on that day in history. The account tells what led up each event, what happened that day, and what has happened since. After each is a brief “Connect to Today” section that looks at parallels of some kind in current news.
Have students look through our collection of Historic Headline posts to understand how they work (avoiding the Dec. 7, 2011, post, about Pearl Harbor). Then, invite them to work in small groups to write their own Pearl Harbor edition that quotes from the Times article they read as part of this lesson, as well as other Times sources found, perhaps, by choosing “oldest first” as an option for looking through Times archives on the Pear Harbor Times Topics page. They may also use the article from the next day’s Times, “U.S. Declares War.”)
Have them write a brief summary (two to three short paragraphs) summarizing the events of World War II after Pearl Harbor, then invite them to create a “Connect to Today” section that takes some aspect of what they learned and connects it to an issue in today’s news. This might involve comparing it to a current war; looking at real-time war reporting then and now; examining the role of the president or Congress in declaring war; or any other aspect of what they found in their research that resonates with an event or trend today. Have them include the current Times articles that apply.
To research for both projects described above, students will need to learn more about the events of the attack on Pearl Harbor and resulting declaration of war. Offer groups the following from which to gather information:
–“Guam Bombed, Army Ship is Sunk,” the historic article they read as a class.
–“U.S. Declares War,” the front-page Times article from Dec. 9, 1941.
–Naval History and Heritage Command’s Resources on Pearl Harbor.
–The National Park Service’s Resources on Pearl Harbor.
–Eyewitness to History’s Resources on Pearl Harbor.
Encourage students doing both projects to include as many quotations and links to historic photographs, articles, speeches and videos as relevant. Remind them that any time they quote someone they must include a link to the source where the quotation was found.
Once all students have completed their work, bring the class together for a discussion focused on the following questions: What piece of what you wrote do you think is strongest? Why? What was difficult about this activity? How did engaging in this activity make you think differently about the attacks on Pearl Harbor? For those who did the Twitter project, What would have been different if Twitter had existed in 1941?
Going Further | Have students plan and give a presentation to the entire school describing the attack on Pearl Harbor and its historic significance. They might use their projects to showcase what they learned, and how.
And if your students would like to know more about what happened in history this month, have them try our December Events in History Fill-In.
Standards | This lesson is correlated to McREL’s national standards (it can also be aligned to the new Common Core State Standards):
United States History
25- Understands the causes and course of World War II, the character of the war at home and abroad, and its reshaping of the United States role in world affairs.
2- Understands the historical perspective.
1- Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies of the writing process.
7- Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies for reading a variety of informational texts.
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"FDR Delivers Speech" by United States Government is in the public domain.
Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Members of the Senate, and of the House of Representatives:
Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.
Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.
It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time, the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.
The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.Q1
Yesterday, the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked Guam.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.
Last night, the Japanese attacked Wake Island.
And this morning, the Japanese attacked Midway Island.
Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.
As Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense. But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.
No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.
I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.
Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.
With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph — so help us God.
I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.Q2
'Day of Infamy' Speech by President Franklin D. Roosevelt is in the public domain.
the state of being well known for some bad quality or act
a request; the act or process of asking for something