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America’s Darkest Days: Pearl Harbor and 9/11

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Pearl Harbor and 9/11 were two devastating events in US History. Although the events happened 60 years apart, that does not take away the significance of the two. The attacks on Pearl Harbor ultimately entered the United States into World War II; subsequently, 9/11 also began the War on Terror. In the end, these two tragedies combined for over 5,400 deaths and over 7,200 people were injured. These two events defined the presidencies for both of the sitting presidents at the time, Franklin D. Roosevelt and George W. Bush. The two defining tragedies in American history changed the world forever, and the American consciousness as lessons are learned from the events of both Pearl Harbor and 9/11. 

On the outset, these two tragedies seem to have more parallels than one might think. The similarities of 9/11 and Pearl Harbor surmount the incongruities. One similarity is that both of the events were sneak attacks. The two events happened in the morning and put the nation into utter disbelief. During the attack on Pearl Harbor, the US soldiers were based near Honolulu, Hawaii in 1941. However, on the morning of December 7, 1941, a fleet of Japanese suicide planes flew in and targeted the naval base. The Japanese destroyed the US Pacific Army. Five out of the eight US battleships were sunk by the suicide planes. The attacks lasted for over two hours with waves of planes hitting naval ships and bases. Not only were there planes, but bombs, machine guns and torpedoes (Kuhn). One of the ships that had the most damage was the USS Arizona. The USS Arizona was accountable for almost half of the casualties of the attacks. The ship sank after being hit by Japanese planes four times. 

Like the Pearl Harbor attacks, 9/11 was also a surprise morning attack. An Islamic group known as Al-Qaeda and their leader Osama Bin Laden led the attacks against New York. That disastrous attack left America ill prepared for what was to come. Employees who worked in the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon went to work thinking it was another normal day at the office. However, at 8:46 a.m on the morning of September 11, 2001, it was anything but normal. A hijacked plane, American Airlines flight 11, turned around mid flight and was headed right toward the North Tower. The plane crashed into the 93 through the 99 floors of the North Tower. Just 17 minutes later, another hijacked plane, United Airlines flight 175, was turned around and was headed for the South Tower. Luckily, before the second plane hit, 10,000-14,000 people were already evacuated from both of the towers (Bush). The plane hit the 75 to the 85 floors and trapped hundreds of people on the higher floors. The tower would collapse at 9:59 a.m. A little over 30 minutes later, another plane was headed for the Pentagon. The hijacked plane crashed into the west side of the Pentagon killing 184 people. The final of four planes that were hijacked was headed toward the White House. However the people on United Flight 93 heard about the other three planes and decided to take action. Passengers on the plane stormed the cockpit and fought the hijackers. Instead of hitting its intended target, it crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. 

The effects of 9/11 and Pearl Harbor still linger today. There are survivors like police officers, firefighters, first responders, employees and bystanders who are still affected to this day. Officers and firefighters are still dying today from cancer caused by the smoke and debris from the World Trade Towers collapsing 18 years later. The effects that the attack on Pearl Harbor left behind still stand today. After the USS Arizona was hit and sunk, the fuel leaked and it has continued to seep out into the ocean. The fuel has killed several different species of the ocean life. There are an estimated 500,000 gallons of fuel that is still slowly leaking into the water today. 

Another similarity between 9/11 and Pearl Harbor is the method that the attackers used. Both of the attackers were foreign and, in both cases, planes were used as well. The airplanes that were hijacked on the attack of 9/11 were two Boeing 767’s and two Boeing 757’s. Both of the planes were twin-engine jetliners. A twin-engine Boeing 767 jetliner can hold up to 350 people. The main planes that the Japanese Kamikazes used at Pearl Harbor were the Aichi D3A and the Aichi E13A. Some other planes that were used to destroy five US Battleships were the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and the Boeing P-26 Peashooter and the B52 Bomber. Although most of the similarities come from the attacks and the method of attack, there are presidential comparisons. Both Franklin D. Roosevelt and George W. Bush acted tremendously well. The two presidents addressed the nation about the tragedies with sympathy and compassion. President Roosevelt made his famous speech the day after the attacks with the famous line: “December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy.” He delivered this speech to a Joint Session of the US Congress. In contrast to President Roosevelt’s handling of the event, President Bush’s was at an elementary school in Florida. However, his speech was an impromptu speech at Ground Zero the day of the attack. His speech is remembered because of how he acted like he was not the President of the United States, but just a normal citizen saddened by the attack. President Bush put his arm around a first responder and addressed the people at Ground Zero with a bullhorn. Bush told the American citizens that this day and this attack wouldn’t define the United States of America. 

To commemorate the victims of Pearl Harbor and 9/11, there are memorials to help the families cope better as well as to give the general public a better understanding of the attacks. In downtown Manhattan there is a beautiful 9/11 Memorial dedicated to the workers, bystanders and first responders who risked their lives to save others. Not only does it memorialize the victims of September 11, it also remembers the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, which killed six people. The keepsakes that the memorial showcases are wallets, purses, shoes, posters looking for loved ones, partially destroyed fire trucks and parts of the structure of the World Trade Center. There are multiple levels of the building and there are comprehensive tours throughout the memorial. The memorial is operated by a nonprofit organization. The goal of said organization is to raise money to keep the memorial and museum running. Also in downtown Manhattan, there is another 9/11 memorial. This memorial is called the Ground Zero Memorial and it has built fountains along the base of where the North and South Towers were. All along the border of the memorial, there are all the names engraved in the fountain of the people who were killed that terrible day. Flowers, pictures and American flags are placed in the names of the victims by their families. The memorial that recognizes the fallen soldiers of Pearl Harbor and the events that took place on December 7, 1941 is located in Honolulu, Hawaii. It was erected on May 30, 1962. The memorial was constructed over the sunken USS Arizona with hundreds of soldiers preserved in their watery grave. Even after 57 years of the memorial being built, millions of visitors travel to Honolulu annually to take in the surreal experience that the memorial offers. In the building, there is a stone wall, remembering all of the soldiers who passed away that fateful day. More than 2,400 names are etched into that stone wall to eternalize all of the people who died, not including the 1,178 people who were injured. 

9/11 and Pearl Harbor were undoubtedly two of the deadliest events in US History. Attacks that left the American people in shock for years to come. For the people who were not alive in 1941 for the attack on Pearl Harbor, September 11, 2001 was their Pearl Harbor. Thousands upon thousands of innocent people killed by hijacked planes or a surprise attack on the United States naval base in Hawaii. Two events that defined presidencies and countries resulted in an incomprehensible number of deaths. Although the United States did everything in its power to respond and hunt down the attackers, killing Bin Laden with Seal Team 6 and entering World War II, the families of the victims still feel a large hole in their hearts. Moms, dads, brothers, sisters, friends and countless others who were taken on December 7 and September 11 are replaced by merely pictures and memories. The memorials dedicated to the families and victims have gone a long way of helping the families cope with the tragedy that befell them on either occasion, yet they can never fully replace the people who were lost. Hopefully the United States will never have to endure another catastrophe similar to these two. But the knowledge and experience the United States has gained as a result of these events will leave the country better prepared if there were other events like these to happen. The government and military is trying to keep the American citizens safe. Time will tell if the government can fulfil its duties by “providing for the common defense.” 

Works Cited

  1. Bush, George W. “The Future Security of Our Country.” Vital Speeches of the Day, vol. 68, no. 6, Jan. 2002, p. 162. EBSCOhost,,geo,url,ip&geocustid=s8475741&db=khh&AN=5837885&site=eds-live&scope=site.
  2. Kuhn, Fred. “We Didn’t See It Coming.” Governing, vol. 24, no. 12, Sept. 2011, p. 4. EBSCOhost,,geo,url,ip&geocustid=s8475741&db=rgs&AN=525568577&site=eds-live&scope=site. 
  3. Maranzani, Barbara. “5 Facts About Pearl Harbor and USS Arizona.”, A&E Television Networks, 7 Dec. 2011,
  4. “Pearl Harbor Aircraft (December 7th, 1941).” Military Weapons,

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