New College of the Humanities

Pearl Harbor Revisited

Dan van der Vat discusses Jerry Bruckheimer's 2001 film Pearl Harbor and the lessons the US has learned from the attack.

Jerry Bruckheimer’s film Pearl Harbor was released in 2001. As Hollywood celebrates in its own inimitable way the impending anniversary of the Japanese attack, what lessons have Americans chosen to learn from the history of December 7th, 1941, before Disney rewrote it – and are they are the right ones?

By all accounts the film, blessed with a budget of Titanic proportions, gives Americans a taste of the blithe distortions perpetrated on British history in that epic, as well as in The Patriot, Braveheart and in that other mockery of Second World War naval history, U-571. There is every sign that the Americans, especially veterans, like it no more than Britons do.

In my researching my book Pearl Harbor – The Day of Infamy I was struck once again, ten years after I wrote The Pacific Campaign for the fiftieth anniversary, by how deeply the disaster had penetrated the American psyche despite the overwhelming US victory in 1945, and how powerful it remains as a folk-memory, with demonstrable influence on the foreign and defence policy of past and present Washington administrations. 

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