1941: Attack on Pearl Harbor Ends American Effort to Avoid War
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THE MAKING OF A NATION – a program in Special English by the Voice of America.
History usually is a process of slow change. Customs and traditions flow slowly from day to day. However, certain single events also can change the course of history. Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo was such an event. So was the first airplane flight by the American inventors, the Wright Brothers. Or the meeting between the Spanish explorer Cortez and the Aztec king, Montezuma.
All these events were single moments that changed history. And so it was, too, with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December seventh, 1941.
The surprise attack on America's large naval base in Hawaii was a great military success for the government in Tokyo. However, the attack on Pearl Harbor had more than a military meaning. It also represented the passing of a period in American history.
The attack would force Americans to fight in World War Two. More important, it would make them recognize their position as one of the leading and powerful nations of the world.
In future weeks, we will discuss the military and political events of World War Two. But let us take a moment today to look back at the years before the battle.
We already have seen how the attack ended the historic American tradition of avoiding world conflict. However, Pearl Harbor also marked the end of a shorter period in the nation's history. This period began with the end of World War One and ended with Pearl Harbor. It lasted only twenty-three years, from 1918 to 1941. But it was filled with important changes in American politics, culture, and traditions.
Let us start our review of these years with politics.
In 1920, the voters of the United States elected Republican Warren Harding to the presidency. The voters were tired of the progressive policies of Democratic President Woodrow Wilson. They were especially tired of Wilson's desire for the United States to play an active part in the new League of Nations.
Harding was a conservative Republican. And so were the two presidents who followed him, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover.
All three of these presidents generally followed conservative economic policies. And they did not take an active part in world affairs.
Americans turned away from Republican rule in the election of 1932. They elected the Democratic presidential candidate, Franklin Roosevelt. And they continued to re-elect him. In this way, the conservative Republican policies of the 1920s changed to the more progressive policies of Democrat Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s.
This change happened mainly because of economic troubles.
The 1920s were a time of growth and business strength. President Calvin Coolidge said during his term that the business of America was business. This generally was the same belief of the other Republican presidents during the period, Warren Harding and Herbert Hoover.
There was a good reason for this. The economy expanded greatly during the 1920s. Many Americans made a great deal of money on the stock market. And wages for workers increased as well.
However, economic growth ended suddenly with the stock market crash of October, 1929.
In that month, the stocks for many leading companies fell sharply. And they continued to fall in the months that followed. Many Americans lost great amounts of money. And the public at large lost faith in the economy. Soon, the economy was in ruins, and businesses were closing their doors.
President Hoover tried to solve the crisis. But he was not willing to take the strong actions that were needed to end it. As time passed, many Americans began to blame Hoover for the terrible economic depression.
Democrat Franklin Roosevelt was elected mainly because he promised to try new solutions to end the Great Depression. Soon after he was elected, Roosevelt launched a number of imaginative economic policies to solve the crisis.
Roosevelt's policies helped to reduce the amount of human suffering. But the Great Depression finally ended only with America's entry into World War Two.
Roosevelt's victory in 1932 also helped change the balance of power in American politics. Roosevelt brought new kinds of Americans to positions of power: labor union leaders. Roman Catholics. Jews. Blacks. Americans from families that had come from such nations as Italy, Ireland, or Russia.
These Americans repaid Roosevelt by giving the Democratic Party their votes.
The 1920s and thirties also brought basic changes in how Americans dealt with many of their social and economic problems.
The 1920s generally were a period of economic growth with little government intervention in the day-to-day lives of the people. But the terrible conditions of the Great Depression during the 1930s forced Roosevelt and the federal government to experiment with new policies.
The government began to take an active role in offering relief to the poor. It started programs to give food and money to poor people. And it created jobs for workers.
The government grew in other ways. It created major programs for farmers. It set regulations for the stock market. It built dams, roads, and airports.
American government looked much different at the end of this period between the world wars than it did at the beginning. Government had become larger and more important. It dealt with many more issues in people's lives than it ever had before.
Social protest increased during the 1920s and thirties. Some black Americans began to speak out more actively about unfair laws and customs. Blacks in great numbers moved from the southern part of the country to northern and central cities.
The 1920s and thirties also were an exciting time of change for women. Women began to wear less traditional kinds of clothes. Washing machines and other inventions allowed them to spend less time doing housework. Women could smoke or drink in public, at least in large cities. And many women held jobs.
Of course, the women's movement was not new. Long years of work by such women's leaders as Elizabeth Stanton and Susan Anthony had helped women win the right to vote in 1920.
The 1920s and thirties also were important periods in the arts.
Writers such as Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Eugene O'Neill, and others made this what many called the "Golden Age" of American writing. Frank Lloyd Wright and other architects designed great buildings. Film actors like Clark Gable, and radio entertainers like Jack Benny, did more than make Americans laugh or cry. They also helped unite the country. Millions of Americans could watch or listen to the same show at the same time.
Politics. The economy. Social traditions. Art. All these changed for Americans during the 1920s and thirties. And many of these changes also had effects in foreign countries beyond America's borders.
However, the change that had the most meaning for the rest of the world was the change produced by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
America's modern history as a great superpower begins with its reaction to the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was a sudden event in the flow of history. It was a day on which a young land suddenly became fully grown.
You have been listening to THE MAKING OF A NATION, a program in Special English by the Voice of America. Your narrators were Harry Monroe and Jack Weitzel. Our program was written by David Jarmul. The Voice of America invites you to listen again next week to THE MAKING OF A NATION.