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Remembering Pearl Harbor: Comparing news headlines from around the world

Find my past author
Findmypast
7 December 2015

How did you ancestors find out about Pearl Harbor?

Without Facebook, Twitter or 24 hour news networks, millions of Americans relied on newspapers for breaking news.


Browse these American headlines we uncovered and imagine the shock your family members experienced upon reading the words for the first time. Comparing the U.S. headlines to others from Britain, Ireland and Australia gives us fascinating insight into how other countries from around the world covered the attacks.

What we have here is just the tip of the iceberg. Our
global newspaper database contains millions of perspectives on countless events throughout history. Newspapers are amazingly valuable resources for understanding the world our ancestors lived in.

United States

The headlines were jarring: Americans awoke to bold font informing them of this shocking turn of events. The context here is important to understanding how unexpected Japan's attack truly was. The country was in the midst of an active peace dialogue with United States officials, and most of the attention and worry was regarding the possibility of European threats. Moreover, people in the United States had seen the clouds of conflict gathering for a long time, but nobody expected the peace to be broken so suddenly, and especially without a prior, formal declaration of war (a major factor of outrage in the U.S. was that Japan did not declare war on the U.S. formally until after attacking).

Findmypast - London office

President Roosevelt wasted no time in declaring war, which was widely reported the following day, Monday December 8th. Great Britain actually declared war on Japan before the U.S. did - Winston Churchill fully intended on honoring his commitment to make his allegiance to the U.S. clear "within the hour", and wasted no time in getting his country to declare war.

From this particular newspaper, you can see there wasn't very much dissent within Congress. All but one representative - Jeannette Rankin, a lifelong pacifist who also voted against entry into World War I - voted to declare war on Japan.

The day after the attack was when the most solid details about the catastrophic loss of life began to make their way into papers.

Findmypast - London office

Only a few days after the attack, we can see that many communities in America quickly scrambled to bolster their preparedness in the face of conflict.

Not surprisingly, rumors of enemy activity and further surprise attacks saw a marked increase, with many wondering if Pearl Harbor was only the beginning of a larger assault on America.

Findmypast - London office

Explore more US newspapers

Great Britain

Although America and Britain were on very friendly terms in 1941, it's important to remember that America and Britain
didn't yet have the special relationship that the two countries share today.

News of the attack didn't reach British papers until December 8th, but these clippings from December 7th are very telling and eerily prescient. As you can see from the article on the left, the public in the U.S. and Britain had no immediate plans for American entry into the war - quite the opposite, in fact.

On the right, there is an indication that conflict with Japan, though not a foregone conclusion, was a highly likely possibility. Undoubtedly, few realized that Japan would be considered a major threat the very next day.

Findmypast - London office

What many Americans don't realize about Pearl Harbor is that it was just one part of a larger series of attacks. The British saw attacks against their own Pacific territories - Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong.

We can see from this newspaper that although the attack on the U.S. was by no means ignored, the main story for the British were attacks on their own territories.

Findmypast - London office

In fact, many of the newspapers had almost exclusive coverage of the British portion of Japan's attack, only mentioning Pearl Harbor as a part of the longer list of Japanese actions.

Findmypast - London office

The Japanese attack on Malaysia was significant - it marked the first conflict of the war in the Pacific theater. The Japanese successfully attempted a beach landing on Malaysia's northeastern coast, though they suffered heavy casualties.

Overall, we can see that the attack was equally shocking to the British, partially due to the fact that they themselves were also attacked along with Pearl Harbor. This really adds perspective into the sheer scale of the global hornet's nest Japan stirred by their December 7/8th attacks.

Findmypast - London office

British newspapers did devote a significant amount of attention, detail and story-telling to Peal Harbor, despite also focusing on attacks against Britain. This in depth coverage highlights that, though it is notably located on page 8 (compared to the front cover headlines, above).

Findmypast - London office

Ireland

Findmypast - London office

Coverage from Ireland skewed to be far more U.S.-centric than the papers in England. This front page shows the details mostly focus on the attack at Pearl Harbor, mentioning Singapore and Malaysia only in passing.