Pearl Harbor Rumors Which Will Live in Infamy

Fact checks related to the Dec. 7, 1941, bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, the event that launched the United States into World War II.

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Pearl Harbor
Image via Everett Historical / Shutterstock.com

On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese launched a surprise air attack on the United States naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, killing more than 2,400 Americans, sinking or damaging more than a dozen warships, and destroying more than 180 aircraft. The next day, in a speech memorializing the incident as “a date which will live in infamy,” U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress for a formal declaration of war. Japan’s allies, Germany and Italy, responded days later by declaring war on the United States. It was America’s official entry into World War II.

The scope and severity of the event and its consequences made it a ripe target for rumors, then and now. We’ve gathered together all of our fact checks on Pearl Harbor in hopes of shedding light on a few of the many misconceptions surrounding it. 

Did internet users find proof that Pearl Harbor was an “inside job”?

Long before the phrase “false flag” became a household word (largely thanks to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on U.S. soil and the “9/11 Truth” movement they inspired), there were rumors that the United States government knew in advance that the Pearl Harbor attack would occur and allowed it to happen for strategic reasons. Here, we report that an argument advanced via social media to “prove” that thesis (which is still under debate three-quarters of a century after the fact) was nothing more than a gag. Read more… 

Did three men die after being trapped for 16 days in a sunken Pearl Harbor battleship? 

In the chaotic aftermath of the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, three U.S. sailors would find themselves entombed alive in the hull of the naval vessel settled in the muddy seafloor of the harbor 40 feet below the surface. A rescue crew could hear tapping noises coming from the ship’s forward hull but were not able to reach the men in time to save their lives. Read more… 

Did Joe Biden misremember who attacked Pearl Harbor?

“I am an optimist because the American people — given half a chance — have never, ever, ever, ever let their country down,” then-Vice President Joe Biden supposedly said in 2012. “Even after the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor.” Here’s what we found when we looked for evidence that he actually uttered this embarrassing faux pas. Read more…

Were previously unseen Pearl Harbor photographs found in an old camera?

Beginning in 2006, we were flooded with inquiries about a set of vintage photographs circulating with the claim that they were recovered from an Kodak Brownie portable camera that had been stored in a footlocker since 1941. It was easy to establish that they were indeed taken by eyewitnesses to the Pearl Harbor attack, mainly because we’d seen each and every one of them before. Read more… 

Is a vintage Pearl Harbor color photograph real?

Color photographs of the Pearl Harbor attack do exist, as well as many colorized versions of black-and-white photos taken on that day. One image in particular touted as an “amazing” color photograph of a bombed warship sinking in flames aroused our suspicions, however. It turned out to be of much more recent vintage than all the others. Read more… 

Did “The Green Hornet” radio show change Kato’s nationality after Pearl Harbor?

“The Green Hornet” was a very popular American radio drama in the 1930s and ’40s (later to become a popular television series) about a masked crime-fighter accompanied on his adventures by a Japanese valet named Kato. Longstanding legend has it that the show’s writers abruptly changed Kato’s nationality amidst an anti-Japanese backlash in the United States after Pearl Harbor. The deeper we looked into what really transpired, the more complex and interesting the story became. Read more… 

Did ads for a mysterious game called “The Deadly Double” contain coded warnings in advance of Pearl Harbor?

Two weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor, mysterious magazine ads appeared for a never-before-seen board game called “The Deadly Double.” The ads featured an illustration depicting a pair of dice, one showing the number 12, the other showing the number 7. It has been conjectured ever since that the advertisements may have been an advance warning — to whom, no one could figure out — that an attack on the United States would occur on 7 December. Although our investigation turned up no evidence to support the conspiracy theory, the facts we uncovered were fascinating nonetheless. Read more…

Did a woman survive the Titanic, Hindenburg, Pearl Harbor, and 9/11? 

“Anna Mae Dickinson is quite possibly the luckiest woman ever,” begins a popular anecdote circulating on the internet. “She survived the sinking of both the Titanic and Lusitania, the Hindenburg explosion, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and, when she was 97, the destruction of her apartment during the 9/11 terror attack.” You know what they say when something sounds too good to be true. Read on…

Recent Updates
  1. Update [Dec. 7, 2021]: New fact checks added to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack.
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