In your opinion which event do you think surprised the USA population more; Pearl Harbor or 9/11?

I realize that a vast portion of the USA population is to young to have experienced the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor. However non the less it plunged the USA into the biggest and most destructive war this world has ever seen.

September 11, 2001 showed a US population that we are not immune to terrorist attacks from groups outside our borders.

Prior to both attacks the USA government had notice that both attacks were plausible and highly probable to occur. Yet the Navy and Army Air corps lines up the naval ships and aircraft in formations that allowed attacks to be highly effective and destructive. Prior to 9/11 the FAA failed to implement safeguards against letting weapons on board planes.

So in your opinion which event do you think actually caught the US by surprise the most. In my opinion I do not think the government conspired to plan either attack. I have seen the evidence that people have provided in both cases and think it is hog wash.


To add some detail to the question. I am 29 years old and obviously not alive for the Pearl Harbor attacks, however I have studied the attacks because I love the history of WWII so it is easier to for me to compare these events.

7 Answers

  • Elana
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    Interesting question.

    I believe that the generation that had experience Pearl Harbor was nowhere near as surprised about 9/11 as the rest of us.

    Life is fragile etc. etc. If you've been through the depression and seen German subs out your bedroom window, the fact that we lost about 4000 lives, 2 buildings, 3 airplanes and part of the Pentagon just isn't that surprising. Mortifying, perhaps, but not surprising.

    Life is fragile.

    On the other hand, for those of us (such as myself) who didn't have that perspective and have lived relatively peaceful lives, nothing in our memory can compare.

    As for the above answerer, the vast majority of the US public believed that the US was insulated from the European war. "Why should we worry? Their problem..."

    I suspect had we not be so insulated, the response immediately after Pearl would have actually be less anger, less "where do I sign up" and more debate. There was *NO* debate after 12/07 - anyone who said we shouldn't join the war probably would have been shot!

    As for 9/11 being non-predictable, there were books written about just such scenarios. People chose to not believe. To not credit. To look away.

    Just as they had prior to Pearl.

    Its called "willfull ignorance" - the desire to not know. We have a concept in this country that it is possible to be "safe" - and it isn't. It never has been, and it never will be. Your risk is all relative.

    Sure, you are less likely to be by an asteroid in the next hour than you are to have a car accident during your entire life, but the risk is not zero.

    Perhaps if you ignored those who had survived Pearl Harbor who also lived through 9/11, you might say that the 9/11ers would be more surprised - but how do you compare how two different sets of people feel about two different events?

    The one gage I can think of would be actions. A larger portion of the population signed up for military service after Pearl than after 9/11. But is that a fair comparison? Being a soldier then was a far more likely to be taken as heroic than it was prior to 2001. We had survivors from the Great War (WW1) still around and their sons looked up to them.

    The World Wars were "glorious". People could brag that they were there...

    The more recent wars don't have same cachet - even though the ACTUAL heroism is certainly equivalent.

  • Rubym
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago

    Probably the biggest surprise about Pearl Harbor was it was the Japanese in the Pacific. From what I understand, most had not even heard of Pearl Harbor until the attack. Many people were paying attention to Germany, mostly because of our efforts to help Britain during the Blitz, etc. Japan, although it had been taking over parts of China and other parts of Asia and the Pacific for some time, was not noticed so much by many Americans.

    9/11 on the other hand, while there had been terrorist attacks involving Americans, the Pan AM bombing over Scotland in 1988, the Beirut Marine Barracks bombing in 1983, other attacks that killed Americans and the home-grown Oklahoma City bombing, and the first bombing of the World Trade Center by truck bomb in 1993, most bombings had not been on US soil.

    Americans felt a little 'immune' to international terrorism, especially on the scale of 9/11. And while there had been ongoing trouble in the mideast as long as anybody could remember, there was not a real war going on in Sept. 2001, as there was in December, 1941.

    I'd say 9/11 was probably the bigger shock, but since I was only alive for it, I don't know for sure.

  • Frosty
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago

    No doubt that Pearl Harbor was a surprise, but I think that 9/11 was more surprising since it came out of the blue. At least with Pearl Harbor there was a war already going on at the time.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    9/11 for sure. During Pearl harbor, there was already a huge war going on. Even though the united states was not part of the war at that point, it wasn't a big surprise that they were dragged into it. There was nothing that could have predicted 9/11. That was a total surprise. I remember the shock over it even though i was in 2nd grade then. It was insane and terrifying.

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  • 1 decade ago

    I think 9/11 was the worst shock, because there ws no way the US was prepared for it. Pearl Harbor happened during WWII and the japanese were mad at the US because they forced them out of China and also isolating them economically.

    9/11 was a shock to the whole world. And tottally unexpected. Back in 1941 it was not exacly a secret that Japan was pissed off at the US.

  • 1 decade ago

    9/11 was a complete surprise. Pearl Harbor is different. The US was effectively already at war. Tactically it caught the military by surprise but it was not the same bolt-from-the-blue that 9/11 was.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    well all I know, 9-11 was a complete surprise to the average American. We were all so preoccupied with our modern day selfishness to understand the threat.

    I suppose you could say something of the same effect during Pearl Harbor.

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