On December 7, 1941, the Japanese Navy attacked the U.S. Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, killing or injuring over 3,500 U.S. personnel. Nineteen U.S. Navy ships and 350 planes were destroyed or damaged.
After the attack, commanders Admiral Kimmel of the Navy and General Short of the Army were relieved of their positions at Pearl Harbor because they were totally unprepared for the surprise attack. In the years since this event, claims have been made that high U.S. government officials encouraged the attack, knew about it in advance, and withheld information from military officials, all with the intent of bringing the U.S. into the war. Some have thought that the leaders believed a hostile attack within the borders of our country was the only way the American people would ever support involving our military in another war.
After receiving an overview of the situation, students working in groups form a hypothesis giving their thoughts about whether or not U.S. government officials knew about the attack on Pearl Harbor before it happened. The students then receive three sets of clues, one set at a time, to help them solve the mystery. They examine messages received from around the world warning the U.S. of Japan’s plans to attack. They evaluate decoded messages sent from Japanese officials to their consul in Honolulu and a report from the Dies Committee on Un-American Activities which stated that a map had surfaced that proved that Japan planned to attack the U.S. They read diary entries written by key U.S. and Japanese officials that shed light on the situation. They review a transcript of an intercepted and decoded radio message from the Commander in Chief of the Japanese Navy that gives directions for the offensive action to begin. They analyze the war warning sent from Washington to the military commanders at Pearl Harbor. They learn of secret meetings between high-level U.S. officials and newspaper reporters. They read the front page of The Honolulu Advertiser where a Japanese military strike is predicted a week before the attack. They examine a bombing and torpedo plot of Pearl Harbor that was recovered by Navy intelligence from a downed Japanese plane after the attack. They learn about late-night and early-morning events that occurred right before the attack. They discover that President Roosevelt shared some very disturbing news with the director of the War Service for the Red Cross before the attack.
During the lesson students use critical thinking skills and collaboration to revise their hypotheses based on new information contained in the clues. In the end each group presents its final explanation of whether or not U.S. government officials knew about the attack on Pearl Harbor before it happened.
This lesson contains instructions detailing the procedure of this mystery lesson, a graphic organizer, three clue sets with a total of 34 clues, possible student answers, and a complete reference list.
These other Mystery from History Lessons are also available at my store:
Link-The Lost Colony of Roanoke
Link-The Sinking of the U.S.S. Maine
Link-The Dark Day of New England
Link-The Kennedy Assassination Conspiracy Theories