9-12 U.S. History

Pearl Harbor

The compelling question for this inquiry calls on students to conduct an inquiry in the tradition of social history, where students are examining the activities of people who are sometimes overlooked in social studies. The question of how people responded to Pearl Harbor is not as simple as it may seem at first. Students will quickly find that the men and women “on the street” were practically unanimous in support of a declaration of war. But other questions linger. How long did people expect the war to take? Why did people think Japan took such a risk in attacking the United States? Who was to blame for what was sure to be a bloody conflict? What was the larger meaning of the war? This lesson focuses on the supporting questions listed at the introductory table, but students may be encouraged to pose their own questions as they approach these fascinating interviews.

See this Featured Inquiry version of this inquiry with just one supporting question.

This inquiry was originally developed in 2014 as part of the Library of Congress TPS “Teaching with Inquiry” project. See more HERE


Compelling Question:

Did the attack on Pearl Harbor unify America?

Staging the Question:

Guide students to understand why this question is important and what historians have argued about the topic.

Supporting Question What did people say about American involvement in the war?

Formative Task Create a list of reactions that the everyday Americans interviewed in the sources had to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Sources Source A: “Man-on-the-Street”, New York, New York, December 8, 1941
Source B: “Dear Mr.
President”, New York, New York, January or February 1942
Source C: “Man-on-the-Street”, Austin, Texas, December 9, 1941


Supporting Question How did Americans reconcile their misgivings about going to war?

Formative Task Make a series of claims describing how people justified American involvement in the war, despite their misgivings including relevant evidence to those claims.

Sources Source A: “Dear Mr. President”, Granbury, Austin, Hood County, and Fletcher County, Texas, January or February 1942
Source B: “Dear Mr. President”, Minneapolis, Minnesota, January or February 1942


Supporting Question What did African- Americans say about US involvement in the war?

Formative Task Make additional claims with relevant evidence that explains the different ways that African Americans thought about the war.

Sources Source A: “Man-on-the-Street”, Nashville, Tennessee, December 1941
Source B: “Dear Mr.
President”, New York, New York, January or February 1942

Summative Performance Task

Argument: “Did the attack on Pearl Harbor unify America?” Construct an argument (e.g., detailed outline, poster, essay) that evaluates the need to study, remember, and/or celebrate this expedition using specific claims and relevant evidence from sources while acknowledging competing views.
Extension: Write a Dear President letter based on the argument developed earlier.

Taking Informed Action

Understand: Identify a current issue where people may have perspectives that are being overlooked right

Assess: Determine the extent to which those people whose perspective is being overlooked might be contacted for an interview.
Act: Interview individuals who were identified in the assess stage and publish these interviews.