Historical Inaccuracies In The Film Pearl Harbour

The film Pearl Harbour directed by Michael Bay is a heavily fictionalised version of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941. The American romantic war and drama film focuses on a love story set amidst the lead up to the attack, its aftermath and the Doolittle raid. Despite its success, it was heavily criticised for its factual and historical errors.

Pearl Harbour is a U.S naval base near Hawaii, that was the destination of a surprise aerial bombardment by the Japanese forces. Just before 8 a.m. on that Sunday morning, hundreds of Japanese fighter planes descended on the base, where they managed to destroy or damage many naval vessels, including eight battleships, and over 300 airplanes. More than 2500 Americans died in the attack, including civilians, and another 1000 wounded. The reaction to the sheer devastation caused was immediate. This tragedy lead to President Franklin declaring war on Japan. Hitler supported the Japanese attack, and on the 11 December 1941, declared war on the U.S. The U.S retaliated immediately and returned the declaration.

In one scene, Doolittle raiders fly off towards Tokyo, and Hawaiian soldiers were eavesdropping on their conversation. For starters, a sneak attack would always observe radio silence, meaning there was likely nothing to hear in the first place. In addition, the planes would have used radios intended only for interplane communication - they were short-range units, meaning a state halfway across the world would never be able to communicate with those raiding soldiers in Japan. Due to the technology at the time, long-distance voice communication wasn’t possible meaning that long-range communication routinely used Morse code.

Typically, in times of war, ships were painted grey in order to keep camouflaged at sea. However, in the film, the enormous British navy ship appears in all her coloured glory, decorated in red, black, and white, when really the Queen Mary was grey at the time. During the war, the Queen Mary transported soldiers on long sea voyages. The grey colour of the boat kept it hidden at sea and when American soldiers took the vessel across the Atlantic to Europe, they nicknamed it the 'Grey Ghost.'

The early 1940s was a still in the Jim crow period meaning that the blacks were segregated from the whites. In the film, the ships cook became a hero and fired a machine gun at Japanese planes. The untrained cook managed to shoot a number of Japanese fighters out of the sky. While this is historically accurate, at hospital he was being treated by a white woman. At the time the US military had segregated hospitals, and even if he was at a white hospital a chaperone would have attended a white woman who was alone with a Black man.

Considering that these are only a few of the historical inaccuracies in the film, Pearl Harbour can barely be considered accurate. The movie was very interesting, and it gave us an insight into the devastating event, but many aspects of the film were not historically correct in order to enhance the quality of the film.    

16 December 2021
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