Historical Accuracy of Michael Bay’s Pearl Barbor

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Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941 is a day that, for many Americans, will live in infamy. This is the day that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, a U. S. Naval Base in Hawaii, and this event was the main cause for the United States to become involved in World War II. In 2001 the film Pearl Harbor was released. This film depicts the events leading up to, during, and immediately following the attack. Behind the love story in this film, the historical events that this movie portrays are, for the most part, historically accurate.

This essay will first give an overview of the film, then examine the film’s accuracy of the events that took place that day. The movie features two friends, Rafe McCauley (played by Ben Affleck) and Danny Walker (played by Josh Hartnett) who grew up together and decided to join the Army together. Eagle Squadron asked Rafe to volunteer and was sent to fight against the Germans in England. The Eagle Squadrons were composed of 244 American men in squadrons 71, 121, and 133 of the Royal Air Force (Caine pg. xi).

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Meanwhile, Danny, along with Rafe’s girlfriend, Evelyn (who was an Army Nurse), is sent to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, where there was very little threat at the time. Back in England in the RAF, Rafe’s plane was shot down and on the other side of world in Hawaii, Danny and Evelyn heard news that he was Killed In Action. Later im the film, we learn that Rafe was able to escape the cockpit of the plane after it the shooting and he was picked up by a French fishing boat. Upon his return to the United States, Rafe rejoined is squadron in Pearl Harbor. The day after Rafe’s return is the day the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor.

On that fateful Sunday morning, many planes flying overheard wake Rafe and Danny, but they assume that it is just the navy performing exercises. The Japanese attack catches the fleet of U. S. ships completely unaware. The reason the fleet was not prepared for the attack was that the Japanese planes were mistaken for B-17’s on the radar. This film does a great job of portraying the actual events of the attack. Throughout the day, the battleships were either destroyed or they sank to the bottom of the harbor. The first bomb shown in the film dropped from a plane. nd proceeded to travel underwater towards a battleship. This is accurate because the Japanese systematically designed their weapons for the shallow depth of the harbor. They would drop from the plane and travel horizontally underwater toward their target. In the film, two men painting the side of the ship watch was the bomb explodes upon impact with the vessel. Next, a bomb hit the U. S. S Arizona’s ammunition magazine, resulting in the ship completely splitting in half and sinking to the ocean bottom. This film also depicts the heroic efforts of an African-American cook on the U.

S. S. West Virginia. Petty Officer Dorris “Dorrie” Miller (played by Cuba Gooding Jr. ) used an anti-aircraft weapon to shoot down an enemy plane. Although Miller did exist, the rendering of his story as it in Pearl Harbor is not very accurate. He was aboard the U. S. S. West Virginia, but it is unknown as to whether he actually fired the anti-aircraft weapon or not. According to his biography, his anti-aircraft weapon was broken, so he instead helped the wounded and then felt compelled to fire the . 50 caliber machine gun to shoot down enemy planes.

He eventually abandoned the ship and went MIA in the Pacific in 1943. Although there is controversy over what really happened that day for Petty Officer Dorris Miller, he was the first African-American to receive the Navy Cross. Although Pearl Harbor contains scenes that may not be exactly accurate, many of them did do an effective job of showing the devastation that occurred that day. For example, the movie shows how the Japanese attacked not only the battleships, but also the land in an attempt to destroy the American airplanes, airstrips and other important areas.

There are also hospital scenes that show how devastating and gruesome many of the injuries were and how stressful it was for the nurses and doctors working in these hospitals. Because of the high volume of injured people, the nurses had to choose which soldiers could be saved and which ones could not. While all of this action was taking place, Danny and Rafe managed to get into two airplanes and start shooting down Japanese planes left and right. Their heroic actions got them each a promotion to Captain, and they transferred to Colonel Doolittle’s section for a top-secret mission.

The plan was to sail an aircraft carrier a couple hundred miles off the coast of Japan, take off from there, bomb Japan, and land in China. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough fuel to make it to China and they missed their landing spot. The Imperial Chinese Army attacked the group and the movie ends with Danny dying in Rafe’s arms. It was important that the filmmakers included what is known as “Doolittle’s Raid” because it is not as well known as the actual events of December 7, 1941 and it caused awareness of the brave men who stood up and defended our country after that Japanese destroyed Pearl Harbor that fateful day.

Overall, the accuracy of this movie is mostly right on point, aside from a few small things here and there. For every war movie made there will always be differences in the way people view it. Geoffrey M. White of the The Public Historian stated that, “even as it publicists ultimately sidestepped questions of its’ historicity, it powerfully re-inscribed the elements of the dominant Pearl Harbor story that has formed an American understanding of the attack from 1941 to the present – a story that has been re-told with surprising consistency through time”.

In order to make sure the movie was historically accurate the filmmakers sought approval from veterans of World War II who experienced Pearl Harbor. Director Michael Bay stated that main goals of the film were “authenticating approval from veterans” and “assuring historical accuracy”. Originally, the Disney film was going to be a documentary, but after showing the script to veterans, survivors, World War II historians, and the park historian at the USS Arizona Memorial, its’ readers found many historical inaccuracies.

This may be due to the fact that many scholars on the subject have differing viewpoints on whether the U. S. Government was aware of the attacks ahead of time or not. Common knowledge among U. S. Citizens is that the attacks were a complete surprise to everyone, but according to Robert Stinnet, a veteran of the Pacific War and author of Day of Deciet: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor, FDR knew that an isolationist America would not approve of joining the war. American citizens did not want to end their sons to war again unless there was good reason for it and therefore FDR decided to provoke Japan to attack the United States (Stinnet pg. xiii). This is only one person’s viewpoint on the subject. Many other scholars believe that we were truly unaware of the attacks. Because of these historical inaccuracies and contradicting viewpoints, the producers changed the film from a “documentary” to a “love story” with the main goal of capturing the emotional appeals of the Pearl Harbor attacks. This still didn’t change the fact that the filmmakers wanted to make a historically accurate movie.

They still sought the opinions of veterans by interviewing them and showing them special screenings of the movie. The filmmakers were hoping for the veterans to leave the screening saying “wow, they got it right…that’s what it really looked like” (White). The opinion of these veterans was extremely important to the filmmakers. The leading actor of the movie, Ben Affleck, stated that, “More than anybody, Jerry [Bruckheimer} understood what was owed to the people who actually experienced Pearl Harbor. I think he really cared that this be done in the right way and not be a fast-food movie”.

Aside from minute details here and there, the producers of Pearl Harbor got it right and the film successfully portrays the events of this disaster. Work Cited Caine, Phillip D. Eagles of the RAF. DIANE, 1994. Pearl Harbor. Dir. Michael Bay. Prod. Jerry Bruckheimer. Perf. Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsdale, Alec Baldwin. DVD. Touchstone Pictures, 2001. Stinnett, Robert B. Day of deceit the truth about FDR and Pearl Harbor. New York, NY: Touchstone, 2001. White, Geoffrey M. “Disney’s “Pearl Harbor”: National Memory at the Movies. ” The Public Historian 24 (2002): 97-115.

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Historical Accuracy of Michael Bay’s Pearl Barbor. (2018, Jun 14). Retrieved from


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