Looking back: 75 years since Pearl Harbor

December 06, 2016, 6:25 PM GMT+0

Most Americans don't hold Pearl Harbor against Japan, but most also feel more should be done to educate the young about the war

This week marks the 75th anniversary of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, the event that brought the United States into World War II. But it is an event that most Americans have put behind them, as demonstrated in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll.

Most Americans today say they don’t hold the attack on Pearl Harbor against Japan, an even larger percentage than said that in a CBS News/New York Times Poll conducted 25 years ago, before the 50th anniversary of the December 7, 1941 attack. Today, even most of the oldest respondents, those who might have memories of the attack and its aftermath, say they no longer harbor animosity towards Japan because of it.

That doesn’t meant the war shouldn’t be discussed. In this poll, just over a third say they believe the war is a closed chapter and should not be talked about. But nearly two-thirds disagree. The feeling that it should be discussed and taught to younger people is held most strongly by those 65 and over. Those under the age of 30, who may have less information about the war, are less sure it needs to be talked about.

Today, the war with Japan is, as it has been for years, behind us. Today Japan is seen as a friendly country. Only 4% view it as an enemy of the United States. By more than three to one, Americans say Japan is an ally the United States can depend on. And by almost eight to one, Americans say their own personal feelings towards Japan are friendly ones. And, by 64% to 13%, the public would continue the treaty which allows American military bases in Japan in return for a U.S. promise to defend Japan from attack.

Still, for some (though not many) the Pearl Harbor attack and the War is the first thing that comes to mind when they are asked for words to describe Japan. And that is even more likely for those 65 and older. About one in five senior citizens look back to the War and Pearl Harbor when asked to think about Japan. But among all adults, that is the reaction of fewer than one in ten.

There is also an age difference when the public is asked to assess the morality of the end act of the war against Japan – dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Americans under the age of 45 say that act was morally wrong. Those between 45 and 64 are evenly divided, while those 65 and older as nearly twice as likely to disagree as to agree with that statement.

There are also party differences on this question: by three to one, Republicans do not think using atomic weapo9ns against Japan was morally wrong; by more than two to one, Democrats disagree.

There is no political or age disagreement on whether Japan today has become a world power, one with global responsibilities. But those responsibilities don’t extend to possessing nuclear weapons.

Back in March, Donald Trump suggested that it might be better if Japan had nuclear weapons, a statement he later denied making. For Americans, even those who voted for the President-elect, there is little support for Japan becoming a member of the nuclear club. By wide margins, the public believes Japan should not have nuclear weapons.

See the rest of this week's YouGov/Economist Poll

YouGov/Economist Poll archives