5 documentaries to watch for Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

The USS Arizona Memorial is seen during a ceremony to mark the 82nd anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023.
The USS Arizona Memorial is seen during a ceremony to mark the 82nd anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. | Mengshin Lin, Associated Press

Dec. 7, 1941, became “a date which will live in infamy” when naval and air forces from the Japanese military attacked a United States naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The surprise attack led the United States to declare war on Japan the following day, officially entering the conflict now known as World War II.

In remembrance of that day and those who lost their lives, here’s a quick background on the attack and a list of documentaries to help you learn more about it.


What is Pearl Harbor Day and why is it important?

Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day is observed every year on Dec. 7 to commemorate the attack on Pearl Harbor, a U.S. military base on Oahu, Hawaii.

Prior to the attack, the United States had managed to avoid entering the conflict raging between the Axis and Allied powers. However, tensions had been rising between Japan and the United States for years. According to the History Channel, Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto expected that attacking Pearl Harbor would destroy the U.S.’s Pacific fleet and pave the way for the Japanese military’s control of the Pacific.

According to the United States Census, 353 Japanese aircraft attacked the base at 7:55 a.m., destroying or damaging 19 U.S. Navy ships. In the attack, 1,178 Americans were wounded and 2,403 were killed.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered a speech to Congress the next day, in which he declared Dec. 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy” and asked Congress for a declaration of war against Japan, which he received. This marked the beginning of the United States’ involvement in World War II, which shifted the course of the war.

Top 5 Pearl Harbor documentaries streaming now

1. ‘Attack on Pearl Harbor: Minute by Minute’

Streaming on Netflix.

This three-part series from National Geographic uses archival footage and interviews with Pearl Harbor survivors to tell the story not only of the attack itself but also of the events leading up to it. It features the first interview ever recorded with Masamitsu Yoshioka, one of the last living Japanese survivors of the attack.

2. ‘Remember Pearl Harbor’

Streaming on Amazon.

Narrated by Tom Selleck, this documentary tells the story of Pearl Harbor through interviews with the people who actually lived through it. Sixty veterans and citizens share their stories of witnessing the attack firsthand.

3. ‘America’s Hidden Stories,’ Season 1, Episode 4: ‘Pearl Harbor Spies’

Streaming on Paramount+ and the Smithsonian Channel.

This 51-minute episode uncovers declassified documents from U.S. Naval intelligence and the FBI, which reveal Japanese and German spies had been studying Pearl Harbor long before the attack.

4. ‘Pearl Harbor: 75 Years Later’

Streaming on the History Channel.

This documentary was released in 2016 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor and provides an overview of the attack and its effect on American history.

5. ‘The Lost Tapes,’ Season 1, Episode 1: ‘Pearl Harbor

Streaming on Paramount+ and the Smithsonian Channel.

“The Lost Tapes” tells the stories of major events from world history without any interviews or narration. It uses only archival footage and other primary media sources, including the only known live report of the bombing, from NBC, to convey the facts of the attack.