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After the Day of Infamy

By Brian Flannory

On the morning of December 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked a naval base at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii.

On December 8, 1941, fieldworkers in 10 different U.S. localities received a telegram from Alan Lomax, the “assistant in charge” of the Archive of American Folk Song, requesting they gather American citizens’ reactions to the Pearl Harbor bombing and President Roosevelt’s declaration of war. The result was around 12 hours of opinions on the United States’ entry into World War II from more than two hundred people in American towns and cities.

The recordings are part of the Library of Congress’ Radio Research Project. They aimed to capture opinions from the American people of different walks of life. At the time, the staff believed that radio programs didn’t sufficiently reflect the regional culture, local talent, and voices of everyday Americans. They aimed to rectify this with the Radio Research Project.

On December 8, Alan Lomax and Philip H. Cohen walked around Washington, D.C., interviewing individuals of various occupations and conditions, from barkers to bank employees and draftees to veterans. Next, on December 9th, John Henry Faulk conducted one-on-one interviews with the people of Austin, Texas. Other interview locations included New York City, Bloomington, Nashville, and Dallas.

Some agreed with the decision to fight Japan and were confident in the United States’ fighting ability. “No doubt about it,” one draftee said after being asked whether the U.S. had a chance of winning against Japan. “Ain’t nobody else any stronger,” another draftee chimed in. “I think it was an outrage,” said J.C. Brodie about the attack on Pearl Harbor. “We’re the strongest nation on earth. We’ve got more resources than any nation on earth. And we’re the out fighting-ist people on earth. And don’t mind doing it when the time comes.”

Others felt the conflict was bound to happen but believed in defending America. “Well, it’s nothing more than what to be expected. In other words, it’s inevitable. And I think they have, that they have made themselves liable for us to be thrown into war,” said Mrs. J.E. Whittaker regarding Pearl Harbor and Japan. “And I’m glad to say that I have one son in the army and that he’s patriotic enough, and I have that Christian spirit in me to give our son for the cause, and I’m glad I did it, that my husband and I have done it.”

Another topic discussed was whether the U.S. should support other countries in the battle. After World War I, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson founded the League of Nations, an intergovernmental organization dedicated to maintaining world peace. “Well, I believe that we should work in concert with the other democratic nations of the world,” said sophomore student Mike Fox. “Long I have felt that the difficulty of the United States has been that we, after framing the idea of the League of Nations, dropped out of it. Since the war broke out in 1939, I have felt that we should give England and later Russia every assistance short of war. Now, my feelings are exactly the same now that we’re in it.”

Overall, everyone interviewed had their perspectives on the Pearl Harbor attack and entering World War II. Their thoughts are both representative and reflective of the era. The recordings make for a fascinating insight into life during World War II.

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