After the Day of Infamy: “Man-on-the-Street” Interviews Following the Attack on Pearl Harbor
Sacrifice and Support on the Home Front
Roosevelt in several of his "fireside chats" urged Americans to work to support the war effort. In a recording for "Dear Mr. President" the transfer from consumer to military production is detailed in the case of landlocked Denver, Colorado, where ships for the U.S. Navy were built.
"A few days ago on February the 27th the citizens of Denver, Colorado launched their first ship. Denver's right underneath the Rocky Mountains, twelve hundred and ninety-seven miles from the sea and it has no navigable river. The ship was launched in railway trucks with a bottle of melted snow from Pikes Peak. In the old days, you remember, the pioneers put these words on their wagons 'Pikes Peak or bust.' These railway trucks carrying the parts of Denver's first ship were inscribed 'Pikes Peak to Tokyo or bust.'
Eight plants in Denver have taken on the job of making these parts for one of the navy yards on the West Coast. They make the whole of the ship except the plating of the hull and they pack the parts off by rail through the Rocky Mountains. The plants are all determined to double and triple their output."
Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, familiar with the United States from the years he spent at Harvard University and as Japanese Naval Attaché to the United States in the 1920s, is reported to have predicted that the attack on the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor would "awake a sleeping giant." Do you think conversion from civilian to military construction in Denver proved Yamamoto's prediction to be right? Why or why not?
Men and women from all walks of life recognized the need for personal sacrifice. Although some complained about rising prices and low wages, they seemed committed to doing whatever was necessary to contribute to the war effort. Many of those interviewed spoke of purchasing war bonds and conserving resources; others shared plans to enlist in the armed forces or to take classes in civil defense or first aid. Some, like Raymond B. Daniels of Middlebury, Vermont, expressed pride in their state's tradition of sacrifice:
"Raymond B. Daniels: Mr. President, history proves that Vermonters will go the limit to preserve their freedom and independence. They will make any sacrifice and carry out any orders necessary to bring this war to a successful conclusion."
Some of the stories told by interviewees illustrate that such everyday phenomena as rumors, vanity, and protective parents were still affecting people's lives:
"Leddie Galloway: It's a funny thing, hearsay and word-to-mouth news is something that . . . isn't unusual at all I might say. One day, Mrs. Watson came into the office and told me that she heard that all of the people who were receiving old age assistance were going to be put in the war on the first line. And of course this is the type of thing I have to combat with."
"Willie Clay: I'm coming twenty-one years of age this next month. I've got to register the sixteenth and I'm going to volunteer for this navy because I think their clothes fits more like Levis . . ."
"Robert Heckly: I'm planning my career Mr. Roosevelt, but if I can do anything in between that time I would be glad to. Do not expect me to be in the army because — unless I'm drafted — my mother and father will not permit it, as much as I would like to."
Each of the "Dear Mr. President" segments listed below includes brief statements from a cross-section of people in one U.S. city:
- "Dear Mr. President", Detroit, Michigan, January 13, 1942 (AFS 6415)
- "Dear Mr. President", Nashville, Tennessee, January or February 1942 (AFS 6441)
- "Dear Mr. President", Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, January or February 1942 (AFS 6458)
- "Dear Mr. President", Minneapolis, Minnesota, January or February 1942 (AFS 6416)
Make a data retrieval chart to record information about these interviews; you may want to include personal data on the person (gender, race or ethnic group, occupation, if specified), ways in which the person is contributing to the war effort, and sacrifices or problems described by the person. When you have finished collecting the data, analyze the information to look for trends. For example, you might look for answers to such questions as:
- What was the most common way of contributing to the early war effort?
- Did women and men contribute in the same ways? Did working class people, students, and managers contribute in the same ways? Did black and white Americans contribute in the same ways?
- What were the most common sacrifices or problems mentioned? Were the problems common across all categories of people?
- What generalizations about willingness to contribute to the early war effort can you draw based on the data in your retrieval chart?