After the Day of Infamy: “Man-on-the-Street” Interviews Following the Attack on Pearl Harbor
Historical Analysis and Interpretation: Comparing Differing Views
From earliest times to the present, Americans have brought different views to bear on virtually every topic and issue. Values, personality, philosophy, and experiences are among the factors that influence one's views. Consider the following exchange between a mother (Mrs. Lena Jameson), her daughter (Mrs. Jerry Stillwell), and interviewer John Lomax:
"Mrs. Jerry Stilwell: Mother, you've been living in the neighborhood where there are a good many Japanese people. Do you think that affects your attitude towards them at all? What is your general impression of the Japanese as a race?
Mrs. Lena Jameson: The general impression of the Japanese that I have seen and come in contact with is very different from what my impression would be if I had been in touch with the military division of the Japanese in their native . . . My impression is modified by what I read and hear of those. My impression of the Japanese as I have seen is that they are a law-abiding and desirable citizen, with exceptions.
John Lomax: Mrs. Stilwell, have you anything to add . . .
Mrs. Jerry Stilwell: Well, of course my point of view is very different, but my first reaction was that either the Japanese were a very, very conceited race or that they were very, very desperate. Somehow I just can't believe that a little island like Japan can attack the United States and hope to be successful in the long run."
- What factors may account for the difference of opinion?
- What evidence is presented to support each interviewee's viewpoint?
- How convincing are the arguments that are presented to defend a particular perspective?
Apply the same questions to another disagreement in the recordings, such as that between Will Gilchreist and several other men discussing their perspectives on African Americans' support for the war effort. Would applying this set of questions be a good way of evaluating differing perspectives on issues throughout U.S. history? How might you improve the questions?