On December 7, 1941, Japanese planes attacked the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor External, Hawaii Territory, killing more than 2,300 Americans. The U.S.S. Arizona was completely destroyed and the U.S.S. Oklahoma capsized. A total of twelve ships sank or were beached in the attack and nine additional vessels were damaged. More than 160 aircraft were destroyed and more than 150 others damaged. A hurried dispatch from the ranking United States naval officer in Pearl Harbor, Commander in Chief Pacific, to all major navy commands and fleet units provided the first official word of the attack at the ill-prepared Pearl Harbor base. It said simply: AIR RAID ON PEARL HARBOR X THIS IS NOT DRILL. The following day President Franklin Roosevelt, addressing a joint session of Congress, called December 7 “a date which will live in infamy.” Declaring war against Japan, Congress ushered the United States into World War II and forced a nation, already close to war, to abandon isolationism. Within days, Japan’s allies, Germany and Italy, declared war on the United States, and the country began a rapid transition to a wartime economy in building up armaments in support of military campaigns in the Pacific, North Africa, and Europe. Also on the day following Pearl Harbor, Alan Lomax, head of the Library of Congress Archive of American Folk Song, sent a telegram to colleagues around the U.S. asking them to collect people’s immediate reactions to the bombing. Over the next few days prominent folklorists such as John Lomax, John Henry Faulk, Charles Todd, Robert Sonkin, and Lewis Jones responded by recording “man on the street” interviews in New York, North Carolina, Texas, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere. They interviewed salesmen, electricians, janitors, oilmen, cabdrivers, housewives, students, soldiers, physicians, and others regarding the events of December 7. Among the interviewees was a California woman then visiting her family in Dallas, Texas.
“My first thought was what a great pity that… another nation should be added to those aggressors who strove to limit our freedom. I find myself at the age of eighty, an old woman, hanging on to the tail of the world, trying to keep up. I do not want the driver’s seat. But the eternal verities–there are certain things that I wish to express: one thing that I am very sure of is that hatred is death, but love is light. I want to contribute to the civilization of the world but…when I look at the holocaust that is going on in the world today, I’m almost ready to let go…”The Office of War Information (OWI) capitalized on the fear and outrage associated with the bombings to encourage support of war mobilization. Created In June 1942, some six months after the air raid on Pearl Harbor, the OWI served as a U.S. government propaganda agency generating pictures and copy such as the above photograph of Pearl Harbor widows. Concentrating on subjects like aircraft factories, training for war, women in the workforce, and the armed forces, the OWI documented and celebrated American patriotism in the military and on the home front. The Memory Gallery of American Treasures of the Library of Congress contains this annotated script of a December 7, 1941, NBC news report on the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The script preserves the announcer’s markings for emphasis. The “program analysis” index card outlines all of the network’s news broadcasts of that day, including the break in regularly scheduled programming to announce the tragic news from Pearl Harbor. Other NBC documentation at the Library outlines nearly every program heard over the network during the World War II era. Recordings of more than half of these programs are held by the Motion Picture, Broadcasting & Recorded Sound Division.
Lena Jamison, “What A Great Pity,” December 9, 1941, John Lomax, interviewer. After the Day of Infamy: “Man-on-the-Street” Interviews Following the Attack on Pearl Harbor
- Search across the collections on Pearl Harbor and World War II to find additional items.
- Visit After the Day of Infamy: “Man-on-the-Street” Interviews Following the Attack on Pearl Harbor. The American Folklife Center also documented the thoughts and feelings expressed by average citizens following the events of September 11, 2001: see the September 11, 2001 Documentary Project.
- The Veterans History Project collects and preserves oral histories and other documents related to America’s war veterans. The collection is housed and preserved at the American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress. Visit See and Hear Veterans’ Stories to experience the project’s online content.
- View Women Come to the Front to learn about women journalists during the Second World War. Among these women were Therese Bonney, Toni Frissell, Marvin Breckinridge Patterson, Clare Boothe Luce, Janet Flanner, and Esther Bubley.
- Search on the keyword war in “Now What a Time”: Blues, Gospel, and the Fort Valley Music Festivals, 1938-1943 to hear a variety of songs related to WWII. Hear, for example, “Roosevelt and Hitler” (also titled “Strange Things Are Happining in the Land”) written and sung by Buster Ezell.
- Search Today in History on World War II, or Franklin Roosevelt to read related pages. Read, for example, about Casablanca and the Allied invasion of North Africa.