Pearl Harbor: The Nation’s Immediate Response

“Yesterday, December 7th, 1941…a date that will live in infamy.” So began President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a speech to Congress the day after Japan bombed the military base at Pearl Harbor. In this speech he asked for a declaration of war which was approved almost unanimously by both houses of Congress.

After the speech, Alan Lomax and the staff from the Radio Research Project, a program sponsored by the Library of Congress to collect the stories of Americans  from many walks of life, spread out around the United States to record comments about the Pearl Harbor bombing and the United States’ entry into World War II. While most of the comments were reactions to the attack and how the United States should respond, some of those interviewed also discussed issues such as racism, high prices and labor strikes. Lomax and the Radio Research Project staff collected a second set of interviews in early 1942 and learned more about the attitudes and thoughts of those interviewed, including their fears of Japan or Germany bombing U.S .cities, concerns about those being sent to fight and the low morale of the American people. These recordings are available online in the American Memory collection, After the Day of Infamy: “Man-on-the-Street” Interviews Following the Attack on Pearl Harbor.

These recordings provide a snapshot of American society at the start of World War II and can help students understand the experiences of those living at that time. They remind students that history is created by people like them, not just by the leaders of a country.

The language in some recordings may be offensive to most listeners, and you may wish to review the recordings prior to using them in class.

Here are some ideas on how to incorporate the interviews into classroom activities.

Have students record their own “Dear Mr. President” recordings discussing topics of interest to them or highlighting issues of interest.

Students can pretend they are staff members of President Roosevelt given the assignment to review the “Dear Mr. President” recordings and then to respond to one or more of the interviewees.

Have students listen to some of the Veterans History Project interviews with military staff stationed at Pearl Harbor  at the time of the attack. Compare their feelings about becoming involved in World War II with those interviewed by Lomax and the Radio Research Project staff.

How do students react when they listen to the stories of people who lived during important events in history?


  1. Annie B
    November 17, 2011 at 7:18 pm

    One of my fondest memories was interviewing my mother when I was a junior in high school about her memories of where she was and what she felt when she heard the news about the bombing of the US Naval base at Pearl Harbor. She remembered it so clearly and could even tell me where in the room she was sitting listening to the radio. She really liked that I was asking her about her experiences during WWII. Her enthusiasm was contagious and was a defining moment for me that was the impetus for my career as a US History teacher.

  2. Anand Manimudi Chozhan
    November 18, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    The Hawaii Operation is the worst start for all the evil to follow

  3. Joaquim Trindade da Silva
    November 21, 2011 at 6:59 am

    Parabéns a quem escreveu este artigo porque, é importante avivar a memória do Povo.

  4. TetVet68
    November 24, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    Remember Pearl Harbor — Keep America Alert!

    (Now deceased) America’s oldest living Medal of Honor recipient, living his 101st year is former enlisted Chief Petty Officer, Aviation Chief Ordnanceman (ACOM), later wartime commissioned Lieutenant John W. Finn, U. S. Navy (Ret.). He is also the last surviving Medal of Honor, “The Day of Infamy”, Japanese Attack on the Hawaiian Islands, Naval Air Station, Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, 7 December 1941.

    (Now deceased) ‘Navy Centenarian Sailor’, 103 year old, former enlisted Chief Petty Officer, Aviation Chief Radioman (ACRM, Combat Aircrewman), later wartime commissioned Chief Warrant Officer Julio ‘Jay’ Ereneta, U. S. Navy (Ret.), is a thirty year career veteran of World War One and World War Two. He first flew aircrewman in August 1922; flew rearseat Radioman/Gunner (1920s/1930s) in the tactical air squadrons of the Navy’s first aircraft carriers, USS LANGLEY (CV-1) and USS LEXINGTON (CV-2).

    Visit my photo album tribute to these centenarian veteran shipmates and other Pearl Harbor survivors:

    San Diego, California

  5. Benjamin Quiñones
    February 27, 2012 at 10:29 pm

    I remember exactly where I was december 7th 1941 at 1:30 p.m. I joined some of my friends for a game of baseball in my home town in Puerto Rico. Half way through the game, someone approach the ball field with the news that the navy base in Pearl Harbor was under attack by japanese planes. The game broke up and everybody headed home to listen to the radio. At the time I was 12 years old, but I had eight older brothers of military age. As a result, two joined the Army, another joined the Navy, another chosed the Coast Guard and the oldest already was an old sea wolf in the Merchant Marines. The other two helped in the construction of the navy base in the island. Oddly enough, I was the only one of the brothers to see action later on in the Korean War as a Combat Medic with the 65th Inf. Regt. of Puerto Rico. My daughter, Juanita who is an english school teacher, is always asking questions about life in Puerto Rico during WWII and my time during the Korean Conflict. I love to talk about it!

  6. Danna Bell-Russel
    February 28, 2012 at 4:58 pm

    You really should consider sharing your story with the Veterans History Project. I know it would be a great addition to the collection.

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