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Pearl Harbor: The Nation’s Immediate Response

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“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?

Comments (18)

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

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

  4. 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. 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!

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

  6. I feel so bad for all the people that past on.

  7. I

  8. i think that the other people felt sad that the people that fought died and i feel bad also

  9. they felt sad and woried

  10. i think the people were kinda scared

  11. That day must of bin sad so much people died I wonder how people felt I mean people lost there family members.To the people who lost their family members I’m sorry.

  12. I think if I was there i would be scared, but they just fought .They attacked and we didn’t want to fight. We shouldn’t attack, but we might but we shouldn’t.

  13. I loved the video because it was very interesting about the battle and the story.

  14. in 1941 did u guys have a radio was the bom big.

  15. That was a sad time and I fill sad that so much people died from this.

  16. If i was there i would be scared but they fought we didn’t want to.

  17. its sad that alot of people died

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