Today in History

Today in History: December 7

Air Raid on Pearl Harbor

On December 7, 1941, Japanese planes attacked the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, 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.

Naval Dispatch from the Commander in Chief Pacific (CINCPAC) announcing the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941.
Words and Deeds in American History: Selected Documents Celebrating the Manuscript Division's First 100 Years

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…"

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

Two women
Pearl Harbor Widow shave Gone into War Work… , Corpus Christi, Texas,
Howard R. Hollem, photographer, August 1942.
America from the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the FSA and OWI, ca. 1935-1945

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.

Pearl Harbor Bombed!
NBC Program Book.
Annotated Typescript, December 7, 1941; Microphone, circa 1938.
Motion Picture, Broadcasting & Recorded Sound Division
From American Treasures of the Library of Congress

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.

Panoramic view of Pearl Harbor dry dock
Dry Dock, Pearl Harbor...,Hawaii Territory,
Robert Lorenz Dancy, photographer,
August 21, 1919.
Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991