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Man reading war news aboard streetcar. San Francisco, California

[Detail] Reading war news aboard streetcar. San Francisco, California

Collection Overview

After the Day of Infamy: "Man-on-the-Street" Interviews Following the Attack on Pearl Harbor, presents interviews of people from throughout the United States on their feelings after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. These tapes, which were done over a series of several months by the staff of what is now the American Folklife Center, also include opinions on other events of the day including racial discrimination, labor disputes and the decision to go to war.

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  • The Great Depression and World War II — 1929-1945

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After the Day of Infamy: "Man-on-the-Street" Interviews Following the Attack on Pearl Harbor consists of approximately twelve hours of opinions recorded between December 1941 and February 1942. Interviews were conducted in urban and rural areas of the country from Vermont to Arizona.

In December 1941, eighteen fieldworkers in fourteen states and the District of Columbia were collecting recordings of American folk music for the Library of Congress's Archive of American Folk Songs. On December 8, 1941, Alan Lomax, then "assistant in charge" of the Archive, sent telegrams to fieldworkers asking them to collect "man-on-the-street" reactions to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the subsequent declaration of war by the United States. A second set of interviews was recorded in January-February 1942. The later interviewees were asked to address their remarks to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The collection also includes several letters and telegrams to and from Alan Lomax relating to the conduct of the interviews.

On December 11, 1941, field recorder Fletcher Collins, in a letter to Lomax, expressed his support for the man on the street interviews:

"You have my profound admiration for having conceived the idea and having spurred me — and no doubt other folklore people — to try it out. It opens up a field which has not before been touched by the radio, and a field of enormous importance to Americans. It heightens their consciousness of themselves as Americans, and it contributes vitally to civilian morale in expressing what the common people of the nation are feeling and thinking, an expression of others than governmental leaders, radio commentators, and newsmen."

From "Letter from Fletcher Collins to Alan Lomax, Page 1, December 11, 1941"

The interviews of ordinary Americans feature diverse opinions concerning the war and other issues of the day, such as racial prejudice and labor disputes. The collection provides a glimpse of everyday life in America as the United States entered World War II. The interviews capture a "moment in time," providing an exceptional tool for exploring the social history of the United States at the beginning of the war.

Support for and Opposition to President Roosevelt

The interviews, conducted shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor and again a few months later, revealed near unanimous support for the president. Indeed, the project coordinator, Alan Lomax, in a December 18, 1941, letter to Bob Allen, called the recordings a "priceless expression of the unity of the American people in this time of crisis." These excerpts illustrate that unity:

"Mrs. L.L. Kellam: Mr. President, I think I speak for the community here and say that we are all behind you. You have led us through some very trying times, and we feel like that you're going to lead us on through this troublesome time that we have ahead of us. . . We have unlimited confidence in your leadership."

From "Dear Mr. President", Austin, Texas, January or February 1942 (AFS 6403A)

"Postal Clerk Carrier: I am a substitute postal clerk carrier, employed in the New York City postal department. I am full of great joys and happiness after I listened to our great president's speech. It has made me feel like a new man, felt that the burden that overshadowed our present crisis has come to an end. And action will now talk the loudest. . . .I know this will be a terrible struggle, but I know the goodness of man, backed by the fineness of our president, and the great preservation of our people, will conquer in the end all that is evil. And thank God we have a great man above us who is our president."

From "Man-on-the-Street", New York, New York, December 8, 1941 (AFS 6362A, Cut A1)

"Carlos Lopez: About this war, I believe that you are doing better than anybody could expect. I am sure all of the United States and the people in it are backing you up, as far as I know. As for the Spanish people born in the United States, I believe they all have the same opinion that I have. We feel that we should fight and defend this country as soon as possible."

From "Dear Mr. President", Tucson, Arizona, January or February 1942 (AFS 6446A)

Some felt that the president had been unduly restrained by isolationist sentiment and condemned Senator Burton K. Wheeler, who had helped organize the America First Committee that worked to keep the United States from sending aid to European countries fighting against the Nazis.

"So now Wheeler and this crowd, what have they done? They have run back to trying to be the first ones to — "Yes sir, we'll fight. Let's whoop them. Let's whoop them." They are the first ones to say it. And lo-and-behold they're the ones all the time that held up the works. They listened to Roosevelt, six or seven years ago, ten years ago, he tried his best to get something started . . ."

From "Man-on-the-Street", Burlington, North Carolina, December 8, 1941 (AFS 6366A)

A few interviewees expressed isolationist or pacifist sentiments. A social worker interviewed in Minneapolis in early 1942 spoke of the futility of war:

"I am not ready for our country to enter a war. I suppose I could be called an isolationist, but I went through school and college during the '20s and early '30s when the emphasis was upon the futility of war, specifically on the failure of the last world war in settling any of the essential problems and particularly in saving the world for democracy."

From "Dear Mr. President", Minneapolis, Minnesota, January or February 1942 (AFS 6427 B, Cut B8)

Merritt Calvert, interviewed in Bloomington, Indiana, on December 10 admitted to having been an isolationist, but remarked, "But after an attack on American property, right away I am of a different opinion." In the same interview, Donald Bowin, a Bloomington attorney,expressed his initial opinion that "...the attack had been framed by representatives of government wishing to draw us into war. After I learned the true facts I did have considerable resentment for the more or less treacherous attack of the Japanese..." Bowin further expressed his belief that Roosevelt had vacillated and that Wendell Wilkie (Republican candidate for President in 1940) represented "the true position for this country to take." (AFS 6360 B)

Find as many interview segments as you can in which people comment on President Franklin D. Roosevelt's leadership. Be sure that both positive and negative views are represented.

  • What are some of the positive phrases used to describe Roosevelt and his leadership? To what earlier leaders did supporters compare Roosevelt?
  • How did isolationists appraise Roosevelt's leadership? What reasons did they give for opposing his positions?
  • What evidence do you find that people interviewed felt suspicious of their national leadership?
  • Overall, how would you describe Americans' views of President Roosevelt in the early days of the war? Do you think confidence in the President is important during times of crisis? Explain your answer.

Views on Japan and Germany

Although many interviewees expressed shock at the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, some said they had expected that war was imminent and did not find the attack so surprising. That was the view of law professor Charles S. Potts, who also wondered how the United States could have been as ill-prepared as it seemed to be:

"Now, as to my reactions in regard to the Japanese attack, I will simply state that I was not surprised that treachery marked the beginning of this war. I recall that in nineteen hundred and four, the attack on Russia was made while friendly relations were still being maintained and several of Russia's strongest battleships in the east were sunk before any declaration of war was issued. I expected, therefore, treachery and a sudden attack. I was surprised, however, that it succeeded at Pearl Harbor. How they could have approached so close to our great naval base without being discovered by our patrol airplanes is beyond my understanding."

From "Man-on-the-Street", Dallas, Texas, December 9, 1941 (AFS 6374B)

The director of a business school in Madison, Wisconsin, expressed the belief that Japanese and Germans were threatened by U.S. ideals of "tolerance, equality, and freedom for all." He continued:

"Japan has attacked us so that we cannot hinder her conquests. Perhaps some deluded Japanese have other ideas also. For I well remember when the California Japanese were joyously looking forward to the day when Japan would conquer California and all the Pacific Coast as the western shore of the Pacific lake which Japan was to control as the mistress of the Orient."

From "Man-on-the Street", Madison, Wisconsin, December 9, 1941 (AFS 6367A)

As this quotation suggests, some transferred their opposition to Japan to people of Japanese ancestry living in the United States. Listen to the views of an unidentified man from Burlington, North Carolina, on December 8, 1941:

"They [the government] clean up all the Japanese in this country so they can't do us in the dirt. Not just through the duration of the war, but all of them we get we just pen them up and keep them. Keep them where they won't give anybody else no trouble.

From "Man-on-the-Street", Burlington, North Carolina, December 8, 1941(AFS 6366B)

Not everyone felt the same way, however. William Patterson, interviewed in Buffalo, New York, found solace in the expressions of loyalty by Japanese citizens on the west coast:

"No, I don't hate them. I was very much interested in a news flash I heard over the radio from the Japanese citizens on the west coast expressing their loyalty to the president and their shock at the action that their country, original country, had taken. I don't believe that the majority of, well I don't know that I can say that, not the majority, but there must be a good many people in Japan who don't believe and don't support this war."

From "Man-on-the-Street", Buffalo, New York, December 1941(AFS 6454A, Cut A1)

Matthew Schneck, a psychology professor at the University of Arizona, suggested that the president needed to use the anger that the attack on Pearl Harbor provoked to motivate citizens:

"I do think that it is time to stop appealing to our people on grounds of the defense of democracy from totalitarianism. Before we were attacked that was good enough. Now we have been attacked and therefore we have a much more compelling motive to fight than we had before when we were still in the realm of argument. Actually, our people have been killed. We don't have to convince them now that there are marauding wolves on the loose and that we in danger from them. We have already seen right before our eyes that unless we defend ourselves we are going to be sorry that we didn't. Therefore, it appears to me that we need to arouse a permanent and effective anger in our people. Not a paralyzing anger, but an efficient one. One which can be kept alive for the purpose of doing our job, which is beat the other fellow. Always that: beat the other fellow."

From "Dear Mr. President, Tucson, Arizona, January or February 1942 (AFS 6447A Cut A3)

Read several of the interviews in which people comment on the Japanese or Japanese Americans. Answer the following questions:

  • What words and phrases were used to describe the Japanese people and the Japanese government? What attitudes do these words reflect?
  • Historian John Dower, who has written extensively about the Pacific War, argues that both Japan and the United States took part in what he calls "othering," setting the enemy apart by dehumanizing or objectifying them. What evidence do you see of "othering" in the comments about the Japanese?
  • How do you think fear of Japanese conquest influenced public attitudes towards people of Japanese ancestry residing in the United States?
  • On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which authorized the military to remove people of Japanese heritage from designated areas. In the matter of a few months, more than 100,000 people had been moved from the West Coast to internment camps in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Arkansas, and other states. Based on what you have read in the collection, how do you think the public at large reacted to the internment of Japanese Americans?

Many of those interviewed on December 8-9, 1941, before Germany and Italy declared war on the United States, expressed the view that Germany was behind the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Many felt that war with all the Axis powers was now inevitable, but the general feeling was that the United States should focus its attention on the war in Asia. During the December 10 taping of the man-on-the-street interviews in Bloomington, Indiana, a spirited debate developed over war strategy. Interviewees expressed different views regarding the advisability of an all-out war against Japan that would limit aid to Britain and Russia for their war effort.

"Mike Fox: I believe that as a military standpoint it is far better to fight on one front than on two. By concentrating our efforts on Japan, I am of the opinion that we can knock her out of the war much more rapidly than we can if our efforts are split by an AEF, for example, in Africa and an Atlantic fleet which must see action in the Atlantic.

Mr. Russell: Don't forget that's just exactly what Hitler wants us to do. If we concentrate entirely upon Japan, then we must stop our flow of goods to Great Britain and Russia. And evidently, the grand strategy pact of the Axis powers is to divert our flow of materials."

From "Man-on-the-Street", Bloomington, Indiana, December 10, 1941 (AFS 6360A)

Read the entire above-referenced discussion recorded in Bloomington, Indiana, on December 10 and consider the following questions:

  • Why, according to the discussants, would Hitler have been behind the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor?
  • Why was there concern expressed over fighting a two-front war? What arguments were made both for and against fighting in Asia and Europe?
  • What references to World War I were made in the discussion? In what ways did the discussants see World War I as influencing public opinion and U.S. policy?
  • How did the various participants in the discussion define war? What is the significance of defining war in these different ways?
  • If you were grading these university students on how well informed they were about world affairs, what grade would you give them? Why? How would you assess their discussion skills? Explain your answer.
  • Although most of those interviewed in December expressed hostility toward Hitler, one person in New York expressed sympathy for Hitler's conquest arguing that he was only looking out for his nation's interests. The attitudes expressed by this salesman were certainly atypical.

"Germany, who has a right to expand, and there have been tyrants as great as Hitler. History shows that. And if Hitler would not have racial prejudice he'd really be a great man because he'd be looking out for his country."

From "Man-on-the-Street", New York, New York, December 8, 1941 (AFS 6364A, Cut A1)

Sacrifice and Support on the Home Front

Roosevelt in several of his "fireside chats" urged Americans to work to support the war effort. In a recording for "Dear Mr. President" the transfer from consumer to military production is detailed in the case of landlocked Denver, Colorado, where ships for the U.S. Navy were built.

"A few days ago on February the 27th the citizens of Denver, Colorado launched their first ship. Denver's right underneath the Rocky Mountains, twelve hundred and ninety-seven miles from the sea and it has no navigable river. The ship was launched in railway trucks with a bottle of melted snow from Pikes Peak. In the old days, you remember, the pioneers put these words on their wagons 'Pikes Peak or bust.' These railway trucks carrying the parts of Denver's first ship were inscribed 'Pikes Peak to Tokyo or bust.'

Eight plants in Denver have taken on the job of making these parts for one of the navy yards on the West Coast. They make the whole of the ship except the plating of the hull and they pack the parts off by rail through the Rocky Mountains. The plants are all determined to double and triple their output."

From "Dear Mr. President", Denver, Colorado, January or February 1942 (AFS 6463)

Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, familiar with the United States from the years he spent at Harvard University and as Japanese Naval Attaché to the United States in the 1920s, is reported to have predicted that the attack on the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor would "awake a sleeping giant." Do you think conversion from civilian to military construction in Denver proved Yamamoto's prediction to be right? Why or why not?

Men and women from all walks of life recognized the need for personal sacrifice. Although some complained about rising prices and low wages, they seemed committed to doing whatever was necessary to contribute to the war effort. Many of those interviewed spoke of purchasing war bonds and conserving resources; others shared plans to enlist in the armed forces or to take classes in civil defense or first aid. Some, like Raymond B. Daniels of Middlebury, Vermont, expressed pride in their state's tradition of sacrifice:

"Raymond B. Daniels: Mr. President, history proves that Vermonters will go the limit to preserve their freedom and independence. They will make any sacrifice and carry out any orders necessary to bring this war to a successful conclusion."

From "Dear Mr. President", Middlebury, Vermont, January or February 1942 (AFS 6451A)

Some of the stories told by interviewees illustrate that such everyday phenomena as rumors, vanity, and protective parents were still affecting people's lives:

"Leddie Galloway: It's a funny thing, hearsay and word-to-mouth news is something that . . . isn't unusual at all I might say. One day, Mrs. Watson came into the office and told me that she heard that all of the people who were receiving old age assistance were going to be put in the war on the first line. And of course this is the type of thing I have to combat with."

From "Dear Mr. President", Nashville, Tennessee, January or February 1942 (AFS 6440B)

"Willie Clay: I'm coming twenty-one years of age this next month. I've got to register the sixteenth and I'm going to volunteer for this navy because I think their clothes fits more like Levis . . ."

From "Dear Mr. President", Tucson, Arizona, January or February 1942 (AFS 6448A)

"Robert Heckly: I'm planning my career Mr. Roosevelt, but if I can do anything in between that time I would be glad to. Do not expect me to be in the army because — unless I'm drafted — my mother and father will not permit it, as much as I would like to."

From "Dear Mr. President", Galena and Crane, Missouri, January or February 1942 (6425A)

Each of the "Dear Mr. President" segments listed below includes brief statements from a cross-section of people in one U.S. city:

Make a data retrieval chart to record information about these interviews; you may want to include personal data on the person (gender, race or ethnic group, occupation, if specified), ways in which the person is contributing to the war effort, and sacrifices or problems described by the person. When you have finished collecting the data, analyze the information to look for trends. For example, you might look for answers to such questions as:

  • What was the most common way of contributing to the early war effort?
  • Did women and men contribute in the same ways? Did working class people, students, and managers contribute in the same ways? Did black and white Americans contribute in the same ways?
  • What were the most common sacrifices or problems mentioned? Were the problems common across all categories of people?
  • What generalizations about willingness to contribute to the early war effort can you draw based on the data in your retrieval chart?

African American Views on the War and American Racism

The interviews in the After the Day of Infamy collection revealed a deep desire among African Americans to support the president in the war effort, despite the prevailing racism in the nation. One unidentified man in New York candidly remarked

"As a black American I'm quite naturally interested in democracy. However, I do feel that what we should do is get a little democracy in America first. In the United States, we haven't achieved any democracy."

From "Dear Mr. President", New York, New York, January or February 1942 (AFS 64l0A Cut A3)

An unidentified woman in Texas spoke of lynching in the South and called for "democracy, and equal rights, justice, and freedom for all." She told the president that African Americans loved this country:

"We want to stay over here and work, live, live peacefully and lawfully. And I think we just ought to have that chance and I know you think so too because I've seen write ups in the papers about what you and Mrs. Roosevelt thought about everything."

From "Dear Mr. President", Granbury, Austin, and Hood County, Texas, January or February 1942 (AFS 6434A)

A social worker in Nashville, Tennessee, spoke of the irony many black Americans saw in an unusual event staged by several newspaper reporters:

"There was also a story recently of some newspaper men donning the garb of Nazi officers and assuming a German accent walking through the streets of one of our largest cities visiting the industries of defense without being challenged by anyone. One of our colored newspapers had a comment about that too, it sounded rather cynical I thought, they said, 'Their faces were white.'"

From "Dear Mr. President", Nashville, Tennessee, January or February 1942 (AFS 6438B)

Other African Americans called attention to racial segregation and discrimination in military camps and the refusal to enlist African Americans in the Marines. One unidentified man remembered the way African-American soldiers returning from World War I were treated in his hometown of Nashville:

"When quite a small child standing in front of the capital in the state of Tennessee, I saw an Armistice Day parade in 1919 . . . [they] had a big welcome sign on the streets of Nashville welcoming the soldiers back home. When the Negro soldiers got to this welcoming sign they were asked to turn to their right and go down a block and come around. They weren't allowed to come under the sign. Now that thing stayed with me a long time, but it hasn't dampened my spirit to the extent that I don't want to do what I can for the betterment of my country during this crisis."

From "Dear Mr. President", Nashville, Tennessee, January or February 1942 (AFS 6444A)

African Americans during World War II fought for the "Double V" — victory over fascism abroad and victory over racism at home. Use the Subject Index to locate interviews that present the views of African Americans or examine racism in the United States. Consider the following questions:

  • How do the recordings of African Americans addressed to the president emphasize the dual struggle for victory over fascism abroad and victory over racism at home?
  • List the specific problems that African Americans faced. Which problems were longstanding? Which problems were created or worsened by the war?
  • What percentage of African Americans, despite the discrimination they faced, expressed strong support for the U.S. war effort? Under similar circumstances, do you think you would have been able to wholeheartedly endorse the U.S. war effort? Why or why not?

In 1941, before the outbreak of war, Asa Philip Randolph, President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, called for a massive march on Washington to protest discrimination in defense industries. In order to avert the demonstration, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802 creating a temporary Fair Employment Practices Committee to help promote equal opportunities in hiring workers in defense industries that held government contracts. Mr. Gilchreist of Nashville, Tennessee, in a "Dear Mr. President" recording, remarked:

"Well, I think to just tell them, Mr. President, just to tell the labor heads alone that they must not discriminate is not enough. I think you'll have to do something about it. Although the Negroes are going to fight, I know that, they talk a lot about what they ain't going to do, but when the time comes you can always depend on them. But I do think that you could ease the strain a lot by putting in some kind of method whereby you could force these people that's making the money from the government by making airplanes and different things to give these Negroes a job."

From "Dear Mr. President", Nashville, Tennessee, January or February 1942 (AFS 6444B)

Research Randolph's proposed march on Washington and the efforts of the Roosevelt administration to dissuade him from calling a massive demonstration.

  • How effective was the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC) in carrying out its stated purpose?
  • To what extent did the creation of the FEPC help Roosevelt in marshalling support among African Americans?
  • What were some of the other goals Randolph pursued during the course of the war?


Critical Thinking

Chronological Thinking: Analyzing Biographies

The biographies of the individuals who conducted the "Man-on-the-Street" and "Dear Mr. President" interviews are impressive stories of achievement. Choose your favorite interviews and identify who conducted the interviews (listed as the "Collector" under "Contributors" on the bibliographic information). Find this person in the Biographies feature. Construct a timeline of the events in the person's life, being sure to note when the collection of the "Man-on-the-Street" and "Dear Mr. President" occurred. What events in the person's life prior to 1941-1942 made them well-qualified for this job? Does the biography provide information about any other wartime activities? What events were in the person's future at the time they took part in building this collection?

Historical Comprehension: Examining an Immigrant's Perspective on the United States

The background information that the interviewees in After the Day of Infamy provide about themselves allows readers to understand their stories in historical context. For example, consider the following excerpt from an interview with an Austrian refugee:

"Mr. President, I am a refugee from Austria and therefore I would much prefer not to tell you my name or my address as all my people are still on the other side and I do not dare to endanger them. I made my law degrees from University of Vienna, but right now I'm checking hats in a Spanish nightclub.

We Austrians and Germans are regarded enemy aliens, but that doesn't change our wishes or our feelings. I think that no American can deeper appreciate what it means to fight for a democracy than somebody who has never lived in a democracy, but who has barely escaped the dictatorship to find refuge in a democratic paradise.

I do not think that any American can better understand what those freedoms mean for which we are fighting right now. We have never known what freedom of speech or freedom of press means. But we have always guessed that it must be something wonderful to have them."

"Dear Mr. President", New York, New York, January or February 1942 (AFS 6409B, Cut B3)

Read the entire interview with the Austrian refugee and consider the following questions:

  • Why does this interviewee not want to give his name? How does that fact help you understand his perspective on the United States?
  • For what occupation was this interviewee trained? What is his current occupation? Do you think the discrepancy is important? Explain your answer.
  • Why does this interviewee feel that no American "can better understand what those freedoms mean for which we are fighting right now"? Do you agree with his point?
  • Use the Subject Index to find other interviews with immigrants to the United States. Look for terms related to specific ethnic groups, such as Chinese Americans or Jamaican Americans, or refugees. How do their comments compare with those of the Austrian refugee? Based on these interviews, can you draw any conclusions about the attitudes of immigrants toward the U.S. role in World War II?

Historical Analysis and Interpretation: Identifying an Author's Perspective

The "Man-on-the-Street" and "Dear Mr. President" recordings provided a rich source of material for radio producers. The recordings could be used to support a variety of perspectives on the United States' role in the world, the Japanese, President Roosevelt, and a variety of other topics. Listen to the recording "Dear Mr. President" prepared as a test recording for broadcast. Analyze the recording to develop insight into the perspective of its producers.

  • How did the producers of the recording illustrate the change in attitude between the summer of 1941 and February 1942? Why is this change important?
  • How did the producers use pre-recorded interviews to deal with attitudes such as isolationism, apathy, self-interest? How do the different accents and manners of speaking influence you as a listener?
  • How are music and sound effects employed to create a mood?
  • How are testimonials used to arouse the general public to support the president?
  • What was the purpose of the test recording?
  • To what extent is this recording propaganda?

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."

From "Man-on-the-Street", Dallas, Texas, December 9, 1941 (AFS 6373A)

  • 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?

Historical Issue Analysis and Decision-Making

In the earliest days of U.S. involvement in the war, Americans were already thinking ahead to the end of the war and, assuming an Allied victory, the decisions that would then face the United States. How should the vanquished countries be treated? What kind of peace would follow the war? Would the United States take part in a world organization if one were again formed?

Views on these issues were quite varied, as the examples below demonstrate:

"Reverend John Espey Watts: A peace should be written that will look at the countries that we have defeated as human beings and not as a bunch of people or a nation of people that we want to enslave as our servants. . . . Versailles should not be repeated. . . .If our country and our United States is allowed to have weight in peace terms, I do not believe that Versailles Treaty would be repeated. . . . I think that President Roosevelt has already put as much emphasis upon peace as he has upon war and he is looking towards the peace. . ."

From "Man-on-the-Street", Austin, Texas, December 9, 1941 (AFS 6372A)

"J.C. Brodie: Well, the Germans, the only way to keep out of war with Germany is to do away with Germany entirely and put them under other governments and have no Germany at all. As long as there's a Germany there'll be wars. Twenty-three or four years ago we whipped Germany, she throwed up the sponge and they're right back worse than ever."

From "Man-on-the-Street", Austin, Texas, December 9, 1941 (AFS 6370B)

"Jack Carlyle: Let's go in there and cut off a few heads, and blow up a few towns, and really show them what the losing end of a war looks like. . . . When this war is over, I think the United States should take over the Western Hemisphere: Canada, Mexico, South America. At least control South America, and some bases down there. If we're going to have to police the world, why, we should at least have charge of half of it. . . ."

From "Dear Mr. President", Fayetteville and Farmington, Arkansas, January or February 1942 (AFS 6429B)

"Philip Galvine: Well, what I want to know is steps that have been taken to win the war, what steps are going to be taken to win the peace? What is there that's going to guarantee us that the boys that do come back, if they do come back, will not come back as charitable hospital patients in veterans hospitals or else come back as gangsters like they did after last war because they're aren't afraid to kill, a new gangster era."

From "Dear Mr. President", Minneapolis, Minnesota, January or February 1942 (AFS 6427A)

"Frederick Hodge: Well, I think the only, as has been said, I think the only cure for the evils of democracy is more democracy. . . . In a way, when we get them at the peace table — I like that term — I don't believe that we should bomb Japanese cities. That's too much the Hitler way of executing hostages. That is the execution of the innocent for all of the evil that have been done by others. But I think that we should absolutely draw a line and we should see to it that the guilty are punished."

From "Man-on-the-Street", Buffalo, New York, December 1941 (AFS 6454B)

Carefully read these comments on the end of war. Identify as many different questions on which U.S. leaders would have to make decisions at the end of the war. For each question, note the positions being advocated by the interviewees.

Find out how U.S. leaders actually answered the questions you have identified. For example, what did the United States do to ensure that returning soldiers were successfully reintegrated into civilian life? How would you evaluate the decisions made at the end of World War II? How do you think Reverend John Espey Watts, J.C. Brodie, Jack Carlyle, Phillip Galvine, and Frederick Hodge would evaluate those decisions?

Historical Research Capabilities: Researching People Criticized by Interviewees

Several of the interviews in the collection reflect hostility to John L. Lewis, President of the United Mine Workers. Mrs. Porter Lucas addressing the president from Missouri in early 1942 questioned the power of John L. Lewis.

"I cannot understand is why John L. Lewis has set up such a dictatorship in this, a democracy. I cannot understand how any one man can attain such power in a righteous manner. Those things are not democratic. They are not patriotic. And they are not what we have been taught to be true Americanism."

From "Dear Mr. President", Galena and Crane, Missouri, January or February 1942 (AFS 6423A)

In like manner, Robert Lucas, a teen-ager, echoed Mrs. Lucas's view.

"And John L. Lewis, as I would like to state, is like Hitler only in the labor. He seems to be a domineering person. Undoubtedly this is true. I do hope that when we ask our boys to work for twenty-one dollars a month that labor would do their part and they strike unless they get so much an hour. Our boys work harder than some of the laborers and yet get much less. They don't get any glory and they can't strike [bell rings] so please help the laborers to overthrow this yoke and please let them be free and so they can aid us too."

From "Dear Mr. President", Galena and Crane, Missouri, January or February 1942 (6425A, Cut A2)

Another American criticized by those interviewed was Jeannette Rankin, a member of Congress from Montana. A Madison, Wisconsin, woman alluded to Ms. Rankin without mentioning her name:

"I believe that American womanhood, as a whole, feels ashamed and humiliated that our one woman representative in Congress kept the vote to declare war form being unanimous."

From "Man-on-the-Street", Madison, Wisconsin, December 9, 1941 (AFS 6367A)

Another woman from Madison said

"I certainly was burned up when Miss Rankin gave all her male colleagues an opportunity to say "just like a woman." Because there's a lot of us who haven't had sheltered lives. We've been out and met life in a hard way and we are resolute and military as our British sisters."

From "Man-on-the-Street", Madison, Wisconsin, December 9, 1941 (AFS 6367B)

Research John L. Lewis, Jeannette Rankin, or another American criticized in the interviews. What did you learn that helps you understand the criticism? Do you think the criticism was justified? Why or why not?

Historical Research Capabilities: Conducting an Oral History

Today, people who were in their teens and twenties during World War II are now in their seventies and eighties. While many years have passed, their memories of the events covered in After the Day of Infamy may still be vivid. Using what you have learned from the collection, formulate several questions that you would like to ask about reactions to the attack on Pearl Harbor or to contributions to the war effort, whether as a member of the military or a civilian.

Organize an oral history project and interview a World War II veteran or civilian who contributed to the war effort. Follow the guidelines in the Project Kit of the Library of Congress's Veterans History Project. On completion, donate the interview to a local archive, library, or historical society that is an official partner of the Veterans History Project.


Arts & Humanities

Music Responding to and Commenting on Current Events

Momentous events in history often motivate musicians to compose songs expressing popular feelings. The lyrics of "The Martins and the Coys" by Peter Bowers (better known as folk singer Pete Seeger) were adapted from a song written in 1936 by Ted Werems and Al Cameron. Seeger used the story of a feud among mountaineers in Appalachia to make a point about the war:

"Oh, the Martins and the Coys have quit their feudin'.
They don't live in West Virginia anymore.
You won't never find the men,
'Cause they're headed for Berlin.
And they're fighting in a different kind of war."

From "The Martins and the Coys," (AFS 6408B, Cut B3)

Seeger's "Talking Blues Song" is both humorous and serious, as the following excerpts suggest:

"Dear Mr. President, I set me down, and send you greetings from New York town. Send you the best wishes from all the friends I know in both the AF of L and the CIO, and unaffiliated. My brother, he's a member of a shoplifter's union....

Now as I think of our great land — its cities, its towns, its farming lands, with millions of good people workin' every day — I know it ain't perfect, but it will be someday. Just give us a little time.

This is the reason that I want to fight, not because everything's perfect or everything's right. No, it's just the opposite. I'm fighting because I want a better America and better laws, better homes, and jobs and schools, and no more Jim Crow and no more rules like 'You can't ride in this train 'cause you're a Negro.' 'You can't live here, 'cause you're a Jew.' 'You can't work here 'cause you believe in unions, young man.'"

From "Talking Blues Song," (AFS 6408A)

Both songs were recorded for a documentary broadcast of "Dear Mr. President" recordings. Listen to the two songs and answer the following questions:

  • What is the message of "The Martins and the Coys"?
  • How did the songwriter appeal to patriotism in the crisis?
  • What are the issues of the day that Seeger relates in "Talking Blues Song"?
  • How did he use humor to put forth a serious message in both "The Martins and the Coys" and "Talking Blues Song"?
  • How are the two songs similar musically? How are they different? Why might Seeger have chosen different forms for the two songs?

Try composing a "Talking Blues Song" addressed to the president and reflecting on a current situation in the United States or world. Is it more difficult or easier than you thought it would be? Why?

Analyzing Interview Techniques

Conducting a successful interview can be a challenge. The right question asked in the right way can prompt interesting and insightful responses. The wrong question or even the right question asked in the wrong way can cause an interviewee to stop talking freely.

Some of the interviews in After the Day of Infamy: "Man-on-the-Street" Interviews Following the Attack on Pearl Harbor include the interviewer's questions, while others do not. Look first at some of the interviews for which the questions are not provided; here are a few examples:

Listen to or read the transcripts of the interviews above or other interviews in which the questions are not provided.

  • For each set of interviews, what question do you think was asked? What leads you to that conclusion?
  • Which question(s) do you think prompted the most interesting responses? Explain you answer.
  • Which question(s) do you think prompted the least interesting responses? Why do you think that is true?

Now examine some interviews where the questions are provided. Here are a few examples:

Listen to or read the transcripts of the above interviews or others in which the interviewers' questions are provided. To what extent did the interviewers follow the tips listed below? Are the interviews in which the interviewer followed these tips more interesting than the interviews in which the interviewer violated them? Choose one of the interviews you think is flawed and show how the interviewer might have been more successful by following these tips.

Tips for Conducting Interviews

  • Be prepared. If possible, know the background of the person you are interviewing. Write some questions in advance (but don't read them as if from a script).
  • Ask one question at a time. If you ask several questions at once, some won't be answered.
  • Keep your questions short and simple. Don't introduce your question with long speeches presenting your own opinions. In general, talk as little as possible.
  • Don't answer your own questions. Some silence is fine.
  • Don't argue with the interviewee. You are trying to get information, not win an argument. Don't repeat questions trying to get the answer you wanted.
  • Always listen to the answers to your questions so that you can follow up on what the interviewee says. If you are too busy thinking about your next question, you may miss important points that should be expanded upon. Not listening also breaks the trust you have established with the interview subject.
  • Clarify if you don't understand a response.
  • Keep control of the interview. If the person you are interviewing goes off topic in an unproductive manner, redirect them to the topic in which you are interested.

In 2002, Fletcher Collins, one of the "Man on the Street" interviewers, recalled the equipment used in collecting the interviews:

". . . The instrument itself was twenty-five pounds. The batteries were another fifty, I guess, an A battery and a B battery, and most of the places I went didn't have electricity so you had to lug all this stuff. It was an aluminum disc, it played at 78 [rpm], I guess. It played with a needle, like the old-time phonographs. And you could make your own needle with a good-quality thorn."

From American Radio Works "Interviewing the Man on the Street: 1941 and 2001"

How do you think managing this equipment would affect the job of interviewing people?

Using Metaphors to Convey Meaning

Webster's Dictionary defines a metaphor as "a figure of speech in which a word or phrase denoting one kind of object or action is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them." Metaphors often appear in literature, as the novelist, poet, or biographer seeks to develop the reader's understanding in lively and thought-provoking language. Metaphors also appear in everyday speech, however, as people like those interviewed in the After the Day of Infamy collection try to convey shades of meaning or tickle their listeners' funny-bones.

Below are three examples of metaphors from the collection, used to describe some aspect of the conflict being experienced by the United States:

"Bill Grumbles: So many folks around here Mr. Roosevelt thought that you was scared of old Hitler for the longest, but course I never did. I always told them like this, I said 'Why just like old hound dog was about the pole cat [skunk].' He knows he supposed to shake the daylights out of him, but he just needs go in there and grab him and get the stink all over him [laughs]."

From "Dear Mr. President", Granbury, Austin, Hood County, and Fletcher County, Texas, January or February 1942 (AFS 6434B)

"Tom K. Ritchie: I don't agree with your reference to the enemy as rattlesnakes because rattlesnakes are too much, have too much of the gentlemen in them. They should be referred to as copperheads, crawl on their belly, camouflage, and carrying a deadly poison that is silent and strikes without any warning whatever.

There are at this time so many things to do that I think others feel like you do and they should be given an opportunity to help you put the heel on the head of these serpents. They should be crushed and I think the only [way (?)] and the only manner in which they can be handled properly is by direct action. Nothing theatrical, no play acting, simply ruthless force without any squeamishness and without any feeling that we are doing other than killing snakes. And when we clean out a nest of snakes we not only kill the father snake, we kill the mother snake and we break their eggs."

From "Dear Mr. President", Tucson, Arizona, January or February 1942 (AFS 6448B)

"Secretary: I taught country school in my youth where the principal problem was discipline and it was a matter we had to deal with without any outside help beyond a stout hickory stick or the stove poker.

I remember trying to placate the measly little bully who just upset the whole school, and I also remember that it never worked. Sooner or later came the showdown. We've been doing the same thing nationally. We have said, 'Now Jappy, you be a nice boy and we'll give you a gun which you can shoot real bullets with, but don't shoot that nice little Chink, he's a good kid. Just go out and play with the target, but be a good boy, just be a good boy. Everybody'll love you, we'll give you more presents, we'll give you airplanes, and oil and stuff.'And now, dear little Jappy has kicked teacher in the shins and something must be done about it."

From "Man-on-the-Street", Madison, Wisconsin, December 9, 1941 (AFS 6367B)

  • What metaphor did Bill Grumbles use? What reaction does the metaphor provoke in you as a reader?
  • What metaphor did Tom K. Ritchie use? What is the effect of comparing one's enemy to an animal? Can a speaker say things through metaphor that he/she might not say directly? Explain your answer.
  • What metaphor did the secretary from Madison, Wisconsin, use? What meaning does the metaphor convey?
  • How are the three metaphors similar? How are they different? Which do you think conveys the speaker's meaning best? Why?

Writing Letters Responding to Constituents

Responding to letters from constituents is one of the jobs that staff members working for public officials do. The staff member must make each person feel that his/her opinion has been heard (after all, the official may be running for office again and may hope to win that person's vote), even though the official may not agree with the constituent's view.

Imagine that you worked for President Roosevelt in 1942. The following comments from the "Dear Mr. President" recordings have been sent to the White House. How would you respond? What tone would you take in your answers? To what extent would you respond to the person's specific questions or observations?

"Sam Rife: President Roosevelt, I'm an independent ice dealer here in Austin. And most of the folks I know around here are one hundred percent behind you. We are ready to go to any lengths to help win this war, and I know that you've got our welfare in mind. We are interested, however, in helping keeping the home fires burning here and it seems like the prices are just getting up a little when they really don't have to. We hope you are able to do something about that, and whether you do or don't though, I know this that Austin folks and my friends are going to be behind you one hundred percent."

From "Dear Mr. President", Austin, Texas, January or February 1942 (AFS 6402A)

"Margaret Patterson: I, Margaret Patterson, am a social worker in child welfare services with the State Department of Public Welfare at Middlebury, Vermont. Daily in the routine of my job I visit the homes of suffering and deprived rural children. Children from broken homes, from homes where there is discord between father and mother, where there is suffering from lack of food, clothing, proper housing, and health measures . . .

With the outbreak of war we have known we would have to expect the postponement of many welfare plans and programs. We have seen also a greater need for social work because of the increase in delinquency, the tendency to exploit the child in industry, the further breakdown of families because of parents' absence from home either in the armed forces or in industry. The security of the children with whom we have worked and indeed of all children has been threatened.

We realize that an all out program for a national defense is necessary, but we hope that with the more dramatic needs of the armed forces, the needs of children will not be forgotten. I do not feel that it is something that can wait until the war has been won. The children who are with us now are the men and women who will have to help reconstruct the world when we have peace."

From "Dear Mr. President", Middlebury, Vermont, January or February 1942 (AFS 6420A)

"Alexander Luvey: It is generally recognized that the Negroes of the South are not contributing as much as they can contribute to his national defense. Nor are they receiving the benefits which the federal government desires them to receive. This is due to the fact that the federal government is working through constituted local authorities. It is true that local served government is a theory of democratic government, but Mr. President, this is a condition and not a theory which confronts us Negroes in the South. When the head of our government publically announces that this is a white man's country, when the head of our local Department of Education fights vigorously to maintain a duo educational system paying different salary schedules, how can we expect that the local authorities will function fairly and efficiently for the Negro?"

From "Dear Mr. President", Nashville, Tennessee, January or February 1942 (AFS 6439A)

Creating a Radio Program Based on the Collection

When the "Man-on-the-Street" and "Dear Mr. President" interviews were collected, they were used as the basis for two radio programs (you may want to listen to the test recording available in the collection). Imagine that you are the director of a radio station that is planning a series of retrospective reports on World War II and its effect on your state. Each report will be five minutes long. You think that the interviews in the After the Day of Infamy collection could serve as the basis for one of the reports.

Work with a team of producers to create a script for the program. Your team should scan the interviews available from your state (you can choose any state represented in the collection — use the Geographic Locations index to choose a state ), looking for themes that you want to highlight. When you have selected one or more themes, look for interviews that provide insight into those theme(s). Select excerpts that illustrate the points that you want to make. Decide in what order you will use the excerpts, and write a narrative that will introduce the report, take listeners into and out of the interview excerpts, and end the report.