Today is the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Daily Oklahoman has a fascinating and moving feature looking not only at the coverage of that event but of its anniversary through the war years and beyond.
We often forget that the first year of the war we were losing. The editorial for December 7, 1942, called it “the bitterest and most humiliating year in our history.” The next year’s paper was sober but more upbeat. Then we see optimism. In 1945 we see the exuberance–and relief–of victory, along with a memorial to those who died achieving it.
The feature gives us a picture of what a unified nation looks like and something of what it felt like to be caught up in a collective cause that was a matter of life and death, not only for individuals, friends, and loved ones–nearly every family had someone fighting–but for the country itself. It must have been terrible to go through, but also good.
And we can’t help but wonder if America would be capable of that today.
Read a sampling from the newspaper accounts after the jump.
One year after the attack, The Oklahoman front page carried not a single reference to Pearl Harbor. Instead, all but four of the 20 headlines on Page 1 offered the latest war-related news.
But inside, a full-page photo of the USS Pennsylvania in dry dock and words describing the previous year’s attack dominated all of Page 2. The Pennsylvania had suffered damage in the Japanese raid.
Further inside, on the editorial page, the lead opinion piece bore the title, “We remember.”
“The year that ends today has been the bitterest and most humiliating year in our history,” the editorial read. “It has been bitter because of a succession of disasters. It has been humiliating because of our lack of preparation has rendered it impossible for us to stay the enemy and return blow for blow.”
1943 offered more of the same. No front page mention, and a short, simple lead editorial titled, “Pearl Harbor and today.”But the writer’s tone, this time, was different. No dreary take on how woefully unprepared the country had been, but instead an optimistic note about a nation now on the march.
“Two years after Pearl Harbor American fighting forces are advancing on every front where they are at,” the editorial read. “They are engaged in no mere holding operation anywhere and they are retiring nowhere.”
By 1944, the last full year of the war, the newspaper remembered the anniversary by running a photograph of the badly damaged USS Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor under a headline that read, “Three years ago — The stab in the back.” An accompanying story and map detailed Allied advances in the Pacific.
“American forces are driving deep into the western reaches of the great sea. They are fighting in the Philippines. They are bombing Tokyo from bases in the Marianas islands, and are waging warfare on all the approaches to Japan.”
That year’s anniversary editorial, titled “After three years,” centered on finishing off the Axis powers.
“Our present job is to crush the armies of our country’s enemies and to bring this ghastly war to a speedy conclusion,” it read.
By the next year’s anniversary, 1945, the war was over. Front page stories on December 7 that year included how Japan’s assets were being divided up by the Allies, how the Japanese commander had been sentenced to hang for condoning his troops’ atrocities and an Associated Press account headlined “Clamor arising 4 years after Pearl Harbor.”
The story began by calling the day “the great uncommemorated anniversary of American history,” and concluded with, “Nor was there evidence that the Japanese remembered Pearl Harbor, though its results lay all around them in ashes. Their conquests are vanished, their navy destroyed, their armies dissolved, their chief plotters either dead or languishing in prison or awaiting the knock of the arresting officer, come to charge them with the crime of aggressive war.
The Americans they roused to anger four years ago today now rule the shrunken land of Japan.”
The front page also included a haunting cartoon that showed the ghost-like images of soldiers, sailors and airmen noting the battles in which they’d been lost. “I died at Saipan. I died at Anzio. I died in a raid over Berlin.”
The lead editorial headline that anniversary?
“Remembering Pearl Harbor.”