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.
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.
Burning ships in Pearl Harbor drydocks- Dec 7 1941
Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives Collection
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 butwhen I look at the holocaust that is going on in the world today, I'm almost ready to let go"