A news analysis
By BRIAN HAWKINS
December 1941 — World War II raged in Europe as Germany and Italy aggressively moved to exert their influence. France and Poland had been under German control for several months, Russia had signed a non-aggression pact with Germany and Great Britain was the sole nation fighting against the Nazi threat.
In the Far East, Japan, which had allied itself with Germany and Italy, had invaded China and advanced toward the island colonies of Indochina and Indonesia.
The United States, meanwhile, had pledged to remain neutral in the war, though America was providing financial aid and supplies to the British in fighting Germany. Japan had sought to maintain positive relations with the U.S., but its invasion of Indochina in July 1941 prompted President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to declare an embargo on all exports to Japan and freeze all Japanese holdings in the U.S. and U.S.-controlled areas.
After the U.S. then began supplying aid to China, Japan responded with a similar embargo and asset freeze.
Over the next several months, Japanese leaders began negotiating with Roosevelt, then-Secretary of State Cordell Hall and other key U.S. officials, culminating in a “peace mission” beginning Nov. 20, 1941, in which Japanese ambassadors demanded an end to the embargo, an end to Chinese aid and a demand the U.S. supply Japan with as much gasoline as it needed.
The U.S. refused, but made several counterproposals. Little did they know that Japanese military leaders had been planning an attack for several months — an attack on the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, that came Dec. 7, 1941 — 69 years ago Tuesday — just as Japanese officials abruptly announced that all negotiations had ceased.
Involving a total of 103 high-level bombers, 129 dive bombers, 40 torpedo bombers and 79 fighters, the Japanese strike force took off from ships 230 miles north of Oahu, the island where Pearl Harbor is located.
According to a military timetable of the attack, the first wave of 183 aircraft began bombing U.S. ships at 7:55 a.m., attacking Pearl Harbor from all sides after splitting from an initial approach from the northwest. The first strike also involved an attack on other military airports at Wheeler Field and the Kaneohe peninsula.
Initially hit in the first wave at 7:55 a.m. are the ships Raleigh, Helena, Utah and Oklahoma, one of the eight largest ships stationed in the center of the harbor along what was commonly known as “Battleship Row.” Six minutes later, a bomb explodes on the battleship Nevada.
At 8:06 a.m., a 1,763-pound Japanese missile hits the battleship Arizona, killing 1,000 sailors aboard the ship many now recognize as synonymous with the Pearl Harbor attacks. Two minutes after the Arizona is hit, bombs strike the U.S.S. West Virginia; four minutes later, the ship Utah sinks.
Just 59 minutes after the first wave of the attack began, the second wave of 168 Japanese aircraft attacks Pearl Harbor from the northeast. Japanese planes in this wave also attack Hickam and Bellows airfields and continue strikes at Kaneohe.
At 9:06 a.m. bombs hit the ships Shaw, Downes and Pennsylvania in dry dock, followed by the Raleigh two minutes later. The battleship California is in flames. At 9:20 a.m. a bomb passes through the dock alongside the cruiser Honolulu, exploding underwater and damaging her oil tanks and hull.
Just after 9:30 a.m., it appears the attack is over, and 2,403 Americans have been killed and another 1,178 wounded. Seven battleships have been destroyed and 15 others have sustained moderate to heavy damage. Some 347 U.S. military aircraft have been destroyed or damaged.
On Dec. 8, Roosevelt, in a fiery six-minute speech to Congress, asked for and received a declaration of war on Japan and its allies, Germany and Italy.
America was now at war.
Local headlines reflect shift to nation at war
Locally, Starkville and Oktibbeha County rallied behind the nation’s leaders and the war efforts. A banner headline across the front page of the Dec. 12, 1941, edition of The Starkville News (the weekly predecessor to today’s Starkville Daily News) read: “County unites for war effort.”
That particular edition of the newspaper contained various items about the local response to call for action to support U.S. fighting men and women, including:
• A mass meeting of every local citizen to unify the community behind the war effort was called to “keep the community self-sustaining and alert” by the local Civil Defense and Red Cross chapter.
The meeting would set courses in first aid, nurse training and bandage making and other areas to meet needs of the war effort, with a room in the Hotel Chester opened to serve as headquarters for such work.
“It is extremely important for every patriotic citizen Oktibbeha County to be present at the meeting...,” read a statement from meeting organizers. “If you want to do your part in helping your country win this war, please be on hand to learn what you as an individual can do. The help of every single person will be needed... Show your love for your country by offering your services.”
• A brief report about “Oktibbeha boys serving in the war zone” listed the following names of the following locals serving in Hawaii and the Philippines at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack: Capt. Waller Sudduth, Capt. and Mrs. William Stennis and two children, Lt. Yeates Lucas, Lt. T.R. Perry, Capt. Fritz Weddell, Charles Castles, Ben Douglas, Wilburn Saunders, James Oley Dorset and Luke Williams.
The newspaper also called for notification if any names of those serving in what had been dubbed “the war zone” had been omitted.
• An editorial column called “Light Whines and Cheers” by Grady Imes was anything but light as Imes, in a fiery piece, condemned the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the Axis powers.
“No name is too vile, nor any term too severe to apply to the world’s No. 2 bandit government, Japan. No government with a single iota of honor would stab another in the back without warning. The yellow gangsters took their cue from their master, Hitler. We are at war. Japan started it and we will end it,” Imes wrote.
A week later, in the Dec. 19, 1941, edition of The Starkville News, numerous news items reported about the continued drive locally to support the war effort, including:
• A campaign by the local Red Cross chapter to raise $3,000 for the national Red Cross organization’s war relief fund.
“The fund is acutely needed to provide for relief for civilian populations bombed from their homes by the Japanese and for those who are under the threat of enemy action the Pacific war emergeny or upon the continent of the United States. Funds also are required for the humanitarian work of the Red Cross for men in the armed forces,” said Jesse F. Ricks, who co-chaired the campaign with Ed Scott.
• A volunteer center for civilian defense was established, with Mrs. George B. Hightower serving as county chairman.
“Mrs. Hightower will be in her place of business at the county library in the courthouse to register persons who wish to volunteer their services for any activity connected with civilian defense work,” the newspaper’s story read.