December 7, 1941: Pearl Harbor, a naval base located in Hawaii, is bombed by the Japanese in the early hours of a sleepy Sunday morning. By the next day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had addressed Congress in one of the most famous speeches of the twentieth century, and the United States was at war with Japan.

We all know this familiar story that marks the U.S. entrance into World War II. December 7, now remembered as Pearl Harbor Day, was one of the most traumatic days that this nation has ever seen. This got us to wondering: how did people react to the news? Ordinary, everyday people, not just the President, or members of Congress or the military.


World War II Poster, “Avenge Pearl Harbor.” Record Group 44: Records of the Office of Government Reports, 1932 – 1947, National Archives and Records Administration.

In today’s world, it’s not difficult to get nearly instantaneous feedback on what people are thinking or feeling. You only need to search Google or Twitter for a hashtag, and you can take the temperature of the social media-literate public almost instantly. Take the recent attacks in Paris, for example: within hours of the mass shootings of November 13, #prayforparis was trending on every social media platform. Parisians used Facebook’s check in tool to let loved ones know that they were safe. And when Belgian police raided homes in Brussels, they asked residents not to tweet sensitive information about the raids that could jeopardize their success. So instead of a play-by-play of events on the ground, #brusselslockdown showed pictures of Belgium’s cats saving the day. But what of World War II? How can we find out what people were thinking and feeling on the bloodiest day on U.S. soil since the Civil War? Listen as Elizabeth, Katie, and Dan explore that very question on this week’s edition of the History Buffs podcast!

Show Notes and Further Reading

Library of Congress, “After the Day of Infamy: ‘Man on the Street’ Interviews Following the Attack on Pearl Harbor.”

Library of Congress, Digital Preservation Initiatives

“Ford’s Anti-Semitism.” American Experience, WGBH Boston. 

Historical Opinion twitter account. 

“Lend-Lease and Military Aid to the Allies in the Early Years of World War II.” U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian. 

Ngai, Mae M. Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America. Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 2003.


Tharoor, Ishaan. “What Americans Thought of Jewish Refugees on the Eve of World War II.The Washington Post. November 17, 2015.

On the Library of Congress Twitter Archive: 

Raymond, Matt. “How Tweet it Is!: Library Acquires Entire Twitter Archive.” April 14, 2010.

Scola, Nancy. “Library of Congress’ Twitter archive is a huge #FAIL.” July 11, 2015. .

Zimmer, Michael. “The Twitter Archive at the Library of Congress: Challenges for Information Practice and Information Policy” July 6, 2015.

Feature Image: Pearl Harbor scene showing USS SHAW exploding. General Negative Collection, State Archives of North Carolina, Raleigh, NC.

Man on the Street interviews after the bombing of Pearl Harbor #history #worldwarII #wwII #ww2


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