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The “Man in the Street” Reacts to Pearl Harbor

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, stunned virtually everyone in the United States military. Japan’s carrier-launched bombers found Pearl Harbor totally unprepared. President Franklin Roosevelt quickly addressed Congress to ask for a declaration of war. In the wake of the attack and Roosevelt’s speech, folklorists employed by the Library of Congress rushed out to the streets of Washington, D. C., to record public reaction. The selection of “man on the street” interviews showed a wide range of public responses to the attack and to FDR’s speech. Young servicemen seemed most concerned about canceled furloughs, while a Polish immigrant swore his undying loyalty to the United States. African Americans in a poolhall insisted on their people’s contribution to American history.

Listen to Audio:

Interviewer: What was the first feeling you had—any of you fellas—about when you first . . .

Man #1: Might as well get it over with. We’re here, we gotta learn. And we might as well make use of it.

Interviewer: Are you fellas out at Mead or . . .

Man #1: We’re over at the Bellvoir.

Interviewer: Bellvoir.

Man #1: Training.

Interviewer: Was there any change in the camp, I mean, any difference in the orders?

Man #1: Nah, except that the fellas were worried about paying and getting home. They were worried more about the fans than they were of the war.

Interviewer: So would you say a word? What’s your name?

Jay Noreski: Yes sir. My name is Noreski. Jay Noreski. I’m a World War veteran. 1917 and 18. The last time I went to fought for democracy. They told me to fight for democracy. And I went over. I volunteered. But next time, I’m going to fight. There’s hate in my heart. What’s in me, what’s in my veins. I’m gonna kill, slaughter those Nazi ones if I come across a wounded one, wouldn’t interest me. I’d kill my own father if he dared fight against this country. I’m an American, not by birth, but by choice. And I’m mighty damn proud of it. What are you going to do in this county to chase every damn skunk—German, Russian, Japanese, where they come from—and never bring them back in this country. If I had—I wish I was the President for about one year, I would—there’d be not a goddamn skunk left here in this country. And I’m gonna tell you something else—United States never lost a war yet and never gonna lose it because five guys, we might [inaudible] about our presidents, about our Congressmen, about our—what do you call it? in charge of a state?

Interviewer: Secretary of State?

Noreski: No no no.

Interviewer: Governors?

Noreski: Governors. But when they come to fight, dammit we’ll fight to the last breath. And I’m mighty damn proud I’m American. Only one thing hurts me, my heart is American, my thoughts are American, but my damn tongue, I never naturalized that. [Laughter]

Andrew Smith: My name’s Andrew Smith. And I tell you, what I feel about the war, they’ve been talking war long enough. And they’ve been talking long time that we should have been in it. Way I feel about it—if it’d been up to me we’d a been fighting a year ago. When Hitler first started they’d been fighting, see, they would have stopped him before he got as far as they are. They’d have stopped him, in fact, that’s what I think this one’s gonna come up to be to stop him. And that’s the good thing that this really started, I think. As far as Japan’s concerned, why it’s just like he just said, it’s a stab in the back. They started something that nobody else, nobody gonna start, you know, and the man was supposed to be here, supposed to’ve been talking peace to our President, and they starting war over there. Well, I don’t think it was justice. No justice there. Negro people would do their very best if they had a chance to do what they can, that they would do their very best to do what they can. See? But, if they have a chance to do it. All they want is a chance. Because if they don’t get a chance, that’s the only reason they don’t do it because they really don’t get a chance. See? But if they get a chance, why I really think they would do their very best, especially if they all feel like I feel.

Source: Courtesy of the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.

See Also:"A Date Which Will Live in Infamy": FDR Asks for a Declaration of War
"This Is No Joke: This Is War": A Live Radio Broadcast of the Attack on Pearl Harbor