The early edition of The Daily Tar Heel announced a roundtable discussion scheduled for 3:00 the afternoon of December 7, 1941. The topic was “Must We Fight Japan?” Hours later the headline displayed above appeared in the newspaper’s “extra edition”.
Japan had declared settlements talks with the United States, over actions taken to prevent Japanese Pacific expansion which included the July 1941 oil embargo, a complete failure. President Roosevelt had just addressed a personal message to Emperor Hirohito indicating the United States was threatened by the buildup of Japanese military movements in Indo-China and the Gulf of Siam. Roosevelt was appealing directly to the Emperor over the heads of the Tokyo cabinet in order to prevent a “Far Eastern explosion.”1
While the State Department declined to disclose the contents of Roosevelt’s message they were simultaneously receiving reports of 125,000 Japanese troops in Indo-China, despite Tokyo’s dismissal of these claims as “exaggerated”. Clearly, a powder keg was about to explode.
The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill was scheduled to hold a forum on Tuesday night, December 9, at 8:00 p.m. to discuss national unity. The discussion would be moderated by Dean of Students F.F. Bradshaw who would be joined by four faculty members.
It promised to be a two-fisted debate, answering such questions as “Is national unity a means for propaganda? Should the Nyes and the Lindberghs be shut up?2 Are the figures behind Civilian Morale impartial individuals? What happens to civil rights under such programs?”3
Civilian morale was a hot topic that year. Before that day was over it would become red-hot. Some believed the government was propagandizing the populace in favor of war, as evidenced by history professor Wesley Bagby’s letter to the editor of The Daily Tar Heel:
We wish to express our earnest approval of the organization on the campus of an anti-propaganda group. Such an organization was never needed more than at the present when the campus and the nation are being flooded with the most vicious sort of propaganda of which they seem to be largely unaware.
We realize that the morale of the country is bad and is showing no improvement – and we believe that this is largely due to this flood of propaganda. The American people seem to be forgetting their ideals and high principles of the past. We seem to be drifting into a spirit of resignation or even descending to advocation of principles unworthy of supposedly civilized men.
We realize that at present the American people are being propagandized – that we are receiving inadequate presentation of both sides of the vital questions facing us. We realize that certain powerful forces in Washington; aided and abetted by the press, moving pictures, and radio of the country; are employing all the time-tested tricks of propaganda – lies, misrepresentation, constant repetition, and name calling in a tremendous effort to destroy the morale of the country and lead us into war.
Never was there a greater need for an anti-propaganda organization and we fervently hope that it will be successful. Let the American people have all the facts, let both sides be fully and fairly presented, and let them make their decision “based on common enlightenment, understanding and discussion of today’s critical problems – not on propaganda or suppression” and the American people will not go to war!
Despite Professor Bagby’s strong opinions to the contrary, the nation was hours away from declaring war on Japan and later Germany and Italy. Civilian morale may have been at a low point prior to the morning of December 7, 1941, yet the vast majority of the United States citizenry, following the initial shock, leapt to its feet in support of President Roosevelt’s declaration of war.
I was inspired to write some articles this week about this eventful week in history after watching a special on The History Channel. Tomorrow will feature a special Tombstone Tuesday article and Thursday will highlight the events of December 10, 1941.
Given the current state of our world, I wonder if today we could meet the type of challenge facing the United States in 1941. Do we have the will to do so? Frankly, I fear not. I do believe our brave soldiers would take it to the enemy with all their might, but does our government have the will to mount such an effort should it become necessary? What think you on this day of somber remembrance? Feel free to share your thoughts below.
Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!
© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2015.