The Dec. 8, 1941 edition of the Post-Gazette documents a flashpoint in history. Articles, photos and even ads show how drastically the world had changed in a day. Pearl Harbor took over the paper just as the events of Dec. 7 took over the lives of people all over the globe.
A big dense headline tops the front page and 10 stories describe the Pearl Harbor attack, plans of President Franklin Roosevelt, movements of Japanese troops, the sinking of a Japanese carrier and the reaction of war opponent Charles Lindbergh (“Lindbergh Has Nothing to Say”).
In the local section, the news is that recruiting offices are set for a rush, the mayor has called a conference on defense, and a meeting at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall that started as an anti-war, anti-Roosevelt gathering of the “America Firsters” devolved into chaos with word of the devastating Japanese attack on the U.S. Navy in Hawaii.
The Soldier & Sailors event was covered in detail. The America First Committee was founded in 1940 and grew quickly to 800,000 members, garnering a great deal of attention. The interventionist group opposed Roosevelt and aid to Britain in its fight against Hitler’s Germany.
The speaker on the 7th was U.S. Sen. Gerald P. Ney, R-N.D. He was told of the attack before the rally but dismissed the report as unfounded. When he insulted FDR, an army reserve colonel stood up and called out, “I wonder if the audience knows that Japan has attacked us and that Manila and Pearl Harbor have been bombed…” He was shouted down and some America Firsters wanted to rough him up, but he was escorted out by police.
Nye took the podium and proceeded with his speech. A reporter handed him a note saying that Japan had declared war on the United States. Nye glanced at it, then kept speaking. But reporters persisted, handing Nye more notes. Finally he stopped, the import of the new apparently sinking.
“I have before me the worst news that I have encountered in the last 20 years. I don’t know exactly how to report it to you, but I will report it just as a newspaperman reported it to me,” he said, then read aloud the Japanese declaration of war. The audience sat stunned as Mr. Nye added, “I can’t somehow believe this … but I suppose I must.” The rally ended, as did the America First movement.
The war even seeped into advertising. On page 12, a full-page ad proclaims: Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without the fun of seeing Kaufmann’s Windows. Four pictures depict toy marching soldiers, toy armament factory workers, a toy trumpeter playing a silent reveille to wake up a toy soldier, and a toy Uncle Sam.