Dec. 7, 1941: Kind of a slow news day for Miles City Star

Not surprisingly, the bound copy of the old issues of the Miles City Star for December, 1941, is in bad shape. It has obviously been consulted many times in the 75 years since Dec. 7, 1941. The pages for December 8 are completely loose and the cover has detached from the spine of the bound pages.

I was not surprised by the damage but I was rather surprised by the headlines. To begin with, I have always thought of Dec. 7 as “Pearl Harbor Day.” However, news of the attack did not reach the mainland until later, after the Sunday paper for the day had gone to press. So the December 7 newspaper is full of the usual thing, weddings and funerals and basketball games and some passing references to war preparations, because everyone knew it was coming. Not just how soon it was coming.

On December 8, the red, all capitals headline at the top of the page declared “U. S. DECLARES WAR.” 

Interestingly, the sub-heads, which were still larger than the usual headlines of the day, reported on incidents in Guam and Manilla. There is no Star headline that even mentions the name of the naval base in Hawaii.

In fact, the primary details in the newspaper on the attack on Pearl Harbor came via an Italian news service that was repeating what it learned from the Japanese news.

Perhaps, with radio providing a more immediate source of information, the newspaper did not feel the need to repeat the details of the attack that everyone had learned by the time the Monday paper was published.

Radio station KRJF — which later became KATL — normally went off the air at midnight and came on again at six in the morning.

For the moment, however, it was going to be on the air 24 hours a day, with news bulletins read as soon as they were received, until the immediate crisis had passed. 

There was also an editorial on the front page of the paper, calling for everyone “capital and labor, business man and farmer, Democrat and Republican, New Dealer and Anti-New Dealer” to unite in the effort.

The blatant racism of the time was also clearly on display. The editorial referred to “brown men” in reference to the Japanese, which seems very odd now. The three letter word “Jap” was also tossed around quite a bit.

And those people were being rounded up, the order having been given on Dec. 8, in Hawaii and as well as on the mainland, in what was going to be one of the darkest episode of the World War II, the unlawful detention of American citizens and the theft of their property and valuables, because those citizens looked like “the enemy.”

Great Britain, which had been at war in Europe for two years, also immediately declared war on Japan.

The headlines also pointed out that those who lived in Eastern U. S. were terrified. They had anticipated they would be attacked. The surprise was not just in the attack itself but in who attacked where.

War was declared in record time. There was even a newsreel shown at the Montana Theatre a few days later to accompany the Nelson Eddy movie “Balalaika.” “Received by Air Express from New York,” stated the advertisement. “Shows: President and Congress. Scenes in Pearl Harbor. War Special is ten minutes long.”

Yet, around the rest of the paper, advertisements for Christmas gifts went on. Weddings and funerals were reported. Basketball games were played. Life went on, even with war.

On a personal note, in the 1966 Star, my mother was asked what she was doing when she heard the news of Pearl Harbor. Another 25 years later, a Japanese exchange student at Miles Community College was sitting at her dinner table on Pearl Harbor Day and she remarked that she was amazed and pleased. 

In 1941, she couldn’t have imagined welcoming someone from Japan into her home. In 1991, she was happy to do so. Wars don’t last forever and neither do “enemies.”