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Mar 03

Dairy workers in short supply, World War II week by week

World War II headlines include the court martial of the commanders in charge during the Pearl Harbor attack. Telegram-Tribune Feb. 28, 1942

Newspapers in early 1942 were a mixture of bad news from the war front and impossibly optimistic reports based on flimsy evidence.

Locally the dairy industry was impacted by demands from the selective service. The Harmony Valley Creamery association sent a letter to the head of the draft board requesting deferments to preserve production levels for an industry described as defense-vital.

Production in the Paso Robles district had fallen 37 percent as draftees sold their herds and equipment with no one to step forward to replace men selected to fill the draft quota. The war would be one factor in the widespread consolidation of an industry that at one time was distributed throughout the coast.

Sugar was to be rationed, elementary school teachers would serve as registrars.

An impossibly optimistic report said that U.S. and Dutch forces had routed the Japanese force steaming to assault Java.

In addition a raid on the German held coast of France was breathlessly called “…possibly in preparation for American and British attempts to open a new fighting front in Europe.”

The invasion of Normandy was still over two years away and did not even have a commander yet. The writer clearly had no idea how difficult this task would be.

Rear Admiral Husband E. Kimmel and Maj. Gen. Walter C. Short were allowed to turn in their retirement papers “without condonation of any offense or prejudice to any future disciplinary action.”

The Roberts commission castigated the Pearl Harbor commanders.

“The Japanese attack was a complete surprise to the commanders, ” the report said, and they failed to make suitable dispositions to meet such an attack.

“Each failed properly to evaluate the seriousness of the situation. These errors of judgment were the effective causes for the success of the attack.”

Another commander who had been equally caught by surprise, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, was fighting under desperate conditions on the Bataan Peninsula. Another impossibly optimistic story said American and Filipino defenders had stabilized their line with an unexpected attack, though the article did note that the odds were overwhelming as the Japanese gathered strength.

A committee headed by Democratic Texas congressman Martin Dies asserted that Japanese espionage and attack were a grave peril.

They quoted a Japanese general’s four point plan to 1. Conquer Hawaii 2. Destroy the U.S. Pacific fleet and Panama Canal, 3. Land troops on the Pacific coast and establish a line of defense along the Rocky Mountains while the coast was mopped up, 4. Push forward with an offensive to the industrial east. The author, Lieut. Gen. Kiyokatsu Sato said the war might last “at least four of five years” or longer. Here was a report by someone who did not understand how hard it would be to move an army across the arid west, even if you accept the doubtful proposition that California would be a pushover.

Fear generated by reports like this were used to trample the civil rights of Japanese-Americans who left Japan to build a better life here.

Some of the bad information would be due to wartime hysteria. The old saying is truth is the first casualty of war.

Some of the writing was the product of a school of stylized writing that was still popular in some circles. Facts were elusive and writing with style and punch was the goal, sometimes leading to stories that were interesting but flat wrong.

Wishful thinking is strongly evident in some stories, no doubt it was difficult to write day after day and document the grim advance of the Axis forces.

Lastly in a day where video, photos and text are instantly transmitted via satellite it is hard to imagine how hard it was to get any information across the vast Pacific from the front lines that in many cases were surrounded by the enemy. In many cases news organizations did not even have a reporter within a thousand miles of the sites they had to write about. Stories were written from third hand information. Not a recipe for accuracy.

World atlas books were taken off the shelf by editors and readers alike as strange sounding datelines clattered out of wire service teletype machines across America.

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