Truth in wartime is elusive.
The Telegram-Tribune edition of December 7, 1942 illustrates the point.
One year after the attack at Pearl Harbor concrete details were finally being released to the general public.
Though it had been hinted at for the previous year the story that ran in this issue had a level of detail not allowed due to censorship.
The story by United Press reporter Sandor S. Klein outlined how close the U.S. Navy came to taking a knockout blow.
“A high naval officer said it was fair speculation that the balance of the Pacific Fleet could have been annihilated if the main Japanese battle force had followed up the initial blow. Hawaii then might have been open to an invasion attempt.”Every American battleship in port was hit, accounting for eight of the 17 in the entire U.S. fleet. In addition 11 other naval vessels were crippled and 177 aircraft, most of the Hawaiian air inventory were destroyed, the majority on the ground.
The precision stunned American commanders, but they were fortunate.
The Japanese did not press the attack, instead preferring to launch parallel attacks to secure oil supplies and territory in the South Pacific.
American aircraft carriers were not caught in port and would survive to fight key battles in 1942 including the decisive Midway. The war in the Pacific would be spearheaded by aircraft carriers not old battleships.
Ship repair and fuel storage facilities were not damaged. The U.S. Navy would still be able to mount operations from Hawaii.
The Navy said that only the Arizona was “permanently and totally lost.” The capsized Oklahoma was likely lost for the duration of the war but could be salvaged.
Other badly damaged ships were salvaged and many were back in action.
The photo on the front page was one of the first views readers had of how bad the attack was. Many photos published in this era were of the smoke on the horizon variety, low information images.
In this image sailors stand among wrecked seaplanes at Ford Island Naval Air Station as they watch the explosion of the USS Shaw in the background.
On the less accurate end of the reporting spectrum was coverage of a riot at the Manzanar, a Japanese relocation center. The United Press story cast the disturbance as conflict between factions in the camp, one loyal to the U.S. and one pro-Axis. The reality was more complex but did not fit into the popular narrative of the time that Americans were being protected from untrustworthy Japanese.
Ralph P. Merritt, camp administrator said in a 1945 report:
“This riot was in its essence not any pro-Japanese or Japanese nationalistic demonstration. The leader of the riot was Joe Kurihara, an American citizen, verteran [sic] of the last War, who carried two slugs of lead from wounds, and a member of the American Legion. His purpose was to protest against the detention of American citizens. Many diverse elements in the community joined with his group and there resulted a riotious condition which caused me to turn the camp over to the Military Police for more effective handling. On the night of December 6th, two innocent school boys were killed when an M. P. shot at random into the crowd and eight people were wounded. This event caused tremendous tension within the center.”
Other internet sources say a faction was upset by black market sales of their sugar rations. In any case the lack of privacy, arbitrary extra-constitutional circumstances and harsh high desert conditions must have made for difficult living.In other news of the week on December 3, San Luis Obispo was invaded by a Japanese two-man submarine. It was a war fund raising rally featuring the first overland submarine cruise of a Japanese mini-submarine captured during the Pearl Harbor raid. Purchase of a 10 cent war stamp allowed the curious to go inside a reconstructed replica. Schools in town were dismissed at 1 pm to allow students to see.
The lead headline this day was wildly inaccurate. Nine U.S. ships intercepted eight Japanese destroyers. The U.S. cruiser Northampton was sunk and two others were crippled in a battle near Guadalcanal. The Japanese only lost one destroyer not nine as the headline reports. Though the Japanese scored a tactical victory they failed to land reinforcements.
The biggest news occurred under an abandoned University of Chicago football stadium and would remain unreported for years. The first nuclear chain reaction of Uranium-235 was achieved by scientists Arthur Compton and Italian anti-fascist Enrico Fermi. The atomic age had dawned.