Pearl Harbor Documentary To Debut Ahead Of Attack's 75th Anniversary

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Sailors in a motor launch rescue a survivor from the water alongside the sunken USS West Virginia (BB-48) during or shortly after the Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor. USS Tennessee (BB-43) is inboard of the sunken battleship. (Courtesy Army Signal Corps Collection/U.S. National Archives)

Commemorations are getting underway in Honolulu to mark next week’s 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Now, a new unnarrated documentary that premieres Sunday on the Smithsonian Channel aims to tell the story of the strike on Dec. 7, 1941, through film recordings and radio news reports — some that have rarely been seen or heard in decades.

Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson speaks with journalist and executive producer Tom Jennings, the man behind “The Lost Tapes: Pearl Harbor.”

Interview Highlights

On anti-war sentiment in the U.S. before the attack

“There was quite a bit actually, and Charles Lindbergh is a great example. He kinda brought a celebrity phase to something that was called the ‘America First movement.’ And he was one of hundreds of thousands of people in the Untied States at the time that said, ‘We don’t want anything to do with what’s going on in Europe. We feel bad about it, but we’re going to stay here right at home.’ And what that did was putting President Roosevelt in a very difficult position, because he wanted to help — especially Winston Churchill during the blitz years. He wanted to get involved, but he couldn’t.

“So in our film, you’ll also see where Roosevelt is saying, ‘OK, we’re not gonna get involved,’ but we will become what he called the ‘Arsenal of Democracy,’ which means he’s gonna send tanks, and whatever materials they need. But his hands were really tied because he knew if he had to go to Congress and get a declaration of war, he wouldn’t get it. So it was a frustrating position and you see that actually in some of the clips that we have of Roosevelt leading up to the war, and when Dec. 7 happened, he was able to break free of these shackles, and not only declare war on Japan, but then enter the war in Europe.”

On “man on the street” interviews the day after the attack

“I was fascinated by this part of our research and finding Alan Lomax’s archive. These archive pieces have not been heard in 70 years. He did go out, and he sent crews out in 10 different cities to get reaction, because that’s what he did. Alan Lomax was a famous folklorist in the United States. What you hear, I was really surprised by how calm people were, and how thoughtful they were… But at the same time, in listening to these hours and hours of wonderful man on the street interviews, everyone had a common purpose at the end of the day. It was remarkable how that anti-war sentiment, for example, was nowhere to be found in any of Alan’s interviews at the time. It was a remarkable thing, a snapshot — albeit a audio snapshot — of what people were feeling, one day after the attack.”

On why he thinks Japan attacked the U.S.

“The best guess I can bring up, based on what we’ve seen and heard, is that the United States was very concerned that the Japanese were becoming too big a power in the Pacific. The U.S. government wound up at the time cutting off their trade of oil and steel to Japan. And Japan, being an island nation, being cut off from oil and steel imports from the United States, was only gonna be a matter of time before they ran out of fuel, before they ran out of materials that they could build war machines with. And so they felt, in a sense, that, ‘If we’re going to get ahead of this, we have to strike first.'”

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