December 7, 2007

Howard Goes To War

"... The Imperial Japanese Navy had extinguished a world the previous Sunday, but even a small college has a certain cultural momentum...."

WWII makes headlines in a 1941 issue of the Howard College CrimsonThe shock had not yet worn off when the Howard College Crimson published on Friday, Dec. 12, 1941. The Imperial Japanese Navy had extinguished a world the previous Sunday, but even a small college has a certain cultural momentum. The B.S.U. Frolic would stop for nothing. The A Cappella Choir sported new robes in chapel on Wednesday. But, looking back at this moment, one gets the impression of a collective holding of breath.

In that first week of war the truth was just getting its boots on, as the saying goes. Frustrated by a rapidly changing news landscape, Crimson editors began and discarded several editorials before their deadline.  Finally, they decided, "life must go on:"

For the fourth time we begin an editorial hoping that this time the material will not be obsolete before Friday.

The United States is at war.

We can remember a few years back when England first went to war. We ran out and bought an "extra" and ran all excited to show it to the family. A sickening sensation came over us and fear gripped our hearts.

We can remember, too, the first talk we heard of the possibility of Uncle Sam's entering the war and how we shuddered at the horrifying thought.

We can remember the dark fear and sleepless nights we spent worrying over our loved ones when the draft was first discussed. We recall the knot that came in our throat when we first saw that brother of ours in a uniform.

From the time we were in grammar school and heard older persons talk of the horrors of war we had a feeling of panic at the very thought of its coming again.

At first, when Europe became so involved in the war, a slight tremor went over us as the planes from the nearby airport flew over Howard and we thought, "what if this were war?".

Today the United States is at war–the inevitable– and our fears have become a reality. Friends and brothers not only have on uniforms now but are possibly engaged in actual combat as this is being written. War has come again and cities in our country have real reason to fear when an unknown plane flies over.

But somehow that feeling of panic, those shudders at the thought of war, and that paralyzing fear we experienced in anticipating it has gone now that we face the grim realness of it all.

We know we haven't realized just yet exactly what it all means. A world war in which our– what we thought impregnable– shores have been attacked is a bit too colossal for us to grasp the meaning of at first.

We sit by the radio and listen at the news broadcast. The plays we enjoyed so much last week seem melodramatic now as we turn the dial in search of news. Reports have it that Japanese planes are sighted an hour from Boston but it's time for class. We turn the radio off and dash to the class and listen while a language professor explains the importance of articles agreeing with nouns.

We listen to the radio again. The commentator announces that the United States is now at war with Germany and Italy. We can expect fighting on both coastlines now and we think and try to vizualize what this means. And the telephone rings. There will be a meeting of the P.D.Q. Club Monday. Can we be there, a voice asks.

We return to the radio and find that the family has started a lively discussion on the possibility of Birmingham being bombed. Heated debate follows and then breakfast is announced. The subject of fried chicken is substituted for war.

The United States is at war. Do you hear me? WE are fighting and yet chicken still tastes good and yawns follow lack of sleep and classes are to be met and lessons prepared and The Crimson must go to press and hangnails are irritating and life goes on....

Some of the shock wore off over the Christmas break. News of Howard's part in the war filled The Crimson in early 1942. Life did go on—not much longer for some—but the students now frolicked in support of defense bonds. Preachers took up rifles. Advertisements in The Crimson now extolled the twin pleasures of driving tanks and smoking Camel brand cigarettes. With a puff of smoke and grinding gears, Howard was off to war.

More Info

Pearl Harbor Raid, 7 December 1941–Overview and Special Image Selection