Indiana University Archives Exhibits

Reactions to Pearl Harbor

On December 7, 1941, at 7:55am local time, two waves of Japanese warplanes began a carefully planned attack on a strategic naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, drawing the United States into the bloodiest and most devastating conflict the world had ever witnessed. Five thousand miles and six time zones away, in Bloomington, wheels were set in motion as soon as the news was broadcast over the radio at approximately 2:10pm (ET). Dan Holthouse, ’42 campus editor, made several calls to see if a special Sunday edition of the Indiana Daily Student would be published. By 3:15pm a staff was organized and work was started. An hour later, the Associated Press flashed the news that Japan had officially declared war on the United States. The presses were rolling by 5:20pm and within 20 minutes paper boys were rushing out to sell the first batch of papers. The headline read, “Jap bombs kill 350 at Pearl Harbor.” The actual total would climb to over 2,300. By 8pm every one of the 2,000 copies printed of that issue had been sold out.

"The news was received by the students with a quietness that was grim in its intensity. The student body had been expecting war, but they were surprised with the suddenness of the beginning of hostilities. There were no demonstrations of any sort. Everywhere groups of students talked excitedly about the sudden turn of events. Great was the speculation as to what effect it would have on the University, but unanimous was the opinion that Japan was in for a sound whipping."

- Indiana Alumni Magazine - vol.4, no.3 (December 1941)

From that day forward, there were constant crowds in the Union Building swarming around the radios, trying to soak up every last bit of news which came in from the war bulletins. Many students even carried portable radios to their classes with them. The IU system and its leaders made it a priority to discourage students from reacting with anger and retaliation and emphasized how education was even more important now in time of war than during peace. The message was simple; help and support your country by being the best prepared and most informed person you can possibly be. This message was delivered in many forums.

When the news of the Japanese attack first reached the campus, President Wells immediately issued a statement basically stating that in its 120 years of existence Indiana University had always done its utmost to help in national crises, and that the country could count on IU to be there once again. Two days later he would issue a second statement, "In this crisis, every patriotic American wishes to make a contribution to the defense of the nation and to victory...Total war requires a stable, smoothly functioning society. Military experts predict that this will be a long war. Consequently it is necessary that the flow into society of men and women with college training be uninterrupted. In no other way can a highly mechanized and complicated economy like ours be maintained through a long period of productive strain. Most of you, therefore, can serve best through devoting extra effort to the matters at hand. Study a little more, use the library a little more; use the laboratory apparatus a little more, learn a little faster, in order that you may achieve more rapidly than you would in peace time the training and maturity which you will need for the tasks ahead. In this way, each of you can make a vital and effective contribution to the protection of your country and to the victory which must be won."

On December 9th, the Indiana Daily Student printed an editorial discussing President Roosevelt's Declaration of War speech. "Now we have a job to do. Each citizen has a job: each state has its job, and we on the campus of Indiana University have a job. Our first task must be to keep a clear, level head in the midst of intellectual hysteria that can so easily sweep the country. A university campus is the first place that this objective thinking should be prominent in the settlement of the many problems that now confront usWe do not want to act in a way that our opportunities to aid mankind in the future will be jeopardized. We must continue to plan for the things that lie beyond this chaotic valley that the world is in now. We are fighting for freedom and democracy now and we want to be prepared to administer it when the war is over."

On Dec. 13, 1941 President Wells announced that a special convocation would be held on Dec. 16, at which time he would speak on “Students in the War.” The purpose of the convocation was to explain the relationship of students to the present war situation and to define the responsibilities of students in the crisis. Additionally, the University Board of Trustees felt that it was important for the students to go home and discuss the situation with their parents at Christmas vacation (which began on December 20) before they did anything about joining the armed forces. Several members of the Board were students themselves at IU in 1917 when the U.S. committed forces to World War I. They remembered and did not want to see any rash decisions made which would cause the unnecessary loss of life. For those students ordered to report for military service between December 7th and the end of the semester, University administration announced full credit for the semester’s work would be given, provided the student had passing grades in their subjects at the time they would leave. There was a further stipulation that any student called into service who was not satisfied with the grade in any particular course they were taking at the time of leaving could take a special examination without paying the usual special examination fee. Both of these rulings applied to both drafted and enlisted men.

In general, due to the preparations and programs over the past few years prior to the war, IU was well prepared for what was to come. By December 7, the ROTC program had produced enough reserve officers. The number and quality of faculty at IU was a deep well of resource for research purposes in the war effort. In fact several of IU’s professors would be enlisted in the Manhattan Project, the secret research project to develop the atomic bomb. Overall, IU’s response to the “day of infamy” was one of comparative calm, careful planning, and consistent and productive progress.