The Mood Five Years After . . . Pearl Harbor

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On the anniversary of the American-led invasion of Iraq, we take a closer look at the state of the nation five years after the beginning of other wars. This list includes a captivating solar eclipse half a decade after the Vietnam War and the obsession with nuclear weapons five years after Japan bombed the port in Hawaii.

ALISON STEWART, host:

It is the fifth anniversary of shock and awe. The war in Iraq still makes news and it is regularly a debate point in the presidential race. But in terms of the public, is public consciousness on the war? Is history repeating itself? Producer Ian Chillag dusted off the old microfiche and tried to answer that question. So, Ian, the basis of this is we're going to take a look at previous wars, five years out, and what was going on.

IAN CHILLAG: Yeah, how much were people still talking about it, whether or not the war was over. And you know, the thing about these anniversaries is there isn't always a kind of shock-and-awe moment where you can say the war started this day, and Vietnam, I think we should work backwards. And we'll start with Vietnam, that's one case. For argument's sake, let's use March 8th, 1965. That's the date that the first official U.S. combat troops arrived in South Vietnam.

STEWART: OK, so by the five year anniversary of that date, 1970, more than 40,000 Americans had been killed and the U.S. was already drawing down its troops. In two months, four student protesters would be killed at Kent State. It would be five years until the last Americans would leave the embassy there.

CHILLAG: Yeah, I pulled out some newspapers from March 8th, 1970, and Vietnam, I was surprised, wasn't necessarily on the front page of all of them. There had been a solar eclipse the day before and pictures of that seemed to be kind of captivating the country. There were photos of it in the Syracuse Herald Journal, the Albuquerque Journal, which, incidentally, also had a story about Nixon's plan to explore space and get humans on the surface of Mars.

But there was some Vietnam news that day, 320 U.S. soldiers were being held in a Hanoi prison. I read in the Galveston Daily News, a North Vietnamese official told an AP reporter, quote, "We understand the concern of mothers and wives. Perhaps Vietnamese mothers and wives should go to the United States and ask for their children and husbands killed by U.S. bombs and shells, and for the return of their homes and schools, bridges, and roads."

STEWART: Let's take a look back to World War II. We're going to consider Pearl Harbor as the beginning of the U.S. involvement. So, let's call December 7th, 1946, the five-year anniversary. The war was more than a year over. Europe and Japan were rebuilding. What did you find?

CHILLAG: Well, a real obsession with nuclear weapons. Stories in a couple of papers from the Salt Lake Tribune, there was a story headline, "Big Three Agree on Weapon Ban." And this was a subcommittee of the UN Political and Security Committee members agreeing in writing that weapons of mass destruction other than the atomic bomb should be outlawed. I noticed the Soviet representative at that meeting was Foreign Minister Vya Molotov and he's the guy after whom the Molotov cocktail was named.

There's also just another story I loved, I found in an independent military newspaper, Pacific Stars and Stripes. I'll just quote from that. "General Joseph T. McNarney was officially reported to have scrapped the United States Army's 'hate the Germans' policy." It goes on, "An informed army source said, 'United States policy of teaching the soldiers to regard the Germans and innately militaristic people was halted.'" December 1946, also, I should note, marked the release of "It's a Wonderful Life," and we all think about this as being kind of a Christmas movie, I think.

STEWART: But when you put it in context of when it was released...

CHILLAG: Yeah. It reads really differently.

(Soundbite of movie "It's a Wonderful Life")

Mr. JAMES STEWART: (as George Bailey) Help me, Clarence! Get me back. Get me back, I don't care what happens to me! Get me back to my wife and kids. I want to live again.

CHILLAG: You know, Jimmy Stewart served in World War II, and Frank Capra actually worked on military films. But you want to move on to World War I?

STEWART: Sure. The U.S. gets involved when it declares war on Germany on April 6th, 1917. The war had been over a few years by the fifth anniversary on April 6th, 1922. So what were people talking about?

CHILLAG: Well, 31 nations were meeting in Genoa to talk about the rehabilitation of Europe. Here in the U.S, the aftermath of the war wasn't a topic in every paper. I was surprised to find the anniversary was marked in the kind of feature in the Nevada State Journal. I'll read some of that. "The world is different now from five years ago. And it is wondrously different from what it would have been had it not been for our intervention. Monarchy has almost been wiped from the face of the globe. The arrogant have been punished for their acts. Human nature has been so stirred that latent traits, some good and some bad, have been magnified."

STEWART: Now, the one I want to talk about is the Civil War. All right, because we have to go all the way back to the 1800s. The beginning of this one is marked by Confederate attack on Fort Sumter in South Carolina on April 12th, 1861.

CHILLAG: Yeah, and the fifth anniversary came about a year after the war ended. So I got the April 12th, 1866, edition of the New York Times. And a lot of issues, kind of, following the war were on the front page. There was a little heading - the New York Times didn't really have headlines, apparently, at this time.

STEWART: That's interesting.

CHILLAG: But a little heading said "Freedman Wanted." And this was just an item, there are at present, in the city, quite a number of planters and agents for the purpose of hiring freedmen to labor on plantations in Tennessee, Mississippi and other southern states. I thought that was interesting.

I also just wanted to look a little bit more into the Civil War. I called up a guy, Mark Grimsley. He's a history prof at Ohio State, and he focuses on the Civil War. He also maintains the Blog Them Out of the Stone Age blog, which is just all sorts of war history. So I asked him what was going on five years after the beginning of the Civil War.

Professor MARK GRIMSLEY (History, Ohio State University): Violence. A lot more violence I think than most Americans are aware of when they think about the reconstruction period.

CHILLAG: He talks about paramilitary groups resisting the new order in the South and, you know, one thing he said was that the Civil War was still a presence in the minds of Americans on its anniversary, saying that, you know, the degree to which things stay in the consciousness is really about how close the fighting is, and, of course, in this one, it was all around people. People were seeing injured - they were using different money.

All these changes actually were happening in the lives of people. I'll just say I'd been skeptical about the significance of these anniversaries, but looking back through history, I felt less this way. You see, you know, as you look at all these wars, five years is no time, and the effects of a war, whether it's over or not, they stick around.

STEWART: All right. Ian Chillag, thanks for doing all the research.

CHILLAG: Sure.

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