In this week that marks the 75th anniversary of the devastating surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, I talk with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Steve Twomey. His new book “Countdown to Pearl Harbor: The 12 Days to the Attack” is an eye-opening look at the mistakes, misconceptions and miscommunications that prevented U.S. forces from recognizing that the American fleet harbored at Pearl Harbor would be the target of a massive Japanese attack.
Every day when I come into my office at GPB, I see a framed newspaper behind my desk that reminds me of the impact the stunning news of the attack had on the American people, who never thought the Japanese had the skills or resources to deal us such a horrific blow.
My father was a newspaper junkie. For decades, he saved the front pages of newspapers reporting some of the most important stories of the 20th Century. I have four of those newspapers hanging behind my desk, including the Chicago Sun’s front page reporting on the Pearl Harbor attack. When I look at that front page and realize that every story is about Pearl Harbor, it reminds me of how history can change at a moment’s notice. Suddenly, on December 8, 1941, the only news that mattered was that the United States was about to enter a world war. Steve’s book makes it clear that there was little chance we could have avoided war with Japan, but had our intelligence services and military commanders read the signals more clearly, we might have avoided the terrible loss of life at Pearl Harbor on that Day of Infamy.
By the way, the other three front pages in my office are:
The Chicago Daily News front page of Thursday, April 12, 1945, announcing the death of President Franklin Roosevelt;
The Friday, November 22, 1963 edition of the Chicago American reporting on the assassination of JFK;
And the Friday, September 1, 1939 front page of the Cleveland Plain Dealer (dad’s hometown newspaper) reporting on the Nazi invasion of Poland.