Pearl Harbor as a Reporter Experienced it in Manila

Today marks the 71st anniversary of the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor. Popular history places Dec. 7, 1941 — the day that would live in infamy — as the start of the U.S. involvement in World War II. Of course, the situation was more complicated than that. Reporters like Melville Jacoby saw war coming for some time. They witnessed rising tensions in the days and weeks that preceded Pearl Harbor and speculated when (and where), not if, war would come. In his role as Time Magazine's Far East bureau chief, Mel relayed those reports that seemed most credible and his analysis of the news collected across Asia to the magazine's editors in New York City. These editors, in turn, synthesized Mel's cables for news updates in Time (and, at times, Luce's other publications, LIFE and Fortune) and drew upon them as background for future stories.

This week, as December 7 approached, I tweeted bits of the cables Mel wrote during that last week of "peace." Now, I'd like to share pieces of what Mel cabled the day of the attacks (which, because the Philippines are on the other side of the International Date Line, meant it was Dec. 8, 1941 when Manila heard about the attacks).

At first, Mel cabled, the the gravity of the situation didn't seem to register in the Filipino capital:

"Manila has not yet digested the fact of war. Balloon and toy salesmen and vendors on the streets with extra editions are just appearing as fully equipped soldiers are appearing."

That first cable, sent from Manila at 10 a.m. to Time's David Hulburd, confirmed bombing raids at three locations across the Philippines, though at that point there hadn't yet been raids, or even alarms, in the city. However, American military officials prepared to fight.

"MacArthur's headquarters were the grimmest place at dawn this morning when the war staff was aroused to face war [and] send troops to their battle stations. Extra headquarters guards arrived at 9.A.M. as officers began donning helmets and gas masks while grabbing hurried gulps of coffee and sandwiches."

As officers began to study maps and reporters crowded into press rooms, rumors began to spread across the city.

"The whole thing has busted here like one bombshell, though, as previous cables showed the military has been alert over the week."

In only a few hours, though, the city began to realize what was happening, as Mel wrote in another cable that day:

"War feeling hit the populace about noon time when there were full runs on banks, grocery stores, gas stations. All taxis and garage cars were taken by the military, clogging transport systems. Our own planes overhead are drawing thousands of eyes now, while they didn't earlier this morning..."