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Posted at 03:59 PM ET, 12/07/2011

Remembering Pearl Harbor

I’m making the rounds of front pages (via the Newseum’s front-pages site), curious to see how newspapers played Pearl Harbor plus 70.

A number of papers did what the Los Angeles Times did, which was put a photo out front, keyed to a story inside. The Mobile Press-Register used multiple photo/graphic keys at the top of the front page. Many papers ran front-page stories and photos — big displays, dominating the page. Examples include the Oakland Tribune and the Boston Globe.

But there is nothing on the front of the Baltimore Sun, or the Detroit Free Press, or the Washington Post, or The Wall Street Journal.

There’s a story with photo on front of the New York Times.

A key at the bottom of the Miami Herald (my old paper) front page, pointing to story inside. Nothing on front of the Gainesville Sun (my other old paper — I delivered it). Big story with multiple photos on front of San Jose Mercury (interned there).

Big story with multiple photos on front of San Diego Union-Tribune. No story, just a key on top right of USA Today pointing to story inside. Big photo, key, long caption on front of Chicago Tribune. Small key on front of Chicago Sun-Times. Nothing on front of Newsday. Big story with photo on front of Palm Beach Post. Big story with photo on front of Philadelphia Inquirer. Big story with photo on front of St. Paul Pioneer-Press.Nothing on front of Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

Collectively, the newspapers seem to be saying that this anniversary is a big story. Most papers ran stories, and in most cases they were enterprise pieces, staff-written, with a local angle, and weren’t just wire stories (the AP story and the NYTimes story pop up in a few places). But I was struck that some papers didn’t even give the Pearl Harbor anniversary much play, or any mention at all out front. So the news judgment is kind of all over the map.

I wouldn’t draw any big conclusions from this. But I do wonder. I wonder if Pearl Harbor — the very definition of a world-changing event, with 2,400 Americans killed, and the country suddenly plunged into war — is gradually receding in national memory as the Greatest Generation leaves us. Is that possible? When does something become officially “a long time ago.” I don’t think 70 years is that long ago. I don’t even think 270 years is that long ago.

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I’ve pulled from my shelf John Keegan’s one-volume history “The Second World War,” in which he describes the elaborate preparations and precautions by the Japanese as they assembled their fleet and sailed toward Hawaii.

“Nagumo’s fleet approached Pearl Harbor inside the forward edge of one of the enormous weather fronts with regularly cross the Pacific at warship speed. This technique, long practised by the Japanese, ensured that the fleet’s movements would be protected by cloud and rainstorm from the eyes of any but a very lucky air or sea reconnaissance unit — from any systematic means of surveillance, indeed, except radar.”

There was, in fact, radar, but the approaching attack planes — 183 of them — were misinterpreted as friendlies, Keegan writes. Even when the planes appeared overhead, people assumed it was a drill.

We weren’t ready. We ignored the warning signs, the hints, the clues. We didn’t prepare for the worst. We didn’t believe it even when we saw it with our own eyes.

And the rest is history.

By  |  03:59 PM ET, 12/07/2011

 
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