1941: Fletcher Collins
Musicologist Fletcher Collins, now 95 years old, was one of approximately ten men who recorded the interviews collected by the Library of Congress in the days and weeks following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Collins now lives in Staunton, Virginia. The following are excerpts from his interview with producers Elana Hadler Perl and John Biewen.
I was in our dining room where we had a floor model Philco radio, and I was listening to the symphony concert in the afternoon, and it suddenly cut off and a voice came on announcing the Pearl Harbor bombing. It was early afternoon in North Carolina. I lived out in the country from Elon College, which was the name of the town in which the college was. It's near Chapel Hill and Greensboro and Durham. I was teaching at Elon.
I'd been collecting folk songs; I'm an old folk song collector, traditional British-American songs. I have 250 or so in the [American] Folklife Center in D.C. And a lot of them, when I could, I got with a borrowed Presto recorder from the Library of Congress. Before that I'd always had to write down the melodies by hand, which was tedious. The instrument itself was twenty-five pounds. The batteries were another fifty, I guess, an A battery and a B battery, and most of the places I went didn't have electricity so you had to lug all this stuff. It was an aluminum disc, it played at 78 [rpm], I guess. It played with a needle, like the old-time phonographs. And you could make your own needle with a good-quality thorn.
I don't think anybody, except some of the most anti-war peaceniks, were in favor of staying out of the war [at] that point. Up until then, [some people said], "Well, don't hurry about getting in, let's hope we don't have to. War's hell and what's the use in getting into it, it's a way off distance." We'd been in World War I and didn't get much out of it except the Europeans telling us we didn't get in soon enough and so forth.
So [after Pearl Harbor], it [favoring entry into the war] was kind of acceptable, you might say. And I found that was true of my friends and neighbors who I recorded. A batch of them around my kitchen table with a wonderful bottle of well-aged corn liquor in the middle of the table. The discussion got better and better as we went along. But it was all very good. Essentially they said, "All right, they asked for it, let's go get 'em. Yep. Don't fool around." And it was realistic; it was what you do when you're attacked. You don't run away and talk about peace.
I don't think I was thinking of my place in history. I was thinking of it as wanting to have somebody hear what the real people were talking about. And you weren't hearing them on the air. I didn't have to prompt them. I didn't have to say, "Tell me how much you like the war," and all that. Absolutely no push at all. And there was some variety. Some said, 'Well, it's a terrible thing, I wish we didn't have to do it," and all that. Others were just pumm! "Just got to do it and that's it." They thought it was a nasty sneak attack and it was a challenge and we had to answer the challenge. Go and get em. Just the way you would a skunk or a wolf or something. Most of them were close enough to the land that they saw it in terms of survival. Animal violence.