|Relations between the United States and Japan, strained in the 1930s over Japan's foreign policy in China and the resulting failure of Roosevelt to invoke the neutrality act, only worsened in 1940 and 1941. In July 1940, the American government placed an embargo on all scrap iron, steel, high octane gasoline, and aviation lubrication oil going to Japan. On September 27, 1940, Japan signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy, making them allies. On January 7, 1941, U.S. Ambassador to Japan Joseph C. Grew in Tokyo warned his superiors, "There is a lot of talk around town to the effect that the Japanese, in case of a break with the U.S., are planning to go all out in a surprise mass attack at Pearl Harbor. I rather guess that the boys in Hawaii are
|not precisely asleep." Though it's clear now that America was on a path toward war with Japan throughout the 1940s, no one really expected any attack east of the Philippines. Hawaii, not yet a state, was to Americans a dreamy paradise in 1941.
The most popular movie made about Hawaii up to that time was Waikiki Wedding (1937), starring Bing Crosby. Full of grass skirts, palm trees, and sweet Crosby crooning, Waikiki Wedding helped crystallize in the minds of many Americans the image of Hawaii as a carefree paradise. Later, during the war years, a medley of the songs from this movie would be sung again by Bing Crosby on a V Disc. Waikiki Wedding is referred to in the medley introduction as, "A foolish fable of those faraway times." The songs below help show the total disconnect between the reality of war and tragedy that was soon to unfold on that Pacific island paradise.
|Images of Hawaii as a paradise prevailed right up until the Japanese attack. In March 1941, Sammy Kaye recorded "Hawaiian Sunset," yet another interpretation of Hawaii as a tropical, romantic paradise:
Hawaiian Sunset, soft shadows falling,
The hush of twilight, and lovely you.
Hawaiian Sunset, I hear it calling,
and in the sunset I'll come to you.
Even the cover of the sheet music evokes beauty, love, peace.
||Johnny Noble made a career out of promoting Hawaiian-themed music to the American mainland in the 1920s and 1930s. His song, "It's Heaven in Hawaii," also released in 1941, would be one of the very last of its kind:
It's Heaven In Hawaii
The palms are swaying as you and I are straying
beside a silver sea
It's Heaven In Hawaii
On December 7, 1941, 350 Japanese planes launched in two waves from six aircraft carriers attacked the American navy and army facilities on Oahu, killing 2,400 Americans and forcing America into a war.
|Song titles and lyrics about the attack on
Pearl Harbor and America's entry into the War
are often vicious and full of themes of violence.
Intense competition among sheet music and record
producers in Manhattan's Tin Pan Alley meant
that songs were
|written and rushed into production
days or even hours after the attack. These songs
thus captured the raw anger, humiliation, and
feelings of betrayal that most Americans felt
about Pearl Harbor. The attack also made it
socially acceptable to express these emotions
in ways that took on not just connotations of
nationalism and patriotism, but also of race. Though his was not the first song
penned following the attack, composer Charles
Tobias's song "We Did It Before (and We Can Do it Again)" was
the first to receive air play, thanks to his
brother-in-law singer Eddie Cantor, who performed
the song on his radio variety show Wednesday
night, December 10. More upbeat and less vicious than many that
would follow, the song was a reminder of the
country's effort to make the world safe for
democracy a generation before, and an acknowledgment
of the work that lay ahead; work that could
possibly take as many as ten years to finish.
Exceptionally popular, the song was recorded
by multiple artists, including Carl Hoff and
his Orchestra (with vocals by The Murphy Sisters),
Dick Robertson, Barry Wood, Clyde Lucas, and
||New York composers were practically tripping over each other trying to get their (sometimes) hastily conceived works published. Some forgettable submissions included "Let's Take a Rap at the Japs," "Taps for the Japs," "We've Got To Do a Job on the Japs, Baby," "Oh, You Little Son of an Oriental," "When Those Little Yellow Bellies Meet the Cohens and the Kellys," "We'll Knock The Japs Right Into The Laps of The Nazis," (a weak effort at waging a two-front war in a single song), and "We're Going to Find a Fellow Who Is Yellow and Beat Him Red, White and Blue." In an act of selective racism, one submission, "The Japs Haven't Got a Chinaman's Chance," was renamed "The Japs Haven't Got a Ghost of a Chance," out of sensitivity over America's Oriental allies. In an era of overt racism, there were now good Orientals and bad Orientals.
well known now that most Americans did
not know what "Pearl Harbor"
was before December 7, 1941. After
December 7, everyone knew, and the place
was quickly immortalized in the battle
cry, "Remember Pearl Harbor!"
Within days songs appeared invoking the
name. An advertisement in the December
17 issue of the show business journal Variety proclaimed, "America
Will Never Forget...WE'LL ALWAYS REMEMBER
PEARL HARBOR...The Song the Waves Are
Singing Along Hawaiian Shores." This
song, pictured to the right, was written
by Alfred Bryan, Willie Raskin, and Gerald
Marks and published by Mills Music. Several
competing versions of the song were also
in the works, most notably Don Reid & Sammy Kaye's version, the title shortened to just "Remember
Pearl Harbor." A third version was
penned by Johnny Noble, the composer mentioned above with
a catalogue of Hawaiian-themed songs.
A fourth version with racist lyrics was written by Frank
Luther and recorded by Carson Robison.
|In January, Bing Crosby recorded "Remember Hawaii," and "Sing Me a Song of The Islands", both much more nostalgic in nature. Their relative obscurity today is perhaps indicative of a failure to realize at the time that things had changed. Of all the Pearl
Harbor-titled songs, the Don Reid/Sammy Kaye version became the most popular.
Kaye recorded the song only ten days
after the attack. With its patriotic lyrics (devoid of any
racism), and its powerful, driving music,
it is truly a tour de force of
Big Band sound, fondly
remembered today by the World War II Generation.
Reid/Kaye versions of "Remember Pearl Harbor,"
with slight lyric variations, were made
by Eddie Howard, Charlie Spivak, Duke Daley, and Dick Robertson.
|Most of the other Pearl Harbor-inspired songs are much darker, more violent, and often
overtly racist. America had been taken
by surprise at Pearl Harbor. Worse, the Japanese
has not conducted themselves in accordance with
Western notions of "fair play". Negotiations
in Washington were ongoing. Admiral Kichisaburo
Nomura, the Japanese Ambassador to the United
States, and special envoy Saburo Kurusu had arrived
at Secretary of State Cordell Hull's office
an hour after the attack began with a letter officially breaking off negotiations. As President
Roosevelt noted in his December
8 address before Congress, "The distance
of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the
attack was deliberately planned many days or
even weeks ago. During the intervening time
the Japanese Government has deliberately sought
to deceive the United States by false statements
and expressions of hope for continued peace."
The Japanese admiral who had planned the attack,
Isoroku Yamamoto, was familiar with ancient
Chinese military theorist Sun Tzu's Art of
War, in which he declared, "If the
enemy opens the door, you must race in...when
the enemy opens the door--be like a fleeing
rabbit. The enemy will be unable to withstand
you." Furthermore, Japan had begun all of their modern
wars with a surprise attack. This tradition
enabled Yamamoto to successfully argue for the
preemptive strike. The late delivery of the
letter to Secretary Hull, the "sneak attack,"
and the delay of a formal declaration of war
until the evening of December 7 made the Americans
feel they had been stabbed in the back. The
atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers in
China were well known, but in the early months
of 1942 there would be more, this time perpetrated
against America and her allies. To Americans,
these were not the actions of a civilized people.
Many Americans were angry and wanted revenge.
||Two recordings most notable
for their themes of revenge and anger
appeared on sides A and B of a December
1941 Bluebird release by Carson Robison.
This performer had earned a living and
reputation as a cowboy and hillbilly artist
throughout the 1920s and 1930s, spending
many of those years working with Vernon
Dalhart. His most prolific years were
before 1930, but with the attack on Pearl
Harbor, Robison found a temporary niche
as a novelty song artist. Robison's version
of Frank Luther's "Remember Pearl Harbor,"
while emphasizing the sneak attack, manages
to call the Japanese "rats,"
"vultures," and "yellow
scum" (no longer deserving of being
considered our "little brown brothers").
Twice he advocates killing all Japanese,
managing in the last verse to invoke both
religion and the patriotic duty of all
Americans to help support the war effort
by buying more war bonds.
On the B side
is a rather amazing anti-Japanese recording,
"We're Gonna Have To Slap The Dirty
Little Jap (And Uncle Sam's The Guy Who
Can Do It)," written by Bob Miller.
This song, also refers to
|the Japanese as "yellow."
While this is undoubtedly a reference
to the "cowardly" act of a sneak
attack, it also seems clear that use of
the word is part of the common race caricature
of Japanese seen throughout the war. Even
the sheet music is yellow. The Carson
Robison version of this song did not include
the third verse. However, that verse was included in a version recorded
by Lucky Millinder on February
The remaining releases with "Pearl
Harbor" as part of the title were, "Cowards
Over Pearl Harbor" by Denver Darling;
"Pearl Harbor Blues," by Doctor Clayton; and "Wasn't That An Awful Time at Pearl Harbor?," by the
||Selah Jubilee Singers. Darling's melancholy
country song is unusual in that it is
somewhat devoid of anger. Rather, the
narrator is saddened how the attack has
spread the war to the rest of the world.
The dishonor of the sneak attack is emphasized,
and he questions what the Japanese adults
will tell their children. The narrator
also questions how the Japanese will explain
their deeds come judgment day, and one
gets the impression that whatever their
explanation, it will not be satisfactory.
Doctor Clayton's song is an African American
blues masterpiece, with gripping piano
work and moody,
Clayton points out how frustrating it
is that the United States sold scrap iron
to the Japanese for years before the embargo
of 1940. The song also perpetuates the
stereotype that the Japanese are not "hard
fighters." By the end of the war,
Americans would have to admit that the
Japanese did indeed fight ferociously.
|Perhaps the most frequently used
rhyme in the anti-Japanese songs
of WWII is that of rhyming "Jap"
with "sap." The word sap
has somewhat fallen out of use today,
but it refers to someone who is
a dupe, who is gullible and can
easily be convinced to do the bidding
of others. While it may be that
the rhyme was obvious enough to
provide an easy insult, it's also
true that part of the American stereotype
of the Japanese at the time was
that they were not clever enough
to have independently conceived
of, or carried out a plot as big
as Pearl Harbor. Indeed, radio
commentary on the day of the
attack revolved around speculation
that the Japanese were actually
doing the bidding of the Nazis,
that the attack was part of Hitler's
grand strategy to provoke the U.S.
into declaring war on Germany. Rumors
even surfaced, and were published
in American Newspapers, that German
ships and pilots had participated
in the attack. More than half of Americans believed
this myth until documents captured
in Germany in May 1945 proved otherwise. The most ubiquitous use
of "sap" was in the song,
"You're a Sap, Mr. Jap."
Written by James Cavanaugh, John
Redmond, and Nat Simon, it was recorded
by Carl Hoff on December 23, with
vocals by The Murphy Sisters, and
|"You're a Sap, Mr. Jap"
was one of the first songs written after Pearl
Harbor. Another, written on December 7, was
Sam Lerner's, "The Sun Will Soon Be Setting
(For The Land of The Rising Sun)". While Lerner gets credit for being
the first to use Japan's motto of "The
Land of The Rising Sun" against her (as
well as the first to strike a blow for Capitalism),
he also gets credit for what is perhaps the
most ludicrous of all WWII rhymes:
They came while we slumbered like a thief
in the night
But their days will be numbered by the mighty
right of our dynamiteA more intriguing
song was "
The Son of a Gun Who Picks
on Uncle Sam." Written by Yip Harburg
and arranged by Burton Lane, it was perhaps
a little ahead of its time by
that, though America is a country of many different factions, those factions set
aside their differences when it comes
to national pride and defense. It was
written in December 1941 and recorded
by Carl Hoff, with vocals by The Murphy
Sisters. The song was featured as the
finale in Panama Hattie (1942),
the film version of the Cole Porter musical.
||Though the Japanese started the
war, one of the common themes in WWII music
is that it would be America who would finish
it. A few songs were quite prophetic. One of
these is the amazingly racist "There'll
Be A Little Smokio In Tokio," performed
by Don Baker. The AHC could not find a release
date for this Continental recording, but it
seems likely to have been before the Doolittle
Raid on April 18, 1942, when there was indeed
a little smoke over Tokyo. That smoke would
pale in comparison to the amount that would
be generated in 1945 when the city was firebombed
several times by American war planes. Another
song The AHC was not able to find the recording
date for is "Bomb Tokyo" by Music
Operator Band. This too was likely recorded
before the Doolittle Raid, as it makes reference
to Americans fighting in the Philippines.
prophetic song was "They Started Somethin'
(But We're Gonna End It!)." Written in
December, 1941, it was recorded by Kate Smith
on December 16 and contained these lyrics:
Oh! They started somethin'
But we're gonna end it
Right in their own back yard!
Of course, America did end the war with the
dropping of the two atomic bombs on the Japanese
cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6,
1945, and August 9, 1945, respectively.
|One of the more
infectious melodies of the entire War
was the song "Goodbye Mama (I'm Off
To Yokohama)", in all of its variations.
Written by J. Fred Coots, it contains
a few of the cleverer rhymes. While many
a song came up with obvious rhymes for
the word "Jap," Coots was a
little more ambitious with his rhyming
of "mama" with "Yokohama,"
and especially with this one:
A million fightin' sons-of-Uncle Sam,
if you please, Will soon have all those
Japs right down on their Japa-knees
|Many artists recorded "Goodbye Mama,"
with several variations in lyrics; including
Frankie Masters, Teddy Powell, Dick Robertson,
Duke Daly, Art Jarrett, and Orrin Tucker.
The remaining songs below all cover the concepts of national readiness and mobilization in some way. Though many of them are patriotic in nature, the AHC made the decision to create a separate section for WWII songs that emphasize patriotism over all other subjects. These last few songs were all written within a few months of the Pearl Harbor attack and seem to have been written in response to that singular event, rather than the war as a whole.