Victims’ Relatives Upset By Presidential Campaign Ad

July 8, 1944


Several relatives of those lost in the tragic attack on Pearl Harbor, two and a half years ago, have expressed shock and outrage over use of attack footage in a presidential campaign newsreel.

Just released to movie theatres in the wake of the recent nomination of New York Governor Thomas Dewey to run against President Roosevelt this fall, the ads were clearly intended to have a “morning in America” theme, playing up the Roosevelt administration’s accomplishments. These include ongoing success in the “war on Nazi terror” and against Shinto extremism.

The newsreels seemed designed to capitalize on the recent Normandy invasion, which has provided an allied foothold in France, and in the recent air/naval victory in the Phillippine Sea, which allowed the US to break the Japanese inner defenses with the capture of the Marianas. The administration believes that these events, along with the news that the Japanese are starting to retreat from Burma, provide an opportunity to frame a positive message before the Dewey campaign has time to define itself.

But not all view the newsreels positively.

“I lost a son on the Arizona,” said Lucille Whinehardt, in town from Sioux Falls to protest. “I was sitting in the theatre, waiting to see ‘The Song of Bernadette,’ when the campaign reel came on, and I had to relive his loss.”

“I go to the movies to escape, not to watch his ship sinking and burning over and over again.”

“It’s absolutely inappropriate,” said Marian Davis, who lost her brother, Ned Flewelling, and leads Never Again, a group for victims’ families. “There are certain memories and certain images that I consider sacred.”

Doris Kelly, of Bakersfield, CA, whose husband, John, died in the attack, said Roosevelt should not use the tragedy as “political propaganda.”

“Hundreds of innocent soldiers were murdered on President Roosevelt’s watch,” she said.

Media critics agree that the newsreel campaign is very insensitive to the feelings of the victims. In addition, the US Chamber of Commerce, which has endorsed Mr. Dewey, has passed a resolution demanding that the Roosevelt administration pull the newsreels immediately.

The Roosevelt campaign is defending the ads, however.

“December 7th changed the equation in our public policy. It forever changed the world,” said the White House press secretary. “The president’s steady leadership is vital to how we wage war on Japan and Germany.”

Some of the victims’ families agree.

“These images honor those whose lives were lost,” said Mildred Farnsworth, whose brother, James, died on the battleship Oklahoma. Proudly wearing her “Remember Pearl Harbor” button, she continued, “I guess some people just don’t want to be reminded that we are at war.”

Copyright 2004 by Rand Simberg