In 1941, Elizabeth P. McIntosh reported on the attack at Pearl Harbor. Her editors said it was “too upsetting.” On Thursday, after 71 years, the Washington Post ran her first-hand account.
McIntosh worked as a staff writer at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin at the time and wanted to share her observations with Hawaii’s women.
“I thought it would be useful for them to know what I had seen,” she explained. “It might help prepare them for what lay ahead. But my editors thought the graphic content would be too upsetting for readers and decided not to run my article.”
When asked about the most gruesome details that will remain etched into her memories, McIntosh continued with the attacks’ effects on women.
“There was one little girl with her with a jump-rope in her hands,” she said. “The rope had all been burned, but the wooden part of it was still in her hand. She was dead.”
Editors at the newspaper saw this and immediately refused to provide space to the story.
“Somebody said, ‘The editor wants to see you,’” McIntosh recalled. “[The editor said,] ‘I think it would be too frightening for the women to read this.’”
Her 1,100-word article certainly contains violence, but, unlike numerous bomb- and bullet-ridden accounts of war, McIntosh recounts the surrounding environment from a personal viewpoint.
Elizabeth P. McIntosh
McIntosh interviews a U.S. sailor.
“I went to a bombed store on King Street, where I often, in times past, stopped for a Coke at the cool drug counter,” she wrote. “[One] woman . . . wanted me to send word to her sweetheart ‘somewhere in Honolulu’ [and] a little girl named Theda who had a big doll named Nancy . . . told me in a quiet voice that ‘Daddy was killed at Hickam.’”
However, McIntosh also delved into some dark secrets from her time at the Office of Strategic Services, a World War II-era U.S. intelligence agency. She revealed the topic of message interception with a sinister smile.
“There were cards from Japanese soldiers to their families at home,” she said. “We sat down all night long re-writing them: ‘I don’t think I’m coming home. I found this Burma girl.’ You know, things like that. . . . It quieted them down a bit.”
She balked at the Washington Post's use of the word 'propaganda' to describe her job but ultimately admitted it was the same idea.
“It happened once,” she concludes, “and it could happen again.”