Buildup to World War II
The build-up to World War II got better coverage from The Traveler. News stories about the conflicts in Europe and China during this period kept university students informed of the events abroad, but the stories were usually tied to campus in some way. After a speech by Dr. Dorsey Jones, a professor of history, the editor wrote an editorial about the need for the United States to proceed cautiously regarding “the Far East situation, aggravated now by the latest Chinese-Japanese conflict.”
Theo Edmiston, a former Traveler editor, visited Fayetteville in 1938, and The Traveler ran a story about his exploits in China as a representative of the National City Bank of New York. Edmiston recalled being in the war zone near Shanghai when the most severe Japanese bombing raids occurred.
The Traveler conducted a survey of 900 students on campus to gauge their opinion about the compulsory participation of men in the Reserved Officer Training Corps program and whether the students believed the United States should enter the European war. Sixty percent of the students said that participation in the ROTC program should be optional or that it should be abolished altogether. By a 2 to 1 margin, students favored removing American troops from China. However, nearly 70 percent of the students said they would fight if the continental United States were to be attacked.
Campus newspapers across the country editorialized against going to war in the years leading up to World War II. As early as 1938, The Traveler warned against the possibility of becoming involved in “Europe’s war.” The editor in 1938-39, Douglas Smith, was the first editor who consistently wrote opinions about matters beyond the campus. In one editorial, he told readers that America should mind its own business regarding Europe. If the United States does not want Adolph Hitler giving it advice about how to deal with Negroes in the South, Smith contended, then the United States should not give advice to Germany about how to deal with Jews. In 1940, Smith wrote again about the “hysterical chatter of calamity and invasion” coming on the heels of the German drive through the Low Countries and toward Paris:
Europe is in immediate danger of coming under the domination of Herr Hitler, a condition which all of us deplore. We do not like Hitler’s methods, nor do we agree with his philosophy that Might Makes Right. And if someone of Hitler’s ilk should try to take over this country or this hemisphere, most of us would hasten to fight him....
We are willing to fight to save our own democracy — God knows it is in enough danger — but as for our cousins the English, let them lie in the bed they have so stupidly made. They elected an incompetent government, and they refused to vote it out of power until it was too late. They took control of a quarter of the world by the same bloody methods Herr Hitler is employing now. Let them keep it if they can; none of it is ours.”
A Traveler survey the next year showed that students uniformly agreed with Smith about going to war, although a majority of them were in favor of helping Great Britain materially. While Smith wrote with a self-assured sense of what was right in the matter of Europe, other writers were more reflective. After riots and demonstrations by students in Europe against the German and Russian invasions, editor Ellis Stafford wrote:
Here in the peaceful hills of the Arkansas Ozarks, we feel very far from strife and turmoil that is ever-present in the rest of the world. It is very hard to realize that young men and women just like ourselves are entangled in the most destructive and deadly conflict this old world has ever known. We walk around the campus here on the hill worrying about little things like exams, broken dates, letters from home, and other matters of such small consequence as compared with those of young people across the seas.
Just a month before Pearl Harbor, an editorial in The Daily Texan recognized the rising global conflict but also held out hope that the United States would not be drawn into the war: “On this sad Armistice Day, we should be thinking of peace, and we should be concentrating upon achieving that peace in the quickest and surest manner.”
Even after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, student journalists initially expressed ambivalence, and outright opposition in some cases, about the United States’ entry into the war. The Sunflower at Wichita State University editorialized in favor of finding a settlement to the conflict that would stay within the country’s heritage of democracy: “For what does it profit a nation to achieve military superiority and military domination if in the end it suffers the loss of its own ideals.”
The first Traveler issue after Pearl Harbor provided some campus reaction to the Japanese bombing but was not given over to the “day of infamy.” The lead stories were about the effort by the university board of trustees to fire the football coach and the threat that Gov. Homer Adkins might pose to the university and its president, J. William Fulbright. A photo of students in the Student Union listening to a radio to hear President Franklin Roosevelt also ran at the top of the page, but the accompanying story, which listed former students known to be serving in the Pacific, ran with a subdued headline. A second story below the fold commented on recent campus controversies that “faded into insignificance” because of the war.
For the most part, the paper continued normal operations through December, publishing stories about student reaction to the declarations of war made by Germany and Italy against the United States, President Harding’s announcement that the university would make its resources available to the federal government, and a note about the Swastika sorority on campus changing its name. (This elite social sorority had chosen the swastika, a centuries-old symbol of good fortune, as its name many years prior to World War II and apparently without any recognition of its use by Nazi Germany.)
The Arkansas Traveler, December 17, 1937.
Ibid., September 16, 1938.
Ibid., April 22, 1938.
Ibid., November 29, 1938.
Ibid., May 21, 1940.
Ibid., January 21, 1941.
Ibid., December 3, 1940.
The Daily Texan, (Austin, Texas) November 11, 1941.
James Michael Kiser. The Sunflower: A History of the Student Newspaper at Wichita State University. (Morgantown: West Virginia University, 1971): 154.
The Arkansas Traveler, December 9, 1942.