WAR. That was the headline on the Half Moon Bay Review (and Pescadero Pebble) 80 years ago this week. The Coastside newspaper hit the streets four days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and it’s no surprise that the second world war of the 20th century was on the mind of everyone.

The vast Pacific Ocean seemed a lot smaller all of the sudden, and it was all that separated us from them.

The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors announced an emergency in the hours after the attack. Supervisor Alvin Hatch, a Coastsider, took it upon himself to monitor the lookout posts along the beach. He reported that 19 had been manned on Dec. 7 and that volunteers were training their eyes to the sea 24 hours a day. (The Half Moon Bay Review did its part, coordinating the registration of volunteers for the posts.)

The front page that day carried notice that the Navy was actively seeking volunteers in the wake of Japanese claims to have decimated the Pacific fleet. PG&E announced precautions to ensure its equipment could withstand the perils of war. The FBI ordered guards to patrol around the Globe Wireless and Mackay radio stations on the coast. Drivers were warned in one helpful front-page story to dim their headlights, least they be visible to enemy aircraft.

The newspaper reported that “The Peninsula, with important war industries and air bases and principal reservoir for San Francisco’s water supply to guard, overnight became an armed camp as extraordinary steps were taken to protect public and private property against sabotage or other attacks.”

In the coming weeks there would be many stories in the newspaper about the patriotism of ordinary Coastsiders. One noted that Paul Smith, a graduate of Pescadero Union High School who went on to be editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, had achieved the rank of lieutenant commander in the Navy and would head the publicity bureau of the Department of the Navy.

The war also brought a new ugliness to public discourse. People of Japanese, Italian and German heritage were suspect due only to the color of their skin and their heritage. One headline read, “Roosevelt calls Japs crafty bandits, blames Germany, Italy for instigating attack on U.S.” The newspaper also included a short story from the Burlingame Advance that urged compassion toward people of Japanese heritage. “The first expression of hysteria has been a belligerent suspicion of all Japanese,” the piece began. “It should be remembered that we are at war with Japan but not with our Nipponese neighbors, many of them have proved their loyalty …”

Reading those decades-old newspapers — which are available in digitized form online through the Half Moon Bay Library — brings echoes of current circumstances. We are not at war with a foreign enemy, but we are on a war footing, of sorts. We are conserving. We fret over supply chains. Christmas is coming and we’re worried about another kind of enemy among us. One thing that seemed everywhere on the coast in 1941 seems in much shorter supply in 2021: concern for our neighbors.

Poring through old newspapers is one way to find the thread that binds us all together. It may seem frayed today, but it exists. You just have to look for it. May you find its evidence this month, among some of our most beloved holidays.

— Clay Lambert

Clay Lambert is the editorial director for Coastside News Group. After years working at regional daily newspapers, he began as editor of the Half Moon Bay Review in 2004.

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