It has been 70 years this month but Shirley's goal “is to make the reader feel as if they were experiencing the day to day events as they unfold.” (ix) He went through hundreds of newspapers, thousands of newspaper and magazine articles, wire service bulletins, radio dispatches, private diaries, personal papers, and classified materials. Readers will find in this book stories and information about December 1941 never heard before.
At the beginning of that month, the word was at war but the U. S. was sitting it out. No Americans were fighting under the U. S. flag. Americans were going on with their lives, still recovering from The Great Depression and Shirley lays out the life of the day. Americans wanted to stay out of the war and most were not concerned about Japan at all.
Shirley writes, “On the morning of December 7, isolationist America was at peace, desperately trying to stay out of the conflict. By the morning of December 8, internationalist America was at war and became forever an altered country.” (154)
The wealth of information in this book is amazing. While there were unsubstantiated rumors, air raid sirens, and reports of planes that never appeared, for a while, life went on. People went to the movies. Automobiles were advertised. But there would soon be real change in America.
Shirley covers the spiritual change in the country, the prices of commodities, the peacetime industrial complex quickly being modified to creating wartime arsenal, Hollywood creating patriotic movies, the treatment of Germans, Italians, and Japanese (detainment and suspension of naturalization citizenship for over 450,000 of them born in America).
Navy officials realized the day of the superiority of the battleship was over. Airplanes would rule in this war. Ports were closed to commercial traffic that did not have proper authority. National weather forecasts were suspended. Plans to finance the war through bonds, taxes, and bank loans.
It was not until the fifteenth that the extent of the devastation at Pearl Harbor was revealed: six American warships destroyed, 3,385 casualties, 2,729 military killed (not revealed was the number of civilians killed).
The government halted the manufacture of all new pots and pans and kitchen appliances made of iron or steel. The navy requisitioned privately owned materials. “With astonishing speed, the U. S. government had not only identified privately held metals, woods, and other materials but had also taken them for the war effort.” (379) The sale of new automobile tires was halted (except for essential services vehicles).
Shirley covers Churchill's visit, the government contemplating a national sales tax, the suggestion of implementing “Daylight Savings Time” in 1942, FDR declaring January 1, 1942 a national day of prayer, the government stepping in to prevent increase in cigarette prices, and much, much more.
Living on the west coast, I was especially interested in the reports of Japanese off Puget Sound, the difficulty of distinguishing Japanese and Chinese, and American tankers sunk off the California coast.
Shirley includes many interesting personal stories, such as a man fined $200 for “booing” the appearance of FDR on a newsreel, and a mother sentenced to a year in prison when her two young sons failed to salute the flag at school. (327) Shirley tells a bit of his own family story in the Epilogue. His uncle had been killed by Japanese troops in French Indo-China in 1945.
There is a wealth of information in this book. Anyone who is interested in the first month of World War II for America will appreciate this book. And others should read the book too, just so we don't forget.
Thomas Nelson, 544 pages of reading and nearly 100 pages of footnotes.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson for the purpose of this review.