Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Pearl Harbor Christmas: A World at War, December 1941 by Stanley Weintraub

Why I read it: I have an undying fascination about where everybody was when the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor.

Summary: The story of America's entry into World War II, the terrifying first days in the Pacific, and the early strategizing of the Allies, all set to the backdrop of a world attempting to continue holiday traditions in the darkest of days.

My Thoughts: I don't know what the author has against General Douglas MacArthur, but it shows.

The two central characters in this story are the two biggest personalities of World War II, British Prime Minister WInston Churchill and American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But, of course, they were surrounded by so many other people with names we recognize: Beaverbrook, Eden, Eisenhower, Marshall, etc. They all appear in this brief telling.

As to MacArthur, his story is well-known. Forced to retreat from the Phillipines, he vows to return. The author, though, takes shots at him like a Japanese sniper with every mention of his name.Yes, MacArthur had his flaws, but wow.

A book like this one sucks me in. Yes, I already know the outcomes. I know where Roosevelt ends up, and I know what Churchill says and does in the years to come. But it's the focus on the moment, the minutiae that doesn't get covered in the broader histories, that make it so interesting. For instance, I had already seen the iconic "bulldog" photo portrait of Churchill, but I hadn't taken the time to look up the when and where of it; it turns out to be a major moment in this book.

It's unfathomable to us today in the States. The Depression was one thing; economic downturns be what they are, we will never (hopefully) understand how bad the Depression really was. But the country was also strictly isolationist at the time. To be roused from that self-induced slumber took something massive, something shocking. Even with 9/11 - while it opened Americans' eyes to a wider world picture - we can never fully understand the effect of Pearl Harbor. Add to that fact the notion that less than three weeks before Christmas, young men were joining the armed forces by the thousands, tearing families apart and throwing them into uncertainty, and you'll perhaps see what I mean.

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