Pearl Harbor: FDR Leads the Nation into War
What did FDR feel on Dec. 7, 1941? Historian Steven M. Gillon brings the day Pearl Harbor was bombed into sharp relief.
Everyone around Franklin D. Roosevelt was filled with shock and horror as the news from Pearl Harbor reached the White House. The president shared their emotions, but he had one more to add to the mix.Skip to next paragraph
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FDR was relieved. “His terrible moral problem had been resolved by the event,” wrote labor secretary Frances Perkins.
The long prologue was over and the first chapter he’d long awaited could finally begin. At last, the United States could shed its contorted innocent-bystander guise and enter the world war that so many Americans – but not him – deeply wanted to avoid.
But how? FDR had plenty of choices, many more than hindsight – always fuzzier than 20/20 – might suggest. Some of the decisions he made on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, would lay the groundwork for great triumph. But at least one would, to borrow a phrase, live in infamy.
Meanwhile, leaders in Berlin, Tokyo, Moscow and London made choices of their own. They plotted. They miscalculated. And they didn’t know what each other would do or whether a single very bad day for the US would get incredibly worse.
In time for the 70th anniversary of the attack, three new books attempt to capture the events of December 1941 by zooming in on specific time spans. Two are fine if unexciting efforts, while one vividly brings 24 hours from Dec. 7-8 to life, virtually minute by minute.
Pearl Harbor: FDR Leads the Nation into War, by University of Oklahoma history professor Steven M. Gillon, is the best of the bunch.
It isn’t Gillon’s first time at the one-day-in-history rodeo. He previously wrote about the 24 hours after President Kennedy was assassinated, in addition to authoring the clunkily titled “10 Days that Unexpectedly Changed America.”
Like those two books, “Pearl Habor” comes with an accompanying History Channel documentary. (It will air Dec. 7.) And like the JFK book, this one is short and moves forward like a rocket, propelled by readable prose and a laser-sharp focus.
Never mind the conspiracy theorists, whose Dec. 7 scenarios are just as wacko as those created out of a certain Nov. 22. Gillon easily brushes away those who believe the White House knew the Japanese would attack Pearl Harbor. It didn’t, and the bombing came as a surprise on a Sunday afternoon on the East Coast.