Preface from “December 1941”

In 1941 a B-25 Mitchell bomber contained 107,156 rivets, each one inserted by hand. Often a woman’s hand.

That year, there were as many people on the left, such as Lowell Thomas and Al Smith, who were part of the isolationist America First Committee as there were people on the right, such as Charles Lindberg and Herbert Hoover.

The U.S.O. was created in 1941, as was the comic book character, “Captain America.” The first time an organ was played at a baseball game was in Chicago in 1941 and the first television commercial aired was in 1941 to tout Bulova Watches. The “Red Ryder” BB gun was also first introduced.

In 1941, the United States of America went to war with the Axis Powers including Japan, Germany and Italy, changing America radically and forever.

Just three days before the December 7th attack President Franklin Roosevelt received a long memorandum marked “Confidential” from the Office of Naval Intelligence, reviewing in detail all the subversive activities going on in America, including those emanating from the Japanese Embassy in Washington. “The focal point of the Japanese Espionage effort is the deter­mination of the total strength of the United States. In anticipation of possible open conflict with this country, Japan is vigorously utilizing every available agency to secure military, naval and commercial information, paying particular attention to the West Coast, the Panama Canal and the Territory of Hawaii.”1 The 29 page document went into great detail about the coordination between

German and Japanese agents on U.S. soil. The secret paper also reviewed the attempts by the Japanese to infiltrate labor unions, Latin American groups and the “National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.”2

A second reference specifically to the Hawaiian Territory was made in the memo. “However, only the more important groups are of interest, since they are in a position to engage in espionage, sabotage and other acts inimical to the best interests of the U.S . . . . Each of these groups is at least strongly influenced if not directly controlled by similar ones in Japan.”3 The confiden­tial document prepared for Roosevelt went into great detail regarding the Japanese civilian presence on Hawaii.

The response of the U.S. military, government and citizenry to the events of December 7 was quick and decisive, even if it was also often bumbling and haphazard. “Everyone, I suppose, will be jotting down in a little black book somewhere the memories of Sunday, December 7—where they were, what they were doing, what they thought when they first heard of the war. Let me tell you—you don’t have to make a note of those things. You’ll remember them.” So wrote famed sports columnist Bill Henry in his “By the Way” col­umn in the Los Angeles Times on December 9.4 This was true enough, but the entire thirty-one days of December 1941 were memorable, messy, historic, poignant, confusing, inspiring, depressing, and enduring.

After December 7, 1941, the policies towards the Japanese, Germans and Italians living in America were harsh and comprehensive but because the gov­ernment believed the Germans and the Japanese had incredible spy and sabo­tage networks operating in the United States and the Hawaiian Territory, the reaction by the government at the time, they felt, was justified.

At the end of December 1941, Americans still weren’t calling it “World War II” or the “Second World War,” though there were hints of the standard appellations to come. Even three weeks after America’s entry into the global crisis, Americans were still calling it the “national emergency” or “the war.” I didn’t learn many of these and thousands of other things just from research­ing books during the development stages of December, 1941; I learned many of these facts from the newspapers, magazines and other publications of the era as well.

Washington Post publisher Phil Graham once said, newspapers were “the first rough draft of history.” The phrase had been attributed to others

before Graham but he gets the credit for it.5 So much of the sourcing for this book comes from hundreds of newspapers and thousands upon thousands of newspaper and magazine articles around the country and wire service bul­letins and radio dispatches and short-wave intercepts sifted through to build the following account. But private diaries, personal papers, and confidential and classified materialwere also heavily relied upon for this story.

There never had been a book solely devoted to the month of December 1941, surely one of the most important and decisive and nation-altering thirty-one days in the history of the America Republic. There have been days such as July 4, 1776, October 19, 1781, September 17, 1787, and April 15, 1861, that rank with December 7, but one is hard-pressed to think of another month as startling, compelling, interesting, critical and inspiring as December 1941.

There have been many outstanding books written on World War II and the events leading up to Pearl Harbor, but never has there been a book about the days in America prior to December 7, 1941, and what happened to the country in the hours, days, and weeks after the attack. Suffice it to say, the country was radically changed forever.

Never before or since has America been so unified. There were virtu­ally no Americans against their country getting into World War II after the unprovoked attack by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor. One of the few was Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin, Republican of Montana. She voted against declaring war on Japan and would only vote “present” when FDR asked the Congress for a declaration of war against Germany and Italy—after they had declared war on America. Someday someone will write a book about Ms. Rankin, exploring her reasons for not voting for war. They were prin­cipled, nuanced, and commendable. She was mistaken but she wasn’t wrong.6

The goal here is to make the reader feel as if they are experiencing the day to day events as they unfolded. Some historians don’t like to go into the ardu­ous tasks of going through thousand of newspapers preferring instead to rely on those bits and pieces of news reporting they may glean from other books. I did and consequently the reader will find stories and information from the month of December 1941 they have never heard before. It makes for what I and Nelson Current hope will be a fascinating book.

Of my previous writings, many said they gave the reader a “you-are-there feeling” while another said I wrote like a sports writer which I took as one

of the best compliments I’ve ever received. The goal here was to impart new information while making the reading enjoyable. I wanted to do a story of America, to allow the reader to see the country through the eyes of the 130 million citizens who lived in the forty-eight states in that remarkable month of December, 1941.

The goal was to write a book so that the reader could read and feel what their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents were reading and hearing and feeling and talking about at the time. About a time of war and peace and service and sacrifice and losing and winning and unity.

President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, General George C. Marshall, Admiral Chester Nimitz, General Douglas MacArthur, and many others in both the Allied and the Axis Powers are here. Prominent Americans including political leaders, actors and athletes are here. Yet they are all merely supporting cast members in this drama.

The central and most important actor in December, 1941 is the United States of America.


Craig Shirley

Lancaster, Virginia.

5 thoughts on “Preface from “December 1941””

  1. I went to a reading of “We Remember” by Dr. C.Russell Reynolds on World War II containing hundreds of stories about this war in Raleigh, NC last Sunday. I look forward to reading your book as well.

  2. Good Morning, i was just watching the Early Show and they were talking about WWII and remembered an email from i received about the fact that then President Franklin Roosevelt’s speech had not been finished on the Arlington National Cemetary Memorial. Watching your program and the actual film of him making the speech you will hear him say ,with conviction,SO HELP ME GOD. this important part of his speech and this Historical speech as not been completed on this monument!!! Who dares to change a historical speech, something i want my grandkids to read and study. this isn’t just a religus thought, i just don’t want history to be something that someone thinks it should be different. to me, it’s not HISTORY. Lets make sure History, speeches, reinactments, whatever it may be, and whoever it may be becomes TRUE and accorate as possible wether it afends me or anyone i know.

  3. Thanks for writing this book! I heard you speak on the Early Show this morning and have already recommended it to someone. My father flew a B-25 in the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific for the Marine Corps in [email protected] I appreciate the preface for that, too. You have added to the memorialization of this day, as it should be. I am certain your book will be a success!

  4. A complement, are you the next Cornelius Ryan?

    Since you have access to all that information. I would not say “unprovoked” as to the events prior to the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor. The common mentality of the US Public reflected by William Randolf Hearst. The US Government actions against Japan example: still wondering where all the Frozen Financial Assets at the US of Japan went. The USN Gunboats shooting at Jap Warships going to and from China. MacArthur at the Phillipines. The Headlines about the sinking of the USS Panai(Panay). The Fact that the US was finally starting to emerge from the Global Great Depression by implementing similar actions of Hitler, Mussolini, Hirohito, that got them out of the Global Great Depression years before the US, especially President FDR’s start of the current US Military Defense Industrial Complex, with the Nationalization of US Industry and US Businesses and sales of “War Materials” manufactured by the US Military Defense Industrial Complex to England. The Global Great Depression being so bad, that the US War Department had a “Fattening Up” Program.

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