Under the Radar

Craig Shirley Revisits December 1941


Craig Shirley's December 1941 reminds us that the United States' entry into World War II wasn't inevitable. His day-by-day account of that month's events chronicles a shift in American attitudes that occurred after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor and Shirley asserts that fallout from that day caused widespread and permanent changes in our national character.

The idea is simple and compelling: send your researcher (in this case, Shirley's son Andrew) down to the library and have him compile newspaper and magazine clippings that hopefully reveal what people were thinking and talking about each day during that month. Once you've got your hands on the basic material, use a summary of that material as a jumping-off point for broader context about world events.


Shirley writes about radio, movies, music, sports and what goods and services are being advertised in the newspapers almost as much as he does about politics and the war. If you're over 50, the casual mentions of the Andrews Sisters, Clark Gable's shirtless moment in It Happened One Night or Rita Hayworth's diet secrets might bring up some powerful memories. If none of that makes any sense, you could use the book as a jumping off point to educate yourself about 1940's popular culture.

Shirley's approach reveals how lots of powerful and influential people opposed American intervention in world affairs right up until (and even after) the Japanese attack, how politics and bureaucracy obscured intelligence that might have prepared U.S. forces for the surprise attack (cf. 9/11) and just how fractured the political landscape was in 1941.

The author makes clear his affection for Ronald Reagan (Shirley is the author of Reagan's Revolution, a chronicle of the candidate's 1976 presidential campaign) and no secret of his day job running a public relations firm for conservative causes but, aside from a few gratuitous shots at the left that seem like applause lines from a political speech, Shirley mostly tries to present an (actually) fair and balanced account of the debates raging in American life about just what our role could be in world affairs.

December 1941 is the kind of popular history book that could reach a real mainstream audience. Everything moves along at a good clip and it's an easy read if you don't get lost in the thicket of cultural references. If it sounds like your dad or your grandfather might like it for Christmas, then go right ahead and pick up a copy.

It's hard to tell if the marketing brains behind this book decided to focus exclusively on the usual suspects (Fox News, the Heritage Foundation Blog, The Daily Caller, the Washington Times) or if mainstream media outlets have ignored the title because it was published by  Christian publisher Thomas Nelson but Shirley's day-by-day account manages to shed new light on a critical period in our history. Check it out.

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