CAL THOMAS: December to remember defined start of war in ’41

By Cal Thomas

Seventy years ago this month, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and brought America into a war that had begun in Europe in 1939.
In his masterful new book “December 1941: 31 Days That Changed America and Saved the World,” Craig Shirley takes readers back to a very different America. Through hundreds of stories and advertisements culled from newspapers, Shirley not only transports us back to that tumultuous time, but reminds this generation that denial about an enemy’s intentions can have grave consequences.
Each chapter in the book deals with a single day of December 1941. We go to the movies with Clark Gable and Betty Grable, view the “cafe society” of New York, and listen to radio stars like Jack Benny and Walter Winchell, the acerbic columnist and powerful radio gossip.
The major players are all here: President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Secretary of State Cordell Hull, Winston Churchill and countless generals and admirals, as well as other military and political figures familiar to any student of history. But, depending on your age, the real stars were our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.
Concerning Russia, the American left in 1941 was oblivious to the intentions of our supposed “ally.” Shirley writes, “…many on the American left were quite naive about the real nature of the Soviet state. Many liberals and intellectuals, who should have known better, perceived it as a worker’s paradise; it was only after the war that the true horrors of Stalin’s repressive regime truly came to light. … Even FDR viewed Stalin as an avuncular fellow with whom he could do business, referring to (him) as ‘Uncle Joe.’ The ugly realities of the gulag would eventually emerge for the entire world to see.”
To those for whom this is familiar territory, it is worth revisiting. For people younger than 70, it is worth discovering.
That call to duty is evident in a letter from a young man to his father, which was typical, says Shirley, of the sentiment in December 1941:
“Dear Dad, There is a war on and I am now in it, but that must not be a cause for you to worry. Of course there is danger and there will be more danger to come but if I am to die a soldier’s death, so be it. … You must think of me as doing my duty to God and country. Be brave and show outward pride, that the mite of humanity you helped bring into the world is now a soldier doing his part of defending our great and wonderful country. … You must pray, not only for me and others in the Army, but for the innocent women and children who will have to endure untold suffering from this fight for freedom of religion, speech and democracy. I am not afraid to die for this. … Until then I remain and always, Your Loving Son.”
December 7, 1941 may be a day that “will live in infamy,” but that month, those years, that war revealed an American character still on display in our military today, though it’s somewhat lacking in our civilian population.
Cal Thomas writes for Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, N.Y. 14207. Readers may also e-mail Cal Thomas at tmseditors@tribune.com.