December 1941: 31 Days that Changed America and Saved the World

I haven’t gotten this one yet, but it is getting great reviews.

The premise of the book is that the attack on Pearl changed America greatly, and that looking at each day in one month shows the strands of how those changes started, how they were woven into the history that we now know.

Jon Stewart on the Daily Show interviewed the author, and they discussed a bit about the World War II internment program. Did you know that Japanese families in America were required to turn in their cameras? (They could not keep any recording equipment.) Moreover, the numbers of people relocated (stuck in camps) were about 140,000.

America on December 1st still was suffering from the high and stubborn unemployment of the 1930’s Great Depression. By December 31st, millions of Americans–especially woman–found themselves very much desired employees because of war production. What is not well known anymore is that America was actually behind in the Pacific War for several months after the Pearl attack. Naval and aircraft production had to ramp up in early 1942, and we were still cranking out the ships and planes right up to Midway.

(Just a side note here to American readers: you know that Midway was the critical battle of the Pacific War, right? If not, go read that wiki link. We determined ahead of time where Yamamoto was going to strike, and so Nimitz concentrated his firepower right on the advancing Japanese fleet. The other mistake the Japanese made was that they kept some of their force behind the main assault craft—too far behind. It is the classic, or rather, typical in that petty power-person sense, Japanese mistake: they spend all this time concocting this grand strategy, plan books and all, and then things don’t all fall into the place and they go “aw f*ck!”. Because there’s never any Plan B, no flexibility. They’re stuck in long slog after that. That’s what happened to Yamamoto.

But maybe the biggest blunder was not realizing that our cryptologists had already broken the Japanese navy’s code, and also realized that the Japanese had broken one of ours, but they didn’t know that we knew this. So to figure out what islands Yamamoto was after, our people had Midway’s administrator send out a false report, using the broken code, that the desalinization equipment was out on Midway. The Japanese subsequently radioed back to Tokyo that preparations needed to include desalinization equipment because “AF is short of water“. Nimitz thus knew that AF was Midway Atoll.

I was surprised when I met Americans there who didn’t know a damn thing about Midway–just the name. I was thinking, “oh Christ!”

By the way: when you work in Japan, companies sometimes like to spy on your e-mail. On one assignment where I suspected that was going on, I sent my home account an e-mail, saying, “AF is short of water”, and then, a few hours later, a link to that site linked above. But I digress . . . )

When I get the book done, I’ll have some more thoughts on it. It’s interesting to see something new put out about 20th century American history at a moment when things in the background changed radically.