A Day That Changed America
December, 70 years ago.


December 1941: 31 Days That Changed America and Saved the World is Craig Shirley’s reconstruction of just that, based on media coverage from the time. It’s a fascinating way to experience the look and the feel, the reactions and the emotion, the strategy, and the painful surprises of those 31 days. Shirley, author of two books on the Reagan years, including Rendezvous with Destiny, talks to National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez about his book and that month.

: You write that the month of December 1941 was “surely one of the most important and decisive and nation-altering thirty-one days in the history of the American Republic.” You even go on to name some days that “rank with December 7,” but Sept. 11, 2001, isn’t among them. Am I being way too short-sighted in wondering why? We were, after all, attacked . . . 

CRAIG SHIRLEY: September 11 is certainly a landmark event but, to help put the reader in the moment, I only mentioned seminal days that occurred before Dec. 7, 1941. There are actually many similarities between the ways the country reacted to December 7 and September 11. They unified the country dramatically.

LOPEZ: “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.” Do tell more about Jeanette Rankin — the only member of Congress to vote against going to war with Japan.

SHIRLEY: Jeannette Rankin was a true, hard-core pacifist in the Biblical meaning of that word, a principled woman with strong beliefs. She had the courage to oppose the decision to go to war, no matter the consequences, and she was doing that in a situation when the country was almost unanimously in favor of declaring war. She stood by her principles and was ready to suffer the political consequences, which is exactly what happened, since she was never reelected. That kind of courage is rarely seen in the political arena.

: Why Pearl Harbor, why now? Why this book?

SHIRLEY: There are thousands of books published about Pearl Harbor from both scientific and military-history standpoints. However, there hasn’t been any account written thus far that follows, day by day, what was going on in perhaps the most important 31 days in the history of America. The emphasis of my book is the culture of America and how radically it was affected by the events that took place in December of 1941. My intention was to present the public with not only what was going on with the military, but with the civilian population as well, and what the mindset of ordinary Americans was.