Craig Shirleys new book explores the days leading up to the Japanese attack on the Pearl Harbor naval base and the weeks after.
In his latest foray into American history, “December 1941: 31 Days That Changed America and Saved the World,” author Craig Shirley examines the days leading up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the weeks after.
Roll Call talked with Shirley, founder and CEO of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs and author of two books on President Ronald Reagan, about “December 1941” and its relevance to politics and contemporary America.
Q: What was most fascinating about putting this book together?
A: I went through hundreds of newspapers and tens of thousands of newspaper articles but also the private documents from the Roosevelt Library.
In going through [President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s] papers, I thought it was fascinating there was this one memo [given to him on Dec. 4] that takes it up one degree that maybe he had [more] of an inkling or knowledge of the attack coming than we thought previously. So that’s something new in this book. There’s a lot of new news in this book.
Q: There were many conspiracy theories that began to float around after 9/11. Were there any specific conspiracy theories about the attack on Pearl Harbor?
A: People wanted to know how we were caught with our pants down. How did the Japanese armada sail 4,000 miles even when they stopped to refill? [Why] we didn’t have spotters out, we didn’t have planes and ships watching for central attacks.
Washington politicians were skilled in public relations and skilled in manipulating public relations, and they were making sure that the blame was not going to them. The blame went to Pearl Harbor base security and Adm. [Husband] Kimmel, the ranking U.S. Navy commander in Hawaii, and Army Lt. Gen. Walter C. Short, who were both relieved from their positions.
But there was a local newspaper saying, “Japanese attack expected this weekend.” So everybody was aware that there was something going on. Everybody knew there were straws in the wind, everybody believed war was coming, especially in Europe. But nobody thought it was really coming to America or Pearl Harbor.
Q: How do you think the average American citizen reacted to the attack on Pearl Harbor, in comparison to the way we reacted as a nation to 9/11?
A: Almost identical — outrage, anger, sorrow and a need for revenge or a desire for revenge and an iron resolution, although I think it was longer-lasting and stronger after Dec. 7 then it was after Sept. 11.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.