A Nation Prepares for Battle
On December 7th, 1941, the “Day of Infamy”i took place at Naval Base Pearl Harbor. The Japanese Admiral, Isoroku Yamamoto, strategized the Imperial Navy’s Air Corp’s unprecedented attack on the Naval Base. The United States, completely off guard, had no means to defend against the Japanese air strikes. Only when the Imperial Fleet depleted its munitions did it fall back from the bombardment. The surprise attack by the Japanese not only shocked the United States, but it also provided a shameful source of relief. Franklin D. Roosevelt no longer needed to hide in the shadows of the raging, second World War and could finally gain support for taking part in the conflict. The strike resolved almost all of the anti-war and peace keeping feelings of many in the United States. Being unsupportive of the war effort after Pearl Harbor would be equivocated as treason. Steven M. Gillon’s Pearl Harbor: FDR Leads the Nation into War, delineates the first 24 hours after the air strikes on Pearl Harbor. With primary sources such as witnesses of the air strike, testimonials from FDR, and phone calls with several diplomats, Gillon accurately conveys the national confusion and struggle. On that day, within 24 hours, full support of the War Effort was gained and preparations began. With full reason to exact revenge and punish the Japanese, FDR proclaimed War on Japan on December 8th, 1941. The United States now openly supported the Allied Powers, previously accomplished through clandestine operations. The United States galvanized factories, citizens, troops, and diplomats for a Battle that would turn the tides of history.
Steven M. Gillon’s Pearl Harbor can be split up into quarters to systematically address the subplots contained in the book. Chapters 1 & 2, quarter 1, directly deals with the lack of preparation the United States had and the actual strike itself. Gillon uses the first 2 chapters to compare and contrast the lives of the citizens across the country, before and after the attack. Gillon, in the very first chapter, writes about how FDR would have started off his day. Just like normal, FDR would be woken by his Valet, Arthur Prettyman, and be assisted to the bathroom. Afterwards, he would be propped upright on his bed and served breakfast from a tray served by the White House Kitchen Staff. Gillon goes into great about the small things FDR did such as “times” papers he read, the beverages he drank at certain times of the day, and the “clutter on his desk”. The day began like any other peaceful day would, however, that normality was ephemeral. Everything changed at exactly 07:48 Pacific Time. Gillon writes about the questions the President had in regards to the preparation of the military and how such an attack could have happened and succeeded. Even prominent Generals and Admirals such as MacArthur and Nimitz failed to foresee the attack. Gillon closes with the continued confusion of the nation, the spread of the devastation, and ambivalence of both political advisors and the President of the United States.
Chapters 3 & 4, of the book addresses the aftermath of the initial strike. The U.S. radio and newspapers switftly spread the news of Pearl Harbor’s attack. Within 2 hours of the attack, news reached the English Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. Several military advisors in the east coast are notified of the attack and radio alerted the general public of the current national and global status. The United States people became panicked and appalled at how the war had reached them in their homeland. Franklin Roosevelt himself began to panic and ask his advisors what courses of action should be taken. Roosevelt decides to call for a meeting and notifies key members of his close advisory party to convene at the Red Office at “the White House fastasyoucan.” Since the war had obviously been brought to the Pacific, and the United States was not as untouchable as previously conceived, Franklin Roosevelt and his advisors asked themselves, “Do you think we ought to have soldiers around the White House?” The fact that the war had reached the country land distributed fear to those not only in the cities and suburbs, but also in the White House. This fear made those involved in the War Effort super cautious. Military and Diplomatic officials would constantly think, “I don’t know how secure this telephone is.” The importance of the matter created extreme paranoia amongst the administration and achieved to instill a national, genuine fear across the country. Nobody was untouchable by the War.
Chapters 5-9 is mainly about the military actions and strategy processes in correspondence with other countries of the Allied Powers. Winston Churchill and other significant officials learned of the news in America. Franklin Roosevelt, in conjunction with several representatives from the allied countries, began to plan military redemption. War is declared on Japan December 8, 1941, and as a result, Japan’s allies, Germany and Italy declare war on the United States. In return, the U.S. declares war back on December 11. Before taking full military action, the diplomats and Roosevelt needed to gain full public support for the war effort without a large population of war dissenters. With the bombing of Pearl Harbor as fuel for rage, the United States had the Public’s support briskly and Hundreds of Thousands of volunteers enlisted for the Marines, Navy, and Army. Secretaries of each branch convened and discussed the best possible methods of entry into Europe and how to win the war. Gillon concluded with the meeting at the Red Office in a heated discussion about possible courses of action.
Chapters 10-15 addressed the moments before physically sending troops across the sea and into battle. The “Deadly Calm” was a critical period when events rallied up support groups and volunteers for the war effort. Most of the events intended to gain funding and support were hosted by Eleanor Roosevelt, the First Lady. While her husband would meet with military and diplomatic officials to discuss courses of action in war, Eleanor would conduct luncheons, fundraisers, speeches, and television broadcasts. Gillon also continues to include additional sources of stress for both Mr. President and Mrs. First Lady. Despite the unstable relationship between the two, the war, in fact, saved their marriage. The First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, didn’t divorce the President, because she did not wish to ruin his political reputation and knew that “the president’s wife must be a silent partner.” Now that the war came along, divorce and the faltering relationship became the least of either of the two’s problems. The global crisis and ever prominent view of the government as a tyrannical organization instilled a fear in Franklin D. Roosevelt. The President feared being viewed as a “military president” by the anti-war sympathizers in the country. The final quarter ends with FDR saying, “I will go down in disgrace.”
Steven M. Gillon, a historian for the History Channel, has a purpose in his work that is common in most, if not all, in his line of work. Like most historians, Gillon wishes to convey history as close to actuality as possible. Specifically in his book, Pearl Harbor: FDR Leads the Nation into War, Gillon’s purpose is to not only delineate as accurately as possibly, but to tell the story from a personal point of view. Throughout the book, Gillon utilizes a story plot structure. Using a story design, Gillon aims to inform us about not just the Pearl Harbor attack itself, but also on the mentalities of the President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the political and military advisors, and of the citizens of the United States. Gillon intercepts the personal histories of several key people, mainly FDR and his wife, to facilitate the building of a relationship between the reader and those of the past. By doing so, the audience understands the human side of one of the most significant event of the 20th century, regardless of nationality. Contrary to most other works on Pearl Harbor, Gillon’s FDR Leads the Nation into War, pays little attention to the military attack itself. Gillon’s purpose in using this approach is to have the audience personally relate to FDR. Gillon gives the reader details about not only the president’s official business matters, but also on his personal relationships, including that of him and his wife. Eleanor Roosevelt would, “brief her husband on what she had witnessed and prod him to action.” More personal information was given as well. Gillon describes how the Mr. and Mrs. Roosevelt met, “ ‘He was young and gay and good looking,’ she recalled, ‘and I was shy and awkward and thrilled when he asked me to dance.” The personal back stories are essential in understanding motives for historic decisions and feelings. Gillon’s research on the personal backgrounds of those surround the Second World War offers the audience additional key information. This extra information is vital in understanding the motives for several actions taken during the war period and also facilitates the understanding of why certain courses were not taken. The recount into each of the personal lives of the President, First Lady, and the administration serves to truly convey the history of the Pearl Harbor and World War 2 in their entireties, not just partial, select chunks. Gillon desired to show us the “behind the scenes” of the 1940’s and World War 2.
Steven M. Gillon’s Pearl Harbor: FDR Leads the Nation into War, is reflective of his previous works, upbringing and life experiences, and political views. From Gillon’s other works, it is evident that there he is a Democrat since most of his works follow liberal democratic presidents such as Bill Clinton, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy. This political view point serves as a basis for Gillon’s potential incentive for writing about FDR the way he did; Gillon’s tone is that of a praising, admiring, fan of FDR. Rarely does Gillon reprimand or imply dissension with FDR and his advisors’ decisions. In addition to Gillon’s political view point, his life centralized around World War 2. Since his own father was a veteran in the Second World War and Gillon himself was a child of the Baby Boom Generation , a topic like Pearl Harbor fit his interest in family history, ideally. Gillon, also a natively born U.S. Citizen also felt, like many from his generation, the duty to write about his experience. In addition to his family associations to the war and his obligatory notions, Gillon believed that as a historian, a topic like the bombing Pearl Harbor was something that was crucial to remember! No matter how many volumes that werealready published on the same subject matter, an event as significant as the “Day of Infamy,” should be remembered at no shortage of memorabilia. In context of historiography, the book was written between 2000-2011 and then published in 2012. Though by then, the 70th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack had passed, an event like this is without an expiration date. His present work on Pearl Harbor continues to project a more modern and primary source “feel” to the audience of today. Gillon’s tribute to 12/7/1941’s immortality contributes to his duties as a profound historian.
Steven M. Gillon’s work in Pearl Harbor evoked several responses and opinions from reviewers for several publications. Glenn C. Altschuler from the Oregon Live noted that Gillon’s work in Pearl Harbor “does not break new ground or depart from conventional wisdom.” Here Altschuler implies that the contents of what Gillon writes are somewhat mundane. What can be read in the book is common thought and are opinions widely shared throughout the ages. Altschuler also acknowledges Gillon’s admiration of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration during the 2nd World War. He notes that Gillon implies in his writing that, “the president exhibited extraordinary qualities of leadership, orchestrating a response that would reassure and inspire an anxious nation.” Altschuler writes that Gillon, like a myriad of others, respects the decisions of FDR in World War 2. For the most part, Altschuler praises Gillon’s ability to write comprehensively and maintain historical accuracy in his writing. Later in the review, Altschuler’s opinions on some of Franklin Roosevelt’s courses of actions shine through. In reference to FDR’s usage of media blockage and refusal to update casualty numbers, Altschuler wrote, “These practices, Gillon argues, would not be acceptable today.” Altschuler’s tone implies concurrence with Gillon’s opinion on FDR’s decisions. Altschuler also emphasizes the importance of the Pearl Harbor Attack’s significance to the presidency, “There is no doubt, however, and that, for good and ill, the attack on Pearl Harbor transformed –and enlarged— the presidency.” Altschuler also opinionates that FDR was wrong to “authorize(ed) the forced evacuation of more than 100,000 Japanese residents on the West Coast, many of them American Citizens.” Overall, Altschuler agrees with opinions of Gillon. He agrees, for the most part, that FDR did an outstanding job as Commander and Chief but there were several mistakes that could have and should have been avoided, such as the media blockage and forced evacuations of Japanese Americans. Glenn. C. Altschuler’s review gave Steven M. Gillon’s Pearl Harbor: FDR Leads a Nation into War distinguishing marks as a book that is not only accurate but well opinionated.
Knight, a reviewer for the Washington Post, unlike Altschuler, praises Gillon’s structure of the book mainly. To initiate the review, Knight notes that most books that are about World War 2 or Pearl Harbor follow the guidelines of the event itself and the occurrences that follow. In the case of Gillon, Knight writes that he was fascinated with the book’s uniqueness in that it departs from the set structure of other historical texts. Rather than analyzing the strike and entry of the U.S. into war, Gillon emphasizes the 24 hours before the U.S. physical deployment of troops across the Atlantic. The reviewer remarks that such a simple and yet unorthodox writing style provided a read that was more enticing and engaging. Knight’s opinions on the subject matter manifest towards the end of the review, “The book also relays the dark-side of government’s reaction to the Pearl Harbor attack, describing how the administration immediately locked up anyone who could be a possible saboteur.” Knight concurs with most of the opinions made by Altschuler by stating that Gillon’s work in his book provided an accurate representation of the historical day 12/7/1941.
Gillon’s book provided a unique and engaging reading experience. Since Gillon’s work departed from the usual event and following event structure, the book allowed for a truly enjoyable and non mundane read. Due to the length of the book, appx. 242 pages, the duration wasn’t too great. In addition, the longevity of the chapters proved adequate and the titles fit the content contained in each appropriately. Overall, the structure of the book itself made the reading simple, fun, and less irritating than it would be if the organization wasn’t quite as tight. Gillon’s approach to the topic provided an accurate representation of history, echoing the facts I’ve come across during research for other topics. Throughout the book, there is bias as Gillon is democratic. Many of the courses of action that FDR took were debatable. Gillon’s political bias created a tone of admiration virtually everywhere in the book. In addition, the story plot structure of Gillon’s work allowed for a less textbook read experience. Reading the book felt more like watching a movie or reading a personal journal rather than reading a non personal or remote piece of parchment. The experience with Steven M. Gillon’s title was honestly more enjoyable than previously conceived.
Gillon contributes to the idea that the 1940’s was a watershed era in the history of the United States. The whole topic of Pearl Harbor itself sealed the fate of the Axis Powers and undeniably altered the course of World War 2. Gillon heavily acknowledges the significance of this event and the impact of the U.S. entry into the war and therefore supports the concept that the 1940’s a pivotal moment in U.S. History.
Steven M. Gillon ultimately achieved his purpose in writing this book. The goal of making the Bombing of Pearl Harbor unforgettable to those who read his work is accomplished partly due to the uniqueness and focus of the writing. Unlike other historical works, where the main event is focused on, “Historian Steven M. Gillon has rectified,” the gap of missing details that lead to said event. Gillon’s work provided a slightly “in favor of democratic ideals” bias but remained sided with the truth fairly well. The research put into the book resonates with the those of other valid sources. The time and effort put into this book is clear and the memorable factor is instilled in it as well.
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Millon, Steven. 131
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Altschuler, Glenn C. "'Pearl Harbor' Review: A Look at FDR, Pearl Harbor and a Transformed Presidency." The Oregonian. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 June 2013.
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Knight, Gary. "Washington Independent Review of Books." Pearl Harbor: FDR Leads the Nation to War. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 June 2013.