FOR THE DURATION: The United States Goes to War, Pearl Harbor-1942 by Lee Kennett

FOR THE DURATION: The United States Goes to War, Pearl Harbor-1942

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File-card information, chiefly, on the American home-front during the first six months of World War II. As a military historian, Kennett (U. of Georgia, Athens) has some solid work to his credit (most recently, A History of Strategic Bombing). The present volume, however, combines clich‚d generalization and overstatement--the six months after Pearl Harbor ""were a period of rare trauma for the American people,"" the groups involved in civil defense ""form a tapestry as colorful and varied as the nation itself,"" ""rationing was probably the most dramatic innovation in wartime America""--with specifics to which Kennett gives no particular meaning. As for ""those first frantic months,"" they're supposed to show that ""the American people. . . would have stood [a] sterner test, and stood it very well."" That's as may be; what's here are chapters on the reaction to Pearl Harbor (some relief at being in the war, much sense of remoteness, little thought to the cost); the approach of conflict (from ""a small cloud on the horizon""); civil defense organization (the La Guardia and E. Roosevelt follies); military security concerns (including, in a small way, internment of Japanese aliens and citizens); military mobilization (with much contrast between regulars and draftees, the younger of whom are oddly called ""rootless and adventuresome""); war production, its bureaucratic imbroglios (e.g., ""the rubber crisis"") and conversion hitches (indicatively, ""about 2,500 signmakers went out of business before OPM or WPB could help them find something else to make""), through the introduction of rationing; information policy and administration (minimization of losses, no photos of dead US soldiers); ""responses in the world of the arts"" (desire to influence morale, debates as to how); the US state of mind--about which Kennett can only say (there being no evidence of change or clear leanings) that ""the people seem to have clung to a basic confidence in the nation and the direction of its war effort."" That's hardly ""trauma,"" or much of anything else. The war's first six months, and those that followed without a break, are portrayed far more keenly in John Morton Blum's V for Victory.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1985
Publisher: Scribners