the radical fundamentalists who attacked the United States, found themselves the subject of frequent violence. This remains true today.
In that sense, little has changed since the days immediately following the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec.
The internment of Americans of Japanese descent was not the faul of Franklin Roosevelt alone. He was reacting to enormous pressure from many Americans, including prominent politicians and members of the media. Their fears overcame constitutional guarantees and the essence of what American freedom stood for.
But dark times also eventually led the nation to gather its strength and rise to meet the challenge. At least, that is what happened in World War II, even if it didn’t start out that way.
In his latest book, “The Darkest Year: The American Homefront, 1941–1942,” William K. Klingaman describes an America long forgotten in the euphoria of victory and the storied tales of the “greatest generation.”
Today, Americans rightly stand and applaud as the now frail soldiers who once fought in this epic global struggle come to Washington, D.C. as part of so-called “honor flights.” Honoring these people with gratitude is entirely appropriate.
The danger, however, is that we assume, three-quarters of a century later, that the war’s outcome was inevitable. Klingaman’s book reminds us that the struggle -- the battle against doubts, and the way obstacles can expose the nation’s own weaknesses, prejudices and errors -- can be just as instructive, and perhaps more so.
The United States didn’t fare well militarily in 1942. It suffered serious losses. Merchant ships were sunk by enemy submarines not far from American shores. Japan controlled nearly all of the Pacific. On the American continent, prominent people fretted that Americans weren’t taking the conflict serious enough; that arts and entertainment hadn’t struck the right tones; that Americans weren’t fit for battle; and that manufacturing wasn’t keeping up with war demands.
Meanwhile, racial conflicts were doing as much harm to the cause as any of these. African-Americans were shut out of defense work, where their help could have helped satisfy demands. And Americans were jittery. What may have been merely some weather balloons passing over California set off needless air raid alarms and prompted anti-aircraft fire that caused damage to civilians.
Americans in 1942 came face-to-face with their nation’s own vulnerabilities, and with the notion that victory was anything but inevitable.
Klingaman’s highly readable book uses a variety of sources to recreate a moment in time that has become lost in the narrative of World War II. It was an important time, filled with lessons for future generations in a land that always seems to struggle to keep pace with its own ideals.
The America of 2019 is different in many ways from that of 1942. The enemies it faces are different, as well. And yet it’s hard to read “The Darkest Year” without wondering whether today’s Americans would repeat much of what happened 77 years ago if faced with the same type of epic struggle.
Whether this generation would have what it takes to overcome those problems the way the “greatest generation” did is an open question.
Author: William K. Klingaman
Publisher: St. Martin's