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Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2011

Remembering the 'Pearl Harbor Christmas'

Weintraub examines incongruity of December 1941

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As traumatizing as the Dec. 7 raid on Pearl Harbor had been, the hits just kept on coming as Germany's grip on Europe tightened and the Japanese followed their attack on Hawaii with invasions throughout the South Pacific. For the Allies, December 1941 was a very bleak month. But on Dec. 25, the world would still celebrate the peace and joy of the Christmas holiday. This incongruity is the centerpiece of Stanley Weintraub's Pearl Harbor Christmas: A World at War, December 1941 (Da Capo).

Indeed, it is interesting to witness both sides in the conflict invoking the holiday. Adolf Hitler appealed to the German people to contribute warm clothing to the soldiers, and added, “Let us ask the Lord to allow the new year 1942 to bring a decision for the salvation of our Volk.” Meanwhile, the rector of Washington's Catholic University used the White House tree-lighting ceremony to pray: “All the material resources with which Thou has blessed us, we consecrate to the dread tasks of war.”

Pearl Harbor Christmas
contains interesting vignettes from various theaters of war during December 1941, including the perilous retreat of the U.S.S. Peary from the Philippines to Australia, the siege of Singapore and German reverses on the Eastern Front. There are tidbits such as a Wehrmacht officer's attempt to procure James Joyce's Finnegans Wake from a Paris bookstore.

While taking on a fascinating month in history, Weintraub's scattershot approach to the events isn't truly satisfactory. Although a quick and smooth read, Pearl Harbor Christmas would benefit from greater detail and clearer focus.
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