A look at America during the twelve months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, during which an already strained social fabric became even more so and a heated debate swirled around the now-infamous internment of Japanese Americans authorized by Franklin D. Roosevelt in February 1942.
The appeal of William K. Klingaman’s The Darkest Year: The American Homefront, 1941-1942, which uses contemporary sources to survey the national psyche in the tense months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, is in enabling readers to feel the immediacy of well-known historical events as they unfolded ... the author excels in bringing to life the day-to-day impact of shortages of everything from rubber and gasoline to sugar and coffee ... Klingaman has an eye for the interesting details of life during wartime ... The book’s pleasures are ample enough to compensate for the historian’s lack of commentary or analysis. Klingaman instead successfully evokes a sense of what life was like during an anxious time when the Allied victory was in no way assured. In contrast to the triumphalist World War II narratives taught in schools, America in 1942 was wracked by divisions of class, race, and gender and plagued by uncertainty.
Historian Klingaman...deftly navigates the ensuing roller-coaster of unease and complacency that characterized home front sentiments during the first year of U.S. involvement in World War II. Addressing xenophobia and the sparks of race riots to rationing systems and women entering the workforce, Klingaman weaves news stories, diary entries, and other contemporary sources to paint a picture of the American psyche at a time when war suddenly became very real, yet still somehow distant for those not living on the seaboards ... This thoroughly researched and accessible text will prove elucidating to anyone curious about social history, World War II, or the rhetoric of a country in crisis.
The author is good at teasing out small but telling details ... He also delivers entertaining anecdotes along the way ... Yet Klingaman’s narrative is marked by dark moments and the birth of trends, some of which persist today, such as the militarization of society and a rightward turn in politics ... A welcome study of an aspect of wartime history that is little known among those too young to have experienced it.