Taking you back to an era of bigger-than-life historical figures, Stanley Weintraub recounts the world’s events of December 1941 in his book Pearl Harbor Christmas: A World at War, December 1941. At 224 pages, the book is a quick and easy read.
The main focus of the book is on the meetings between British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and American President Franklin Roosevelt in Washington D.C. from mid-December to early January. In the context of these meetings, Weintraub discusses the world events (including Japan’s unending victories and Europe under Nazi oppression) that were occurring at the same time. These meetings created the strategy that would guide the Allies in the ensuing three and a half years of war. Although some of the decisions were agreed upon early (war effort would primarily focus on Europe first and then Japan), other decisions were more protracted (who was to lead the Allied war effort in Asia).
The initial interactions between Roosevelt and Churchill are interesting especially considering the tension that would develop between the two later in the war. Weintraub points out that their first meeting was unique in that Roosevelt personally welcomed Churchill when Churchill arrived from his ocean voyage across the Atlantic – this was unique because of Roosevelt’s difficulty in getting around due to his disability.
The most fascinating aspect of the book is the contrast between the high hopes of Roosevelt and Churchill for the future and the realization of many Americans that the Christmases for the foreseeable future were going to be at war. Many American families were receiving news of injuries to or deaths of loved ones at Pearl Harbor, the Philippines, and other locations in the Pacific or were preparing to send their sons off to war. Yet, according to Weintraub, despite all of this, Americans were wanting to celebrate the Christmas season as evidenced by the Christmas lights that they had blazing throughout the season.
Weintraub intricately weaves the avalanche of devastating news of Allied setbacks throughout the world, especially in Asia due to Japanese attacks, with the actions of Roosevelt and Churchill. They not only shared intimate moments in attending Christmas services and eating Christmas dinner together, but also in conducting official business, including one that led to the declaration initiating the United Nations. Throughout this time, as Weintraub points out throughout the book, both men were feeling each other out to see if they could effectively work together to beat the Axis Powers.
This book is a great overview of not only the initial meetings between Roosevelt and Churchill, but how these meetings were framed in the events that led to the expansion of World War II.