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The United States is going through some hard times right now. Some might believe 2020 to be the most challenging year faced by the Republic. The oldest among us remember a year far worse than 2020 or even the 1960s.
“The Year of Peril: America in 1942,” by Tracy Campbell, recalls that year. The United States had been unexpectedly thrust into a war, one we appeared to be losing in 1942.
Campbell takes readers through that year. He reveals the fear stalking the American public, especially early in 1942. People expected the attack on Pearl Harbor to be followed up by a Japanese invasion of the American homeland. Air raids by long-range German bombers were also expected.
Campbell also shows how the war changed America. Rationing and income tax withholding all began in 1942. So did taxation of the middle class. (Prior to 1942 individuals paid income taxes annually, and less than ten percent of the public even paid income taxes.) Jobs became plentiful while consumer goods became scarce or unavailable. Inflation became a concern, and the government moved to prevent it, imposing wage and price controls.
Campbell reveals the only resource truly in short demand was rubber. Automobiles and electric appliances became unavailable because factories shifted to war production. The US then exported petroleum, and had adequate supplies and feedstock for civilian and military needs (except in the northeast). But adequate rubber was unavailable. Gasoline rationing was imposed to reduce tire wear, to reduce civilian demand for rubber.
Anyone thinking things have not changed for the better should read this book. Racism existed in the 1940s, with a segregated South, and Asians and Blacks barely tolerated outside the South. Jim Crow was the official policy of the 1942 Democratic Party. So was forced internment of Japanese and Italians civilians near the coasts.
He also examines the military conduct of the war. He shows how Japanese expansion in the Pacific and the German U-boat campaign affected civilian morale and attitudes. Campbell also examines Roosevelt’s attempts to advance the African invasion so it took place before the November Congressional elections. (The military kept to a November invasion schedule, to which Roosevelt acquiesced.) He places this in an examination of the political aspects of the war.
The Year of Peril is a worthwhile examination of a critical year. The book reminds us that times of crisis were always part of the American experience.
“The Year of Peril: America in 1942,” by Tracy Campbell, Yale University Press, 2020, 403 pages, $30.00 (Hardcover)
This review was written by Mark Lardas who writes at Ricochet as Seawriter. Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.Published in