The United States in a Perilous Year

 

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 History
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  1. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Does the book offer much description of the public response to the expansion of the national income tax beyond the most wealthy? Was it similar to the modern response to Obamacare’s passage? 

    • #1
  2. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):

    Does the book offer much description of the public response to the expansion of the national income tax beyond the most wealthy? Was it similar to the modern response to Obamacare’s passage?

    Yes it does, and the best way to describe the reaction was that there was a war on.  People did not like it, but tax rates were not high and having to pay income tax beat not having to pay income tax. Paying it meant you had a job. So it was far from Obamacare unpopular.

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  3. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    I am unaware of any other culture that has turned away from racism quicker than the United States after WWII. America being founded on Christian and (classically) liberal principles should have moved against racism quicker but can’t we get credit for embracing Martin Luther King and electing a black President?

    • #3
  4. James Gawron Thatcher
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Mark,

    The major problem in teaching History is people have a tremendous difficulty placing themselves back in time in the full context of the situation. When you already know the ending it is sometimes easy to forget what it would have felt like if you didn’t know the ending and had to live through it.

    Regards,

    Jim

     

    • #4
  5. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    I have a scrapbook (somewhere in the basement) that my uncle put together of newspaper clipping about the war from  December-1941 through roughly April 1942.

    It really is interesting reading the source material from before people knew how it was going to turn out.  We were getting our butts kicked all over the place, and the fear was palpable.

    • #5
  6. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):
    It really is interesting reading the source material from before people knew how it was going to turn out. We were getting our butts kicked all over the place, and the fear was palpable.

    Yep.

    • #6