Week 3: For the Duration by Lee Kennett

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One of the things I love about books is finding orphaned books in unexpected locations. When I was living in Costa Rica, the little cafe (with super-charged coffee) had a little shelf that acted as a local book exchange. I remember pulling many books (and leaving many books) from that shelf, and I found some unexpected dandies there.

Upon my arrival in Estonia, I found (on a similar shared shelf) For the Duration…The United States Goes to War, Pearl Harbor-1942 by Lee Kennett. The book is simply fascinating. It is written a series of essays, each focused on a different aspect of the war effort: civil defense, rationing, industrial production, and so on. Surprisingly, the book is riveting, perhaps because it is so well written.

The book conveys (clearly, which is not always easy in a historical account) the mood of the US leading up to the war, as well as the social and political undercurrents swirling around the country at the time. Interestingly, the book adequately summarizes the drive for war was indeed Pearl Harbor, not the fact that the Nazis had conquered much of Europe. By today’s standards, it seems that the alarm bells had been sounding for some time. The slow progression from an isolationist country with the 20th most powerful army in the world, to an international superpower in the shadow of the Great Depression is chronicled brilliantly.

The book is filled with many surprises that remind us the degree of advanced civilization and industrialization in 1930s and 1940s America (my favorite example is the one-mlle long assembly factory planned for Michigan to build bombers). Similarly, however, the book also reminds us of social strife, sexism, racism, and fear mongering that was prevalent during the time. The adage “those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it” comes to mind.

First published in 1985, it’s a tough one to find. You’ll need to consult your local library, or a used bookseller to find this gem.