Or read the transcript below:
Transcript by J. C. Hendershot
Interview with Craig Shirley by Roger Aronoff
The “Take AIM” show on BlogTalkRadio, December 8, 2011.
ROGER ARONOFF: Good morning, and welcome to Take AIM, Accuracy in Media’s weekly talk show on BlogTalkRadio. AIM is America’s original media watchdog, and every week we point out biased coverage and bring you the stories the mainstream media ignore. I’m Roger Aronoff, the Editor of Accuracy in Media and of The AIM Report, which you can subscribe to by visiting our website at aim.org, where you can also sign up to receive our daily E-mail so you can keep track of what the media are up to. To commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor—on December 7th, 1941, which, obviously, was yesterday—we have as our guest today Craig Shirley, to discuss his new book, December 1941: 31 Days that Changed America and Saved the World. In the book, Shirley reveals the interrelated economic, social, and political events that shaped the U.S. in the lead-up and entry into World War II. Craig, good morning! We’re so glad to have you with us on Take AIM!
CRAIG SHIRLEY: Yeah, thank you, Roger! Merry Christmas!
ARONOFF: Yeah, Merry Christmas to you! Before we begin, I’d like to tell our listeners a little more about you, and some of your previous books. Craig Shirley is also the bestselling author of Reagan’s Revolution: The Untold Story of the Campaign that Started it All, which detailed Reagan’s pivotal 1976 Presidential campaign, and Rendezvous with Destiny: Ronald Reagan and the Campaign that Changed America, which detailed the 1980 campaign. Mr. Shirley is the president and CEO of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs—which, I should say, Accuracy in Media was formerly a client, and we enjoyed the working relationship. He originally founded that company in 1984, and has been professionally involved in politics and government for more than 40 years, having worked in government and campaigns at the Congressional, gubernatorial, and Presidential levels. Right now he is working on several more books about Reagan, and a political biography of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich—entitled Citizen Newt—which is very timely, and details his early public career. You can learn more about Craig and his books by visiting his website, craigshirley.com. So, before we get into your new book, I want to talk about some other topics. What was your original path into politics? In other words, what inspired you, and what acts of fate, or initiative on your part, got you started?
SHIRLEY: Roger, I guess you’d really have to go back to my parents, and my childhood. They were charter members of the Conservative Party of New York in 1962—they were right there at the founding with Bill and Jim Buckley, Dan Mahoney, Kieran O’Doherty, and all those legendary early conservative pioneers. They were always active. They were always delegates to the New York state conventions. They both ran for office in Syracuse on the Conservative ticket. By 1964, at age eight, they had me out distributing literature door-to-door for Barry Goldwater. So I guess you could say I’m, in some ways, a thoroughbred, or a child of the conservative movement, and have stayed true to that philosophy for the past 40-some-odd years, ever since the beginnings of my political awakening back in 1964.
But I didn’t get professionally involved in politics until the late ’70s, when I started working on the campaigns of conservative candidates around the country, including 1978, one of our proudest moments, when I was working for a fellow by the name of Gordon Humphrey in New Hampshire. He’d won the Republican nomination over a field of moderate liberal Republicans. He had only lived in New Hampshire for four years, he was an airline copilot, and, against all odds, won the Republican nomination—and was quickly dismissed as a “fringe candidate,” a “kamikaze candidate,” by the Walter Cronkites of the world, by the political classes. I was his press secretary on the campaign, and we beat an incumbent, a three-term liberal Democrat, Tom McIntyre, in November of 1978. On the CBS Evening News that night, Walter Cronkite called it “one of the most stunning upsets” that year in American politics. It was probably the most stunning upset—nobody expected Humphrey to win that campaign, beating McIntyre by a scant 6,000 votes out of over 100,000 cast in the election. I moved on from there. I worked with [Humphrey] on the Hill for a year, then moved out of there to run an independent expenditure campaign in the early primaries in support of Ronald Reagan with the Fund for a Conservative Majority, which, unfortunately, no longer exists. But they hired me, and gave me, essentially, $750,000 to spend helping Reagan win the nomination. We did this with massive, massive radio buys, starting in New Hampshire and going through South Carolina, Florida, Illinois, and all the first six primary states. By that time, Reagan was well on his way to the nomination. So I went out, worked on some other campaigns, and after Reagan was elected, I went to work at the Republican National Committee, because Lyn Nofziger, who is now, God rest his soul, gone, was the political director at the Reagan White House, and the Republican National Committee was a nest of Reagan-haters and liberals, and a lot of Bush supporters and fans. Nofziger was on the RNC constantly to bring some conservatives on the payroll, and I was one of the conservatives they hired to placate him.
So I always told Lyn that I owed him for the next step in my political career. I did that for several years, then the old National Conservative Political Action Committee asked me to become their Director of Communications, and help manage a massive independent campaign in support of Reagan’s reelection in 1984. We spent about $14 million which, at the time, was a lot of money. It’s still a lot of money, but in politics, it’s not as much as it used to be. So I did that, and after the ’84 campaign I opened my own shop, and for all those intervening years, those 27 years, I’ve never missed a payroll—so I feel pretty good about that! I think that kind of brings it forward.
ARONOFF: Yes. So, about Reagan—because we hear his name invoked quite a bit these days, and one of the things that they keep repeating in the media is that Reagan couldn’t even get the nomination this year because he would be considered “too moderate”—
SHIRLEY: I’ve heard that, and that’s utterly ridiculous. The people who say that about Ronald Reagan don’t know about Ronald Reagan. He was a conservative. Some of his positions had evolved over the years—he started out, in the ’30s and ’40s, as what he called not a “bleeding heart liberal,” but, as he said, “a hemophiliac liberal.” He was a rip-roaring supporter of the New Deal and Franklin Roosevelt, and in 1948 he campaigned for Harry Truman as part of “Hollywood for Truman.” In 1950 he campaigned for Helen Gahagan Douglas against Richard Nixon for the Senate out there. His long political climb had started, and he didn’t really arrive at a conservative philosophy that was based on the individual—and, more importantly, based on the spiritual individual—until the late ’70s, and by then, his philosophy was fully formed as far as individual freedom, rights, privacy, a hatred of totalitarianism—especially as embraced by Soviet Communism—and an oppressive welfare state here in this country. I’m hard pressed to think, when they say—I think it’s just a dumb throwaway line, Roger, to be quite honest. To say that Ronald Reagan wasn’t conservative enough for the Republican Party, it’s ridiculous. When they say that, they don’t offer up any evidence. I’ve spent a lifetime studying Ronald Reagan, working for Ronald Reagan, writing books for Ronald Reagan. I don’t think anybody knows Reagan any better than I do. People knew him better personally, but as far as being students, I am the Reagan Scholar. Eureka College, his alma mater, I’ve lectured at the Reagan Library. I don’t think there’s anybody who has been as steeped in Reagan history as I have. Those people who make those statements, they’re just making foolish statements.
ARONOFF: I think, really, what’s behind it is, they want to say, “Hey, you thought Reagan was conservative? Well, this bunch out there are extremists, and he was a moderate by comparison!” They’re trying to, I think, disparage the entire current Republican field—
SHIRLEY: Sure, that’s right. Exactly. A typical game in politics is to take one political figure and bash the next one over the head. They took Eisenhower and bashed Nixon over the head, bashed Gerald Ford over the head—not that they were conservatives, but this is what the political classes do, especially to those on the Right. They take one of their own. Now, we’ve seen more recently, taking the legacy of Teddy Roosevelt and using that legacy to bash conservatives. It’s part of the game of politics. It’s to be expected. But it’s not very intellectual.
ARONOFF: I want to come back to Reagan, but you mentioned Teddy Roosevelt. Why don’t you draw a comparison? Obviously, this week, Obama has been channeling, as they say, Teddy Roosevelt to try to make it seem—he even went and gave the line that they accused him of being a progressive, a radical, even a Communist, saying “That’s what they’re saying about me!,” here’s Teddy Roosevelt, a hundred years ago—
SHIRLEY: Barack Obama’s an extremely poor student of history. He would not be my first choice to teach an American history class. I doubt he knows who wrote the Federalist Papers. He is, like many in his generation, schooled in the study of himself, but he’s very unworldly when it comes to America—what it stands for, the meaning of the Constitution, the meaning of the Founders, all those things that give texture and depth to America as a country. Because a speechwriter loads up a speech, in a teleprompter, invoking Teddy Roosevelt, doesn’t mean that Barack Obama knows anything about Teddy Roosevelt, much less any other President. This is why he uses the possessive personal pronoun so often: He doesn’t say “we,” “us,” and “ours,” as John Kennedy did, as Ronald Reagan did—he says “My administration,” “My Cabinet,” “My White House.” At the core, I suspect there’s a very insecure person.
ARONOFF: Okay, back to Reagan: A couple of issues are always brought up to show that he was different than this bunch today. They say he raised taxes many times. Of course, we know about the marginal tax rate coming from 70 down to 28, but when they say he raised taxes, oh, eleven times, or whatever it was—
SHIRLEY: No, he didn’t raise taxes eleven times. The balance of it is, yes, he raised taxes, but he also cut taxes, and he also cut taxes much more massively, and more widespread—and reformed the tax code, which was far more consequential, and brought down capital gains, the inheritance taxes, and other things like that—than he ever raised. Even the one time he did work with Tip O’Neill, in 1982, to raise taxes, the deal was, there was supposed to be $3 in federal cuts for every $1 in taxes raised. Well, Reagan kept his side of the bargain, the Democrats didn’t. Tip O’Neill didn’t. Federal spending increased. He vowed, in his diaries, and said repeatedly afterwards, that he got snookered and he would never fall for it again—and he never did. He never embarked on any type of deal after that with the Democrats on Capitol Hill, as far as balancing cuts for a tax increase.
ARONOFF: Right, which is why, when they’re trying to say, “Oh, would you accept $10 in spending cuts for $1 in tax hikes,” and they’re trying to get—
SHIRLEY: But there’s a reason why all the Republicans said no—because, based on their experience at being snookered by the Democrats on these things—
SHIRLEY: In ’91, Bush 41 got snookered by them, too, on the 1991 tax increase. There were supposed to be corresponding spending cuts. There weren’t corresponding spending cuts. So there’s a pretty good track record of Democrats being duplicitous on this issue. The Republicans have simply wised up. Now, they have not explained it well, so it makes them seem like they’re being obstructionists, but if they did a better job explaining their position to the American people, they would look like they’re creating solutions and leaving the American people alone instead of simply stopping spending cuts.
ARONOFF: What about the issue of immigration? They say, “Look: Reagan signed an amnesty
and this group won’t even—”
SHIRLEY: Yup. Roger, what he wrote in his diaries, too, that the amnesty bill wasn’t an amnesty bill per se, because amnesty means the abdication of any punishment for a crime committed. There were heavy penalties and citizenship classes and all sorts of things for those people who were here illegally—and we’re talking about a much smaller group of people in 1986 than we’re talking about today. That’s number one. Number two is, the laws were never implemented, and he wrote that in his memoirs. Number three, a lot of these illegals were people, Cubans and Nicaraguans, who had escaped Communist oppression and were here, for all intents and purposes, as political refugees, and not simply here for the economic opportunities. They were escaping the murderous tyrannies of Daniel Ortega and Fidel Castro, and there’s nothing wrong with that as far as I’m concerned!
ARONOFF: Comment on the coverage of the GOP field today—what your take is, watching this daily, and the coverage by the mainstream media of the Republican field running for the nomination.
SHIRLEY: I’m in the minority. I think this is an impressive field. As a conservative, I shy more toward the Bachmanns, the Rick Santorums, and the Newt Gingriches of the race—even Huntsman—as opposed to Romney. I think my reaction to Romney, like most conservatives, is that I’m hard-pressed to think of a public policy position that he held ten years ago that he holds today, and I’m hard-pressed to think of a public policy position that he holds today that he held ten years ago. He seems to be—I think it’s pretty obvious, and it’s not even my words, it’s his own words when he was governor—pro-choice, and [he said] he was going to help the pro-choice people in Boston have more influence in the Republican party, to try to make it a more pro-abortion party. His denunciation of Ronald Reagan, his “Declaration of Independence” from Ronald Reagan, his denunciation of conservative philosophy, his refusal to acknowledge the failures of RomneyCare—and now he courts the intellectual disconnect on RomneyCare by saying, “Yes, it was good for Massachusetts, but, no, it’s bad for the 49 other states,” which begs the question—which nobody’s never asked—“Governor, if it’s bad for the rest of the country, what do you have against the people of Massachusetts, that you would impose it on them?” Seems to me a pretty logical question to ask Mitt Romney. I think the field, absent Romney, they’re good people. They’re intelligent people. They’re articulate people. They understand the Presidency. They understand power. I agree with Gingrich—any one of them is preferable to Barack Obama. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been working with Newt Gingrich on a book about his early political life for the last several years, and this book, like my Reagan books, and like my book on December, 1941, I simply let the facts speak for themselves. So, in my book December 1941, the portrait that I paint of Franklin Roosevelt is very favorable, because the facts are favorable to Franklin Roosevelt. My books on Ronald Reagan, they’re favorable to Reagan because the facts favored Ronald Reagan. This book on Newt Gingrich is not going to be a whitewash, not going to be a hagiography, but the facts favor Newt Gingrich, especially in those days from when he first entered Congress in 1979, up until 1994. He was at the ramparts fighting for tax cuts. He was at the ramparts fighting for the reduction in size of the national government. He was at the ramparts working against Soviet aggression, voting and supporting the aid to the Contras—a very controversial position at the time, it was often voted down by the Democrats, who seemed to want to side with Daniel Ortega over the Nicaraguan freedom fighters. These are the facts of the 1980s. I think the Clintons did a gross injustice to American history, and showed their contempt for the American people, by labeling the ’80s as the “Decade of Greed.” It was anything but. It was a decade of great debates. That’s what the ’80s were about, and these were brought about, of course, by Ronald Reagan and all that he stood for, all he articulated.
ARONOFF: It’s interesting, Gingrich, Romney, what’s going to happen. I think the media is wanting to so divide that whoever comes out the winner is going to be bloodied enough that they’re going to have a hard time beating Obama, and that’s—
SHIRLEY: Sure! But that’s what happens. That’s what Jimmy Carter did, Roger, in 1980. He had no record to stand on: The economy was a mess, kind of like what we’re going through now; foreign policy was a mess, kind of like what we’re going through now. Carter had no record to run on, so his only option was to destroy Ronald Reagan, and he ran a campaign of invective, of cruel and mean things, and really angered Reagan. He was quite furious about it, because he knew these things about him were untrue. The President of the United States, in 1980, went out and told the American people that if Reagan was elected President, he would divide America—black from white, North from South, Christian from Jew. Now if that isn’t a vile thing to say about your opponent, I don’t know what is. But whoever the Republican nominee is, they can expect that and much more from Barack Obama. This is a very vicious man.
ARONOFF: Are you concerned about the integrity of the upcoming election, between mail-in votes, ACORN and its successors—
SHIRLEY: Sure! Sure! I think we all should be concerned. I think this idea of early voting is just a recipe for corruption. But this is what collectivism has become: Collectivism has always bordered—embraced—corruption. We need to settle this argument once and for all about whether or not [Obama] is a socialist. It really doesn’t matter—he is on the left of the political spectrum. Those on the Right are organized, more or less, around the concept of philosophy. Those on the Left are organized, more or less, around the concept of justice. But the interpretation of justice to one man is quite different to another man, and Barack Obama’s idea is to take from the productive members of society in the name of “justice,” and give to the non-productive members of society, instead of giving the non-productive members of society a chance to fulfill their own promises, dreams, and hopes. At his core he’s a Jacobin, maybe in slow motion, but he’s a Jacobin in that he wants to reorganize society with sameness and mediocrity governing everybody—except, of course, for the ruling classes. If you are on the Left in America, if you are on the Left in the world, whether you’re a member of the Democratic party, whether you’re a liberal, whether you’re a Communist, socialist, Trotskyite, Castroite, Leninist—it doesn’t matter what sect on the Left you are, at the heart of your philosophy is collectivism. Collectivism means to take from one set of people and give to another set of people. It’s taking from the American people and giving to Washington bureaucrats. It means to take power, freedom, money, and independence from the American people, and give it to Washington. When I was in high school, when I wasn’t falling asleep in physics, I remember the teacher saying that power can neither be destroyed nor created, it can only be moved around. What Reagan wanted to do was to move power away from Washington, back to the states and individuals in the fashion as envisioned by the Founders, the fashion envisioned by Paine and Jefferson and others who believed in individuality over the State. What Jefferson supported and articulated was a natural aristocracy of men unaided by the heavy hand of nobility or government connections, so that a creative, productive society would meet the material needs of the people who are less capable of taking care of themselves. There’s a spirituality that comes from the community, the family, the home, and the individual, in recognizing the messages of Judaism and Christianity to help the downtrodden, the less affluent, and the poor. These make us better Christians, and fulfill the Judeo-Christian mission of the United States of America.
ARONOFF: Just a couple more things on this. What would you recommend or advise people who are concerned—and the Republican party—on what they can do to help keep this election honest and fair—?
SHIRLEY: Shows like this! Justice Louis Brandeis said, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” What we need is for everybody who’s worried about the integrity of voting, the integrity of the ballot box, and ensuring that the election isn’t stolen, is to put as much sunlight as possible on the process, and embarrass—if nothing else—those who attempt to thwart, steal, or deny the individual franchise of everyone of legal voting status in this country—and, if necessary, bring it before a magistrate or a judge to enforce fair voting in this country.
ARONOFF: Do you trust the structure that’s in place, in the sense that there are Secretaries of State in every state which are supposed to make sure—
SHIRLEY: Depends on which state.
ARONOFF: Right . . .
SHIRLEY: If you’re talking about Virginia, I would trust Ken Cuccinelli—
ARONOFF: Right . . .
SHIRLEY: —with my life, with the lives of my children, with the Constitution, with the Bill of Rights. This is a man of deep faith and deep principles.
ARONOFF: Right . . .
SHIRLEY: He’s utterly incapable of doing a dishonest or dishonorable thing. There are other good Attorney Generals out there, too, on both sides of the aisle—but then there are some that are not so good, and they seem, more these days, to favor—the corruption seem to tilt more toward liberalism and Obamaism and the Democratic party than it does towards the Right. But it’s very understandable. It’s explainable.
SHIRLEY: Conservatism is about freedom, whereas liberalism is about government and power and gaining power—whether you gain it legitimately or not, that is the object of American liberalism.
ARONOFF: One thing: When you look back at this point in the cycle, four years ago, a month or two before the primaries began, what you had was Hillary Clinton 30 points ahead of Obama, Giuliani and Fred Thompson ahead of Romney and McCain in the field, which makes it so annoying, how much reliance is put on these polls all the time, and how quickly it can just fade away after the first-time voters go to—
ARONOFF: So put on your prognosticator’s hat. Where are we going to be in early March in this race for the Republican nomination?
SHIRLEY: I don’t think the nominee is going to be Mitt Romney. He is blocked in at 25%. He has made no effort to reach out to conservatism, the Tea Party, the Tea Party movement, or conservative leaders over the last three years. I think, Roger, quite frankly, that conservatives are going to be faced with three practical choices very, very shortly, as to who the next President of the United States is going to be. It’s either going to be Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, or Newt Gingrich. My guess is that most conservatives will opt for a flawed conservative over two flawed liberals, because at least they have a history with them, a track record, whereas Barack Obama doesn’t even understand the concepts of conservatism, and Mitt Romney has turned his back on them, never embracing them. So I think most conservatives are going to opt for Gingrich—if he sustains, and that’s up to him—in the hopes, or the knowledge, the belief, that they can work with him as the nominee, and, if he’s elected, as the President.
ARONOFF: All right. On to your book, December 1941: 31 Days that Changed America and Saved the World. Why this book? What is the model for this sort of—we’ll call it “tick-tock”—of the days leading up to the war, and the first days of the war? I loved the way it reads. Each chapter is a different day of the month of December—
ARONOFF: Was there another book, a model of that for you—?
SHIRLEY: No, I’m not aware of any book which approached a subject in this manner. There have been many, many fine books about Pearl Harbor, about World War II, about the War in the Pacific, the home front, the War in the Atlantic—but there’s never been a day-by-day accounting of what happened in this country, and the enormous upheaval that occurred in this country after December 7th. Franklin Roosevelt is a player in this drama. Douglas MacArthur is a player in this drama. Dwight Eisenhower is a minor figure in this drama. Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio are minor players in this drama. There are many noteworthy people from government, from the military, from sports, from Hollywood, and from the media—radio broadcasters, mostly—who are minor or major players in this drama, but the central player in the drama of December, 1941 is the United States of America. This is a story about a country that goes from being a country of the past to becoming a country of the future, and all the things that spring out of it, big and small. The big, obviously, is that we become a permanent internationalist country. We never again retreat to isolationism, as we did after the Spanish-American War, and as we did after World War I. After we defeat Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan, we then rebuild them and make them into allies under the Marshall Plan and Douglas MacArthur. We establish military bases around the world—that was unthinkable five years before, that we would have military bases all around the world. We had military bases in the Philippines, and several other locations, but those were the exceptions, not the rule. We are instrumental in the creation of the United Nations—I’m not making a value judgment, I’m simply reporting the facts—whereas we had rejected the League of Nations after World War I.
From this, the city of Washington changes from a fetid, smelly, backwater, malarial town that is not considered to be a seat of world power in the way London, Paris, Cairo, or Moscow were thought of—nobody thought of Washington in that same regard—to, after World War II, the capital of global freedom. The Presidency changes dramatically, in that Franklin Roosevelt became the most important man in the world. Now we routinely accept the fact that, whoever the President of the United States is, he is the most important man in the world—but it wasn’t that way before December 7th, 1941. There were czars, there were kings, Napoleon, Czar Nicholas, Queen Victoria, who, maybe in certain small epochs of time, were considered to be the most important person in the world, but there really wasn’t any one for any sustained duration. It starts with Roosevelt, and it continues today.
But there were small changes, too, if you think about it—in 1960, John Kennedy runs for President, and part of his platform, part of his story, part of his character makeup, is the story of his heroism in World War II. They played that to a fare-thee-well—and all campaigns do this, Dole did it, McCain did it, others touted their military service, especially if they had performed heroic acts—but absent the war, does John Kennedy ever actually run for Congress? Does he ever run for the Senate? Does he ever run for President? If he does, then he might be just dismissed as a lightweight, rich playboy, and not elected in 1960—but he was elected in 1960, and he committed America to landing a man on the moon before the end of the decade. But we don’t land a man on the moon by the end of the decade because John Kennedy’s not elected in 1960, because John Kennedy was a war hero in World War II. Dwight Eisenhower becomes a minor figure in American history. He doesn’t become President of the United States as the Conqueror of Europe, as the Leader of D-Day, as the affable Ike of “I like Ike.” Everything. The airplane changes—the airplane, before World War II, was somewhat unreliable. Passenger planes routinely crashed. Airmail delivery planes—they were still using biplanes, open cockpits. There wasn’t much capacity for international travel. Pan Am had some planes, but they had to stop for refueling after distances of maybe a thousand miles at the top out-range. But the airplane changes into a projection of international capitalism, American capitalism, and international power, mostly by America, because of its accelerated development in World War II, and then, as an outgrowth of that, English is the official language of all pilots and all air traffic controllers everywhere in the world. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in Moscow, Beijing, or Hong Kong, it’s English because, at the end of World War II, the only countries that were flying airplanes, and flying them internationally, were Great Britain and the United States.
ARONOFF: We’ve got a lot of ground to cover. Let’s try to get back. What was going on in the news in the days leading up to Pearl Harbor? In other words, was there a sense of anticipation?
SHIRLEY: No. No, there was no sense of anticipation.
ARONOFF: So if you were reading the papers, or listening to the radio, you had no—
SHIRLEY: On December 6th, 1941, which was a Saturday, the country, at the time, had almost 2,000 newspapers—now it has less than 500—and at that time there were actually more afternoon newspapers than there were morning newspapers, because news occurred during the day, then it was reported on, written about, at one, two, three o’clock, in time for the afternoon paper. The early “Bulldog Edition” might come out around three, four, five o’clock, and then they’d add stars for later editions, one, two, three, four stars, which would tell you how late that paper had been issued. But people were reading the newspapers, they were listening to the radio—and if they were listening to the radio, they were listening to Fibber McGee and Molly, or Bob Hope, or, in Washington, on WRC, there was local programming, Quiz Kids. There were Christmas specials on—
ARONOFF: Okay, but nothing about—
SHIRLEY: No, no, no. That night, Americans were probably going to the movies. The average American went to the movies twice a week in those days. They were going to see Citizen Kane, Meet John Doe, Dumbo, The Maltese Falcon, or International Squadron starring Ronald Reagan—there was no thought of the war. There was no thought whatsoever of war in the Pacific, and very little thought of the war in Europe.
ARONOFF: In this past Sunday’s Washington Post—every Sunday they have this column called “Five Myths”—they had your “Five Myths About Pearl Harbor.” I think if we could just touch on those, it gives a really good overview of, as you say, things that people think are the case but really aren’t. For instance, one was “The U.S. government had no knowledge of a potential Japanese attack before Dec. 7.” In it, you say “The War Department had been intercepting and analyzing secret cables between Tokyo and the Japanese Embassy in Washington and thought at one point that the Japanese would attack Hawaii on . . . Nov. 30.” It was even warned in a Hawaii newspaper, “in a blaring headline—”
SHIRLEY: Right. That’s right.
ARONOFF: “—of a possible attack.”
SHIRLEY: Right. That’s right. That’s right.
ARONOFF: Let’s go through these. Quickly give me your take. This one, that we had no knowledge—
SHIRLEY: We had no knowledge—
ARONOFF: —is very controversial.
SHIRLEY: There shouldn’t be any controversy. We knew that the Japanese had become increasingly militaristic. They’d resigned from the League of Nations. They’d signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany and with Italy. They had invaded Manchuria. They’d invaded Indochina. They were increasing their military capability, and they had designs on expanding their empire throughout Asia and the western Pacific. We had inklings that they might have military designs against the United States—or against Great Britain—but there was no concrete evidence, because there was a failure of imagination on our part. Nobody thought that on the morning of December 7th that the Japanese would sail a massive armada across thousands of miles of ocean—it featured six aircraft carriers and hundreds of escort ships—stop in the middle of that ocean to refuel, then get up steam again, travel as much distance again to arrive at the doorstep of Oahu, and launch 350 planes on a bright, clear day to obliterate the American navy and the American air force at the time, killing 2,402 military men and maiming and injuring another 1,289. Simultaneously, they’re also launching attacks against Guam, Midway, Wake Island, the Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong, and the Malay Peninsula. It is an astonishing act of aggression that was beyond the ken of anybody’s imagination. But it also was an astonishing act of naval execution. It stands as one of the most impressive acts of military success in the annals of naval history.
ARONOFF: That was your Myth Number Two—“On Dec. 7, the Japanese attacked only Pearl Harbor.” You just answered that one. Of course, this week there have been all sorts of specials and reminiscences. One, Oliver North’s War Stories, aired on Fox this weekend. They pointed to Robert Stinnett’s The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor. He showed a memo that showed what he called Eight—
SHIRLEY: Yeah, that was a memo from 1940, written by somebody in Naval Intelligence. But I’m hard-pressed, Roger, to understand how anybody in 1940 could foresee an act that wasn’t even decided upon by the Japanese until November of 1941.
SHIRLEY: We have conspiracists all around us. We still have people that think that Richard Nixon was on the grassy knoll on November 22nd, 1963. They need to be treated the way conspiracists without evidence are treated—essentially, they need to be ignored. First of all, there’s a disconnect in their argument, because the attack on Pearl Harbor doesn’t get us into World War II—it only gets us into the War in the Pacific. We didn’t get into World War II until four days later, when Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini declare war on us. Then we declare war in response to that. But absent Hitler’s declaration, I’m not sure we’d ever get into the European war. So that, number one, knocks down the argument. Number two is, there was a philosopher—it may have been Thoreau—who once said that there are certain things that are moral impossibilities. It’s morally impossible for me to believe that FDR would allow 2,402 young men—his countrymen, he was their Commander-in-Chief—to be mercilessly cut down without defending themselves, just to get into a war. It would have been an impeachable offense—he’d sworn to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic—and it’s simply beyond reason to think that he was a bad man. He was a flawed man, like all men, but, ultimately, Franklin Roosevelt was a good man. He had his temper, he had his flaws—I know all the arguments against Franklin Roosevelt—but these things are a test of character. I’ll just leave you with this: In the Federalist Papers, Hamilton, Jay, and Madison hammer, over and over, that the only two qualifications for President of the United States were experience and character. I think they use the word experience 77 times, and character just a few less. Most of the time—in fact, the great majority of the time—the American people have gotten it right: They’ve chosen the man of superior character in their votes for President of the United States, and this bears out in their performances. I think they got it wrong in ’68—I think Hubert Humphrey had a superior character to Richard Nixon—and in 1976, though the Carter we know now was not the Carter of 1976. The Carter of 1976 was talking about reforming government and bringing people together, so he appeared to be of equal character to Gerald Ford, who, also, was of good temperament. We later found out that there was probably some duplicity going on there on the part of Carter, so the American people can be excused in that instance. In 2008, Barack Obama appeared to be more stable, more ready, more mature, and, in many instances, of better character—he obviously loved his wife and his children, and there wasn’t the petty partisanship we’ve seen come out. The choice that they made in 2008 appeared to be the man of superior character. But most of the time, the American people get this right.
ARONOFF: You talk quite a bit about Henry Luce. I wanted to get into the idea of people on both the Left and the Right who were against the U.S. going to war. Tell us a little about how the media affected us going to war, and how they covered it.
SHIRLEY: There were editorial writers on both sides. You had Colonel Robert McCormick, who was President of the very powerful Chicago Tribune newspaper chain—there was the Washington Tribune, the Chicago Tribune, and other Tribune papers around the country—who was a rabid isolationist, a rabid Roosevelt-hater, and who used his editorial policy in his newspapers and his columns to repeatedly bash Roosevelt. But then you had other newspapers that were fawning at the feet of Franklin Roosevelt. It was an era of yellow journalism, but we’ve always had partisan journalism in this country. But after December 7th, what I will say is that there was a lot of growing up in the newspaper industry. Most of the reporting I’ve detected was very responsible. They tried to hold back on rumors. The tabloid papers, like the Boston Sunday Herald and the Los Angeles Times—both were tabloids at the time—favored more screaming headlines and things like that, but more papers behaved more responsibly than behaved irresponsibly. The radio stations were warned by the administration in Washington that they would be watched to see if they broadcast disinformation or information that was of aid to the enemy or undermined American morale. You couldn’t use the war for commercial purposes such as “World War II, brought to you by Campbell’s Soups!” You couldn’t do that. There was good behavior, there was bad behavior, but my study of it is, December 7th, and the month of December, 1941 brought forth one of the best and most shining examples of American exceptionalism that we’ve ever seen in this country.
ARONOFF: Finally, do you see any parallels with, say, Iran today? Do we need to be looking out for this?
SHIRLEY: We definitely need to be looking out for it, and what we need to recognize—and I think we know now, after September 11th—that two giant oceans do not make us secure, that we need to take other steps. That is the role of the national government. The role of the national government is to preserve the security, peace, and freedom of the American people. We need somebody in the White House who understands that. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s Barack Obama.
ARONOFF: Our guest today has been Craig Shirley, author of the new book December 1941: 31 Days that Changed America and Saved the World. His website is craigshirley.com. You can find articles and, I assume, you can buy the book through the site—
SHIRLEY: Yes. Yes. And it’s in all bookstores—Sam’s Club, Books-A-Million, Barnes & Noble, Wal-Mart—all finer bookstores!
ARONOFF: Well, in a week or so we’ll have a full transcript and a podcast of this interview up on our site. I’ll write it up, and it should be all over the Internet. We look forward to that. Craig, I want to thank you so much for taking the time to be with us today on Take AIM.
SHIRLEY: Oh, Roger, it was absolutely my pleasure. Merry Christmas!
ARONOFF: Merry Christmas to you. All the best. Take care!
SHIRLEY: Thank you.
ARONOFF: Thank you! We’ll be back next week with another episode of Take AIM!