How Pearl Harbor – and December 1941 – Made America a Global Power

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Attack on Pearl Harbor

72 years ago today Japanese aircraft attacked Pearl Harbor, launching the United States into World War II.

As Craig Shirley argued during a 2011 ReasonTV interview, not only did the attack push America into the war, but it steered U.S. foreign policy away from its long history of non-interventionism.


Here is the original text from the Dec. 7, 2011 interview:

The bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese on December 7, 1941 killed over 2,400 Americans and led directly to the entry of the United States into World War II.

In his powerful, thickly researched new book, December 1941: 31 Days That Changed America and Saved the World, Craig Shirley chronicles the day-by-day shifts in American culture, politics, and national identity through that horrible month. Before December, Shirley tells Reason’s Nick Gillespie, a solid majority opposed entry into World War II and the “eminently respectable” America First movement was poised to help select the next president of the United States. Non-interventionism was so universal that Franklin Roosevelt himself had campaigned for his third term as president on a promise to keep “American boys” out of European wars.

By the start of 1942, says Shirley, the long tradition of isolationism was over, never to be seen again. The nation that had rejected the League of Nations after World War I helped create the United Nations and America quickly became not simply a global economic, political, and military power but the dominant player on the globe.

The author of many books, including two biographies of Ronald Reagan and a forthcoming book on Newt Gingrich, Shirley talks with Reason’s Nick Gillespie about what was gained – and lost – in the historical hinge point that was December 1941.

Approximately 8 minutes.


Nick Gillespie is the editor in chief of and Reason TV and the co-author of The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong With America, just out in paperback.

Meredith Bragg is managing editor of Reason TV.