An Interview With Barry Denenberg About Early Sunday Morning
Author Barry Denenberg discusses his novel about a young woman who witnesses the attack on Pearl Harbor, part of the Dear America historical fiction series.
Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D., and Eleanore S. Tyson, Ed.D.: So many parallels seem to exist between the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the attack on the twin towers in New York City in 2001: surprise of the attack, concerns over the possibility of a chemical or biological strike, attention to homeland security, a sense of disbelief and a desire for revenge. Are there lessons from the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and how we dealt with that tragedy that we should remember in our ongoing war with terrorism?
Barry Denenberg: I think the most important lesson is this: Prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, 65% of the American population was opposed to our direct involvement in the war despite clear contemporaneous evidence that Germany, Italy and Japan were intent on a course of action that if allowed to proceed would eventually threaten us.
The President's role, in my estimation, is not to follow the wishes of the populace. Given the information to which he is privileged, he must make decisions about the security of the country. An untold number of lives — and not just the lives of Jews — would have been saved if world leaders at the time of Munich (and even before) had acted with intelligence, determination and a willingness to make the difficult decisions necessary.
The isolationists then thought, protected by the Atlantic Ocean, we didn't need to involve ourselves in a foreign war. This wasn't true then and it is not true now. Today's isolationists with their ostrich-in-the-sand mentality should take a lesson from history.
RFA and EST: Lieutenant Lockhart is one of the most unlikable characters in Amber's diary. Was he actually an officer on the USS Arizona?
BD: Lieutenant Lockhart was not an officer on the USS Arizona. In the sense that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, Lockhart's individual characteristics are all grounded in actual people's thoughts and actions. Someone had to embody the myriad of unenlightened views at the time and Lieutenant Lockhart admirably served this purpose.
RFA and EST: Other than Amber, who is your favorite character in the book? Why?
BD: Without question, I'd choose Amber's mother. I was struck during my research (as I was when researching my book on Vietnam) by the heroic efforts of the nurses on the island in the hours immediately after the attack. I also thought it was important to present to the reader the real results of the attack — not just facts and figures about how many died — but rather the immediate pain and heartache.
RFA and EST: In Amber's diary, and in several of your other Dear America and My America titles, your main characters often write about the books they have read — reading is a solid part of their lives. What did you enjoy reading as a youngster? Did these books inspire you to be a writer?
BD: You got me here. I try not to be autobiographical but talking about reading is just too tempting. To say that reading saved my life is probably not an understatement. I read incessantly: then history, later fiction, and now back to history. Reading inspired me to become a writer in that writing the books I write allows me to spend endless amounts of time researching. Although I have come to love the writing process, the reading is the thing. You can't write a proper history book without doing a large amount of research.
RFA and EST: You have written several books set during World War II. What did you discover in your research for Early Sunday Morning: The Pearl Harbor Diary of Amber Billows that interested or surprised you most?
BD: What surprised me the most was one scholar's view that the reason the Japanese were rounded up was because the white people in California wanted their prosperous farms.
RFA and EST: What is one question you'd like to ask children after they've finished reading Amber's diary?
BD: Does the story of the attack on Pearl Harbor have any meaning for you or is it just dry, dusty ancient history? If it does have meaning, tell me how.
RFA and EST: What is one thing you hope young readers will take with them after reading Early Sunday Morning: The Pearl Harbor Diary of Amber Billows?
BD: I hope they take away an admiration for the Issei and Nissei living in America who were placed in the camps and the way they conducted themselves.
This interview was conducted by Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D., Professor of Literature for Children and Young Adults, University of Houston, Houston, Texas, and Eleanore S. Tyson, Ed.D., Clinical Associate Professor, University of Houston, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Houston, Texas.