The Pearl Harbor Myth: Rethinking the Unthinkable
by Jonathan Goodwin
Pearl Harbor Myth: Rethinking the Unthinkable by George
In this book,
George Victor addresses the several questions regarding Pearl Harbor:
did U.S. Intelligence know beforehand? Did Roosevelt know? If so,
why weren’t commanders in Hawaii notified? It is a well-researched
and documented volume, complete with hundreds of end-notes and references.
before the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt
surprised his advisors by saying that war with Japan was about
to begin. Secretary of War Stimson noted in his diary:
was what we should do. The question was how we should maneuver
them into the position of firing the first shot without allowing
too much danger to ourselves.
admits he is an admirer of Roosevelt. While he is clear that Roosevelt
manipulated the country into war, he does not condemn him for it:
recorded many, many rulers’ manipulations of their people into
war without their subordinates blowing the whistle. Presidents
James Polk, Abraham Lincoln, William McKinley, and Woodrow Wilson
did it before [Roosevelt], and others have done it after him.
This is difficult
for many to accept, especially the idea that honorable and upright
military leaders would allow such a thing to occur. General George
Marshall, in testimony to various tribunals after Pearl Harbor was
to a congressional committee that withholding vital information
from commanders was routine practice.
warnings of the coming attack. It was fortunate for Roosevelt that
his political enemies did not know
officers] had been reading the most confidential Japanese ciphers
even before the attack, and that the Japanese war plans were no
secret to American intelligence.
documented warnings received by administration intelligence (eventually
turned over to various committees), the administration took the
stand that no warning had come in. Further it seems clear that no
warnings were sent to Pearl Harbor on the eve of the attack.
into some background of the U.S. involvement in the war well before
December 7. He outlines the aid to the allies in Europe. He goes
into detail regarding attempts to get Germany to shoot first. When
this failed, the U.S. changed its focus to Japan. These actions
have been well-documented elsewhere – termination of trade treaties,
embargoes of material and the like. The big blow was the oil embargo.
advisors were strongly against the embargo, rightly anticipating
that this would lead to war with Japan. Yet Roosevelt went ahead
with the embargo in the summer of 1941 – abruptly reversing his
prior position. At the same time, he took other measures within
days of the embargo decision: freezing Japan’s U.S. assets, breaking
off diplomatic talks with Japan, and arming the Philippines.
at this time to get Roosevelt to change so abruptly and go against
his military advisors. Victor cites historian Waldo Heinrichs with
a "unique idea."
his attitude about pressuring Japan in order to save the Soviet
Union. Germany had just invaded Russia, and Japan was contemplating
when and how to support its German ally. Roosevelt was aware of
these Japanese deliberations and preparations – Japan would make
war plans for both the Soviet Union and the United States, but would
only fight one of them. Victor believes it is quite credible that
Roosevelt abruptly changed his approach and became more provocative
with Japan for the purpose of reducing the risk that Japan attacks
Even in the
last days of November and early December, Japan is still seen as
making overtures for peace. These were rejected by Washington, in
fact Japan notes Washington’s provocative tone (from an intercepted
message from Tokyo to Berlin):
Tokyo and Washington now stand broken…lately England and the United
States have taken a provocative attitude…war may suddenly break
In late November,
Roosevelt had knowledge that the Japanese fleet was sailing east
toward Hawaii, as supported by William Casey of U.S. intelligence.
"The British had sent word that a Japanese fleet was steaming
east toward Hawaii." That this information was sent to Washington
is confirmed by various British intelligence officers as well.
The U.S. commanders
in Hawaii, Kimmel and Short, were not forwarded relevant and important
intelligence about the situation. This is confirmed by the intelligence
officers both in Washington and in Hawaii. For example,
[I – [Bratton]]
never received a definite prohibition on [sending warnings] but
every time that I tried to send a message of this sort, and the
Navy found out about it, the Chief of Naval operations would call
up the Chief of Staff on the telephone and object most vociferously
and emphatically. He in turn would call [Miles] and object strenuously,
and by the time it got to me…it was disapproval expressed in no
uncertain terms…And I in each case would be instructed not to
do it again.
outlines the messages from Tokyo to its Ambassadors in Washington
known as #901 and #902. These were sent on December 6. Message #901
is known as the pilot message, outlining the upcoming message #902
(in fourteen parts) and steps to be taken by the diplomats when
received. Importantly, message #902 was to be sent in English to
ensure there were no delays by Washington to translate the message.
Based on this,
a member of the army’s Signal Intelligence Service later wrote,
"Shortly after midday on Saturday, December 6, 1941… [we] knew
that war was as certain as death" and "it was known in
our agency that Japan would surely attack us in the early afternoon
the following day…Not an iota of doubt." Early afternoon in
Washington was early morning in Hawaii.
officials claimed message #901 was not delivered to key officers
until the next day. Bratton, however, testified that the messages
were delivered that evening to most people on their list.
there is no doubt that the administration took steps to provoke
Japan and knew when and where Japan would attack. As noted, he makes
no judgment on this beyond noting that this is what political leaders
poorly explained by making assumptions that crucial acts by competent,
conscientious leaders were capricious, careless, or negligent.
And U.S. leaders who figured in the Pearl Harbor disaster were
highly competent and conscientious.
stationed the fleet at Pearl Harbor, Commander McCollum wrote
a memo for him, recommending its use as a lure. Roosevelt implemented
the recommendation. Admiral Richardson concluded the administration
use of the fleet endangered it gravely, and he argued the point
over and over with his superiors. When he took measures to protect
his fleet, Roosevelt relieved him. Stark then kept Kimmel uninformed
of Japan’s plans to attack it at Pearl Harbor. And Marshall kept
To most Americans,
manipulating one’s nation into war is something done by foreign
tyrants – not our own leaders. Since 1942 U.S. history has been
distorted by the idea that presidents simply do not do what Roosevelt’s
enemies said he did.
These few paragraphs
found in the afterword of the book best sum up George Victor’s views
regarding the Pearl Harbor myth.
with permission from the Bionic
© 2012 Bionic