Pearl Harbor: Hawaii Was Surprised; FDR Was Not
by James Perloff
December 7, 1941, Japan launched a sneak attack on the U.S. Pacific
Fleet at Pearl Harbor, shattering the peace of a beautiful Hawaiian
morning and leaving much of the fleet broken and burning. The
destruction and death that the Japanese military visited upon
Pearl Harbor that day 18 naval vessels (including eight
battleships) sunk or heavily damaged, 188 planes destroyed, over
2,000 servicemen killed were exacerbated by the fact that
American commanders in Hawaii were caught by surprise. But that
was not the case in Washington. Comprehensive research has shown
not only that Washington knew in advance of the attack, but that
it deliberately withheld its foreknowledge from our commanders
in Hawaii in the hope that the "surprise" attack would catapult
the U.S. into World War II. Oliver Lyttleton, British Minister
of Production, stated in 1944: "Japan was provoked into attacking
America at Pearl Harbor. It is a travesty of history to say that
America was forced into the war."
FDR desired to directly involve the United States in the Second
World War, his intentions sharply contradicted his public pronouncements.
A pre-war Gallup poll showed 88 percent of Americans opposed U.S.
involvement in the European war. Citizens realized that U.S. participation
in World War I had not made a better world, and in a 1940 (election-year)
speech, Roosevelt typically stated: "I have said this before,
but I shall say it again and again and again: Your boys are not
going to be sent into any foreign wars."
But privately, the president planned the opposite. Roosevelt dispatched
his closest advisor, Harry Hopkins, to meet British Prime Minister
Winston Churchill in January 1941. Hopkins told Churchill: "The
President is determined that we [the United States and England]
shall win the war together. Make no mistake about it. He has sent
me here to tell you that at all costs and by all means he will
carry you through, no matter what happens to him there
is nothing he will not do so far as he has human power." William
Stevenson noted in A
Man Called Intrepid that American-British military staff
talks began that same month under "utmost secrecy," which, he
clarified, "meant preventing disclosure to the American public."
Even Robert Sherwood, the president's friendly biographer, said:
"If the isolationists had known the full extent of the secret
alliance between the United States and Britain, their demands
for impeachment would have rumbled like thunder throughout the
intentions were nearly exposed in 1940 when Tyler Kent, a code
clerk at the U.S. embassy in London, discovered secret dispatches
between Roosevelt and Churchill. These revealed that FDR
despite contrary campaign promises was determined to engage
America in the war. Kent smuggled some of the documents out of
the embassy, hoping to alert the American public but was
caught. With U.S. government approval, he was tried in a secret
British court and confined to a British prison until the war's
War II's early days, the president offered numerous provocations
to Germany: freezing its assets; shipping 50 destroyers to Britain;
and depth-charging U-boats. The Germans did not retaliate, however.
They knew America's entry into World War I had shifted the balance
of power against them, and they shunned a repeat of that scenario.
FDR therefore switched his focus to Japan. Japan had signed a
mutual defense pact with Germany and Italy (the Tripartite Treaty).
Roosevelt knew that if Japan went to war with the United States,
Germany and Italy would be compelled to declare war on America
thus entangling us in the European conflict by the back
door. As Harold Ickes, secretary of the Interior, said in October
1941: "For a long time I have believed that our best entrance
into the war would be by way of Japan."
Much new light has been shed on Pearl Harbor through the recent
work of Robert B. Stinnett, a World War II Navy veteran. Stinnett
has obtained numerous relevant documents through the Freedom of
Information Act. In Day
of Deceit: The Truth about FDR and Pearl Harbor (2000),
the book so brusquely dismissed by director Bruckheimer, Stinnett
reveals that Roosevelt's plan to provoke Japan began with a memorandum
from Lieutenant Commander Arthur H. McCollum, head of the Far
East desk of the Office of Naval Intelligence. The memorandum
advocated eight actions predicted to lead Japan into attacking
the United States. McCollum wrote: "If by these means Japan could
be led to commit an overt act of war, so much the better." FDR
enacted all eight of McCollum's provocative steps and more.
While no one can excuse Japan's belligerence in those days, it
is also true that our government provoked that country in various
ways freezing her assets in America; closing the Panama
Canal to her shipping; progressively halting vital exports to
Japan until we finally joined Britain in an all-out embargo; sending
a hostile note to the Japanese ambassador implying military threats
if Tokyo did not alter its Pacific policies; and on November 26th
just 11 days before the Japanese attack delivering
an ultimatum that demanded, as prerequisites to resumed trade,
that Japan withdraw all troops from China and Indochina, and in
effect abrogate her Tripartite Treaty with Germany and Italy.
After meeting with President Roosevelt on October 16, 1941, Secretary
of War Henry Stimson wrote in his diary: "We face the delicate
question of the diplomatic fencing to be done so as to be sure
Japan is put into the wrong and makes the first bad move
overt move." On November 25, the day before the ultimatum was
sent to Japan's ambassadors, Stimson wrote in his diary: "The
question was how we should maneuver them [the Japanese] into the
position of firing the first shot...."
offered Japan was our Pacific Fleet. In 1940, Admiral J.O. Richardson,
the fleet's commander, flew to Washington to protest FDR's decision
to permanently base the fleet in Hawaii instead of its normal
berthing on the U.S. West Coast. The admiral had sound reasons:
Pearl Harbor was vulnerable to attack, being approachable from
any direction; it could not be effectively rigged with nets and
baffles to defend against torpedo planes; and in Hawaii it would
be hard to supply and train crews for his undermanned vessels.
Pearl Harbor also lacked adequate fuel supplies and dry docks,
and keeping men far from their families would create morale problems.
The argument became heated. Said Richardson: "I came away with
the impression that, despite his spoken word, the President was
fully determined to put the United States into the war if Great
Britain could hold out until he was reelected."
Richardson was quickly relieved of command. Replacing him was
Admiral Husband E. Kimmel. Kimmel also informed Roosevelt of Pearl
Harbor's deficiencies, but accepted placement there, trusting
that Washington would notify him of any intelligence pointing
to attack. This proved to be misplaced trust. As Washington watched
Japan preparing to assault Pearl Harbor, Admiral Kimmel, as well
as his Army counterpart in Hawaii, General Walter C. Short, were
completely sealed off from the information pipeline.
One of the
most important elements in America's foreknowledge of Japan's
intentions was our government's success in cracking Japan's secret
diplomatic code known as "Purple." Tokyo used it to communicate
to its embassies and consulates, including those in Washington
and Hawaii. The code was so complex that it was enciphered and
deciphered by machine. A talented group of American cryptoanalysts
broke the code in 1940 and devised a facsimile of the Japanese
machine. These, utilized by the intelligence sections of both
the War and Navy departments, swiftly revealed Japan's diplomatic
messages. The deciphered texts were nicknamed "Magic."
Copies of Magic were always promptly delivered in locked pouches
to President Roosevelt, and the secretaries of State, War, and
Navy. They also went to Army Chief of Staff General George Marshall
and to the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Harold Stark. However,
although three Purple decoding machines were allotted to Britain,
none was sent to Pearl Harbor. Intercepts of ciphered messages
radioed between Tokyo and its Honolulu consulate had to be forwarded
to Washington for decrypting. Thus Kimmel and Short, the Hawaiian
commanders, were at the mercy of Washington for feedback. A request
for their own decoding machine was rebuffed on the grounds that
diplomatic traffic was of insufficient interest to soldiers.
How untrue that was! On October 9, 1941, the War Department decoded
a Tokyo-to-Honolulu dispatch instructing the Consul General to
divide Pearl Harbor into five specified areas and to report the
exact locations of American ships therein.
There is nothing unusual about spies watching ship movements
but reporting precise whereabouts of ships in dock has
only one implication. Charles Willoughby, Douglas MacArthur's
chief of intelligence, later wrote that the "reports were on a
grid system of the inner harbor with coordinate locations of American
men of war ... coordinate grid is the classical method for pinpoint
target designation; our battleships had suddenly become targets."
This information was never sent to Kimmel or Short.
intercepts were decoded by Washington, all within one day of their
5th: Tokyo notified its Washington ambassadors that November
25th was the deadline for an agreement with the U.S.
11th: They were warned, "The situation is nearing a climax,
and the time is getting short."
16th: The deadline was pushed up to November 29th. "The deadline
absolutely cannot be changed," the dispatch said. "After that,
things are automatically going to happen."
November 29th (the U.S. ultimatum had now been received): The
ambassadors were told a rupture in negotiations was "inevitable,"
but that Japan's leaders "do not wish you to give the impression
that negotiations are broken off."
30th: Tokyo ordered its Berlin embassy to inform the Germans
that "the breaking out of war may come quicker than anyone dreams."
1st: The deadline was again moved ahead. "[T]o prevent the United
States from becoming unduly suspicious, we have been advising
the press and others that ... the negotiations are continuing."
1st-2nd: The Japanese embassies in non-Axis nations around the
world were directed to dispose of their secret documents and
all but one copy of their codes. (This was for a reason easy
to fathom when war breaks out, the diplomatic offices
of a hostile state lose their immunity and are normally overtaken.
One copy of code was retained so that final instructions could
be received, after which the last code copy would be destroyed.)
An additional warning came via the so-called "winds" message.
A November 18th intercept indicated that, if a break in U.S.
relations were forthcoming, Tokyo would issue a special radio
warning. This would not be in the Purple code, as it was intended
to reach consulates and lesser agencies of Japan not equipped
with the code or one of its machines. The message, to be repeated
three times during a weather report, was "Higashi no kaze ame,"
meaning "East wind, rain." "East wind" signified the United
States; "rain" signified diplomatic split in effect,
This prospective message was deemed so significant that U.S.
radio monitors were constantly watching for it, and the Navy
Department typed it up on special reminder cards. On December
4th, "Higashi no kaze ame" was indeed broadcast and picked up
by Washington intelligence.
On three different occasions since 1894, Japan had made surprise
attacks coinciding with breaks in diplomatic relations. This
history was not lost on President Roosevelt. Secretary Stimson,
describing FDR's White House conference of November 25th, noted:
"The President said the Japanese were notorious for making an
attack without warning and stated that we might be attacked,
say next Monday, for example." Nor was it lost on Washington's
senior military officers, all of them War College graduates.
As Robert Stinnett has revealed, Washington was not only deciphering
Japanese diplomatic messages, but naval dispatches
as well. President Roosevelt had access to these intercepts
via his routing officer, Lieutenant Commander McCollum, who
had authored the original eight-point plan of provocation to
Japan. So much secrecy has surrounded these naval dispatches
that their existence was not revealed during any of the ten
Pearl Harbor investigations, even the mini-probe Congress conducted
in 1995. Most of Stinnett's requests for documents concerning
Pearl Harbor have been denied as still classified, even under
the Freedom of Information Act.
It was long presumed that as the Japanese fleet approached Pearl
Harbor, it maintained complete radio silence. This is untrue.
The fleet barely observed discretion, let alone silence. Naval
intelligence intercepted and translated numerous dispatches,
some clearly revealing that Pearl Harbor had been targeted.
The most significant was the following, sent by Admiral Yamamoto
to the Japanese First Air Fleet on November 26, 1941:
task force, keeping its movement strictly secret and maintaining
close guard against submarines and aircraft, shall advance into
Hawaiian waters, and upon the very opening of hostilities shall
attack the main force of the United States fleet and deal it a
mortal blow. The first air raid is planned for the dawn of x-day.
Exact date to be given by later order.
So much official
secrecy continues to surround the translations of the intercepted
Japanese naval dispatches that it is not known if the foregoing
message was sent to McCollum or seen by FDR. It is not even known
who originally translated the intercept. One thing, however, is
certain: The message's significance could not have been lost on
witnessed the following:
27th, our ambassador to Japan, Joseph Grew, sent a message to
Washington stating: "The Peruvian Minister has informed a member
of my staff that he has heard from many sources, including a Japanese
source, that in the event of trouble breaking out between the
United States and Japan, the Japanese intended to make a surprise
attack against Pearl Harbor with all their strength...."
On November 3rd, still relying on informants, Grew notified Secretary
of State Cordell Hull: "War with the United States may come with
dramatic and dangerous suddenness." He sent an even stronger warning
on November 17th.
Congressman Martin Dies would write:
in 1941 the Dies Committee came into possession of a strategic
map which gave clear proof of the intentions of the Japanese to
make an assault on Pearl Harbor. The strategic map was prepared
by the Japanese Imperial Military Intelligence Department. As
soon as I received the document I telephoned Secretary of State
Cordell Hull and told him what I had. Secretary Hull directed
me not to let anyone know about the map and stated that he would
call me as soon as he talked to President Roosevelt. In about
an hour he telephoned to say that he had talked to Roosevelt and
they agreed that it would be very serious if any information concerning
this map reached the news services.... I told him it was a grave
responsibility to withhold such vital information from the public.
The Secretary assured me that he and Roosevelt considered it essential
to national defense.
was a Yugoslav who worked as a double agent for both Germany and
Britain. His true allegiance was to the Allies. In the summer
of 1941, the Nazis ordered Popov to Hawaii to make a detailed
study of Pearl Harbor and its nearby airfields. The agent deduced
that the mission betokened a surprise attack by the Japanese.
In August, he fully reported this to the FBI in New York. J. Edgar
Hoover later bitterly recalled that he had provided warnings to
FDR about Pearl Harbor, but that Roosevelt told him not to pass
the information any further and to just leave it in his (the president's)
Kilsoo Haan, of the Sino-Korean People's League, received definite
word from the Korean underground that the Japanese were planning
to assault Hawaii "before Christmas." In November, after getting
nowhere with the State Department, Haan convinced Iowa Senator
Guy Gillette of his claim's merit. Gillette briefed the president,
who laconically thanked him and said it would be looked into.
In Java, in early December, the Dutch Army decoded a dispatch
from Tokyo to its Bangkok embassy, forecasting attacks on four
sites including Hawaii. The Dutch passed the information to Brigadier
General Elliot Thorpe, the U.S. military observer. Thorpe sent
Washington a total of four warnings. The last went to General
Marshall's intelligence chief. Thorpe was ordered to send no further
messages concerning the matter. The Dutch also had their Washington
military attaché, Colonel Weijerman, personally warn General Marshall.
Captain Johann Ranneft, the Dutch naval attaché in Washington,
who was awarded the Legion of Merit for his services to America,
recorded revealing details in his diary. On December 2nd, he visited
the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI). Ranneft inquired about
the Pacific. An American officer, pointing to a wall map, said,
"This is the Japanese Task Force proceeding East." It was a spot
midway between Japan and Hawaii. On December 6th, Ranneft returned
and asked where the Japanese carriers were. He was shown a position
on the map about 300-400 miles northwest of Pearl Harbor. Ranneft
wrote: "I ask what is the meaning of these carriers at this location;
whereupon I receive the answer that it is probably in connection
with Japanese reports of eventual American action.... I myself
do not think about it because I believe that everyone in Honolulu
is 100 percent on the alert, just like everyone here at O.N.I."
29th, Secretary of State Cordell Hull secretly met with freelance
newspaper writer Joseph Leib. Leib had formerly held several posts
in the Roosevelt administration. Hull knew him and felt he was
one newsman he could trust. The secretary of state handed him
copies of some of the Tokyo intercepts concerning Pearl Harbor.
He said the Japanese were planning to strike the base and that
FDR planned to let it happen. Hull made Leib pledge to keep his
name out of it, but hoped he could blow the story sky-high in
Leib ran to the office of his friend Lyle Wilson, the Washington
bureau chief of United Press. While keeping his pledge to Hull,
he told Wilson the details and showed him the intercepts. Wilson
replied that the story was ludicrous and refused to run it. Through
connections, Leib managed to get a hurried version onto UP's foreign
cable, but only one newspaper carried any part of it.
After Pearl Harbor, Lyle Wilson called Leib to his office. He
handed him a copy of FDR's just-released "day of infamy" speech.
The two men wept. Leib recounted his story in the History Channel
documentary, "Sacrifice at Pearl Harbor."
The foregoing represents just a sampling of evidence
that Washington knew in advance of the Pearl Harbor attack. For
additional evidences, see Infamy:
Pearl Harbor and Its Aftermath by Pulitzer Prize-winning
historian John Toland, and Day of Deceit: The Truth about
FDR and Pearl Harbor by Robert Stinnett.*
So certain was the data that, at a private press briefing in November
1941, General George Marshall confidently predicted that a Japanese-American
war would break out during the "first ten days of December."
However, none of this information was passed to our commanders
in Hawaii, Kimmel and Short, with the exception of Ambassador
Grew's January warning, a copy of which reached Kimmel on February
1st. To allay any concerns, Lieutenant Commander McCollum
who originated the plan to incite Japan to war wrote Kimmel:
"Naval Intelligence places no credence in these rumors. Furthermore,
based on known data regarding the present disposition and deployment
of Japanese naval and army forces, no move against Pearl Harbor
appears imminent or planned for in the foreseeable future."
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© 2012 The New American