Thursday commemorates the 65th anniversary of Japan’s attack of Pearl Harbor. Considered “a date which will live in infamy,” December 7, 1941 saw 2,403 servicemen murdered, 1,178 injured. Eighteen ships sunk to the bottom of the embayment and hundreds of planes were destroyed or damaged. No one today can claim to be unaffected by the events of that quiet Sunday morning. It was the day Americans could no longer stand idly by while the world consumed itself with war.
And it was all allowed to happen by our own government.
Declassified documents reveal President Franklin Delano Roosevelt withheld the intelligence capable of thwarting Pearl Harbor’s destruction. After crafting sanctions forcing Japan to attack American assets in the Pacific, FDR purposely left Pearl Harbor vulnerable so as to shock the American populace with horrific images of terrorism on our own soil. It worked… and the president had his war.
Why not simply commit troops to the war effort prior to Pearl Harbor? Because at the 1940 Democratic National Convention, Roosevelt himself stated “we will not send our army, naval or air forces to fight in foreign lands outside of the Americas except in case of attack.” The declaration was met with cheers and applause; the United States was very much against going to war. Yet at the same time the president was making his pledge to the people, he was already looking for a way to sidestep it without feeling any political heat.
Enter Arthur McCollum of the Office of Naval Intelligence. On October 7, 1940, McCollum submitted a memo to high-ranking Roosevelt advisors outlining an eight-step plan provoking an attack from Japan on the United States. All eight steps were implemented; Japan attacked. It was America’s first “intelligence failure” despite the existence of intercepted radio transmissions and outright declarations to various government agencies that an attack was being manufactured.
Both Winston Churchill and J. Edgar Hoover were aware of the nature of what was happening. The Red Cross was told to prepare for massive casualties. Ships of the line were ordered off-base so older ships could become easy targets. Intercepted radio transmissions were dutifully ignored. And thousands died.
Looking through the lens of history, many find the setup justified. After all, the looming specter of Nazi-occupied Europe would chill anyone to the bone. By stepping into the middle of the fight, the United States turned the tide of war on opposite sides of the world, stopping fascism from spreading and keeping freedom on the march. Even Robert B. Stinnett, author of the exhaustively-researched Day of Deceit: The Truth about FDR and Pearl Harbor, concludes Roosevelt’s actions ultimately resulted in a better world.
“As heinous as it seems to families and veterans of World War II,” he notes, “the Pearl Harbor attack was, from the White House perspective, something that had to be endured in order to stop a greater evil.” Never mind that the trials endured changed our nation irreparably and killed millions, or that the machinations of Washington, DC left decorated, competent commanders as scapegoats.
Perhaps you find the lives of those 2,403 servicemen acceptable losses, perhaps not. Maybe you’re a family member of one of those blindsided by Japanese fire 65 years ago. Regardless, the fact remains that the government orchestrated a terrorist attack on its own people to push the nation into war. How do you feel about that?
Stinnett’s answer is as simple as it is evasive. “Had the facts uncovered in this book been known immediately after the war ended,” he said, “and had Roosevelt explained his war strategies and tactics to the families who lost their sons at Pearl Harbor, how different American history might be viewed today.”
How different might history be viewed? We’ll never know, just as we’ll never know what the world would have been like had we not crippled Germany with sanctions in the aftermath of World War I, or made any sort of concerted effort to stem the growth of Hitler’s power. What we do know is the ends apparently justify the means. History still smiles warmly on Roosevelt’s tenure as president, and few people express indignation at crimes he committed. Half a century heals many wounds.
But we live in a world created through this lie. A world that has spawned numerous other lies in the pursuit of war; we’re living in the midst of such a lie right now. Do we stand idly by and ignore the lessons of Pearl Harbor or fight a government that has propped up its battles with falsehood and deception? Winston Churchill wrote later in life that the attack was “incomparably less important than the fact that the whole American nation would be united.” Why not unite against the lies and oust those responsible for sending thousands of our family and friends to their deaths?
The fighting in Iraq has killed more American soldiers than Japan’s attack so long ago. All dead because of a lie. How do we honor their memories this Thursday? 65 years from now, how will Americans react to what we’ve pushed on the nations of the Middle East?
On May 25, 1999, the United States Senate exonerated Husband E. Kimmel and Walter Short, the two men in charge of Pearl Harbor the day of the attack, from charges of gross incompetence. Denied the intelligence they needed to keep their men alive, Kimmel and Short were effectively ruined by FDR’s plan. It took 48 years for the government to admit their mistake; Senator Strom Thurmond (R-SC) called Kimmel and Short “the two final victims of Pearl Harbor.”
As long as Americans allow their government to dupe them into fighting for a lie, however, we all continue to live as victims of the legacy of Pearl Harbor.