Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Pearl Harbor Conspiracy

From the firing on Fort Sumter to the Kennedy assassination to the 9/11 attacks, many pivotal and traumatic events in American history leave many wondering: what don’t we know? Is there more to the story, conspiracies not accounted for in official histories? Today, seventy years after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, some say we still don’t know the whole story. The key to this particular conspiracy is this: did President Franklin Roosevelt or other high ranking members of the US or British government have advanced knowledge of the attack and do nothing, in order to draw the US into World War II on the side of the allies? Despite seven decades of digging, no irrefutable evidence exists that Roosevelt, Churchill, or anyone else knew the attacks of December 7, 1941 were imminent.

Proponents of the view that Pearl Harbor was allowed to happen generally cite five main reasons for their belief:
  • The US had already broken many Japanese codes and thus would have known about such a large naval operation
  • Japanese radio transmissions were intercepted just prior to the attack that should have given warning
  • Roosevelt, Secretary of War Henry Stimson, and other government officials are on the record indicating they knew an attack was imminent and did nothing about it
  • No US Aircraft carriers were in Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack, leaving the Navy with its most powerful ships intact despite the great losses
  • A desire by Roosevelt to get the US into the war, and desperation on the part of Winston Churchill and what was left of the other democratic governments in Europe to get America involved.

Several official US investigations were conducted during and after the war. The early investigations tended to cite incompetence, inter-service rivalry (and thus lack of communication), and slowness in decoding and analyzing collected intelligence. Field commanders bore the brunt of the blame: no one in Washington was found to be at fault. A 1995 Congressional hearing produced a somewhat different interpretation:
Various conspiracy theories have been advanced, but no evidence has
been offered to support those theories. Rather, the evidence of the
handling of these messages in Washington reveals some ineptitude, some
unwarranted assumptions and misestimates, limited coordination,
ambiguous language, and lack of clarification and follow-up at higher
Various non-governmental investigations over the decades have led to more sinister conclusions. Journalist Robert Stinnett, in his 1999 book Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor, cites evidence that the President knew an attack was coming, but that he withheld the information his field commanders. Stinnett cites, among other evidence, a 1940 memo by a Naval Intelligence lieutenant outlining ways Japan might be manipulated into attack the United States.

The definitive popular history of the Pearl Harbor attack is Gordon Prange's At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor. The googlebooks page has reviews and links here. This book was the source for the 1970 film Tora! Tora! Tora!

Parts of Stinnett's book Days of Deceit: The Truth About FDR And Pearl Harbor are available at googlebooks here.

The so-called McCollum Memorandum, which Stinnett cites in his book, is available at Wikisource here.

The text of the "Dorn Report," the result of the 1995 Thurmond-Spence hearing, can be found here.

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