Exposing FDR's Role in the Pearl Harbor Attack
by Jerome F. Winzig
In his heavily-documented new book, Day of Deceit (Free Press, New York, 2000), Robert B. Stinnett paints a profoundly disturbing picture of the role that Franklin Delano Roosevelt and others played in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. It's a book that should be read by anyone who wants a complete picture of FDR and World War II. Stinnett, who served in the U.S. Navy in World War II and worked for the Oakland Tribune as a photographer and journalist, has been working on his expose since 1986.
For years, there have been accusations that FDR and others knew about the impending Japanese attack in advance and deliberately allowed it to happen to galvanize American public opinion in favor of war. In 1942 a commission headed by Supreme Court Justice Owen J. Roberts concluded that the Pearl Harbor attack "resulted largely from a sense of security...that any immediate attack by Japan would be in the Far East."
However, Admiral James Richardson, whom Roosevelt removed because he objected to Roosevelt's order to keep the U.S. Fleet in Hawaiian waters starting in 1940, condemned the commission's report: "It is the most unfair, unjust, and deceptively dishonest document ever printed by the Government Printing Office. I cannot conceive of honorable men serving on the commission without greatest regret and deepest feeling of shame."
In 1944 Thomas Dewey, the Republican presidential candidate, learned that the United States had intercepted and decoded Japanese messages before the attack. He was planning to make it a campaign issue until General George Marshall convinced him otherwise, telling Dewey that with the war still going on, "American lives are at peril."
After World War II, in November 1945, a joint committee of Congress began an investigation of whether the Japanese code was broken before Pearl Harbor. But, as Stinnett rather conclusively demonstrates, "It was a total sham. None of the details involving the interception, decoding, or dissemination of the pre-Pearl Harbor Japanese messages saw the light of day. Only diplomatic messages were released." Hamstrung by lack of information, the committee never got to the bottom of the issue.
In 1995, at the urging of the families of Admiral Husband Kimmel and Lieutenant General Walter Short (who were demoted and officially blamed for the Pearl Harbor attack), Congress opened a new probe of the circumstances leading to Japan's attack. This probe was also denied essential information, and refused the families' request to posthumously reinstate Kimmel and Short.
Stinnett makes a convincing case that the truth goes far beyond FDR doing nothing in spite of his advance knowledge of the impending attack. He produces a disturbing memo written on October 7, 1940 by Lieutenant Commander Arthur H. McCollum, head of the Far East desk of the Office of Naval Intelligence. The memo was addressed to two of Roosevelt's most trusted advisors, and secret presidential routing logs and information in Navy files indicate that Roosevelt himself saw the memo.
McCollum's memo outlines an eight-point action plan that would lead to a Japanese attack on the United States. Stinnett argues that this memo became U.S. policy. All eight points were implemented before Pearl Harbor. Two involved imposing a total embargo on Japan and cutting off its access to raw materials. One read: "Keep the main strength of the US Fleet, now in the Pacific, in the vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands." In other words, according to Stinnett, FDR not only knew about the Pearl Harbor attack in advance, but intentionally set about to provoke it and deliberately positioned American ships in Hawaii so they could be attacked.
Stinnett assembles a convincing set of facts. The United States began monitoring Japanese military communications in the 1920s. By 1940 had already deciphered all the codes used by Japan throughout World War II. (Japan never discovered that its codes had been compromised.) Before the attack on Pearl Harbor, thousands of Japanese military radio messages were intercepted and decoded by U.S., British, and Dutch intelligence operations.
There were other sources of information as well. On January 27, 1941, ten months before the attack, the U.S. embassy in Japan sent a radiotelegraph to Washington, reporting that "the Japanese military forces planned in the event of trouble with the United States, to attempt a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor using all of their military facilities."
Stinnett demonstrates that Admiral Kimmel and General Short, the Naval and Army commanders at Pearl Harbor, were deliberately kept ignorant of virtually all intelligence reports about Japanese plans and troop movements in the months preceding the attack. They were not told that numerous radio messages from the Japanese attack fleet were intercepted and deciphered as the fleet moved from Japan to Pearl Harbor. (Contrary to Japanese and American claims that continue to this day, the fleet did not maintain radio silence.)
On November 25, the day the Japanese carrier force left Hitokappu Bay for Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy declared the North Pacific a "Vacant Sea" and ordered all trans-Pacific shipping out of the area the Japanese fleet would use on its way to Pearl Harbor.
A suspicious Admiral Kimmel had already sent the Pacific fleet to sea north of Hawaii to look for a Japanese carrier force. Officially, it was a war exercise, but Kimmel had ordered the fleet to be extremely watchful. Eerily, Kimmel selected the exact launch area--the Prokoviev Seamount, an extinct underwater volcano about 200 miles north of Oahu--that the Japanese fleet would use a week later in the attack on Pearl Harbor.
But Rear Admiral Royal Ingersoll, Assistant Chief of Naval Operations, sent Kimmel orders to do nothing that would "precipitate Japanese action." Kimmel, remembering Roosevelt's September directive that shooting orders had only been issued for the Atlantic and Southwest Pacific areas, felt compelled to abruptly cancel the war games exercise and order the fleet back into port at Pearl Harbor.
Kimmel tried to protect the fleet in other ways. On November 24, he approved plans for a 25-warship group built around the carrier USS Enterprise and the battleship USS Arizona--led by Vice Admiral William Halsey--to guard against an "enemy air and submarine" attack on Pearl Harbor. But on November 26, Kimmel received orders to use aircraft carriers to deliver Army pursuit planes to Wake and Midway islands.
As a result, on November 28, the USS Enterprise, escorted by eleven of the fleets newest warships, set out for Wake and Midway islands. On December 5, the carrier USS Lexington, accompanied by eight modern warships, left for Midway island, leaving behind warships that were mostly 27-year-old relics of World War I. At 7:00 a.m. on December 7, the Japanese raid began. Honolulu became the only American city ever subjected to an air raid, suffering civilian casualties and significant damage. At 9:35 a.m., the Japanese withdrew, leaving 2,273 Army and Navy dead and 1,119 wounded.
On December 11, Rear Admiral Leigh Noyes, the Navy's Director of Communications, ordered his subordinates to "Destroy all notes or anything in writing" regarding pre-Pearl Harbor Japanese military and diplomatic intercepts, beginning a decades-long censorship policy. On December 16, 1941, Admiral Kimmel was relieved of command and demoted to rear admiral. Today, many of the records from 1940 and 1941 are still classified as top secret. Requests under the Freedom of Information Act are censored or denied. Key records are inexplicably missing or have been checked out to unnamed persons. In spite of the cover-up, however, Stinnett's 14 years of research have exposed much of the story. It's time for the government to declassify the rest.