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Did FDR Provoke Pearl Harbor?

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Did FDR Provoke Pearl Harbor?

by Patrick J. Buchanan


December 8, 2011


On Dec. 8, 1941, Franklin Roosevelt took the rostrum before a joint session of Congress to ask for a declaration of war on Japan.

A day earlier, at dawn, carrier-based Japanese aircraft had launched a sneak attack devastating the U.S. battle fleet at Pearl Harbor.

Said ex-President Herbert Hoover, Republican statesman of the day, “We have only one job to do now, and that is to defeat Japan.”

But to friends, “the Chief” sent another message: “You and I know that this continuous putting pins in rattlesnakes finally got this country bit.”

Today, 70 years after Pearl Harbor, a remarkable secret history, written from 1943 to 1963, has come to light. It is Hoover’s explanation of what happened before, during and after the world war that may prove yet the death knell of the West.

Edited by historian George Nash, Freedom Betrayed: Herbert Hoover’s History of the Second World War and Its Aftermath is a searing indictment of FDR and the men around him as politicians who lied prodigiously about their desire to keep America out of war, even as they took one deliberate step after another to take us into war.

Yet the book is no polemic. The 50-page run-up to the war in the Pacific uses memoirs and documents from all sides to prove Hoover’s indictment. And perhaps the best way to show the power of this book is the way Hoover does it — chronologically, painstakingly, week by week.

Consider Japan’s situation in the summer of 1941. Bogged down in a four-year war in China she could neither win nor end, having moved into French Indochina, Japan saw herself as near the end of her tether.

Inside the government was a powerful faction led by Prime Minister Prince Fumimaro Konoye that desperately did not want a war with the United States.

The “pro-Anglo-Saxon” camp included the navy, whose officers had fought alongside the U.S. and Royal navies in World War I, while the war party was centered on the army, Gen. Hideki Tojo and Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoka, a bitter anti-American.

On July 18, 1941, Konoye ousted Matsuoka, replacing him with the “pro-Anglo-Saxon” Adm. Teijiro Toyoda.

The U.S. response: On July 25, we froze all Japanese assets in the United States, ending all exports and imports, and denying Japan the oil upon which the nation and empire depended.

Stunned, Konoye still pursued his peace policy by winning secret support from the navy and army to meet FDR on the U.S. side of the Pacific to hear and respond to U.S. demands.

U.S. Ambassador Joseph Grew implored Washington not to ignore Konoye’s offer, that the prince had convinced him an agreement could be reached on Japanese withdrawal from Indochina and South and Central China. Out of fear of Mao’s armies and Stalin’s Russia, Tokyo wanted to hold a buffer in North China.

On Aug. 28, Japan’s ambassador in Washington presented FDR a personal letter from Konoye imploring him to meet.

Tokyo begged us to keep Konoye’s offer secret, as the revelation of a Japanese prime minister’s offering to cross the Pacific to talk to an American president could imperil his government.

On Sept. 3, the Konoye letter was leaked to the Herald-Tribune.

On Sept. 6, Konoye met again at a three-hour dinner with Grew to tell him Japan now agreed with the four principles the Americans were demanding as the basis for peace. No response.

On Sept. 29, Grew sent what Hoover describes as a “prayer” to the president not to let this chance for peace pass by.

On Sept. 30, Grew wrote Washington, “Konoye’s warship is ready waiting to take him to Honolulu, Alaska, or anyplace designated by the president.”

No response. On Oct. 16, Konoye’s cabinet fell.

In November, the U.S. intercepted two new offers from Tokyo: a Plan A for an end to the China war and occupation of Indochina and, if that were rejected, a Plan B, a modus vivendi where neither side would make any new move. When presented, these, too, were rejected out of hand.

At a Nov. 25 meeting of FDR’s war council, Secretary of War Henry Stimson’s notes speak of the prevailing consensus: “The question was how we should maneuver them [the Japanese] into … firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves.”

“We can wipe the Japanese off the map in three months,” wrote Navy Secretary Frank Knox.

As Grew had predicted, Japan, a “hara-kiri nation,” proved more likely to fling herself into national suicide for honor than to allow herself to be humiliated

Out of the war that arose from the refusal to meet Prince Konoye came scores of thousands of U.S. dead, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, the fall of China to Mao Zedong, U.S. wars in Korea and Vietnam, and the rise of a new arrogant China that shows little respect for the great superpower of yesterday.

If you would know the history that made our world, spend a week with Mr. Hoover’s book.

December 7, 2011

Patrick J. Buchanan [send him mail] is co-founder and editor of The American Conservative. He is also the author of seven books, including Where the Right Went Wrong, and Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War. His latest book is Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025? See his website.

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Guest Robert Morrow

Yes, FDR did.

On 12/7/2011 1:23 PM, Dave Martin wrote:


My latest article, "John F. Kennedy on the Loss of China," is relevant to today's subject. The ultimatum and its consequences to which Kennedy refers in the quote below might have been well known to some people in 1949, but it was, in fact, a secret ultimatum at the time and few people today know anything about it. Its very purpose was to force the Japanese into attacking us, and the Congress didn't even know that we had given such an ultimatum when they voted to declare war against Japan in the wake of Pearl Harbor.

"When we look at the ease with which the Communists have overthrown the National Government of Chiang Kai-shek, it comes as somewhat of a shock to remember that on November 22, 1941,* our Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, handed Ambassador Namuru an ultimatum to the effect that: (1) Government of Japan will withdraw all military, naval, air and police forces from China and Indochina; (2) the United States and Japan will not support militarily, politically, economically, any government or regime in China other than the National Government of the Republic of China.

"It was clearly enunciated that the independence of China and the stability of the National Government was the fundamental object of our Far Eastern policy.

"That this and other statements of our policies in the Far East led directly to the attack on Pearl Harbor is well known. And it might be said that we almost knowingly entered into combat with Japan to preserve the independence of China and the countries to the south of it." [emphasis added]

On 12/7/2011 12:38 PM, Jack wrote:

Dec. 7, 1941, was not an ordinary day in Washington, D.C., at the top. They knew attacks were coming and were waiting for them to strike back. A bit of this is depicted well in "Tora, Tora, Tora."

The intelligence chiefs were frantically trying to find Gen. Marshall to warn him the final Japanese message to their Embassy told them to burn their papers--the attacks were about to start.

Stark, Chief of Naval Operations, was frantically deciding NOT to send a radio message to Pearl that the attacks were coming that morning. He sent a WU TELEGRAM which Admiral Kimmel got at Pearl as the attacks were well under way.


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For some years I lived in Cape May, NJ where there's a monument to a local guy who earned the Medal of Honor at Pearl Harbor and died in the attack.

I did a story about him on the 50th anniversary that I updated for the 70th, which shows you what you have to do to earn America's most distinguished award.

What he did was help get his ship - the battleship Nevada underway during the attack, even though they didn't have a captain, a complete crew or even orders.

USS Nevada Sortie at Pearl Harbor

In the course of researching that story I met a crewmen who still had a letter he wrote to his wife predicting the attack, so it wasn't a state secret the Japs were on the prowl.

USS Nevada Sortie at Pearl Harbor: Pearl Harbor Survivor Predicted Attack

Pearl Harbor veteran Francis Ritter holds a letter, postmarked December 5, 1941 from Pearl Harbor, which he sent to his girlfriend, now his wife, telling her, “If the Japs are going to hit, they’re going to hit us now.”

Pearl Harbor still ranks,along with the Kennedy assassination, the Bay of Pigs and Watergate as a benchmark event that we should continue to study and learn from.

And not, as Ritter said, something you forget about on December 8th.


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Billy Mitchell (amongst other things) predicted the circumstances of the attack in his 1925 courts-martial. To an uncanny degree.

It was definitely no surprise to anyone. Let alone that US Intelligence services had been intercepting and decoding a large amount (Not all, certainly) of Japan's diplomatic messages - although the military aspect of their plan was not transmitted - to be intercepted - but transferred by Personal Couriers. What little message traffic there was of that.

Less well known, generally, is that the Japanese sent observers to the aftermath of the British attack on the Italian Fleet in Taranto Harbour, the year before (possibly giving them a basis to plan a similar strike at Pearl...).

Personally, I think a lot of weight is being given to FDR's "Japan has to strike first" comments, and not necessarily in the intended manner...I think he, and his cabinet, really did believe the sanctions they imposed on Japan (oil embargo, etc) really would bring them to heel, as it were, and they would not be insane enough to start a war they could never win for it....

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  • 5 weeks later...

This column contrasts what is happening to Iran today with what happened to Japan in the days before Pearl Harbor was attacked.


The shwit and wisdom of Alexander Cockburn

The analogy here is the run up to Pearl Harbor. Let me quote from a useful timeline. On October 7, 1940, a US Navy IQ analyst Arthur McCollum wrote an 8 point memo on how to force Japan into war with US. Beginning the next day FDR began to put them into effect and all 8 were eventually accomplished.

Cockburn failed to tell his readers what these supposed points were or when they were implemented. His source was an anonymously written page on the crackpot What Really Happened website which didn’t site any sources or spell out those details either.

On February 11, 1941 FDR proposed sacrificing 6 cruisers and 2 carriers at Manila to get into war. Navy Chief Stark objected: “I have previously opposed this and you have concurred as to its unwisdom.

Once again Cockburn blindly accepted a claim from the WRH page. This not true FDR proposed sending those ships to the Philippians (still under US control) as a “bluff” to intimidate the Japanese.


In March 1941 FDR sold arms and convoyed them to belligerents in Europe — both acts of war and both violations of international law — the Lend-Lease Act. On June 23, 1941 Advisor Harold Ickes wrote FDR a memo the day after Germany invaded the Soviet Union, “There might develop from the embargoing of oil to Japan such a situation as would make it not only possible but easy to get into this war in an effective way. FDR was pleased with Admiral Richmond Turner’s report read July 22: “It is generally believed that shutting off the American supply of petroleum will lead promptly to the invasion of Netherland East Indies…it seems certain she would also include military action against the Philippine Islands, which would immediately involve us in a Pacific war.”

The next day FDR froze all Japanese assets in US cutting off their main supply of oil. US. Intelligence information was withheld from Hawaii from this point forward. Against protests from US naval commanders the West Coast fleet was moved to Hawai’i.

Amazing Cockburn actually condemned FDR for selling arms to Britain when it was fighting Hitler! Though perhaps it could have been considered an act of war by Germany, it is quite stretch to call it one against Japan. Also it is incongruous to claim selling arms to belligerents in a conflict was a casus belli but in the same paragragh to complain that not selling petroleum to another belligerent in the same conflict was an act of war as well! Talk of being "damned if you do and damned if you don’t"! Nor did ever supports his claim the Lend-Lease Act violated “international law” many leftists were critical of FDR for not selling arms to the Loyalists during the Spanish Civil War.

It was my understanding that some naval commanders opposed the move but others didn’t supposedly this was done to intimidate the Japanese.

John Maynard Keynes once said, “The best way to destroy the capitalist system is to debauch the currency. By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens.” Ronald Reagan used to attribute this insight to the man he loved to call “Nikolai Lenin”, thundering from podium after podium across America, that Lenin had said “The best way to destroy the capitalist system is to debauch the currency.”

You want a graphic illustration of what US embargoes are doing in the way of debauching Iran’s currency? Here’s a graph of US dollar exchange rates with the Iran rial, from last week:

????? Cockburn failed to produce any evidence the US caused the devaluation of the rial. In Brazil at least there is not a direct link between inflation and the exchange rate. By 2002 the Real was worth 1/5 of what it had in 1994 but most prices did not increase to the same degree and conversely it is now worth about 2.4x what it did back then but prices have increased.

According to the Keynes quote the main problem with inflation is that it would allow the government to secretly “an important part of the wealth of their citizens.” Thus why would the Iranian GOVERNMENT object to this? Or is Cockburn depending on Reagan’s economic analysis?

Perhaps the biggest flaw in Cockburn’s seriously flawed essay is that while he seeks to portray Iran as the innocent victim of US aggression he made it analogous to one of the cruelest and most aggressive aggressors of recent history.

EDIT - Typos

Edited by Len Colby
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  • 6 months later...

Roald Dahl claims that William Stephenson told him that British Security Coordination (BSC) managed to record the conversations of Japanese special envoy Suburu Kurusu with others in the Japanese consulate in November 1941. Marion de Chastelain was the cipher clerk who transcribed these conversations. On 27th November, 1941, William Stephenson sent a telegram to the British government: "Japanese negotiations off. Expect action within two weeks." According to Dahl, who worked for BSC: "Stephenson had tapes of them discussing the actual date of Pearl Harbor... and he swears that he gave the transcription to FDR. He swears that they knew therefore of the oncoming attack on Pearl Harbor and hadn't done anything about it.... I have no way to judge if he was telling the truth, except Bill didn't usually tell stories like that."


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