How Washington got Japan to attack


Day of Deceit: The Truth about FDR and Pearl Harbor
By Robert Stinnett
Touchstone Books, 2001
416 pages, US$12.80 (pb)
Available from <>


You should never get your history lessons from Disney Corporation. Disney's new blockbuster Pearl Harbor, at a cost of US$135 million, recycles every hackneyed myth about the US in the Second World War.

The movie is just what the Pentagon ordered. And that's not an accident; the military brass had a hand in shaping the story as historical advisers. Disney cynically released it on Memorial Day weekend to entice parade-goers into the cinema to pad their profit margins and to bolster the image of the US military — using old lies to warm moviegoers to the idea of benign US military intervention.

In this morality tale, the evil Japanese bomb unsuspecting American soldiers, buzz American children playing baseball, and destroy the innocent love between young Americans—thrusting them reluctantly into war. The portrait of American soldiers is absurd. One veteran told my local newspaper: "The free-swinging, partying lifestyle it depicted was more for the officers than the enlisted men, especially the romance. There was very little chance as an enlisted man to have a girlfriend."

In fact, the actors look more like models for Gap advertisements than real soldiers.

The Japanese are the "empire", accompanied whenever they appear on the screen with the sound of menacing drums. They are treacherous liars who mislead US President Roosevelt during peace negotiations and surprise him and the rest of the USA with the attack on Pearl Harbor. This portrait justifies the string of racist epithets like "Jap bastards" that fill the movie's dialogue. This is Mickey Mouse history at its worst.

Fortunately, there's a book that goes a long way to setting the record straight — Robert Stinnett's Day of Deceit.

Historians have long known that Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his cabinet wanted to bring the US into the Second World War much earlier than they were able. A widespread sentiment of isolationism held them back; right before Pearl Harbor, 88% of US people opposed going to war.

Robert Stinnett and several other historians have pointed to US secretary of war Henry Stimson's diary, where he recorded the FDR administration's strategy to force the Japanese to attack first, so that the USA's imperial ambitions could be cloaked in claims of self-defence.

Stimson wrote: "In spite of the risk involved... in letting the Japanese fire the first shot, we realized that in order to have the full support of the American people, it was desirable to make sure that the Japanese be the one to do this, so that there should remain no doubt in anyone's mind as to who were the aggressors."

Stinnett's book exposes the administration's deliberate steps to ensure this outcome. The US government provoked the Japanese into attacking, knew their target was Pearl Harbor, withheld this knowledge from the military commanders at the Hawaiian base, used the devastating attack to convince Americans to support entry into the war, and then covered up their plot for the next 60 years.

Stinnett is no radical opponent of US imperialism. Having written a celebratory account of George Bush senior's service in the Second World War, Stinnett is a loyal critic of the US. But his outrage at FDR's sacrifice of nearly 3000 soldiers in Pearl Harbor drove him to uncover the bombing, not as a Japanese "day of infamy", but as a US "day of deceit."

The real background to the attack on Pearl Harbor is not a story of the personal qualities of Japan's politicians — or those of the US — but of rivalry over which business class would dominate Asia and the Pacific.

For years, both Japan and the US had been jockeying to expand their influence in the region. A shooting war was likely sooner or later. The real question concerned the immediate circumstances in which the war would begin.

On that question, Stinnett is thorough. He compiled more than 200,000 documents and interviews over a 17-year investigation and obtained thousands of formerly classified documents through the Freedom of Information Act.

The lynchpin of his argument is a memo that he uncovered from the head of the Far East Office of Naval Intelligence, Lieutenant Commander Arthur McCollum. In the memo, dated October 7, 1940, and addressed to two of Roosevelt's most trusted advisers, McCollum laid out an eight-point plan for manipulating the Japanese into an attack on the US.

During the ensuing year, Roosevelt implemented all the recommendations. These included stationing US naval vessels at British and Dutch bases in Asia, increasing aid to Chiang Kai-shek's nationalist forces (which were fighting Japanese occupation of Manchuria) and placing the bulk of the Pacific fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Most importantly, FDR imposed an embargo on trade with Japan that included the resource most crucial to its economy: oil. These actions were all in keeping with the strategic interests of US rulers in blocking the expansion of Japanese influence in Asia, but the tactical aim of combining them in quick succession was to provoke Japan into a military counter-attack.

Once Japan attacked the US, then Germany and Italy would be bound by their Tripartite Treaty with Japan to declare war on the US. Roosevelt could then win public approval to enter the war in Europe — which was his main concern.

Contrary to US government claims, Stinnett shows that US intelligence had broken both the diplomatic Purple Code and the Japanese naval codes by January 1941, and was regularly supplying Roosevelt with decrypted Japanese statements about their preparations to attack. FDR then set up his so-called splendid arrangement with the British and Dutch to share all these decrypted messages with allied military bases throughout the Pacific.

But Roosevelt kept Pearl Harbor out of the loop. Stinnett demonstrates that Washington systematically denied decoded messages to Admiral Husband Kimmel, head of the Pacific fleet in Pearl Harbor, and to Lieutenant General Walter Short, head of the US army forces in Pearl Harbor. After the attack, Roosevelt blamed them for dereliction of duty and demoted them. They were fall guys for FDR's plan.

Thus Roosevelt left his commanders unprepared for the attack that he knew was coming.

US naval intelligence and the Federal Bureau of Investigation monitored the Japanese spy code-named "Morimura", who was sent to Hawaii in 1941 to supply the Japanese military with the locations and dispositions of US planes, ships and troops.

US intelligence officers intercepted Morimura's transmissions to the Japanese military, decoded them and forwarded them to the White House. Kimmel and Short never received word about Morimura's messages, even though he sent maps and bomb plots — and twice named Pearl Harbor as Japan's target.

Furthermore, as the Japanese fleet assembled for the attack, Roosevelt sent out a "Vacant Sea" order to clear the North Pacific of any commercial traffic. This meant that Japanese forces would not encounter ships that might tip off Pearl Harbor.

One of Roosevelt's key military advisers, Rear Admiral Walter Anderson, prevented long-range reconnaissance flights in a Pearl Harbor exercise, which also might have discovered the Japanese fleet. However, the most modern ships were ordered to leave Pearl Harbor so that only First World War clunkers would remain as sitting ducks.

Once the Japanese attack force was underway, Roosevelt and his cabinet identified it and traced its passage toward Hawaii by intercepting radio messages between the ships in the convoy.

Stinnett demonstrates that, contrary to previous claims by both the Japanese and US governments, the Japanese broke radio silence 129 times between November 26 and December 8. What's more, US intelligence intercepted the transmissions.

Even when the US did inform its commanders in the Pacific that war was likely — first vaguely on November 25 and then more concretely on November 28 — they told Kimmel and Short not to do anything that would appear as US aggression or would alarm civilians. The November 28 message even states that "Japan must commit the first act".

Then, on December 5, two days before the attack, US intelligence intercepted a coded message revealing that the Japanese would declare war December 7. However, even this crucial information was not delivered promptly to Pearl Harbor; General George Marshall delayed the alert for an unexplained 15 hours.

Roosevelt's plan, outlined more than a year before, came to fruition with the Japanese attack that killed nearly 3000 soldiers, damaged 16 ships and destroyed 182 planes. Almost immediately, FDR and US Congress went into action, declaring war on both Japan and Germany. At the same time, they organised a cover-up of the McCollum plan.

Terrified of investigations by Congress in 1941, 1945, 1946 and 1995, top military brass destroyed some documents, classified others, and pressured witnesses or withheld them from investigators — all in the name of protecting national security. They constructed the story of a Japanese surprise attack — beginning with FDR's "Day of Infamy" speech — that still shows up as the script for movies like Pearl Harbor.

Stinnett's book is a powerful indictment of the Roosevelt administration's strategy to trick the US public into the war. We can now list Pearl Harbor as a day of deceit along with the explosion of the USS Maine, which tricked the US people into supporting the Spanish American War, and the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which provided cover for the US to escalate its war in Vietnam.

In its pursuit of world dominance, the US will use similar plots again. If we're going to stop them, we'll need to learn the real history, not the Disney version.

[Reprinted from the June-July issue of International Socialist Review. For subscription information contact ISR, PO Box 258082, Chicago, IL 60625, USA or visit <>.]

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