|From the archives of The Memory Hole|
The following historical essay is from James J. Martin's superb collection of revisionist articles, titled, The Saga of Hog Island: And Other Essays in Inconvenient History published by Ralph Myles Publisher, Inc., P.O. Box 1533, Colorado Springs, CO 80901. This is one of the best introductions to a very pivotal event in the history of the modern warfare State. Dr. Martin very skillfully and eloquently paints the big picture in which Pearl is the centerpiece.
Pearl Harbor: Antecedents, Background and Consequences1
by James J. Martin
Wars are struggles between social organismscalled nationsfor survival, struggles for the possession and use of the resources of the earth, for fertile fields, coal, oil, and iron deposits; for uranium mines, for seaports and waterways; for markets and trade routes; for military bases. No amount of understanding will alter or remove the basis of this struggle, any more than an understanding of the ocean's tides will diminish or terminate their flow.Leslie A. White, The Science of Culture (New York: Farrar, Straus, 1949), p. 343.
There are never enough data to enable one to prove an unpopular historical thesis. An establishment, having anchored its line, predictably vilifies a rival and subjects those involved to ridicule and ultimately to personal detraction and traducement which goes far beyond that. This ad hominem denigration is expected to transfer to their intellectual product. And no matter what the latter put on the record, the former insist that it is not enough 'proof,' regardless of how flimsy or unconvincing was the 'proof' used to create the establishment position.2 Those seeking to revise this have to be made of stern stuff and willing to run the risk of a lifetime career of malicious disparagement. "Writing history is a dangerous trade," the redoubtable Charles A. Beard observed 40 years ago.
In the first few years after the end of World War Two, the supporters of the Roosevelt official camp scoffed at revisionism on the origins of American involvement in the war in 1941 as 'Chicago Tribune history,' (theirs might just as well have been called 'New York Times history'), mainly because of a continuing high degree of resentment toward Col. Robert R. McCormick, the publisher of the Tribune, who had resolutely opposed the Administration's war-drift, and given publicity to all challenges of the official apologia. These included two pioneer essays by John T. Flynn, "The Truth About Pearl Harbor" (October 22, 1944) and "The Final Secret of Pearl Harbor" (September 2, 1945). The other main reason for the namecalling was the publication in 1947 of the best book in the revisionist camp, Pearl Harbor: The Story of the Secret War,3 by George Morgenstern, who was later to become the editor of the Tribune's editorial page.
The chorus of derogation became even louder the following year, however, upon the publication of President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War 1941 (New Haven: Yale University Press) by Beard, which confirmed the Morgenstern thesis and elaborated upon it in places. Though Beard was one of the most eminent American historians of this century, and was a former president of the most deeply rooted organization of the establishment historians, the American Historical Association, the incensed defenders of the Roosevelt innocence myth demonstrated that the credentials of no one were sufficiently prestigious to protect one from their character assassination. One could understand the patrician derision of and rudeness toward Beard by such as Professor Samuel Eliot Morison; after all, he had been given the rank of admiral and commissioned to write the official history of U.S. naval operations during the Second World War, and was therefore only showing his loyalty by defending his patron. But the ugly excesses of many others were utterly uncalled for, and represented gratuitous and contemptible scurrility toward an eminent scholar whom many of these same abusive people had not long before extolled and elevated to high honor within their own ranks.
It took awhile before the generalized snarling toward revisionism evolved into expectable criticism. Though Dr. Louis Morton, Chief of the Pacific Section of the U.S. Army Office of Military History, writing in the April, 1955 issue of the U. S. Naval Institute Proceedings, observed without evasive qualifications that revisionist writing on Pearl Harbor had achieved "the status of a mature historical interpretation" as early as 1948, it certainly was not respected as such in the latter year. The ferocity of the attack on revisionism and revisionists between 1945 and 1955 is in a class by itself in the history of history in recent times; in the following ten years it subsided slowly.
The likelihood of a showdown war in the Far East between Japan and the Caucasian colonial powers sometime in the first half of the 20th century had been the subject of a vast literary enterprise long before the war of 1939 broke out. It had been common speculation after the 1905 humiliation of Imperial Russia by Japan, the first modern defeat of a European power by an Asiatic one. As early as 1909 Old Asia Hands such as Homer Lea were predicting a collision between the U. S. and Japan, and the tension grew far heavier after 1918, when Japan emerged as a major factor in Far East affairs.
The first World War and the revolution in global power it inaugurated, accentuating the importance of the USA everywhere, and diminishing that of Great Britain, and especially Russia, in the Far East, brought about secondary revolutions. One of these, growing out of the new closeness between Britain and the USA, seen in many different developments, even in the re-writing of American histories in the 1920s with a far more mellow appreciation of England (which Charles Grant Miller so bitterly attacked in his The Poisoned Loving-Cup: United States Histories Falsified Through Pro-British Propaganda In the Sweet Name of Amity ), involved a profound turnaround in East Asia. American imperial interests had long sought to wreck the Anglo-Japanese Alliance of January 30, 1902. The intimate political involvement of the Anglo-American war regimes in 1917-1918 provided the major change in climate for the initiation of the assault on it. During the Washington Naval Conference of 1921-1922 the dismantling of this Anglo-Japanese alliance was achieved, and from then on Britain was gradually steered into the train of American confrontation of Japan, though England's policy makers continued to show some reluctance in changing to a program which aimed at ultimately destroying Japan, for decades viewed as a counter-weight to Russia in the Far East. Worse still, after razing the old position toward Japan, the USA officially backed off for a time from supporting the new.
At a time when the disarmament ploys of the newly-created League of Nations late in 1920 consisted of pressure on Japan to reduce their naval strength while Great Britain and the U. S. were bent on increasing theirs, the Japanese home front opinion was incensed enough. But particularly infuriating was the almost simultaneous passage by the California State Legislature, by a 3-1 margin, of an "Anti-Alien Land Law," excluding Japanese from the right to own land in the state, a move which other states started to copy. Many Japanese regarded this as a stinging racial insult and were not long in letting everyone know. An Associated Press report from Tokyo on November 16, 1920 informed Americans that "The students' societies of three of Tokyo's private universities have organized a meeting to be held tonight to discuss the question, 'Shall Japan Fight America?' "4
Following the takeover in Korea and the establishment of a corner in North China, the Japanese expansion into Manchuria in 1931 signaled several things. This represented a major challenge to the status quo in Asia which grew out of the World War I settlements, as well as an indication that sooner or later an Asia-for-the-Asiatics movement was bound to explode into a martial cataclysm. That not only happened: its late stages are taking place right now.
British efforts to erect a road block to Japan in the League of Nations were not successful, and they failed to get support from the U.S., not a member, even though Pres. Herbert Hoover had in Henry L. Stimson5 as Secretary of State a sophisticated and aristocratic Japanophobe. Hoover's successor in the White House, Franklin D. Roosevelt, in March, 1933, brought no change in this hands-off policy. As if to emphasize this, in a nationwide radio address on Dec. 28 of that same year, front-paged across the land, Roosevelt announced that not only did the U. S. not intend to join the League but that it was committed to "a definite policy" of opposition "to intervention in the affairs of other nations. "6 The subsequent passage by Congress of the Neutrality Acts of 1935 and 1937 seemed to be evidence of the hardest kind that this policy was real, not superficial talk.
But at the moment U. S. policy seemed incapable of being altered in the direction of new involvement in international wars, a subtle shift was underway in that direction. Critics such as Beard pointed this out even as it was starting to take place. He and others emphasized that the failure of the domestic program of FDR, especially the collapse of the effort to cure the chronic unemployment of the 1930s (Gottfried Haberler, Professor of Economics at Harvard and a President of the American Economic Association, called the failure of the New Deal a policy disaster "unparalleled in other countries"), was responsible for the Administration diverting attention from this by increased concentration on foreign affairs (it was Shakespeare who had Henry IV advise his son to "busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels.")
Roosevelt tested public reaction to a change from neutrality to 'collective security' in his famous Chicago speech of Oct. 5, 1937 but was repelled by the public coolness to his suggested involvement in the growing world tensions, and abandoned this idea. And when war broke out in September, 1939 the national policy was still neutrality. But under this official curtain there now took place a long string of moves which amounted to de facto participation in the war on the side of Britain. As The Economist of London summarized it a few years ago (reprinted in the New York Times for July 2, 1971), "When President Roosevelt told the Americans in the 1940 election that 'I shall say it again and again and again: your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars,' he had already committed the United States to a huge program of military aid to Britain, and he had drawn up the 'Rainbow' contingency plans for a simultaneous war with Germany and Japan, and was soon to slap on Japan the embargoes which some people still believe pushed the Japanese into their attack on Pearl Harbor. " (More will be said about 'Rainbow' later.) A little over 13 months after Roosevelt's memorable Navy Day 'again, and again and again' speech7 at the Boston Navy Yard on October 30, 1940 the USA was at war with Japan.
The road to Pearl Harbor was entered upon resolutely in 1941. For 25 years after the war a numerous and powerful group of pro-Roosevelt spokesmen vigorously denied that he had ever made any moves in the direction of war, and sought peace exclusively in the period between September, 1938 and Dec. 7, 1941. However, a new generation of Roosevelt defenders is far more frank in admitting that in the year before actual American involvement FDR strove mightily and assiduously to become embroiled in World War II, which is unequivocally supported by British government documents and papers not made public until Jan. 1, 1972 (see New York Times, Jan. 2, 1972).
After failing to lure the Germans into an act which would justify entry,8 or to execute the proper maneuvers to take advantage of an act that did,9 the efforts finally paid off in the Pacific. A Fortune magazine poll published in January, 1946, a few months after the end of hostilities, asked the question, "Do you think the USA did or did not deliberately provoke Japan into making war against us?" Nearly 30% of the respondents either agreed the attack on Hawaii was provoked, or were sufficiently dubious about it to the point of refusing to accept the Administration's pose of innocence. It is revealing that this question was not asked again; in view of the revisionist publications of 1947 and after, the total would surely have been greater.
There are two classes of facts relative to the Pearl Harbor story: a) those on the public record in the period before the attack and b) those revealed by one or another of the nine Pearl Harbor investigations. There is a masterly chapter on this latter subject by Percy L. Greaves, Jr. in the symposium edited by Harry Elmer Barnes, Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace (1953).10 It is difficult to discuss the former without bringing in the latter as one goes along.
The worsening of U. S. relations with Japan in the last six months of 1941 presaged serious trouble. The abrogation of the 1911 trade treaty with the Japanese was followed by what has sometimes been called the "Japanese Pearl Harbor," the freezing of all Japanese assets in the U.S. by presidential order on July 26, and the embargoing of materials crucial to Japanese survival. Japan, at that time a nation of some seventy million people crammed into an area the size of California but of which only one-seventh was arable and possessing the natural resources of the state of Mississippi, had long before become dependent on imports of raw materials and vast international trade.
Japanese trade with the U. S. exceeded that of mainland Asia combined, but tariff walls had been steadily constricting it. Now there was this abrupt halt, an act of economic warfare of the most obvious sort. It hurt the anti-war, peace and negotiation moderates in Japan, and led to the success of the war party and the decision to move sharply upon the French, British and Dutch Asian colonies to the south of Japan to get by war what was denied to them in peace.
Hawaii was on the flank of this movement, and the U.S. Pacific Fleet, having been recently based there, comprised the only threat to Japanese success in enveloping all the European colonies with their rich troves of oil, rubber and scores of other desperately needed products. A move by the U. S. Navy in support of the colonial powers would have made the Japanese invasion a precarious undertaking.
There is no doubt about the genuineness of Japanese efforts to seek a peaceful understanding with the U.S. right down to Pearl Harbor week. Top Administration figures were able to read the most secret Japanese messages starting in August, 1940 when an Army cryptanalytic team, utilizing the ideas of Harry L. Clark, broke the top Japanese diplomatic code, known among Americans as "Purple." A machine was constructed to decode "Purple," and the decoded traffic was designated "Magic." The subsequent location of "Purple" machines is fundamental to an understanding of the reason for the general ignorance of the state of U.S. Japanese relations in the closing weeks of 1941: there was never a "Purple" machine sent to any branch of counter-intelligence at the Pearl Harbor base, nor was anyone there given access to the decoded "Magic" traffic. (One should consult on the above matters Ladislas Farago's The Broken Seal," essentially another Administration apologia but which makes numerous admissions of revisionist positions.)
Of course the general public in the U.S. had not the faintest idea anything of this sort had taken place until after the war, although this code-breaking nearly became a factor in the 1944 election.12 In the meantime, backing a hard line of pressure by the policy makers under FDR, the latter simultaneously demanded of Japan a number of concessions regarding its conduct in China. Since mid-1937 Japan had been waging a full-scale war there against the regime headed by Chiang Kai-shek and also against a large Communist enclave directed by Mao Tse-tung. The latter had been under formation since the 1920s and already occupied a portion of northwest China as large as France, and with a population of 75 millions. But few Americans were aware of it even at this late date (1941), and the Administration paid no formal attention to Maoist communism in China. It sought only to get the Japanese to terminate their war against Chiang, but on terms so humiliating that it was once suggested that if they had been presented to Andorra or San Marino, even these tiny lands would have declared war on the U.S., let alone when advanced on a take-it-or-else basis to a tough and successful opponent such as Japan.
The amazing thing is that the Japanese were willing to accede to so many of the American demands concerning China and persisted in trying to negotiate their rival clashes of interest so long. In retrospect, the exaggerated concern for the integrity of China on the part of the Roosevelt regime insofar as it involved Japanese incursions sounded hollow when it was observed that several European countries, and also the U.S., enjoyed special geographical spheres of influence in China themselves.
[It is far from clear or agreed upon what Roosevelt and Hull, and to a lesser degree Churchill, expected to emerge in the Far East upon the reduction of Japan. Neither the colonial status quo ante nor the mainly theoretical international liberal capitalist dream of the era before 1914 were likely to prevail or materialize. Though the USA starting in May 1941 and the British in July of that same year plainly intended to renounce the extraterritorial rights they enjoyed in China (realized by their joint re-negotiation of the new 'equal' treaties with Chiang on January 11, 1943), there was no evidence that they would enjoy any previous economic advantages, even though it appeared Britain would cling to Hong Kong.
If there was any of the mirage of the Open Door still drifting across Sec. Hull's consciousness, it should have been dissipated by the publication in China on March 10, 1943 of Chiang's book China's Destiny, which went into more than 200 paintings in just that year alone, followed shortly thereafter by Chiang's Chinese Economic Theory; these were read by nearly every literate Chinese. Though not generally available in English translations until 1947, they both drew much outside attention anyway, most of the comment in the USA being very critical. The general hostility in these books toward Western ways and concepts, including most of their economic traditions, made it evident that Western influences in the Far East could be expected to decline even more rapidly after the war than they had been doing before.
And the promise of expanded civil war against Mao Tse-tung in these volumes infuriated the various enthusiasts for Stalin and Mao in the West even more than those hoping for a restoration of the 19th century in Asia. The Reds and their many fellow travelers knew their priorities; the success of Mao was totally dependent upon the expulsion of Japan from mainland Asia. Once this was achieved, they were at liberty to abandon their wartime "spirit of Tehran" and concentrate their full venom on Chiang. Causing a diversion by feigning horror about Chiang's 'anti-Western' views for the future was part of their successful strategy. (Taiwan under Chiang after 1949 developed in a way far from the recipes he laid out for China's future in 1943.)
In this light, it does not appear that the Anglo-American defenders of the past in the Far East had any real choice; Japan and Chiang were both smashed, only to see a triumphant Maoist Communism create a mainland China which in retrospect made either of the wrecked orders appear to be a genial milieu of mutual cooperation and prosperity.]
In the meantime the Japanese sweep southward to envelop the European colonies was taking firmer shape, in the early fall of 1941. At this point it is pertinent to put on the record one of the basic differences of the establishment and the revisionists concerning the Pearl Harbor attack. The former stress unduly the neglect of the commanders of the armed forces in Hawaii of a succession of local 'warnings' of the coming attack in the hour or two before the Japanese planes appeared over the Honolulu base.13 The revisionists maintain that this is a diversion to blur out the realities of the total situation, and want to know why no solid, clearly-stated and unevasive warning of looming Japanese assault was not made as early as Oct. 9, 1941, and frequently thereafter, let alone the peculiar and persistent neglect to supply the Hawaii commanders with a "Purple" machine, of which there were several. Possession of the latter would have made it possible to read the Japanese diplomatic traffic themselves and thus be aware of the dramatic disintegration of Japanese-American relations.
As to the above date: beginning Sept. 24, 1941 the Japanese consul general in Hawaii began, on request, to send back to Japan detailed maps of the disposition of the American ships in Pearl Harbor, sometimes twice a week. The first was intercepted and decoded, and distributed Oct. 9. These became known as the "Kita," or "Bomb Plot" messages, and they increasingly and obviously pinpointed Pearl as the attack site in case diplomatic negotiations broke down. The commanders in Hawaii were never informed of these, right down to the day before the attack, when one of them was noted to include information that the details of ship disposition should also be flashed to Japanese vessels or submarines offshore. Key personnel in Washington examined this at 2:30 p. m. on Dec. 6; Hawaii was not notified.
Meanwhile the evidence that the diplomatic negotiations with the U.S. might founder led the Japanese to warn their diplomatic corps around the world that a deadline of Nov. 29 would prevail, and that if no agreement had been reached by then, things would start to happen. There were no signs of compromise in the pronouncements of Sec. of State Cordell Hull; they actually got more abusive rather than conciliatory. And by now the Roosevelt cabinet included the anti-Japan hardliner Stimson as Secretary of War, whose diary later revealed his hope for a Japanese first-strike to provide an excuse for full scale participation in the war. Such vaguely-written messages to the Hawaiian commanders as were sent late in November suggested possible Japanese attacks in the Philippines, or warned them to take precautions against local sabotage, but never mentioned the possibility of a move to destroy the Honolulu-based Pacific Fleet.
The rejection by the Japanese of Hull's 'ultimatum' of Nov. 2614 led to a sharp increase of traffic in the "Purple" code, including notification to worldwide Japanese diplomatic stations to destroy their codebooks and code machines on Dec. 1 and 2. One of the many amazing reactions in Washington to the most obvious Japanese preparations for war some days before December 7 was the casual and unconcerned response to this particular action. Admiral Royal E. Ingersoll, assistant chief of naval operations in the Navy Department, was to declare before the joint Congressional Committee on the Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack on February 11, 1946, "When you tell diplomats to burn codes, that means war." This is not always the case, but in the context of everything else happening in early December, 1941 it surely was so. Washington authorities later in the cover-up tried to exculpate themselves by asserting that the commanders in Hawaii had been told of the code-burning order, but these same authorities did not consider it an irretrievable step toward war at the time, nor did they give any indications of feeling that way to Hawaii. The message the Hawaii commanders did not get, however, was the crucially critical "East Wind, Rain" message of the 4th, definitely indicating war with the U.S.A. This final war decision by the Japanese government was disguised as a false weather report, sent out by Japanese Morse Code, and not on the radio channels, and was picked up by Navy intelligence in Cheltenham, Maryland.
The story of the suppression of this message and the effort to maintain that it was never intercepted, on the part of the FDR regime's spokesmen, during the subsequent investigations, has produced an almost book length narrative itself. Had the official cover-up contingent been able to crack Captain Laurence F. Safford, chief of Navy communications intelligence, on this matter, they might have made great headway in setting the scene for the innocence myth, but that they were never able to do. Captain Safford maintained stubbornly over a substantial period of time and after repeated interrogation that such a dispatch had been intercepted, decoded, and widely distributed. That all copies vanished is not to be wondered at; it was the fate of other documents bearing substantial consequence to the situation in Washington.
By now the Japanese aircraft carrier task force with its complement of bombers was on its way from Japan, calculated to arrive 200 miles from Hawaii, from which point the surprise assault would begin, on the 7th. Going on simultaneously was the massive naval operations to the south along the coast of Asia, destined to result in swift occupation of what are now known as Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia. Operations near this latter land, known then as the Dutch East Indies, triggered another and probably more significant series of events, which in most ways makes the Pearl Harbor attack a supporting incidental, since the former involved the U.S. in the Pacific War four days before the Hawaii bombing.
Between January and March, 1941 joint staff conferences between the U.S. and the British took place in Washington. These were extended the following month to include the Dutch, in meetings held in Singapore. Out of all this came the ABCD agreement, committing the conferees to a mutual agreement to fight the Japanese in Asia if their forces crossed a geographic line of 100° East and 10° North, which approximated the northerly extremity of the DEI. Though the agreement was only verbal, the British and Dutch took it as an irreversible commitment, while US armed forces drew up a general contingency war plan in harmony with it, which became known as WPL 46. The entire agreement was known as "Rainbow 5," and the part involving the Dutch was known as "Rainbow A-2."
Around 5 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 4, Australian time (Dec. 3, Washington time), the U.S. military attache in Melbourne, Australia, Col. Van S. Merle-Smith, and his aide, Lt. Robert H. O'Dell, were invited to a conference at which were present the head of the Australian air force and the Dutch liaison officer to Australia from Batavia (now Djakarta). Col. Merle-Smith was informed that the chief of the Dutch Navy in Asia had notified them that the Japanese had crossed the magic line (see above) and that the Dutch had put into operation the ABCD and Rainbow-5 (A-2) plans, and were expecting help from the U.S. Navy in repelling this Japanese action. Sothe USA was involved in the Pacific phase of World War11 whether they approved of this or not. That the general public knew nothing of this or that the FDR regime did not actually sign any documents involving the USA in this arrangement are irrelevant; the other signatories to the agreement took it very seriously, and expected the USA to honor the commitment.
There is a lengthy story involving the efforts to keep this news from the high dignitaries in Washington. Ultimately it made its way there via Hawaii in encoded form, which should have reached Washington in the early evening of Dec. 4, Washington time. The decoded message never came back to Hawaii, and a copy did not surface in Washington until seven hours after the bombing of Pearl on the 7th. Its suppression for two and possibly three days is one of the unexplained mysteries concerning the whole matter of Pearl Harbor warnings. As Commander Hiles, the closest student of the Merle-Smith episode, puts it, "Encoded messages from military attaches in time of crisis such as this one do not lie around neglected unless for ulterior purposes of no honest portent or through gross negligence. " The facts surrounding this electrifying incident went on record in an investigation in 1944 but nothing was ever done to bring about any further knowledge about it. Hiles's summary of this matter in the Chicago Tribune for Dec. 7, 1966 deserves study.15
The 18 hours preceding the actual bombing of Pearl Harbor have been the subject of many hundreds of pages in more than a score of books. The main act of the drama involves the famous 14-part diplomatic message from Tokyo to its ambassador in Washington, in essence a notice of formal breaking of diplomatic relations. The first 13 parts were intercepted and decoded by the early hours of the evening of the 6th, copies of which were sent to the President and to the military and naval chiefs, Gen. George Marshall and Adm. Harold Stark. Commander L. R. Schultz, who delivered the copy to FDR around 9:30 p.m., reported later that the President read part of it in his presence and exclaimed, "This means war!" Gen. Marshall could not be found (a fantastic story in itself), and Adm. Stark was finally located attending a theater performance. But nothing was done all that night to alert the forces in Hawaii.
The timing of the delivery of the 14th part, which the recipients of the first 13 were told would be around 1 p.m., Washington time, the next day (Dec. 7), made it evident that this would contain the actual notice that relations were formally ruptured, even though this could easily be divined from the context of the previous parts. Time of delivery in Washington would thus be around 7 a.m. Honolulu time. Though the 14th part was received and decoded by 10 a.m. in Washington, still nothing was done to warn the Hawaii commanders all the morning of the 7th until nearly noon. Ignoring the separate FBI and Navy radio senders and a scrambler telephone, Gen. Marshall had a message to Adm. Kimmel and Gen. Short sent by commercial Western Union cable, which was not delivered to them until hours after the attack, ironically by a Japanese messenger.
Navy Secretary Knox, the commencement speaker at the accelerated Naval Academy's 1942 commencement twelve days after Pearl Harbor, asserted, "There is no question at all that half an hour's warning of the approach of the Japanese planes would have made all the difference in the world."16 Harry Elmer Barnes in his The Final Story of Pearl Harbor (1968) quotes Commander Hiles's view that if a strong warning had been supplied to Adm. Kimmel even as late as 9:30 a.m. Washington time, this would have provided sufficient time to have the major ships sortie from the harbor, to put up the fighter planes on alert, and to have the anti-aircraft guns readied for defense of the base. And Gordon W. Prange has shown in his Tora! Tora! Tora! 17 that the Japanese commander of the carrier-based strike force had orders to call off the attack and return home if Pearl showed signs of readiness to repel the attack.
At 7:55 a.m. on Sunday, December 7, 1941 the Japanese bombers struck the Pearl Harbor naval base and the Army and Navy airfields on Oahu. Eight battleships and several smaller craft were destroyed or put out of action for a long time (it was fortunate that the aircraft carriers and submarines were away on maneuvers), and most of the military aircraft were destroyed on the ground. Nearly three thousand American soldiers, sailors and marines were killed and many others wounded, and the total damage wrought by the attack was in the many millions of dollars.
For this price the Roosevelt Administration was able to enter World War II via the Pacific, and ultimately into the entire global conflagration, with nearly universal popular support. In the absence of a Japanese attack and in view of prior Dutch action in invoking Rainbow A-2, the Roosevelt regime would have been caught in the same flypaper which eventually entangled Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam. Having to explain to an increasingly sullen populace how we had become involved in an Asian war which a vast majority wanted no part of (as public opinion polls to the very day of the attack demonstrated), followed by a steady slipping and sliding into expanded hostilities, would have resulted in a major domestic political upheaval in due course.
As it was, Roosevelt and his bipartisan war administration narrowly escaped a major scandal resulting from a comprehensive investigation, had it taken place right at the start. Talk of a Congressional investigation in the immediate aftermath of the attack undoubtedly galvanized Administration efforts to smother it. Roosevelt managed to get assurances from the chairmen of both the House and Senate Naval Affairs Committees, Carl Vinson (Dem. -Ky.) and David 1. Walsh (Dem. -Mass.), that he would have their full cooperation and that they would launch no investigations. But there still was a threatened 'independent investigation' in Congress, largely urged by Senator Robert A. Taft (Rep.-Ohio). To head this off, Roosevelt on the evening of December 16, 1941 named a five-man board to conduct an investigation of the Pearl Harbor disaster, headed by Associate justice of the Supreme Court Owen J. Roberts, assisted by two Navy and two Army officers. They met for the first time in War Sec. Stimson's office on the next day,18 and it was formally constituted as the Roberts Commission by Executive Order the day after that.
It was not clearly understood what they were going to investigate, and it was generally not known until after the war that they had been given the authority to examine "only the circumstances of the attack and not what happened in Washington," as David Lawrence was to relate.19 But the big job was to rush through an inquiry of some sort and have it completed before a rival and contradictory challenge might be forthcoming from the Congress.
The day after the creation of the Roberts Commission, Sen. Taft delivered an address before the Executive Club in Chicago, denouncing the notion that a Pearl Harbor investigation should be left entirely to the Executive Department, and again asking that a Congressional inquiry take place. Taft especially wanted to know if Sec. Hull had told Navy Sec. Knox the full contents of his 'ultimatum' to the Japanese of November 26, and "Did Sec. Knox communicate to Adm. Kimmel [in command at Pearl Harbor] that we had sent an ultimatum to Japan which in all probability they would not accept?"20
In retrospect, Sen. Taft's call for an investigation of Pearl Harbor independent of that which the Roosevelt Administration was hurriedly patching and stitching together was an act of high political courage. The major difficulty was the absence of a popular base from which he might have secured reassurance and support. Stunned by the Japanese attack and the belligerent roar of the Administration, and its overwhelming back-up by a pro-war communications media, there were few in a psychological position wherein they might have expressed reservations about what was happening. The immediate response was one of incoherent accommodation. The result was the absence of any kind of formal policy opposition, of which there was at least a vocal vestige in Great Britain.
The prompt demise of the most formidable anti-involvement organization, the America First Committee, was surely the crushing final blow to any hopes Taft might have had to securing a modicum of public support. What might have happened had the AFC remained as a sort of 'his majesty's loyal opposition,' so to speak, has been mulled over for decades by students of the time. Even at the moment, there were those who thought that ultimately such a force might have had a profound influence over the way the war was fought after the U.S.A. became a full belligerent, and that its settlement would have been immensely different from what transpired in 1945. As for the Pearl Harbor affair, a vigorous and growing America First Committee in the early year of the war might have been the concentration point leading to an investigation with results of considerable gravity to all involved. As Robert R. Young, the railroad magnate who was one of the founders of the AFC, put it in a letter to Barnes on June 2, 1953:21
I happened to be one of the three dissenting voices when the directors of the America First Committee voted to disband on the Wednesday after Pearl Harbor. I felt then and still feel that if the Committee could only have been kept going, some of these people who will become national heroes could have been made to pay for their sins by their liberty or even their lives. If the Republicans had not been equally corrupted they could have had the whole damned crowd in jail.
And while I am talking to you mothers and fathers, I give you one more assurance. I have said this before, and I shall say it again and again and again. Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars. They are going into training to form a force so strong that, by its very existence, it will keep the threat of war away from our shores. The purpose of our own defense is defense.It might be argued that the key word in this was "sent." There was nothing said about those who might volunteer to enter the combat warzones. Scores of U. S. pilots fought in the Royal Air Force over England and Europe in the 10 months before formal U. S. belligerence, and are credited with shootiog down 73 German planes in that period. There was a similar contingent in the Royal Canadian Air Force, and over ten thousand volunteers from the U. S. in the Canadian army during that time. A detachment of American Marines arrived in Northern Ireland to train in June, 1941, and were established at a base built by American civilian workers out of American materials. On these and related matters of some interest see David Lampe, "Over-Paid, Over-Sexed, Over-Here, in the Sunday Times Magazine of London for December 4, 1966.
We saw and contacted several subs on this 37-day cruise. Our job is to drop ash cans [depth charges] to keep 'em scared away from the convoy, but we're asking for it.Seaman Rogers was an astute forecaster; the Reuben James "got it." His letter reproduced in the AP story was front-paged in the Colorado Springs Gazette for November 1, 1941. The best treatment of the intrigues in the Atlantic Ocean in the fall of 1941 is Chapter 5 of Beard's President Roosevelt, pp. 133-155.
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