The Conspiracies of Empire

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“Finally I say let demagogues and world-redeemers babble their emptiness to empty ears; twice duped is too much.”

~ Robinson Jeffers

Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor
by Robert B. Stinnett
New York, NY: Free Press; 260pp..

The late Murray Rothbard often argued that far from being evidence of a “paranoid” strain in the American mind, belief in conspiracies as a factor in American history was usually not taken far enough. The truth behind most conspiracies, he alleged, was far more heinous and diabolical than even the most diehard conspiracy theorist suspected. While many have assumed Rothbard was only being half serious, a new book on the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor by Robert B. Stinnett offers compelling evidence that Murray had it right. The truth that emerges as one makes his way through this exhaustively researched volume is of an American political and military establishment whose brilliance is exceeded only by its utter lack of moral scruple or genuine patriotism. Sixty years after the fateful attack, Stinnett has uncovered, presented, and substantiated the truth behind Pearl Harbor. It is now clear that FDR did know the Japanese attack was coming. He knew more than a year in advance of Japanese plans to bomb the United States’ Pacific fleet at Pearl, and he knew more than a week before that the attack would come early Sunday morning. He knew because American naval intelligence had cracked the Japanese naval codes in the early fall of 1940, 15 months before the fateful attack.

The smoke had barely cleared from Pearl Harbor before rightwing journalists, cranky poets, and some Republican politicians began suspecting that somehow Pearl Harbor was all a set-up. Since then, revisionist historians have contended that FDR both provoked and welcomed the war; and some even charged that he knew of the attack beforehand. Establishment historians and government officials countered these charges by insisting that the attack was indeed a surprise due to a failure of American intelligence and incompetence in the naval high command. Stinnett quotes historian Stephen E. Ambrose who claimed, as recently as a 1999 Wall Street Journal editorial, that “the real problem was that American intelligence was terrible.” According to Ambrose (who echoes the official story), the navy had not yet broken the Japanese naval codes, and the Japanese task force maintained strict radio silence on its way to Hawaii. As a result, “in late November, intelligence ‘lost’ the Japanese aircraft carrier fleet.” Other historians have contended that the Japanese caught us by surprise due to faulty analysis of pretty good intelligence, bureaucratic squabbling among high-level naval officers in Washington, underestimation of Japanese daring and capabilities, and expectations that the attack would come against Dutch or British possessions in East Asia, not against Hawaii. Stinnett exposes each one of these theories to be false. For instance, he amply demonstrates that the ships of the Japanese carrier fleet engaged in daily radio communication with the high command in Japan, military commands in the Central Pacific, and with each other. Stinnett found out the truth by reading American naval intelligence radio intercepts of the Japanese transmissions. American intelligence did not lose the carriers.

How did Stinnett manage to uncover the truth when congressional investigations (in both 1945-1946 and 1995) failed to do so? The answer lies in Stinnett’s intelligence, integrity, and unflagging research effort (lasting 17 years), qualities that we know from experience are all too lacking in congressional investigations. But it also lies in a crucial Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by the author in 1983. In that year, Stinnett learned of the existence of the Pacific War communications intelligence files of the United States Navy (a top secret file containing over one million documents relating to U.S. communication intelligence before and during the war). The author’s request was at first denied, but in 1994 the navy decided to declassify the records, or at least most of them. As the Stinnett soon discovered, key intercepts and documents were kept back, some were missing from the records, and other documents had been altered to conceal vital information. However, enough information was released, perhaps inadvertently, to enable Stinnett to piece together the truth.

American communication intelligence operations in the Pacific theater was primarily a naval operation. The intelligence network was composed of 21 radio intercept stations located along the North American coast from Panama to Alaska and on Pacific islands from Hawaii to the Philippines. As Stinnett demonstrates, well over 90 percent of all Japanese radio transmissions were intercepted by one or more of these stations. Once intercepted, these messages were sent to one of three regional control centers, two of which were also cryptographic centers, and from there they were sent on to Station US in Washington, the headquarters for naval communications intelligence. Of course, all official Japanese communications were in code. Diplomatic messages were sent in the Purple, Tsu, orOite codes; naval communications in one of 29 codes called the Kaigun Ango, the most important of which were the 5-Num (naval operations), SM (naval movement), S (merchant marine), andYobidashi Fugo (radio call sign) codes. Stinnett conclusively demonstrates that American cryptologists (codebreakers) had broken all four naval codes by October of 1940. (American intelligence had broken Japanese diplomatic codes even before: Tsu in the 1920s, Oite in 1939, and Purple in September 1940. As a result, cryptologists could intercept, decipher, and translate almost all Japanese diplomatic and military radio traffic within a matter of hours after receiving them. The decryption (decoding) and translating was done at three cryptographic centers: Station CAST on Corregidor in the Philippines; Station HYPO on Oahu; and Station US in Washington.

The resulting intelligence information was then sent to top U.S. military, naval, and cabinet officials, including the president (about 36 individuals in all). However, as Stinnett meticulously and thoroughly demonstrates, crucial intelligence information indicating a Japanese strike at Pearl was deliberately withheld from both Lt. Gen. Walter Short, commander of army forces on Hawaii, and Admiral Husband E. Kimmell, commander of the Pacific fleet. Roosevelt and his advisers had set up these two distinguished officers to be the fall guys for the catastrophe at Pearl. The story of their betrayal by friends and colleagues in the naval high command, all of whom knew of the impending attack and Roosevelt’s strategy of provocation, is heartrending.

In addition to the interception and decryption of Japanese radio transmissions, most of the radio intercept stations were equipped with radio direction finders (RDF) which allowed trained operators to pinpoint the exact location of specific Japanese warships once their distinct radio call sign was identified. By means of RDF, naval intelligence experts were able to track the movement of the Japanese carrier force as it approached Pearl Harbor. Stinnett’s findings confirm the truthfulness of the claim made by the Dutch naval attaché to the United States, Captain Johan Ranneft, that while on visits to the Office of Naval Intelligence in Washington on December 2 and 6 he saw intelligence maps tracking the movement of Japanese carriers eastward toward Hawaii. Also, his findings support the testimony of Robert Ogg who claims that while on assignment to the 12th Naval District in San Francisco he located (by means of RDF intelligence) the Japanese fleet north of Hawaii three days before the attack.

Perhaps the single most important document discovered by Stinnett is a 7 October 1940 memorandum written by Lt. Commander Arthur H. McCollum, head of the Far East desk of the Office of Naval Intelligence. McCollum’s memo outlines a strategic policy designed to goad the Japanese into committing “an overt act of war” against the United States. McCollum writes that such a strategy is necessary because “it is not believed that in the present state of political opinion the United States government is capable of declaring war against Japan without more ado.” McCollum suggests eight specific “actions” that the United States should take to bring about this result. The key one is “Action F” which calls for keeping “the main strength” of the U.S. Pacific Fleet “in the vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands.” McCollum concludes his memo by stating that “if by these means Japan could be led to commit an overt act of war, so much the better.” Stinnett has little trouble demonstrating that the strategy outlined in this memo became the official policy of the Roosevelt administration. Not only was the memorandum endorsed by Capt. Dudley Knox, one of Roosevelt’s most trusted military advisers, but White House routing logs demonstrate that Roosevelt received the memorandum; and over the next year, Roosevelt put every one of the eight suggested actions into effect. He implemented the last one (Action H) on 26 July 1941 when he ordered a complete embargo of all U.S. trade with Japan.

Roosevelt’s summer embargo was the culmination of another very clever administration policy, namely helping the Japanese to build up their military oil reserves just enough to encourage them to attack the United States but not enough to enable them to win a long war. In the summer of 1940, Roosevelt took two actions designed to implement this truly Machiavellian plan. First, he signed a bill authorizing a massive American naval build up designed to create a two-ocean navy. Second, he required American companies to obtain a government license before selling any petroleum products or scrap metal to Japan. For the next 12 months, the administration readily granted export permits to American firms selling raw materials to Japan, and Japanese oil tankers and merchant vessels could be seen loading up on scrap iron and petroleum at America’s West Coast ports. Meanwhile, American naval intelligence, using radio direction finding (RDF), tracked the tankers to the Japanese naval oil depot at Tokuyama. Roosevelt’s strategists calculated that helping the Japanese build up a two-year supply of reserves would be about right. That way, if war broke out in the second half of 1941, the Japanese would run out of oil in mid to late 1943, just as American wartime industrial production would be peaking and her massive carrier fleets (100 proposed carriers) would be ready to go on the offensive. In July 1941, Roosevelt took the final step and, together with the British and Dutch, imposed an embargo on the sale of petroleum, iron, and steel to Japan (McCollum’s Action H). The trap had now been laid, and the Japanese were not slow to fall for it.

Stinnett does not ignore the moral dimensions of the Roosevelt strategy. How did those who knew the attack was coming justify the deliberate sacrifice of over three thousand American lives? A bone-chilling comment by Lt. Commander Joseph J. Rochefort, commander of Station HYPO at Pearl Harbor, provides the answer. In a postwar assessment of the attack made to a naval historian, he remarked of Pearl Harbor that “it was a pretty cheap price to pay for unifying the country.” There you have it. Massive deception, lying, the sacrifice of military careers, the betrayal of friends and fellow officers, and the deaths of thousands of American servicemen – all is justified for the cause of inciting a peaceful people to go to war. Stinnett himself is far from being unsympathetic to Roosevelt’s strategy. He agrees with the pre-war interventionists that America needed to go to war against the Axis powers. According to Stinnett, Roosevelt and his advisers “faced a terrible dilemma.” The public was overwhelmingly opposed to entering the war, and in a democracy the people are supposed to rule. Yet, Roosevelt believed this war would be both necessary and just. What to do? In the end, they decided that “something had to be endured in order to stop a greater evil.”

Here we have yet another example of Americans making use of the doctrine that the end justifies the means. Americans are quick to deny the ethical legitimacy of this doctrine when it is presented to them as a naked proposition, yet there is no doctrine that they more readily turn to in order to justify morally questionable practices. Do not those who defend the nuclear holocaust of Hiroshima and Nagasaki argue as their first line of defense that it was morally justified because it saved American lives? And can we not expect to hear in the near future from those who can no longer deny the truth, “Roosevelt’s duplicity was justified because it was necessary to stop Hitler.” The Christian’s response to this question was articulated by Paul two thousand years ago: “And why not say, ‘Let us do evil that good may come’? – as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say. Their condemnation is just.” (Romans 3:8 NKJV).

We owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Stinnett. Not only has he uncovered the truth behind Pearl Harbor, but in so doing he has exposed one of the greatest cover stories, or con jobs, of all time – American prewar naval intelligence and high command as keystone cop. After sixty years, America’s brave band of revisionist historians have been vindicated, while her servile crop of court historians have been pretty much disgraced.

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