Ask Not For Whom The Bell Tolls, It Tolls For Thee.
~ John Donne
Sixty years ago today units of the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked U.S. installations in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Most Americans wanted to keep out of the Second World War…and then Japan attacked. Anti-war sentiment was silenced. Four days later Hitler's Germany declared war on the United States and "we" were in it for better and for worse.
FDR and his defenders painted the attack as a surprise, sneak act that justified what followed [participation in the war itself, regimentation of Americans for total war, total war itself, area bombing, unconditional surrender, concentration camps for Americans of Japanese descent, alliance with "Uncle Joe" Stalin, Operation Keelhaul, censorship, high taxes, rationing, propaganda, Bretton Woods, et cetera ad nauseum].
Those opposed to the war before Pearl Harbor had dark suspicions of "…what did the President know and when did he know it…" a useful term for a later president.
During the sixty years since FDR's defenders have gone through two versions.
The first, which lasted about 15 years, was that a combination of Japanese perfidy, Army and Navy incompetence, some bureaucratic inefficiency was to blame for being taken by surprise at Pearl Harbor. Even today (see the link to lewrockwell.com Dec. 6, 2001) the Pentagon still is maintaining perfidy by Kimmel and Short.
This first version maintains that FDR was, as were most Americans, taken by surprise by the attack.
Reputations were smeared or worse by FDR loyalists who claimed White House perfidy in hoodwinking the Army and Navy regarding prior warnings of an attack at Pearl Harbor (see Gary North's review of this topic).
Around 1960 the first version was becoming untenable. Too much contrary evidence was leaking to make it believable. So a second version began to take hold.
This second version could be properly called a "New Deal revisionism."
New Deal revisionism admits some accusations by the isolationists, but states the importance of beating both a Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, justified both the provocations and concealment of FDR's prior knowledge of a Japanese attack. It affects that FDR was genuinely surprised by the time, place and severity of the attack.
David Ogilvy, founder of the advertising firm of Ogilvy Matheson, served in the British Embassy during the Second World War. In his 1978 memoirs [Blood, Brains and Beer, pp. 89-90] he states (William Stephenson)…was…laconic…A few days before Pearl Harbor, he telegraphed to London that a Japanese attack was expected. No such report had come from the Embassy, so Stephenson was asked to identify his source. His reply, laconic as usual: u2018The President of the United States.'"
The problem with the New Deal revisionism is that it moves the debate from the older one of whether President Franklin Roosevelt was guilty of treason ["giving aid and comfort to an enemy in time of war"] to a debate of whether FDR was perfectly innocent or justifiably devious.
Pierre Salinger's defense of John Kennedy's lying during the Cuban Missle Crisis is typical of the New Deal Revisionism ["…the President has a right to lie…"].
Now a book by a mainstream historian, Thomas Fleming The New Dealers’ War (buy it here) is making hash of FDR's defenders.
This work concedes the entirety of Pearl Harbor revisionism by the Old Right. Even the title conjurs up an Old Right flavor, "The New Dealers’ War."
During the past summer, the New York Times (see our link to this story) broke the story that the White House was preparing FDR's speech to Congress in advance of the Pearl Harbor attack. The speech where he so solemnly intoned, "…December 7th, 1941 a day that will live in infamy."
In the 60 years since the U.S. Government retains classifications of details of Pearl Harbor.
In the 60 times this tired planet has circled the sun those whose blood gets spilt, whose loved one's get buried from war, who foot the bills of war have not yet been trusted with what the federales have about Pearl Harbor.
That is wrong. It is time to open the record the government retains.
At 60 years the Japanese nor the Germans will gain advantage over us.
What advantage can Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Ladin, Khadaffi, Castro or even Laurant Kabila gain by knowing 60 year old diplomatic secrets?
Freeing the Pearl Harbor documents would only harm the reputations of those who lied to Americans.
Who would rant today to keep secret the documents of Pearl Harbor? Perhaps todays war party and, in my opinion, their theoretical or actual opposition, holds no sway with me.