History You Might Have Missed

Previously by Chris Sullivan: New TSA Screening Procedure

The commander of the carrier group had decided to attack on Sunday morning because he knew that the officers slept late at Pearl Harbor. He had been running with no lights and in radio silence in heavy seas. Before sunup he launched 152 planes from his carriers.

About an hour later, they appeared in the sunny skies over Pearl Harbor, dropping 20 tons of bombs on the airfields and anchored ships while the fighter planes strafed the airfields destroying the planes on the ground. Not a single fighter got off the ground to defend against the attackers.

Twenty-four hours later, the carriers had still not been located by the defenders. It was a rout for the attackers. The defenders later tried to claim that they had hit 45 of the attacking planes with anti-aircraft fire, which they had not.

In typical government fashion, a report was filed on the incident stating: "…it is doubtful if air attacks can be launched against Oahu in the face of strong defensive aviation without subjecting the attacking carriers to the danger of material damage and consequent great losses in the attack air force."

Japanese agents apparently didn’t agree with the navy report and forwarded a report of their own to Tokyo regarding Admiral Harry Ervin Yarnell’s February 7, 1932 attack. Nine years later, the Japanese proved that an air attack could be launched against Oahu with real bombs (instead of flour sacks), real torpedoes and bullets. Yarnell had shown the way, but was ignored because the Navy was dominated by battleship admirals.

If you don’t remember spending much time studying about Admiral Yarnell, don’t feel left out, I don’t remember any mention of him either. The first mention I ever saw of him was in a book called Pearl Harbor: The Story of The Secret War by George Morgenstern.

If you went to school recently, surely your civics or political science class would have spent quite a bit of time studying Operation Northwoods, but in case the details are a little murky here’s a brief thumbnail outline.

Operation Northwoods was a plan to cook up a pretext for starting a war with Cuba. As stated on the face of the document:

Subject: Justification for US Military Intervention in Cuba (TS)

1. The Joint Chiefs of Staff have considered the attached Memorandum for the Chief of Operations, Cuba Project, which responds to a request of that office for brief but precise description of pretexts which would provide justification for US military intervention in Cuba.

Further on:

5….World opinion, and the United Nations forum should be favorably affected by developing the international image of the Cuban government as rash and irresponsible, and as an alarming and unpredictable threat to the peace of the Western Hemisphere.

(Three follows five because the numbering sequence changes between pages. See PDF.)

3. This plan, incorporating projects selected from the attached suggestions, or from other sources, should be developed to focus all efforts on a specific ultimate objective which would provide adequate justification for US military intervention. Such a plan would enable a logical build-up of incidents to be combined with other seemingly unrelated events to camouflage the ultimate objective and create the necessary impression of Cuban rashness and irresponsibility on a large scale, directed at other countries as well as the United States….this plan would be to place the United States in the apparent position of suffering defensible grievances from a rash and irresponsible government of Cuba and to develop an international image of a Cuban threat to peace in the Western Hemisphere.

The plan goes on to describe several scenarios in the government’s bag of tricks, such as having friendly Cubans in uniform stage an attack on Guantanamo, start rumors using clandestine radio, capture Cuban saboteurs (friendly) inside the base, start riots near base main gate (friendly Cubans), sabotage ship in harbor, sink ship near harbor entrance and conduct funerals for mock victims.

One that I really like because it harkens back to another war is:

3. A "Remember the Maine" incident could be arranged in several forms: a. We could blow up a US ship in Guantanamo Bay and blame Cuba b. We could blow up a drone (unmanned) vessel anywhere in Cuban waters. . . . .The US would follow up with an air/sea operation covered by US fighters to "evacuate" remaining members of the non-existent crew. Casualty lists in US newspapers would cause a helpful wave of national indignation.

The ever imaginative public servants thought of several more provocations such as sinking a boatload of Cubans (real or imagined) enroute to Florida and shooting Cuban refugees in Florida. Another one that the Dominicans probably wouldn’t like was burning the cane crops in the Dominican Republic with Soviet Bloc incendiaries from planes made to look like Cuban aircraft and "intercepting" arms shipments to Communists in the Dominican Republic.

Probably the most ambitious plan was blowing up a passenger plane (drone) loaded with "students" and recovering debris off Cuba. The plane would send mayday signals before being blown up to make it seem more legitimate.

If you were in school prior to 1998, you wouldn’t have studied this since it was classified until November 1997, but I’m sure they spend several hours going over this in government-run day prisons today. The next time you hear that some rogue nation is picking on poor little Uncle Sam, print out a copy of Operation Northwoods and read it. Keep it handy as a refresher course in government marketing of its programs.

Operation Northwoods was never implemented because John Kennedy apparently would not approve it, but how many similar plans have been approved and implemented?

If a 1960s version of Daniel Ellsberg or Bradley Manning had exposed Operation Northwoods to the public, would he have been a hero or a villain?

Reprinted with permission from Different Bugle.