By Dick Atlee
Pearl Harbor. What thoughts go through our minds when we hear that name?
A few days ago, Dec. 7, the 73rd anniversary of that turning point in world history came and went. At the end of the First World War, the United States was considered just a regional power. At the end of the Second World War, it was a world superpower. And, as one of the war’s most famous generals Dwight Eisenhower later noted in a famous warning, the military-industrial complex was born. How did this all come about?
On Dec. 6, 1941, the American public was strongly opposed to entry into World War II. My own father was a pacifist. The next day, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, destroying a large part of the U.S. Navy. And suddenly the public was all for entering the war. My father enlisted in the Army. Pearl Harbor was the catalyzing event for going to war.
Fast forward six decades.
In 2000, the Project for a New American Century published a document written by men who ended up in remarkable numbers in high positions in the Bush administration. This document expressed concern that the U.S. superpower had lost its capability to act as such at a time that was ripe for what amounted to America’s taking over the world.
They proposed a massive military buildup and assertive posture in the world, and they acknowledged it would be very expensive – so expensive that it would not be accepted by the public “absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event, such as a new Pearl Harbor.”
And then came 9/11, and with it, the desired public acceptance of costly military buildup and aggressive war.
So Pearl Harbor echoes painfully today. In order to understand what happened in September 2001, we need to understand what happened 60 years earlier.
It long has been claimed that Pearl Harbor was a surprise attack – that the Japanese government had given no indication of interest in war, and that the Japanese fleet had maintained such radio silence as they moved eastward that we had no reason to suspect they were coming. We’ve all been brought up to think that.
And yet, all this turns out to be completely false.
Almost 15 years ago, Pacific war veteran Robert Stinnet published “Day of Deceit,” a book easily available through interlibrary loan. It was the product of almost two decades of archival research, Freedom of Information requests and interviews with navy cryptographers.
What he discovered was that the U.S. government, and particularly President Franklin Roosevelt, knew literally everything the Japanese were doing. In fact, they had carefully maneuvered the Japanese into attacking the U.S., using an 8-point plan proposed in October 1940 by Lieutenant Commander Arthur McCollum of Naval Intelligence.
The 8 points were:
- Make a deal with the British to use British Pacific bases.
- Make a deal with the Dutch to use Indonesian bases and supplies.
- Give all possible aid to Chiang Kai-shek in China against the Japanese.
- Send heavy cruisers to The Philippines or Singapore.
- Send two submarine divisions to the Orient.
- Keep most of the Pacific fleet in Hawaii.
- Insist that the Dutch refuse Japanese demands for economic/oil concessions.
- Along with the British, carry out a total trade embargo against Japan.
Secret logs indicate that Roosevelt saw this plan. Subsequent diplomatic actions by him and his administration show he followed it precisely. It was a steady, relentless process of turning the screws, of hemming in Japan to the point where the Japanese felt they had no alternative but to swat this wasp that was bedeviling them, and thus provide Roosevelt with the much-needed excuse to enter the war.
In Hawaii, the head of the Pacific fleet, Admiral Husband Kimmel, was not happy about having the fleet kept in Hawaii instead of in the San Diego home port. But he was overruled by Roosevelt. Roosevelt also declined to interfere in the activities of Tadashi Morimura, a Japanese spy, who while under careful American surveillance, meticulously mapped out the positions of the ships in Pearl Harbor and sent the results back to Japan.
Meanwhile, Navy cryptographers at various listening stations around the Pacific, particularly Kimmel’s Chief Radioman Homer Kisner at Station H on Oahu, kept breaking the Japanese diplomatic and naval codes, despite the periodic changing of those codes. So Washington knew everything that was going on, in real time, including Japan’s ultimate recall of its entire merchant fleet and conversion of those ships to naval use.
Up to a point, this information was relayed to Kimmel in Hawaii. Kimmel suspected an attack was inevitable and deployed his ships north of Hawaii in late November in a defensive move. But he was ordered to return them to Pearl Harbor.
On Dec. 2, cryptographer Joseph Howard in the Hawaii station intercepted a key message, the actual declaration of intent to start a war on Dec. 8. He put it in the “intelligence pipeline.”
But it never reached Kimmel. For years, it was falsely claimed the message had never been known at all on Hawaii, and Howard was somehow never questioned during all the subsequent investigations.
We have been told that the advancing Japanese fleet maintained total radio silence. And yet, between Nov. 28 and Dec. 6, many radio broadcasts from the fleet were intercepted and decoded as it advanced eastward and then south towards Hawaii. And the one thing these messages all have in common is that they never reached Kimmel – a documented, deliberate blackout based on a series of dubiously rationalized orders.
On the morning of Dec. 7, a message from Japan to its D.C. embassy set 1 p.m. as the time to inform the U.S. of severance of relations. This and several earlier messages were a clear indication of war. Yet Roosevelt, when shown the message, indicated no surprise. No word was sent to Kimmel.
Pearl Harbor was a setup for war. It succeeded wildly. And the rest is history.
And that history has repeated itself again and again. The intervening years have been peppered with new Pearl Harbors. Some of the better-known:
The Chiefs of Staff’s (fortunately unimplemented) 1962 Operation Northwoods proposals to kill Americans to start a war with Cuba;
The 1965 Gulf of Tonkin faked incident that kicked off the Vietnam War;
The false 1992 Kuwaiti incubator babies incident that turned the American public to war in Iraq;
The 2003 false Powell speech at the U.N. that green-lighted the second Iraq War;
The use of false statements to persuade the public to support the “responsibility to protect” (R2P) rationale for interventionist wars, such as the 2012 Syrian “poison gas” attack.
And last but not least, the amazing series of falsehoods underlying the recent House of Representatives Resolution 758 on Dec. 4 giving the president the freedom (encouragement?) to attack Russia.
And then there was the best known new Pearl Harbor of all – 9/11.
Will we ever learn to be suspicious of the unending attempts to manipulate us into war that are coming at us ever more frequently? The only beneficiaries are the corporations of the military-industrial complex.
Dick Atlee is a retired university educator living in Southwest Harbor.