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The Good War, Revisited
The Bombing of Pearl Harbor: What FDR Knew
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Each Pearl Harbor day offers a fresh opportunity for those who correctly believe 
that Franklin Roosevelt knew of an impending attack by the Japanese and welcomed it as
 a way of snookering the isolationists and getting America into the war. And year by year the evidence continues to mount. The Naval 
Institute’s website featured a detailed article by Daryl Borgquist to
 the effect that high Red Cross officials with close contacts to Roosevelt quietly 
ordered large quantities of medical supplies and experienced medical personnel
 shipped to Hawaii well before Dec. 7, 1941.

In 1995, Helen Hamman, the daughter
of one of these officials, wrote to Bill Clinton a letter disclosing that her 
father had told her in the 1970s that shortly before the Pearl Harbor attack Roosevelt 
had told her father of the impending raid and told him to send Red Cross workers
 and supplies to the West Coast to be deployed in Hawaii. Roosevelt, Ms. Hamman 
wrote, told her father “the American people would never agree to enter the
 war in Europe unless they were attack [sic] within their own borders.” Borgquist’s 
research, now published in Naval History magazine, shows 
that the Red Cross was indeed staffed up and on a war footing in Hawaii by November 

by FDR of the “surprise attack” on Pearl Harbor has been demonstrated
 about every five years, ever since the Republicans made a huge issue of it after
 World War II. Each time there’s a brief furor, and then we slide back into
 vaguer language about “unproven assertions” and “rumors.”
 It’s one of the unsayables of 20th-century history, as Charles Beard discovered 
in 1948 when he published his great book President Roosevelt and the Coming 
of the War (1941), subtitled “A Study in Appearances and Realities.” 
Beard effectively disposed of the “surprise attack” proposition after 
researching official government documents and public hearings. For example, the 
State Dept.’s own record showed that FDR’s Secretary of State Cordell
 Hull conferred with the British ambassador on Nov. 29, 1941, and imparted the 
news that “the diplomatic part of our relations with Japan was virtually 
over and the matter will now go to the officials of the Army and Navy.” As 
Beard and others pointed out, the U.S. had already not only undertaken the blockade 
and embargoes that forced Japan into the war, but also knew that Japan was about 
to attack and waited for it to do so, so the isolationists could be outmaneuvered 
and the U.S. could enter the war on a tide of popular feeling.

dawn on Dec. 7, 1941, the first wave of Japanese planes flew in from the east
over the Waianae Mountains, leaving about 4000 American casualties with 2400 dead. 
Beard’s scholarly but passionate investigation into secret presidential diplomacy 
incurred venomous abuse, as did his judgment that the ends (getting the U.S. into 
the war) did not justify the deceptive means.

in the early 1980s John Toland published his excellent book Infamy, which
 mustered all the evidence extant at that time about U.S. foreknowledge. He advanced 
the thesis that though FDR and his closest associates, including Gen. Marshall, 
knew the Japanese naval force was deployed with carriers in the North Pacific, 
they were so convinced of the impregnability of the base that they didn’t 
believe the attack would have much serious effect. They thought a surprise Japanese
 raid would do little damage, leave a few casualties but supply the essential trigger 
for entering the war. Toland quoted from Labor Secretary Frances Perkins’
 diary an eerie description of Roosevelt’s ravaged appearance at a White House 
meeting the night of Dec. 7. He looked, Perkins wrote with extraordinary perception,
”not only as though a tragedy had occurred but as though he felt some more 
intimate, secret sense of responsibility.”

U.S. military commanders on Honolulu, Husband Kimmel and Walter Short, were pilloried,
 destroyed, set up to bear the major responsibility. For many years they fought 
to vindicate themselves, only to face hidden or destroyed evidence and outright 
perjury from their superiors.

May of 1983 an officer from the Naval Security Group interviewed one of Toland’s 
sources who had previously insisted on remaining anonymous. The person in question
was Robert Ogg, who had been an enlisted man in Naval Intelligence during the 
war, and was one of those who detected the presence, through radio intercepts,
of a Japanese task force working its way toward Pearl Harbor in the first week
 of December 1941. This force had been under radio silence, but the “silence”
 had been broken on a number of occasions.

Ogg and his immediate superior, Lt. Hosner, reported their intercepts and conclusion 
to the chief of intelligence of the 12th Naval District in San Francisco, Capt.
Richard T. McCullough. McCullough was not only a personal friend of Roosevelt’s 
but enjoyed assured access to him through Harry Hopkins’ phone at the White
 House. Ogg confirmed in 1983 that McCullough had said at the time that the information 
about the Japanese task force had been passed to the White House. British code-breakers 
at Bletchley had also passed the news to Winston Churchill that Pearl Harbor was 
to be attacked.

lesson here is that there is no construction too “bad” or too “outrageous” 
but that it cannot be placed upon the actions of powers great or small, though 
usually great. When Toland’s book was published there were many who scoffed 
at the “inherently implausible argument,” the “fine-spun conspiracy 
theory.” Gazing up the newly emerging national security state and the dawn 
of the Cold War, Beard argued that the ends did not justify the means, and concluded 

“In short, with the Government of the United States committed under 
a so-called bipartisan foreign policy to supporting by money and other forms of
 power for an indefinite time an indefinite number of other governments around 
the globe, the domestic affairs of the American people became appendages to an 
aleatory expedition in the management of the world… At this point in its history 
the American Republic has arrived under the theory that the President of the United
States possesses limitless authority publicly to misrepresent and secretly to 
control foreign policy, foreign affairs and the war power.”

Truer words were 
never written.

”Good War”


Just as FDR’s foreknowledge of the attack is rediscovered every few years, so, too, is the fact that the Pacific war was a very nasty affair. Every so often new accounts and photographs emerge documenting the cruelties of that war. In 2001, the BBC aired
 combat film of American soldiers shooting wounded Japanese and using bayonets
 to hack at Japanese corpses while looting them. “Former servicemen interviewed 
by researchers spoke of the widespread practice of looting gold teeth from the
 dead–and sometimes from the living.”

archival film is fresh evidence of the atrocities, but the war crimes themselves 
are an old story, best told by John Dower in his 1986 book War Without Mercy.
 Back in the February 1946 issue of The Atlantic the war correspondent Edgar 
L. Jones wrote, “We shot prisoners in cold blood, wiped out hospitals, strafed 
lifeboats, killed or mistreated enemy civilians, finished off the enemy wounded,
 tossed the dying in a hole with the dead, and in the Pacific boiled the flesh 
off enemy skulls to make table ornaments for sweethearts, or carved their bones 
into letter openers.”

the spring of 1945 the Japanese military had been demolished. The disparities 
in the casualty figures between the Japanese and the Americans are striking. From 
1937 to 1945, the Japanese Imperial Army and Navy suffered 1,740,955 military 
deaths in combat. Dower estimates that another 300,000 died from disease and starvation.
 In addition, another 395,000 Japanese civilians died as a result of Allied saturation 
bombing that began in March 1945. The total dead: more than 2.7 million. In contrast,
American military deaths totaled 100,997. Even though Japan had announced on Aug.
10 its intentions to surrender, this didn’t deter the bloodthirsty Gen. “Hap”
Arnold. On Aug. 14, Arnold directed a 1014-plane air raid on Tokyo, blasting the 
city to ruins and killing thousands. Not one American plane was lost and the unconditional
surrender was signed before the planes had returned to their bases.

raid, like the dropping of the A-bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was aimed at
 Moscow as much as Japan, designed to impress Stalin with the implacable might
 of the United States. The Cold War was under way, and as Beard prophesied in 1948,
 democracy wilted amid the procedures of the national security state, whose secretive
malpractices are still being exhumed.

released by the American Dept. of Energy showed that scientists from the UK Atomic 
Energy Authority removed children’s bones and bodies to ship to the United
States for classified nuclear experiments. There is a transcript of a secret meeting in Washington of “Project
 Sunshine,” where Willard Libby, a scientist who later won the Nobel Prize 
for his research into carbon dating techniques, told colleagues, “Human samples 
are of prime importance, and if anybody knows how to do a good job of body-snatching, 
they will really be serving their country.”

scientists from Harwell and the Medical Research Council supplied not only American
 researchers but their own labs with body parts, collecting about 6000 corpses
between 1955 and 1970. As The Observer reported, Jean Prichard, whose baby 
died in 1957, said her child’s legs were removed by hospital doctors and 
taken to Harwell without permission. To prevent her from finding out what had 
happened, she says she was forbidden to dress her daughter for her funeral. “I
 asked if I could put her christening robe on her, but I wasn’t allowed to, 
and that upset me terribly because she wasn’t christened. No one asked me
 about doing things like that, taking bits and pieces from her.”

The Pearl Harbor essay is adapted from an article that appeared in the June 2001 edition of CounterPunch.

Jeffrey St. Clair is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature, Grand Theft Pentagon and Born Under a Bad Sky. His latest book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion. He can be reached at: [email protected].

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

(Republished from Counterpunch by permission of author or representative)
• Category: History • Tags: Classic, World War II 
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  1. It was not the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor which brought the U.S. into the war against Germany but the German declaration of war against the United States.

  2. “It was not the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor which brought the U.S. into the war against Germany but the German declaration of war against the United States.”

    So if Germany hadn’t declared war on the United States, then the United States would have withdrawn from the Pacific area of Japan’s influence after the Pearl Harbor attack, as some in Japan had fantasized, and there would have been no war against Japan?

    There’s no doubt that a provocation to ignite and justify war was sought by the government. The fleet could have wintered in San Diego as had been the practice: its commander worried that keeping it in Hawaii would be not only risky but a provocation tempting war. Once the bait was taken, there could be no avoiding the consequences of a first act of war.

    What best serves the interests of the people of our nation – and every nation’s – are dispassionate examinations of history undistorted by bias and wishful thinking or patriotism, in other words a willingness to follow the truth wherever it leads, even if in conflict with one’s heartfelt wishes.

  3. Everyone has always known that it wasn’t exactly a coincidence that none of our aircraft carriers were present when the Japanese attacked Oahu. It was common knowledge back when I was a schoolboy in the 1970s.

  4. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    The Jewish advisors and handlers of FDR were desperately trying to draw the US into the war with Germany.

    They found their opportunity thru repeated US provocations directed at Japan, an allied partner of Germany.

    Charles Lindbergh warned Americans about Jewish treachery to draw the US into a European war for the benefit of Bolshevik Jews.

    Lindbergh’s punishment was his baby getting kidnapped by operatives.

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