|Old Bull Lee
A Voice From the Reality-based Community
Notes from a Study of Things Themselves
Day of Deceit: The Truth about FDR and Pearl Harbor
Author: Robert B. Stinnett
Publication Date: 2000
Pages: 399, including a ten-page afterword to the paperback edition, 48 pages of appendices, 69 pages of notes and eleven pages of index.
From the Nazi invasion of Poland on 1 Sep 1939 until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 Dec 1941 the U.S. was not a combatant in WWII. America was officially neutral as Hitler's armies invaded and occupied European countries and as they humiliated the British on the shores at Dunkirk. Americans, not yet enemies of the Axis powers, watched from afar as the overconfident Hitler launched his attack against the Soviet Union in June 1941, thereby bringing Stalin into the war as an enemy of Germany.
American sympathies were generally with Great Britain, a natural cultural ally, and there was little sympathy for Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, the American public mostly felt chastened by memory of the country's WWI experience, in which U.S. politicians, led by Woodrow Wilson, had placed soldiers on European soil in the midst of a European war. Most people felt the U.S. had gained nothing from its involvement in WWI to justify the enormous expense and loss of life.
In 1940 public opinion was 86% opposed to entering the war against Germany. An "isolationist" grass-roots organization known as the America First Committee gained widespread membership and support from prominent Americans such as Charles Lindbergh. Both presidential candidates in the 1940 election explicitly declared their desire to keep American soldiers out of the European war.
It is now well known that Roosevelt, the winning candidate, was lying. He was working covertly throughout his campaign and afterwards to bring America into the war along side Great Britain. He actively sought to provoke German military attacks on the U.S. He knew that only a massive attack against America could reverse powerful political opposition to U.S. entry into the war. The Japanese attack against Pearl Harbor gave him what he wanted.
Debate over Roosevelt's role in provoking the attack on Pearl Harbor has been raging for decades. The debate took a new direction with the 2000 publication of Robert Stinnett's book Day of Deceit. The book is the product of seventeen years of labor in the WWII archives and interviews with surviving intelligence operatives. Its author, a WWII naval officer and journalist, argues that FDR's aggressive pre-war policies against Japan were intended to provoke attack in Hawaii. Furthermore, he believes that Roosevelt had foreknowledge of the Japanese attack but refused to warn US commanders in the Pacific. He believes FDR's reasons were based on the president's desire to overcome domestic opposition to war by maximizing the devastation to American naval power and military personnel.
Stinnett's conclusions are based on his study of declassified records from intelligence-gathering centers in the Pacific, particularly decrypts of navy communication intercepts and records of attempts to locate Japanese ships by radio direction finding (RDF) techniques.
In pondering Stinnett's research and his conclusions, it's useful to construct a time line of relevant events. (Those not discussed in Day of Deceit are flagged with a "*".)
Stinnett begins his story with the McCollum memorandum, a declassified document he discovered in 1995 among the personal papers of the navy intelligence officer. Arthur McCollum had a background that uniquely qualified him to compose such a sweeping policy recommendation. The son of missionaries, he had been raised in Japan, where he gained an understanding of Japanese culture and learned the rudiments of the language. After graduation from the Naval Academy he was posted to the U.S. embassy in Tokyo, where he improved his fluency in Japanese.
As Lt. Cmdr. in 1940 he was head of the Far East desk of the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI). His immediate boss was Capt. Walter Anderson, the Director of Naval Intelligence, a close and trusted adviser to FDR, himself a former Secretary of the Navy.
The memo summarizes the geopolitical position of the U.S. relative to the Axis powers following the Tripartite pact. It states that the Axis powers want to keep America out of the war until they can defeat Great Britain, after which they might attack the U.S. It goes on to say that there is little our navy can do to help Great Britain in the Atlantic; however, the situation in the Pacific is different. He lists Japan's strategic advantages and disadvantages relative to the U.S. and recommends "prompt and aggressive naval action against Japan" to eliminate that country's ability to assist Germany and Italy in the war against England. He points out that the present state of political opinion in America rules out a declaration of war against Japan. However, he recommends eight actions short of war. These are
McCollum, who eventually rose to the rank of rear admiral, played a crucial pre-war role as Roosevelt's routing officer for all navy communications intelligence. Stationed in Washington, he determined who saw the contents of decrypted Japanese radio messages and the positions of Japanese ships as determined by radio direction finding (RDF). He was therefore in position to deprive commanders Kimmel and Short of intelligence indicating imminent Japanese attack.
Stinnett gives considerable background on U.S. communications intelligence capabilities in 1940 and 1941. He explains that American cryptographers had broken the Japanese diplomatic code as well as their naval code. In late 1941 listening posts in Hawaii (HYPO), the Philippines (CAST), the U.S. west coast and elsewhere worked 24/7 intercepting, decrypting, and interpreting messages originating from Japan and its navy. This intelligence was selectively routed, under the direction of McCollum, to thirty-six individuals listed in Appendix E.
Starting around mid-November 1941 the Hawaiian commanders appear to have been cut off from all communications intelligence suggesting a likely attack on Pearl Harbor. Furthermore, as a result of the Vacant Sea order and other restrictions, they were denied the means to gather intelligence on their own. Other Pacific commanders, such as MacArthur in the Philippines, were told to go on high alert, but Kimmel and Short were led to believe there was no threat worthy of dispersing the ships (thereby alarming locals) or emplacing protective torpedo nets. In short, they were being set up.
Stinnett's account on events beginning November 25, 1941 is dramatic. Chapter 7, "A Night with a Princess," starts with George Marshall's bizarre briefing of seven newsmen. The army chief of staff swore the correspondents to secrecy and then informed them America was "on the brink of war with the Japanese." He told them that, "We know what they know and they don't know we know it." Marshall predicted the Japanese would attack in "the first ten days of December." Stinnett discusses the many ethical problems of briefing the media in secret on the likelihood of attack while keeping the Hawaii commanders unaware of the danger. The author shifts focus to the White House, where FDR was entertaining crown princess Martha of Norway with cocktails and dinner. While this was going on, the Japanese fleet was leaving the Kurile Islands, supposedly in radio silence.
On November 25 (November 26 Japanese time) extensive Japanese naval communications were intercepted at Hawaii and elsewhere. RDF techniques were used to geolocate the transmitters. Decryption and translation indicated that a fleet of submarines was leaving Japanese waters for an unknown destination and that a fleet of aircraft carriers was 120 miles from the Kurile Islands, also headed for an unknown destination. Lt. Cmdr. Joseph Rochefort, chief naval intelligence officer at Pearl Harbor, briefed Admiral Kimmel on the contents of the intercepts the next day and forwarded his report to Washington. Stinnett points out that Rochefort's report failed to mention the carrier fleet near the Kuriles.
Washington responded with two "war warnings" on November 27 and 28. The messages warned Pacific military commanders to expect an "aggressive move by Japan in the next few days" in either the Philippines, the Kra peninsula (Malaya) or Borneo. The second message ordered, "If hostilities can not be avoided the United States desires that Japan commit the first overt act." Commanders were ordered to undertake necessary reconnaissance, but not to alarm the civilian population or disclose intent.
Roosevelt left Washington on November 28 for a trip to Warm Springs, GA and returned December 1 to find a decrypted intercept of a diplomatic message from Togo to Von Ribbentrop in Germany. It stated, "There is extreme danger that war may suddenly break out between the Anglo Saxon nations and Japan through some clash of arms." Another message ordered all Japanese diplomatic missions, except for Washington and the Honolulu consulate, to change their code systems. Some naval officers, but apparently not admiral Kimmel, regarded the destruction of code machines as a prelude to war. (In retrospect we can see that exempting the Honolulu consulate would allow spies in Hawaii to inform the Japanese carriers en route as to the status of ships in Pearl Harbor.)
As the fateful date of December 7 approached, more ominous and frightening Japanese messages were intercepted and decrypted. According to Homer Kisner, communication traffic chief at Hawaii, one message broadcast from Japan on December 2 was "CLIMB MOUNT NITAKA, 1208 REPEAT 1208." This was hours after Japan had been handed an unacceptable diplomatic ultimatum from Washington. Mount Nitaka is Japan's highest peak. "1208" is obviously December 8, Japanese time, or December 7, Hawaii time. Stinnett believes this message was the go-ahead for the attack.
On December 5 and 6 intelligence indicating imminent attack was flooding into Washington. Much of it lay unread on the desk of General Marshall, who unaccountably made himself unavailable for fifteen hours while horseback riding. Washington made no effort to warn the commanders in Hawaii.
After the attack there were eight government investigations into the unpreparedness of U.S. forces at Pearl Harbor. The last one was in 1995. All of them were shams. None examined critical, still-classified documents or interviewed important witnesses, such as captains Homer Kisner and Duane Whitlock.
Stinnett declares that for sixty years the U.S. navy, army and press have been wrong about the radio silence of the Japanese fleet. He says that the fleet broke radio silence on numerous occasions and messages were intercepted and RDF techniques were employed to locate ships based on these transmissions.
Response to publication of Day of Deceit was immediate and mostly hostile. The Roosevelt idolators reacted predictably, arguing that the sainted president would never have acted dishonorably or treacherously. An example is a brief review in Foreign Affairs by neocon Philip Zelikow, now a member of George W. Bush's State Department.
More serious criticism comes from Dr. Conrad Crane of the U.S. Army War College. He takes exception to Stinnett's claims that the Japanese fleet violated radio silence and that the U.S. was reading encrypted Japanese navy communications in 1941. He also finds it hard to believe in a "conspiracy so widespread" that it would include such respected military officers as Stinnett identifies.
Lt. Cmdr. Philip H. Jacobsen has produced a review similar to Crane's but much nastier and more detailed. Jacobsen calls into question a multitude of Stinnett's contentions. He informs us of many practices of naval communication intelligence that are ignored by Stinnett and seem to repudiate Stinnett's thesis that Roosevelt had foreknowledge of the attack. He also makes comments on archived documents and disdains Stinnett's "monstrous conspiracy theory." Jacobsen's detailed attack on Stinnett can not be evaluated by a casual reader (such as me).
Morton A. Kaplan, a retired professor of political science at the University of Chicago, takes a broader view of the issues and finds Stinnett's arguments and evidence pursuasive. Unlike the other reviews, he takes the Vacant Sea order and FDR's manipulative and deceptive nature into account. He agrees that Roosevelt probably intended to provoke the Japanese attack. He also agrees with Stinnett that such a provocation was the right thing to do to overcome isolationist resistance to entering the war.
On the website of the Independent Institute is the transcript of a debate between Stinnett and Stephen Budiansky, who dismisses Stinnett's book as a conspiracy theory. The debate is not particularly illuminating. Stinnett confines his argument to two issues: that the U.S. navy had broken the Japanese naval code and that the Japanese fleet broke radio silence en route to Pearl Harbor. He defends himself against books and articles written by Budiansky, David Kahn (author of The Codebreakers) and Edward Drea. Budiansky says Stinnett is all wrong. As with the Jacobsen review, the casual reader has no way to know who is right.
The McCollum Memo. The value of Stinnett's book, in my opinion, lies with his research of the archived materials relating to the attack. His discovery of the McCollum memo is highly significant. But how did this memo come about? Stinnett does not ask the question, but seems to assume that McCollum wrote it on his own initiative. I find this highly unlikely. The memo sets out policy recommendations that could only be put into effect at the presidential level. It would be presumptuous for a Lt. Cmdr. to propose such actions on his own. Certainly he was assigned to write it by a higher ranking officer, in this case, his boss, the Director of Naval Intelligence, Captain Walter Anderson. Indeed, the memo's heading states that it is a "Memorandum For the Director," not a memorandum to the director. A plausible hypothesis is that the memo came about as the result of a high level meeting involving, among others, the president, the director of naval intelligence and his assistant, Arthur McCollum. In the meeting U.S. military policy for the Pacific following the Tripartite Pact is discussed and a strategy is agreed to. The president assigns Anderson to document the strategy for future reference and Anderson assigns the job to McCollum. In this way, the agreed-to policy, which otherwise might be recorded in meeting minutes, is documented as a suggestion from a relatively low-ranking officer, giving the president complete deniability.
Looted Archives.. Arthur McCollum, the routing officer for the Pacific naval intelligence, prepared "monographs" summarizing communications intercepts for the president. Up until December 3, 1941, seventy-four such monographs had been prepared. Such documents, if declassified and released to researchers, would probably tell how much Roosevelt knew and when he knew it. Unfortunately, only seven of these monographs are in the archives: sixty-seven have been stolen. So who would steal them? Obviously, someone with the security clearance necessary to access them and a desire to prevent anyone else from ever reading them.
I would be naturally disinclined to believe that a high ranking official would steal documents from the government's archives. However, a 2003 incident involving Sandy Berger, Bill Clinton's National Security Advisor, has changed my opinion. Berger claimed he needed to review classified documents in the archives to prepare for testimony before a committee investigating 9/11. However, once inside the archive room, he stuffed five copies of a thick document up his pants legs and in his suitcoat and got caught trying to sneak them out. (He was fined $56,000 and his security clearance was suspended.) We will never know how many times similar, but successful, thefts occurred during the eight investigations of the Pearl Harbor attack.
The government's reason for keeping the WWII documents classified obviously has nothing to do with security and everything to do with avoiding possible embarassment to people currently in government. Since so many living public officials are on record saying Roosevelt had no foreknowledge of Pearl Harbor, it's unlikely there will be a mass declassification and release any time soon. Even if the documents are released, it's probable that no smoking gun will be found. There are two reasons: (1) perpetrators of treachery avoid leaving written evidence of their actions, and (2) critical documents will turn up missing, as with the monographs mentioned above.
Coventry. Churchill is said to have had foreknowledge of the German bombing raid on Coventry, England on November 14, 1940, but refused to evacuate the city for fear of revealing to the Germans that England had broken the Enigma cipher. Hundreds of civilians were killed in that raid. My knowledge of this story came from reading Anthony Cave Brown's Bodyguard of Lies in the 1970's and I assumed it was established fact. However, I see now that Wikpedia (not a particularly reliable source) calls this story a "myth." From another Internet reference I see that one of the story's debunkers is Steven Budiansky, who also disputes (see above) that Roosevelt had advance knowledge of the Pearl Harbor attack. I'm not sure what to make of this. However, we are reminded that Roosevelt may have felt that informing Kimmel and Short of the impending attack would reveal to the Japanese that the U.S. was reading their encrypted communications. I can find no mention of the Coventry incident in Day of Deceit.
The Vast Conspiracy. Critics of Stinnett's thesis smear his book as a "conspiracy theory" and contend that such a vast conspiracy was untenable. I am unpersuaded. Communications intelligence is among the most tightly controlled and highly compartmented intelligence in the military. I can see that only two conspirators are necessary: Roosevelt and Arthur McCollum, the routing officer. Stinnett believes that James Rochefort in Hawaii was in on the conspiracy, but I find Stinnett unconvincing. For example, Stinnett describes a meeting between Kimmel and Rochefort on November 25 in which Rochefort convinces Kimmel that the Japanese have launched a two pronged offensive with ships and submarines headed for the Marshall Islands and the South China Sea and with carriers headed south from the Kurile Islands. However, in Rochefort's communication to Washington, he fails to mention the carriers. If Rochefort were in on the conspiracy, he would not have mentioned the carriers to Kimmel, but would have reported them to Washington.Duty, Honor, Country. Some refuse to believe that high ranking military officers would lie or cover up the lying of others or engage in a conspiracy to destroy the career of another officer, especially when the officers come from "the greatest generation." Well, the military code of honor obviously means different things to different officers. Consider the case of John Poindexter, a former three-star admiral who had graduated first in his class at Annapolis, gotten a Ph.D. in physics at Cal Tech and had a reputation for a phenomenal memory. In testifying before a senate committee investigating the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980's, he answered "I don't recall" 124 times, knowing full well he could expect a presidential pardon for perjury. Was this honorable? Isn't it naive to expect WWII officers to have been more honorable than Poindexter?
Stinnett has defended Roosevelt's provocations, his lies and his refusal to warn the Pearl Harbor commanders of impending attack. Roosevelt was justified, Stinnett thinks, in sacrificing the lives of thousands of U.S. soldiers and sailors to gain political support for U.S. entry into WWII. Professor Kaplan agrees, adding that the American public at the time was too bigoted and Congress too stupid to understand the danger posed by Nazi Germany.
The writings of Stinnett and many others are persuasive that Roosevelt lied about his intentions in 1940 and that he achieved his desired goal when Hitler declared war on the U.S after the Pearl Harbor attack. Clare Boothe Luce in 1944 declared that Roosevelt was "the only American president who ever lied us into a war because he did not have the political courage to lead us into it." She was right regardless of whether the U.S. could read the Japanese naval code.
Is it treachery for a president to "lie us into a war"? I believe it is. In doing so, Roosevelt set a precedent that was followed by Lyndon Johnson in Vietnam and George W. Bush in Iraq. In the latter case the president used brazen lies about Iraq's nuclear and biological weapons and its sponsorship of terrorism to grab extraordinary war powers which he has used to crush political and legal opposition and to reward the powerful lobbies that put him into office. We can thank Roosevelt for showing Bush the way.