British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's fervent hope for years was that Japan would attack the United States. This would permit the United States (not legally, but politically) to fully enter World War II in Europe, as its president wanted to do, as opposed to merely providing weaponry and assisting in targeting of submarines as it had been doing. Of course, Germany's declaration of war, which followed Pearl Harbor and the immediate U.S. declaration of war on Japan, helped as well, but it was Pearl Harbor that radically converted the American people from opposition to support for war.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had tried lying to the American people about U.S. ships including the Greer and the Kerny, which had been helping British planes track German submarines, but which Roosevelt pretended had been innocently attacked. Roosevelt also lied that he had in his possession a secret Nazi map planning the conquest of South America, as well as a secret Nazi plan for replacing all religions with Nazism. And yet, the people of the United States didn't buy the idea of going into another war until Pearl Harbor, by which point Roosevelt had already instituted the draft, activated the National Guard, created a huge Navy in two oceans, traded old destroyers to England in exchange for the lease of its bases in the Caribbean and Bermuda, and -- just 11 days before the "unexpected" attack -- he had secretly ordered the creation of a list of every Japanese and Japanese-American person in the United States.
On April 28, 1941, Churchill wrote a secret directive to his war cabinet:
"It may be taken as almost certain that the entry of Japan into the war would be followed by the immediate entry of the United States on our side."
On May 11, 1941, Robert Menzies, the prime minister of Australia, met with Roosevelt and found him "a little jealous" of Churchill's place in the center of the war. While Roosevelt's cabinet all wanted the United States to enter the war, Menzies found that Roosevelt,
" . . . trained under Woodrow Wilson in the last war, waits for an incident, which would in one blow get the USA into war and get R. out of his foolish election pledges that 'I will keep you out of war.'"- Advertisement -
On August 18, 1941, Churchill met with his cabinet at 10 Downing Street. The meeting had some similarity to the July 23, 2002, meeting at the same address, the minutes of which became known as the Downing Street Minutes. Both meetings revealed secret U.S. intentions to go to war. In the 1941 meeting, Churchill told his cabinet, according to the minutes: "The President had said he would wage war but not declare it." In addition, "Everything was to be done to force an incident."
Japan was certainly not averse to attacking others and had been busy creating an Asian empire. And the United States and Japan were certainly not living in harmonious friendship. But what could bring the Japanese to attack?
When President Franklin Roosevelt visited Pearl Harbor on July 28, 1934, seven years before the Japanese attack, the Japanese military expressed apprehension. General Kunishiga Tanaka wrote in the Japan Advertiser, objecting to the build-up of the American fleet and the creation of additional bases in Alaska and the Aleutian Islands:
"Such insolent behavior makes us most suspicious. It makes us think a major disturbance is purposely being encouraged in the Pacific. This is greatly regretted."
Whether it was actually regretted or not is a separate question from whether this was a typical and predictable response to military expansionism, even when done in the name of "defense." The great unembedded (as we would today call him) journalist George Seldes was suspicious as well. In October 1934 he wrote in Harper's Magazine: "It is an axiom that nations do not arm for war but for a war." Seldes asked an official at the Navy League:
"Do you accept the naval axiom that you prepare to fight a specific navy?"
The man replied "Yes."
"Do you contemplate a fight with the British navy?"
"Do you contemplate war with Japan?"
"Yes."- Advertisement -
In 1935 the most decorated U.S. Marine in history at the time, Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler, published to enormous success a short book called War Is a Racket. He saw perfectly well what was coming and warned the nation:
"At each session of Congress the question of further naval appropriations comes up. The swivel-chair admirals don't shout that 'We need lots of battleships to war on this nation or that nation.' Oh, no. First of all, they let it be known that America is menaced by a great naval power. Almost any day, these admirals will tell you, the great fleet of this supposed enemy will strike suddenly and annihilate our 125,000,000 people. Just like that. Then they begin to cry for a larger navy. For what? To fight the enemy? Oh my, no. Oh, no. For defense purposes only. Then, incidentally, they announce maneuvers in the Pacific. For defense. Uh, huh.
"The Pacific is a great big ocean. We have a tremendous coastline in the Pacific. Will the maneuvers be off the coast, two or three hundred miles? Oh, no. The maneuvers will be two thousand, yes, perhaps even thirty-five hundred miles, off the coast.