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The Truth About Pearl Harbor

By       Message Mary Wentworth     Permalink
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One of several enduring myths about World War II is that dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved the lives of thousands of American servicemen by making a ground invasion of Japan unnecessary. The truth is that the US Air Force had virtually leveled sixty-seven Japanese cities, destroying that country's ability to carry on the war, and Japanese diplomats were already seeking to arrange an armistice through neutral countries.

This myth about how the war ended is a companion piece to the one about how it began. With the seventieth anniversary coming up, it is a good time to review the events that led to the attack.

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Robert B. Stinnett dedicated his book, Day of Deceit, to John Ross, a Democratic member of Congress from California, who wrote the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that was signed into law by President Johnson on July 4, 1965. This Act made Stinnett's work possible as well as the work of many other truth tellers.

Published in 2000, Stinnett's book documents President Franklin D. Roosevelt's maneuvers to provoke Japan to attack us as well as demonstrating that FDR knew the attack was on its way. It was a surprise to millions here and abroad, but not to our president, several of his aides, and various military personnel. Even Winston Churchill knew.

Roosevelt had been re-elected for a third term in November 1940 by a huge landslide in spite of his preparations for war and false assurances that he would "never send our boys to war." In a meeting with the president a month before the election, Admiral James O. Richardson had not only strenuously objected to using Oahu as the base for the Pacific Fleet rather than San Diego, but had also disapproved of Roosevelt's willingness "to lose a cruiser or two" if Japan decided to retaliate against our harassing their shipping and naval operations. Consequently, he was relieved of his command on February 1, 1941, and replaced by Rear Admiral Husband E. Kimmel.

The information that Stinnett obtained through FOIA showed that the last straw for the Japanese had been Roosevelt's placing an embargo on shipments of petroleum products, iron, steel and metal products to Japan. Through first time interviews with radio intercept operators that he backs up with copies of the actual messages that military cryptographers decoded, translated, and analyzed, Stinnett shows incontrovertibly that FDR knew the Japanese fleet was headed to Honolulu.

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Many military figures as well as historians believe that US cryptographers did not crack Japanese codes until some months after Pearl Harbor. Stinnett's research shows that all the Japanese codes of which there were many had been broken before the war. Another belief that still circulates here is that the Japanese maintained a radio silence. Contrary to their orders, however, the fleet's commanders began communicating with one another almost immediately after getting underway.

From February through December 6th of 1941, Admiral Kimmel was kept out of the loop. He did not know that the Japanese planned to attack the US fleet that was clustered at Honolulu and he certainly was unaware of the date.

Stinnett describes the aftermath of the attack: "At 9:35 a.m. the Japanese ended their raid and began returning to their ships. They left a heavy toll on Oahu: there were 2,273 Army and Navy dead, 1,119 wounded. Of the 101 warships in the anchorage, sixteen suffered major damage. Five were permanently out of World War II: Utah, Oklahoma, Arizona, Cassin and Downes. The Army Air Force lost 96 planes and the Navy and Marine air bases lost 92." Close to a hundred civilians were killed by the shelling of the area by US warships.

Stinnett notes that the Japanese could have inflicted a more severe setback for the US if they had bombed the dry docks, repair capabilities, and machine shops and had blown up the oil reserves.

In his opening statement to Congress on Dec. 8th, President Roosevelt said, "Yesterday, December 7, 1941 -- a date which will live in infamy -- the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan." Within an hour, Congress issued a declaration of war.

The last of many official investigations came in 1995 at the behest of Kimmel's remaining son and grandsons. Both Kimmel and General Walter Short, Commander of the US Army's Hawaiian Department were made the scapegoats for the attack, demoted and disgraced. Their families wanted Congress to recognize their service to their country and to restore their rank posthumously. But as in previous investigations, the cover-up was never penetrated.

A partial exoneration, Wikipedia notes, came about when "on May 25, 1999, the U.S. Senate voted to recommend both officers be exonerated on all charges, citing 'denial to Hawaii commanders of vital intelligence available in Washington.'" But neither President Clinton nor President Bush chose to act on this recommendation.

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The picture of the Japanese that resulted from this "sneak" attack probably contributed to the acceptance by the American people of the decision to round up all Japanese including those of Japanese ancestry and imprison them in detention camps for the duration. A sad chapter in our history.

One might also say that another result was that FDR's willingness to sacrifice nearly 3000 lives in order to jolt the country into going to war was one more link in the chain of US presidents who have lied in order to be able to wage war.

Stinnett, himself, writes, "The wisdom and moral justification for the decision to provoke Japan into a bloody and terrible war that ultimately took millions of lives will be argued over for many years by people of good faith and from all political persuasio  


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Now retired and a writer, I am a feminist and political activist, a radical Democrat (have come to dislike the term "progressive"), and a blogger. Have done political tours of Cuba, Nicaragua, Honduras, West and East (way back when)Germany, China, (more...)

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