L. Neil Smith's
Number 250, December 7, 2003

Remember Pearl Harbor

Why no one cares what FDR knew about Pearl Harbor
by Anthony Gregory

Special to TLE

This December 7 marks the sixty-two year anniversary of the vicious attack on Pearl Harbor, in which more than two thousand American servicemen and scores of civilians died under the fire of Japanese warplanes, launching the United States into World War II.

In the six decades since then, many have advanced theories about what knowledge President Franklin Roosevelt may have had before the attack, despite his failure to do anything to prevent it. It is obvious by now that Roosevelt had wanted the United States to enter the war, and many historians agree that several U.S. government policies—such as cutting off Japan's trade in oil, and sending military operatives to battle the Japanese forces in China—could have been expected to provoke some sort of violence from Japan, which had initially appeared set on maintaining peaceful relations with America. Starved of oil and backed into a corner, the Japanese were pushed into lashing out at the sleeping giant across the Pacific.

Others have advanced more controversial theories, claiming that Roosevelt pursued these policies with the deliberate goal of inciting a retaliatory strike from Japan, and that the president even knew more-or-less when the Pearl Harbor attack would unfold. This theory has been most thoroughly and compellingly articulated by Robert Stinnett in his recent book, Day of Deceit. [Paperback] [Hardback]

And yet, many people, even after seeing the most convincing evidence of this, will still shrug their shoulders and yawn. It seems they believe FDR's prior knowledge of the Pearl Harbor attack is a minute detail in history that does not carry any particular significance. Never mind that it precipitated the entrance of the United States into a bloodbath that, by its end had eradicated tens of millions of people, including 400,000 Americans.

Why? Because the war wasn't fought just against a belligerent Japan; it was fought against an international fascist conspiracy to exterminate entire peoples and conquer the entire world. According to popular sentiment, America was stubbornly isolationist in the late 1930s and early 1940s, even as Europe and Asia desperately needed salvation from the mass butchering that plagued their landscapes and skylines. If it weren't for the bombing of Pearl Harbor—even if encouraged and facilitated by Roosevelt's lies—America would have stayed out, to the detriment of the future of world peace, freedom and democracy. The ends (saving the world from fascism) justified the means (Roosevelt's lies and American deaths), even if those lies were not originally told with humanitarian ends in mind.

Putting aside for now this monstrous issue, and avoiding a long discussion of World War II, we can look at what's going on today and draw some parallels. The most urgently convincing reason the Bush Administration gave for invading Iraq this past year was that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and he planned to use them against the United States, either on his own or by proxy through Islamist terrorists to whom he would supply the weapons. This was the reason to attack that sold the most Americans on the need to go to war. This is also the reason that so far has not been confirmed as genuine, causing American support of the war to drop significantly.

And yet, many hawks stand unperturbed by claims that the WMD story has not panned out. Many of them say it does not ultimately matter if Saddam had these weapons or planned to use them if he did. After all, the United States did liberate Iraq from a depraved, evil tyrant, did it not? The Iraqis and the world are better off now that Saddam is out of power, are they not?

Many people will buy this, and seek no further in excavating the truth behind the U.S. war on Iraq. Like Franklin Roosevelt's lies and distortions, any that Bush is guilty of pale in moral comparison to the evils that America's wars have vanquished abroad.

In fact, according to popular wisdom, America has the honor of this being the case in all the wars in our history.

  • Even if Abraham Lincoln suspended the Constitution, drafted soldiers, and used dictatorial powers against political dissidents to wage a war on the South in which more than six hundred thousand Americans perished—and even if his original reasons for doing so can be shown to be greedy and insufficient—the war ended slavery, which could not have ended any other way. The ends justify the means.

  • Even if Lyndon Johnson lied about the phony Gulf of Tonkin incident—and allowed tens of thousands of young Americans to die before the military they fought for eventually retreated in shameful defeat—it was still worth it. America's military presence in Vietnam stood up to the Communists, who absolutely needed standing up to. The ends justify the means.

The reasons for going to war are often no more than government lies. But we've been told our entire lives about all the evils defeated by the American military—slavery, Communism, Nazism, fascism. And in every lesson it is pointed out how many relatively minor evils the United States had to engage in to fight the wars—conscription, widespread prevarication, censorship, imprisonment of innocents. But the price was necessary. The ends justify the means.

So even if Americans become convinced that their government is lying to them about something having to do with war, they'll assume that the government is honest in its overall message about war: anything that the U.S. government does that is bad is done to stop something that is worse.

I suspect that many Americans have a natural aversion to war, and would advocate war only under what they consider extreme conditions. When they come to support a war under false pretenses, they do not want to be embarrassed and think their support was completely unjustified. So they have a penchant for maintaining that the war was good for previously unforeseen or previously undervalued reasons.

Perhaps many Americans cling to favorable attitudes toward past wars because they fear the weighty implications of facing the truth. The rich history of lies and deceptions orchestrated by the U.S. government during its wars is frightening.

It is no wonder most Americans don't care if Bush knew there was no real threat to America coming from Iraq.

And if they won't bother with the particulars of a war that's killing dozens of U.S. servicemen and women every month as I write this, how on earth can we expect them to care if FDR knew about Pearl Harbor?

We can't. Unfortunately, it will take an awful lot of work to make them start caring about things like this.

But I think we have to try.

Anthony Gregory is a musician and freelance writer living in Berkeley. Check out his webpage—www.AnthonyGregory.com—for more articles and personal information.


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