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Did FDR Provoke Pearl Harbor?

On Dec. 8, 1941, Franklin Roosevelt took the rostrum before a joint session of Congress to ask for a declaration of war on Japan.

A day earlier, at dawn, carrier-based Japanese aircraft had launched a sneak attack devastating the U.S. battle fleet at Pearl Harbor.

Said ex-President Herbert Hoover, Republican statesman of the day, “We have only one job to do now, and that is to defeat Japan.”

But to friends, “the Chief” sent another message: “You and I know that this continuous putting pins in rattlesnakes finally got this country bit.”

Today, 70 years after Pearl Harbor, a remarkable secret history, written from 1943 to 1963, has come to light. It is Hoover’s explanation of what happened before, during and after the world war that may prove yet the death knell of the West.

Edited by historian George Nash, Freedom Betrayed: Herbert Hoover’s History of the Second World War and Its Aftermath [1], is a searing indictment of FDR and the men around him as politicians who lied prodigiously about their desire to keep America out of war, even as they took one deliberate step after another to take us into war.

Yet the book is no polemic. The 50-page run-up to the war in the Pacific uses memoirs and documents from all sides to prove Hoover’s indictment. And perhaps the best way to show the power of this book is the way Hoover does it — chronologically, painstakingly, week by week.

Consider Japan’s situation in the summer of 1941. Bogged down in a four year war in China she could neither win nor end, having moved into French Indochina, Japan saw herself as near the end of her tether.

Inside the government was a powerful faction led by Prime Minister Prince Fumimaro Konoye that desperately did not want a war with the United States.

The “pro-Anglo-Saxon” camp included the navy, whose officers had fought alongside the U.S. and Royal navies in World War I, while the war party was centered on the army, Gen. Hideki Tojo and Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoka, a bitter anti-American.

On July 18, 1941, Konoye ousted Matsuoka, replacing him with the “pro-Anglo-Saxon” Adm. Teijiro Toyoda.

The U.S. response: On July 25, we froze all Japanese assets in the United States, ending all exports and imports, and denying Japan the oil upon which the nation and empire depended.

Stunned, Konoye still pursued his peace policy by winning secret support from the navy and army to meet FDR on the U.S. side of the Pacific to hear and respond to U.S. demands.

U.S. Ambassador Joseph Grew implored Washington not to ignore Konoye’s offer, that the prince had convinced him an agreement could be reached on Japanese withdrawal from Indochina and South and Central China. Out of fear of Mao’s armies and Stalin’s Russia, Tokyo wanted to hold a buffer in North China.

On Aug. 28, Japan’s ambassador in Washington presented FDR a personal letter from Konoye imploring him to meet.

Tokyo begged us to keep Konoye’s offer secret, as the revelation of a Japanese prime minister’s offering to cross the Pacific to talk to an American president could imperil his government.

On Sept. 3, the Konoye letter was leaked to the Herald-Tribune.

On Sept. 6, Konoye met again at a three-hour dinner with Grew to tell him Japan now agreed with the four principles the Americans were demanding as the basis for peace. No response.

On Sept. 29, Grew sent what Hoover describes as a “prayer” to the president not to let this chance for peace pass by.

On Sept. 30, Grew wrote Washington, “Konoye’s warship is ready waiting to take him to Honolulu, Alaska or anyplace designated by the president.”

No response. On Oct. 16, Konoye’s cabinet fell.

In November, the U.S. intercepted two new offers from Tokyo: a Plan A for an end to the China war and occupation of Indochina and, if that were rejected, a Plan B, a modus vivendi where neither side would make any new move. When presented, these, too, were rejected out of hand.

At a Nov. 25 meeting of FDR’s war council, Secretary of War Henry Stimson’s notes speak of the prevailing consensus: “The question was how we should maneuver them (the Japanese) into … firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves.”

“We can wipe the Japanese off the map in three months,” wrote Navy Secretary Frank Knox.

As Grew had predicted, Japan, a “hara-kiri nation,” proved more likely to fling herself into national suicide for honor than to allow herself to be humiliated.

Out of the war that arose from the refusal to meet Prince Konoye came scores of thousands of U.S. dead, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, the fall of China to Mao Zedong, U.S. wars in Korea and Vietnam, and the rise of a new arrogant China that shows little respect for the great superpower of yesterday.

If you would know the history that made our world, spend a week with Mr. Hoover’s book.

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#1 Comment By TomB On December 5, 2011 @ 8:16 pm

Interesting timing coming on the news of all those explosions and assassinations in Iran.

Hmmm…

#2 Comment By Libertarian Jerry On December 5, 2011 @ 8:45 pm

Well written Pat. At the time,behind the scenes, FDR wanted to maneuver Japan into attacking the U.S. This is because Japan had signed a military pact with Germany and Italy earlier and Roosevelt wanted to force Germany to honor its commitments to Japan by declaring war on America. Roosevelt’s real aim was to get America into the European war,and by doing so,save Europe,and especially Britain from Hitler and to recoup much of the money American bankers had lent England and earlier France at the beginning of the war. In the end all Roosevelt helped to accomplish was to smash the Nazi tyrants,but at the same time, allowed the Communist tyrants to overrun and rule most of Eastern Europe. Also by smashing Japan, American hegemony was established and cemented in place in the Pacific Basin. FDR was a master politician and megalomaniac who sought to “glorify” his position and place in history. Unfortunately, he achieved his glory over the corpses of tens of thousands of American servicemen and several million Japanese citizens.

#3 Comment By LarryS On December 5, 2011 @ 8:45 pm

Just like Lincoln maneuvered the South into firing the first shot at Fort Sumter.

#4 Comment By TheRightRadical On December 5, 2011 @ 9:37 pm

Thank you Mr. Buchanan for providing the truth instead of the propaganda that we have been indoctrinated in all our lives. No doubt the Flag Wrappers on right, and Globalist left will have a hissy fit, as the sunlight that should reach their brains is defected due to their poisoned ideologies, with this piece. Your intellectual courage is truly one of America’s best assets.

#5 Comment By tbraton On December 6, 2011 @ 7:59 am

“Unfortunately, he achieved his glory over the corpses of tens of thousands of American servicemen and several million Japanese citizens.”

Uh, you might want to try “hundreds of thousands,” the toll being slightly more than 400,000 American lives lost in both Europe and the Pacific.

#6 Comment By Sean Gillhoolley On December 6, 2011 @ 10:12 am

The provocation began earlier, in 1853. The US warships threatened Japan with destruction if it did not open its borders to trade with the USA. They realized that they had to modernize in order to retain their sovereignty, and with no oil in Japan, they were forced to try to secure sources within Asia. By the time the US was threatening to cutoff their oil, it was the last straw. They knew they could not defeat the USA, but they thought they might be able to withstand more suffering, which would get the US to back down.

#7 Comment By McGuinness McGee On December 6, 2011 @ 10:13 am

The poor dear Japanese! I suppors the 40% of all American Prisoners who died in Japanese prison camps were tragically given over-rich food by their tender-hearted captors.When, after the fall of Singapore, my uncle saw them torture an aged, senile Chinese to death by pouring bioling water over his head, they were actually intending to give him a nice bath,

#8 Comment By nathan On December 6, 2011 @ 10:15 am

This has been discussed any number of times. John Toland addressed this subject in one of his books and suggested one of the problems at the conference is that we the Americans were demanding that Japan leave all of China including Manchuria. They were not prepared to give up Manchuria so they had no choice but to go to war. Toland suggested this was an error in translation since Secretary of State Cordell Hull would later write that the United States had no interests concerning Manchuria.

FDR clearly knew that by cutting off all oil exports to Japan they would have to do something since the Dutch in what is now Indonesia were not going to provide an alternate supply. One question we never ask and is relevant today is what business was it of ours what the Japanese did in China? To be sure their actions were reprehensible, the rape of Nanking was ghastly, but did we have any strategic interests that would cause us to care what the Japanese did there? Not really.

The real what if is this. What if the Japanese instead of attacking us, had simply confined themselves to the Dutch and British possessions? That would have solved their oil problems and FDR would have lacked any pretext for going to war. Then what?

This has been discussed in at least one history magazine lately and no doubt will be discuss more. Especially since the Japanese even in 1941 had little expectation of winning any war against us. The choice FDR gave them was surrender, something that in their place we ourselves would not have done, or roll the dice and see what happens. The third alternative, only attacking the Dutch possessions was perhaps the only winning strategy they had.

#9 Comment By Publius Cato On December 6, 2011 @ 11:16 am

Oh blow off McGee, the horrors the Japanese visited upon their victims are inexcusable, but for the Roosevelt administration to blow off any good faith efforts to end Sino-Japanese War and bring peace in the Far East is shameful. Maybe if FDR and his coterie had been peace-makers and not hawks, maybe those American soldiers and occupied territories would not had suffered such barbarism.

#10 Comment By tbraton On December 6, 2011 @ 11:35 am

Of course, the real intention was to get the U.S. involved in the war with Europe, and that was only made possible by Hitler’s foolish decision to declare war against the U.S. a few days after Pearl Harbor. FDR’s original speech to Congress on Dec. 8, 1941 only asked for a declaration of war against Japan, and Congress’ declaraton of war only applied to Japan. Following Hitler’s declaration of war against the U.S., FDR happily sought and obtained from Congress another declaration of war against Germany and Italy on December 11.1941. Hitler was operating under the assumption that if Germany were to declare war against the U.S., Japan would also declare war against the U.S.S.R., opening up a second front in the far east of Russia. But Japan, apparently offended by the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939, refused to be as foolish as the Germans and did not declare war against the U.S.S.R. Japan did not want to fight a two-front war and was able to avoid it until the last days of WW II when the U.S.S.R. belatedly entered the war against Japan two days after Hiroshima.

#11 Comment By genetuttle On December 6, 2011 @ 11:58 am

In his largely sympathetic 1985 biography of FDR. Ted Morgan wrote:

“It is ironic that Roosevelt was accused of deceit in his Japanese policy, where there was no deceit, and of planning the attack on Pearl Harbor…while in his ‘Nazi threat in Latin America’ policy he was deceitful and used British forgeries but was not called to account for it. He invented imaginary threats in Latin America while disregarding real threats in the Pacific.”

The passages that preceded that also included a brief discussion of FDR’s “Gulf of Tonkin” like incident involving a German U-boat and the USS Greer (a destroyer) in early September 1941:

“There had been considerable provocation, for the Greer had trailed the sub for three hours, acting as a spotter for a British patrol plane.”

FDR “began working at once to make the most of the incident…The Greer was not much of an incident, but it was all FDR had, and he went with it on September 11…he gave his ‘shoot on sight’ fireside chat.. ‘when you see a rattlesnake poised to strike you do not wait until he has struck before you crush him…’

…the Atlantic Fleet was issued orders to escort convoys of any nationality and destroy any German or Italian forces they might encounter… But Hitler…told his admirals: No incidents.”

The latter was busy enough elsewhere.

#12 Comment By Don On December 6, 2011 @ 12:34 pm

McGee, what about all the innocent civilians killed by the fire bomb raids over Japan’s major cities? Are those lives worth less than the POWs?
Or are the lives of non-americans unimportant?
A now deceased relative used to participate in fighter sweeps over the Japanese home islands, and he used to enjoy telling how he and his fellow pilots used to enjoy looking for civilians of all ages to fire up with their .50 caliber machine guns. What fun!
Glad to have Mr. Buchanan back.

#13 Comment By Mr. Patrick On December 6, 2011 @ 2:39 pm

So the massive East Asian volksmarsch undertaken by the Japanese Empire in the thirties was just a simple mistake by some rowdy subalterns, one that they would have happily corrected by the end of 1941, if only we’d kept selling them fuel and scrap metal, for…strictly peaceful purposes?

What unfortunate timing on the part of Mr. Roosevelt, scheduling the bombing of Pearl just as the Japanese withdrawal was about to commence. And what an opportunity for the liberal internationalist war-mongers: Forcing guileless Japan into an erratic, reckless pattern of future behavior that lined up exactly with all her erratic, reckless past behavior. Fiendishly clever.

#14 Pingback By BOVARD » 70 Years After Pearl Harbor: New Book On FDR’s Lying Path to War On December 6, 2011 @ 4:17 pm

[…] Buchanan has an excellent column on George Nash’s new book -Freedom Betrayed: Herbert Hoover’s History of the Second World […]

#15 Comment By Red Phillips On December 6, 2011 @ 8:16 pm

“Did FDR Provoke Pearl Harbor?”

Yes.

#16 Comment By Publius Cato On December 7, 2011 @ 4:14 am

Mr. Patrick must be illiterate or insincere, because the evidence indicates that as late as September 1941, Japan was willing to accomodate American demands to end the embargo. In essence, the cooler heads in the Japanese government were winning. But when the US rejected all offers, the cooler heads here dismissed for the Japanese hawks. And considering the Roosevelt administration was stocked with understudies of the Wilson administration, is it any surprise?

#17 Comment By Rex On December 7, 2011 @ 9:32 am

I hope the title was just a rhetorical question. This was suspected even during the war and has been proven several times over since then. Read Robert Stinnett’s “Day of Deceit.” FDR couldn’t wait to get into the war and help his distant blue-blood cousin, Churchill. He didn’t care that it cost the lives of 3,000 people. (Sound familiar?) Those two bastards have the blood of millions on their hands.

#18 Comment By Ghost ARC On December 7, 2011 @ 12:02 pm

In order to accurately judge the one opinion, that this book is the end all be all proof of FDRs complicity and that the Japanese were going all peaceful, on must also read the massively researched book, “At Dawn We Slept”. It is the only study of the incident, and incident leading up to Pearl Harbor that interviewed nearly every living survivor of Pearl Harbor on both sides. The author, the S2 (intelligence officer) of MacAurthur,s occupation force, had full access to all of the surviving Japanese documents and wires.

Did FDR goad the Japanese? Of course. But how else was he to get an, at the time, isolationist USA into the war in Europe? That was his goal, and no one in power considered the Japanese a serious threat, except for Billy Mitchell (20 years earlier).

Did the Japanese want peace? To an extent. They were actively pursuing what they called the PanAsian Prosperity Sphere. It was to inclued China, Burma, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Guam, and the Philipines. And while that is a partial list, you can see their goals. Ultimately they also wanted part of Russia. However it was planned in methodical steps.

As for the attack, due to errors in time, translation of coded messages, and delivery, the declaration of war from Japan to us came after the attack. It was intended to arrive just prior. It was but one of many errors in communication that occured between the two nations in the run up.

And what were the Japanese plans? Attack the Fleet at Hawaii in order to knock us out of the Pacific for at least 6 months (hopefully) and storm over what they intended to capture, then sue for peace. Now it didn’t work out for them that way, but that was the plan.

As for FDR and the Russians. Well as we know, FDR was a progressive and wbile he didn’t like Stalin, he didn’t entirely disagree with Stalins form of government in theory. The only General we had that truely understood the Russian threat and want to take them on immediately was Patton. But that is another history lesson.

So in conclusion, was FDR a bastard? Yep. Did he maneuver the Japanese? Certainly. Was it because he wanted war with them? No. Was it because he felt the greater evil was NAZI Germany? Yes. And was it in some way neccesary in order to shake an isolationist USA out of its complacency? Sadly Yes.

I think this book isn’t the death knell of the west, but hopefully the death knell of the ridiculous worship of FDR as an almost godlike President. Also, we might learn that while war is bad, there are worse things than war. And also that once you let that genie out of its bottle, it is an unpredictable thing.

#19 Comment By Dohega On December 7, 2011 @ 2:39 pm

My dad served with the OSS in Latin America during World War II, and often told me the Nazi threat in South America was a real one. The OSS had their sights set on Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia and Chile. All these countries save Brazil did not openly declare war on Nazi Germany. Brazil fought with the Allies in Europe and the Pacific.

#20 Comment By dominick amendola On December 7, 2011 @ 4:13 pm

you’re damn right he did

#21 Pingback By Some Pearl Harbor Day Heresy – Hit & Run : Reason Magazine On December 7, 2011 @ 5:26 pm

[…] Conservative revives some old arguments about the foreign policy manuevers on the U.S.'s part that led up to Pearl Harbor, hooked off the new book Freedom Betrayed: Herbert Hoover's Secret History of the Second World […]

#22 Comment By Kyle On December 7, 2011 @ 7:01 pm

“So in conclusion, was FDR a bastard? Yep. Did he maneuver the Japanese? Certainly. Was it because he wanted war with them? No. Was it because he felt the greater evil was NAZI Germany? Yes. And was it in some way neccesary in order to shake an isolationist USA out of its complacency? Sadly Yes.”

Actually it wasn’t an Isolationist policy.. or an Isolationist USA.. if that was the case the USA wouldn’t have been trading with anyone or cared -at all- about what the world was doing. The US was non-interventionalist and no, no lives are ever worth going to war with another country. The body count will just get higher and everyone loses in the end.. even the winners suffer.

#23 Comment By BobbieMac On December 8, 2011 @ 12:08 am

Ghost ARC, I also read “At Dawn we Slept,” oft described as the “definitive” account of the Pearl Harbor assault, or I should say I tried to, as the ideological bias of the book was so profound I didn’t complete the last 150 pages or so.

I have a number of objections to the book, too numerous to mention here. Among them was that, while the authors were thorough in the treatment of the personalities involved, they had little insight in the military weaponry involved. The USA by late 1941 did have some modern ships and aircraft on hand. The battleships at Pearl were all WWI vintage and would have been sitting ducks in a running battle with surface ships of the Imperial Japanese Navy. However, the aircraft carriers based at Pearl, which he USN could not afford to lose, were rarely in port.

Likewise, few modern Army or navy aircraft were at Pearl, although by Dec. 1941 we had B-17E Fortresses, B-24 Liberators, B-25 Mitchell bombers, and the Curtiss P-40E, our primary interceptor.

In brief, the IJN destroyed little of value in the attack. Luck? Coincidence? Possibly, but far too many for credibility.

The Army Air corps was supposed to provide long range reconnaissance, but had only a handful of a/c suitable for the role.

While the authors cover some developments in exhaustive detail, others are ignored. On Dec. 2 for example a note from the Japanese Foreign Ministry was intercepted demanding day-by-day updates on the presence if US naval vessels, a clear indication an attack was imminent. The intercept was mailed on the 11th, reached DC on the 26th and was translated on the 30th. No further detail was offered.

The book does not take seriously any Japanese grievances leading up to the decision to attack. Prange argued the USA had every right to cut off Japans fuel supply. That is debatable, but that action made war between Japan and the USA a virtual certainty.

Because a book is long and offers minute detail does not make it good. Most reviewers did not critically evaluate At Dawn We Slept.

#24 Comment By Wilko Schutzendorf On December 8, 2011 @ 10:33 am

Dohega:

Sorry to tell you, but your dad is completely wrong. Even if the Nazis had their sights on South America, they lacked the assets to pose a threat.
Germany was fighting a two front war in Europe and facing the US navy in the Atlantic. What would they have used to attack South America with? Zeppelins?

#25 Comment By Grand Republic On December 8, 2011 @ 10:47 am

Wonderful column by Pat!But I see,even on here,we see the ‘politically correct’,Old Left.rubbish,turned into conservatative flag waving cliche’s about’threats’,and tryanny’s. World War2, ruined the West,allied with Stalin-Mao,the predetory world government,and true tyranny, known as the British Empire(Hitler did not want to fight) and turned the world over to the bankers,killed off millions of the finest people,destroyed timeless tresures,and enshrined a social order which is spinning the planet into deeper decline in every way.All started by a Britain,declaring war on Germany who was having a just border dispute with a Poland/revising Versailles, and trying to keep the Soviets at bay. and another;Japan seeking resources it could not obtain fairly,for its survival.Until that war is debunked as glorious,and explained as the ugly thing that it was.The hatreds,and lies defused.We will continue to live in a perpetual cycle of never ending wars for the same destructive elites, causeses and selfish groups. Thankyou PJB!

#26 Comment By Luc le Gascon On December 9, 2011 @ 5:17 pm

“Bon texte” from Pat Buchanan ! “Merci.

But let’s imagine this:

-America stays out of WWII, meaning it doesn’t put all its technological energies and resources into its US military and armement sectors to fight immediately a major war.
-Germany continues its attacks in Europe, especially in the USSR. -We’re now in 1945 and the Russians are still fighting on like crazy in defending the immense lands of “Holy Russia” (even if, by then, Leningrad and Stalingrad have been captured by the Nazi forces). -Germans scientists are the first to develop the atomic weapon in 1945 (or before since no US bombers and other airplanes were disrupting their military and technological capacity inside Germany). With their V2 (or V3 or V4 with a longer range!) rockets, they – alone! – now possess the ultimate weapon. That probably means a quick win for Germany in Eastern Europe.
-Hitler, after forcing England and others on the Old Continent and Northern Africa to capitulate (the other option: “atomization”!), sends America (and Canada, my country), who was still months away from developing its own atomic weapon, an ultimatum!

Thank God, our continent never faced such a threat!

Luc
Montréal, Canada

#27 Comment By Peter Rocco Terminello On December 12, 2011 @ 7:40 am

I believe that Pearl Harbor was known to FDR and the Butcher of Britain, Winston Churchill. The Britis had broken the German code and FDR knew it, yet they let Pearl Harbor happen. Churchill has a history of sacrificing lives both soldiers and innocent civilians. He let the Germans bomb Coventry rather than stop it and show the Germans they had broken their code. He let the Lusitania be sunk to get the USA in World War I claiming it had no weapons on board when in fact it was loaded. He set up the passangers to be killed in what was a legitimate target. He sent the Black and Tans into Ireland to murder civilians. He happy about Pearl Harbor because it brought the U.S. into the war. He is the ultimate war criminal. There is a saying that before Hitler, there was Churchill. They both wouyld win at any price and were glad to shed other peoples blood.

#28 Comment By JonF On December 14, 2011 @ 6:29 pm

Regardless, the US and Japan were bound to clash at some point. The Japanese were aggressive imperialists expanding into territory that the US considered its “near abroad” and sooner or later the collision would happen. Blaming it on FDR is silly– when the fault lies with the Japanese leadership. The US could have been led by Caspar Milquetoast, Gandhi and Mother Teresa and war would still have come.

#29 Comment By Herman King On December 31, 2011 @ 11:12 am

The worst presidents in history are regarded as the best by pointy-headed liberal professors. When a student graduates from college he/she needs to be deprogrammed.

#30 Pingback By Kourosh Ziabari and Fars News Agency of Iran: A Conversation with Mark Dankof on Israel and 9-11 | As I See It On September 18, 2012 @ 9:18 pm

[…] with Robert Stinnett’s book on FDR and Pearl Harbor entitled, “Day of Deceit,” and Pat Buchanan’s review of Herbert Hoover’s diary on FDR and Pearl Harbor, should contextualize how ominous this reference really […]

#31 Comment By jessethebuilder On December 12, 2012 @ 4:21 pm

For this theory to hold together, you have to argue that giving the Japanese fascists (at the time) oil and steel to continue their imperial genocide campaigns (which had been going on for decades) constitutes a “provocation.”

It’s like saying if we don’t give Al Qaeda bombs, we are provoking them into attacking us. It is exactly like saying that, excepts with fascists instead of terrorists.

This argument was made at the time. Many of these people were also arguing against intervening in Europe. You can hear FDR chide these people in the famous and essential ‘FALA’ Speech.