The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor

Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor

Whitten, Robert C

Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor by Robert B. Stinnett. New York: The Free Press, 2000 (pp. 386 – $26.00).

Charges that President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration hid knowledge of the attack of an impending Japanese attack on Hawaii date all the way back to to the 1950s. In mid-decade, Rear Admiral Robert A. Theobald published his version of the events which pointed a finger at the President. His claims were largely dismissed at the time because it was inconceivable that an American President would deliberately hazard American lives in such a way. Moreover, his documentation was scanty. Later, all of the Japanese records were perused by American historians and were described and evaluated in great detail in such works as At Dawn We Slept (Gordon W. Prange, Penguin Books, 1981) and Japan Prepares for Total War (Michael Barnhart, Cornell Univserity Press, 1987). However, they did not yet have access to the corresponding American archives, so they could not assess the role of the Roosevelt administration in hiding intelligence of the attack if they did in fact have such knowledge.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) permitted this lack of American documentation to be rectified to a considerable degree (the U.S. Navy still refuses to declassify some records for reasons that are unclear). Robert Stinnett has taken advantage of the FOIA to pry loose from the national archives numerous documents related to the national intelligence of that era and has put many conjectures to rest (e.g., that the Japanese attack force observed radio silence — its commanders did not). We are now in possession of indisputable evidence that Roosevelt deliberately took us into World War II by goading both the Japanese and the Germans. The reader should be aware that prospects for victory by Nazi Germany appeared almost certain in the summer of 1940. The situation became worse as the Japanese took advantage of the May-June 1940 defeat of France to force their way into what was then Indo-China. The case for bringing the United States into the war was a strong one.

Sufficient evidence to support the claim that Roosevelt engineered a Japanese attack on American forces somewhere was in the public domain long before Stinnett wrote his book. The big question is: “Did FDR know in advance about the Pearl Harbor attack and withhold such knowledge from his commanders in Hawaii?” Based on Stinnett’s evidence, the reader may well say “yes.” Still, a word of caution is in order. Washington in 1941, indeed throughout the New Deal years, was a place of chaos. Agencies worked at cross purposes and information flow left much to be desired.

Incompetence in high places was not unusual, and here the author completely neglects the intelligence failure of Rear Admiral Richmond Kelly “Terrible” Turner, the director of the War Plans Division of the naval staff. In short, Stinnett makes a convincing case that Roosevelt knew that war was coming in the Pacific and roughly when, but he did not convince this reviewer that the President knew about the Pearl Harbor attack before it occurred. These reservations aside, Day of Deceit is an important addition to the literature of the workings of our political establishment on the eve of war.

Reviewed by Robert C. Whitten Book Review Editor

Copyright Dr. George Kourvetaris Winter 2001

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