FDR's Watergate: Pearl Harbor


Watergate is now a synonym for political pollution. It symbolizes the corruption inherent in all distended political power. Nixon and his henchmen have been exposed. History will record their infamy. Franklin D. Roosevelt, his New Deal, and his war cabal escaped such exposure. Unfortunately, there are still folks who consider these warmongering corrupters of the free society to be heroes who rescued us from a depression as well as from Hitler's national socialism. As a result, we are still treading further down the national socialist path toward the complete destruction of the economic freedom on which American greatness was built.

Political intervention and corruption certainly predated the New Deal. It was the New Dealers, however, who rewrote the Constitution so as to permit Washington to print unlimited quantities of paper money and issue endless regulations of our daily lives. F.D.R. was not one to admit failure. As each domestic New Deal intervention failed to produce the desired results, he would divert public attention with an announcement of some daring new intervention. With as many unemployed in 1939 as when he took office, he tried a new tack—intervention in international affairs. Like Hitler, F.D.R. decided to divert attention from his domestic failures by blaming some "foreign devils."

The complicities, duplicities and mendacities that took us into World War II are far more complex than those of Watergate. There are some similarities, however. In both cases the President surrounded himself with bright young men who became blind followers of the "great man" as well as some who were infused with a self-righteous lust for improving the world by imposing their ideas on those who did not agree with them. In their view, their leader had all the right answers and the opposition had to be squelched by any means available.

The 1945-46 Hearings Before the Joint Committee on the Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack, with all its exhibits, ran to 45 volumes. There was much duplication and irrelevant pettifoggery, while officialdom was successful in suppressing much that was highly relevant. Files could not be released. Key witnesses got sick and others were kept from appearing. For 30 years now, significant tidbits of pertinent data have emerged in private memoirs and foreign government releases. A full documented story would run to many volumes. Attempts to suppress the full truth would take many more.

It should be noted, however, that the wartime "coverup" was actually legitimate. The U.S. government could not let the Japanese know it was reading their codes. Actually, the Pacific war was largely won with the help of the decoded Japanese messages—their top admiral was thus shot down and U.S. attacks were concentrated on their revealed stray ships and weak spots. With V-J Day, all legitimate need for any further coverup vanished. Nevertheless, the administration remained adamant in its coverup efforts. With the majority of Congress and the press on its side, the administration was far more successful than Mr. Nixon and his loyal cohorts. There was then no TV to expose to the general public the details and evasions that became evident to the few spectators able to jam the Senate Caucus Room each day.

A short article cannot tell the whole story. It can only present a brief summary of what is now known. That should be sufficient to revise the common misconceptions of this calamity.


Like other historical events, the Pearl Harbor story proceeds out of prior events. In this case, we must start with two little considered facts. The first is the long existing rivalry of Japan and Russia for economic dominance, if not total political control, of Manchuria and large areas of China. Russia desired warm water ports in areas capable of helping with her development of Siberia. Japan needed a source of raw materials, a market for her cheap mass-produced goods, and a larger land area for her growing population.

The second is that after 1917 this rivalry became a contest between a basically communist country and a relatively capitalist country. Japan, aping the United States, was being westernized and felt she had a sort of "Monroe Doctrine" over noncommunist Asia. In wars with China (1894-95) and Russia (1904-5), Japan won economic concessions in Manchuria and northern China. She had brought relative prosperity to those areas, while the bulk of China remained plagued with marauding war generals whose plundering activities made industrial development impossible and agricultural production rather risky.

Ever since the Boxer Rebellion (1899-1900), the Western powers had generally recognized that no existing Chinese government was capable of protecting foreign interests in China. The Western powers thus informally protected the lives and property of each other's citizens. Japan considered herself a member of this group. In this atmosphere, the "Commies" stirred up animosities against the capitalist-leaning Japanese. This inevitably led to the Manchurian incident of 1931. Japan sent troops to protect her interests. She fully expected the Western powers to be sympathetic to her cause. Undoubtedly, some Japanese Army hotheads went beyond acceptable standards in their attempts to quell the anti-Japanese and anticapitalistic feelings that the "Commies" had aroused.


At that time the U.S. Secretary of State was Henry L. Stimson, a man with a long and checkered career. He started out as a trustbusting district attorney under Teddy Roosevelt. Later, as Secretary of War under President Taft, he participated in an Army imbroglio. Then, under President Coolidge, he stirred up trouble in Nicaragua before being appointed Commissioner General of the Philippine Islands. At that time, he wrote a relative: "I am Governor General and an Oriental Potentate. All I have to do is express a wish and it is taken as the law of the Medes and Persians."

He considered himself a sort of godfather of the Filipinos. Feeling that they needed protection from Japan, he opposed their freedom from the United States. In 1929 he accepted President Hoover's appointment as Secretary of State, as a means to protect the Philippines and all of Asia from the nation he hated—Japan. When the Manchurian incident developed, he asked President Hoover to threaten Japan. The Secretary of War advised that this might mean war. President Hoover felt and stated that this country would not go to war over the Far East.

Secretary Stimson then turned his attention to the League of Nations, to which the U.S. did not belong. He persuaded the League to appoint the Lytton Commission to investigate the incident. He then placed one of his lackeys, Frank R. McCoy, on this Commission to dominate it. The Commission found Japan at fault in Manchuria and Stimson persuaded the League to adopt the report. Whereupon Japan, dismayed, walked out of the League. Thus, Mr. Stimson played a key role in opening the breach between Japan and the Western nations.

After the 1932 election of Franklin D. Roosevelt, there was considerable bitterness between the outgoing and incoming Presidents. Nevertheless, Stimson went to Hyde Park to sell Roosevelt his anti-Japanese policies. On March 4, 1933, Mr. Stimson ostensively retired to private life. He kept his Washington estate, however, visiting it frequently for intimate chats with the anti-Japanese clique he had placed in the State Department. He kept on very friendly terms with the new Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, and had occasional lunches with the President. As late as May 1940, he lunched with F.D.R. to check on his anti-Japanese sympathies.


About this time, F.D.R. decided that this country and the world could not get along without his continuing leadership. He decided to break the two-term tradition. To win, he sought a unified country. He asked the 1936 Republican Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates to join his Cabinet. Mr. Landon refused, but Mr. Knox accepted and became F.D.R.'s Secretary of Navy.

While looking for a prominent Republican to replace his antiwar Secretary of War, Mr. Roosevelt read in the New York Times of June 19, 1940, an account of a radio speech given by Mr. Stimson entitled "America's Interest in the British Fleet." That afternoon he phoned Mr. Stimson and invited him to join his Cabinet as Secretary of War. Before accepting, Stimson made sure that F.D.R. was in sympathy with his prowar policies. F.D.R. assured him he was. Shortly after Stimson's confirmation, an embargo was put on shipments of aviation gas to Japan. From then on, the United States rushed pell-mell into war, although for some months the voting public was told otherwise.

During the 1940 election campaign Mr. Roosevelt posed as the apostle of peace. Typical of his campaign speeches were such words as these on October 23, 1940:

To Republicans and Democrats, to every man, woman and child in the nation, I say this: Your President and your Secretary of State are following the road to peace.

We are arming ourselves not for any foreign war.

We are arming ourselves not for any purpose of conquest or intervention in foreign disputes. I repeat again that I stand on the Platform of our Party:

We will not participate in foreign wars and we will not send our army, naval or air forces to fight in foreign lands outside of the Americas except in case of attack.…

It is for peace that I have labored; and it is for peace that I shall labor all the days of my life.

A week later he phrased it:

I give you one more assurance. I have said before, but I shall say it AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN. Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.

In closing his campaign, the Saturday before election, he told the electorate: "Your President says this country is not going to war."

Meanwhile, behind closed doors, the British were being assured that help would come after the elections. The Government then operated on a "cash and carry" neutrality basis. The French had fallen and the British were running out of money. Without British orders, millions of Americans would lose their jobs. So in his first press conference after the election, F.D.R. proposed what was later known as Lend Lease. While Congress was debating and passing this legislation, British officers were secretly meeting in Washington with top U.S. military personnel to coordinate war plans. Secret unconstitutional agreements were reached which were later approved and put into effect.


On May 27, 1941, F.D.R. proclaimed an unlimited national emergency. On June 22, Germany invaded Russia and shortly thereafter Lend Lease aid was extended to the U.S.'s newly-acquired "peace-loving" Communist allies. On July 7, the United States occupied Iceland.

After the fall of France, chaos broke out in French Indochina. Worried about her rice supply, Japan requested permission of the Vichy French to occupy that area. On July 21, the powerless French acquiesced. This inflamed Messrs. Hull, Stimson and Roosevelt. On July 25, the United States froze all Japanese assets in the United States and the following day the British followed suit.

That same day, July 26, F.D.R. initiated a new policy for the Far East. He nationalized the Philippine armed forces, and placed General MacArthur in charge of the Far East forces. Up until that time, it had been thought that a war in the Far East meant the loss of the Philippines. With the new four-engine B-17 bombers, however, Washington officials felt the U.S. could not only defend the Philippines against attack, but that it could also initiate a pincer movement against Japan if the Russians would permit American use of Vladivostock or Kamchatka airfields. It was thought that U.S. planes flying across Japan could knock her out in short order. This plan was assigned first call on all available B-17's. As new ones became available they were rushed to the Philippines along with those previously assigned to the Hawaiian Islands.

Alarmed about events, F.D.R. asked Churchill to meet him off Argentia, Newfoundland. The British Prime Minister brought with him an ultimatum which he asked F.D.R. to send Japan. While this was the major subject of the conversations, a "coverup" of such collusion was considered necessary. Upon F.D.R.'s return, the American public was given pictures of Messrs. Churchill and Roosevelt attending church on a battleship and was told the main business was the drafting of the "Atlantic Charter" and the Four Freedoms.


Official Australian papers now tell us:

In private conference, however, Roosevelt indicated to Churchill that because he was uncertain that he could carry Congress with him in a declaration of war, and because more time was needed to strengthen America's forces, he must seek to delay a break with Japan. He nevertheless agreed to issue a warning, also on the lines of a Churchill draft, that any further Japanese encroachment in the south-west Pacific would produce a situation in which the United States would be compelled to take counter-measures, even though these might lead to war. Though Churchill had hoped for more, he was well pleased.

Upon his return to Washington, Mr. Roosevelt summoned the Japanese Ambassador and then sent this secret message to Churchill:

On August 17, I sent for the Japanese Ambassador and the Secretary of State and I received him. I made to him a statement covering the position of this government with respect to the taking by Japan of further steps in the direction of military domination by force along the lines of the proposed statement such as you and I had discussed. The statement I made to him was no less vigorous than and was substantially similar to the statement we had discussed.

Meanwhile in both Japan and the United States there was an increasing debate between their respective "peace parties" and "war parties." The peace group was in power in Japan and they made every effort to come to amicable terms with the United States, which refused all their overtures. Their Prime Minister offered to meet with President Roosevelt. Messrs. Stimson and Hull were violently opposed to such a meeting. They were afraid Mr. Roosevelt might weaken and come to terms with Japan. So this attempt for an amicable settlement was squashed. This failure led to the fall of the Japanese Cabinet and the tide turned with their War Minister becoming Prime Minister.

In Washington, the economic squeeze was being tightened on Japan. F.D.R. was receiving regular visits from a Naval Intelligence officer with the latest estimates of Japan's supplies of vital materials. This officer, reading the Japanese equivalent of the Congressional Record, knew from the subsidies paid how much oil and other vital raw materials Japan had in storage. (After the war this officer checked and found that his estimate of Japan's oil was off by only about two percent.) From these data, he could advise F.D.R. how well his strangulation policy was working. He could also estimate how soon and in what direction Japan would have to move for her survival. In the fall of 1941, F.D.R. thus knew that Japan would soon have to strike out for the oil of the Dutch East Indies.


With Japan considered the "enemy," U.S. cryptographers concentrated their efforts on breaking the top Japanese diplomatic code. In August 1940, they succeeded. From that time on, U.S. officials read all messages between Tokyo and Japanese diplomats all over the world. Early in 1941, over the objections of the Navy Department, this capacity was given to the British. Secretary Hull didn't find this out until some time later and was much provoked to learn that the British had been reading all the details of U.S. negotiations with the Japanese. It should be noted, however, that the British gave the U.S. Government access to some German codes in exchange.

The U.S. had been reading a lesser Japanese code, their Consular Code, for quite some time. On September 24, Tokyo requested the Japanese Consul in Honolulu to start reporting on the location of American warships in Pearl Harbor. This message was picked up in Hawaii and mailed to Washington, but was not decoded and read until October 9. Other messages in this series, known as the "bomb plot" messages, were similarly delayed. The November 29 message, read in Washington on December 5, said:

We have been receiving reports from you on ship movements, but in future will you also report even when there are no movements.

One sent on December 2 was not read until after the attack. It read:

In view of the present situation, the presence in port of warships, airplane carriers and cruisers is of the utmost importance. Hereafter, to the utmost of your ability, let me know day by day. Wire me in each case whether or not there are any observation balloons over Pearl Harbor or whether there are any indications that they will be sent up. Also advice (sic) me whether or not the warships are provided with anti-mine nets.

None of this information was ever sent to the Hawaiian commanders, nor were their intelligence men asked to decode these messages. U.S. cryptographers in Hawaii were then actively trying to break the Japanese Navy code. Every day dozens of important messages were read in Washington, but little, if any, pertinent information was passed on to the Hawaiian commanders. There were some who felt this dereliction was purposeful.


The Pacific Fleet had been sent out to Hawaii for its 1940 maneuvers, expecting to return shortly to the west coast. F.D.R. kept it there. Adm. Jo Richardson returned to Washington twice, advising that the Fleet be brought back to the west coast. He informed F.D.R. that it wasn't equipped for war, lacked adequate protection, and in case of war would have to return to the west coast to be properly fitted out. Admiral Richardson was relieved. All top Army and Navy officers were thus put on notice that their professional training and understanding must bow to the wishes of their amateur Commander in Chief who believed he was threatening the Japanese. Admiral Kimmel assumed command early in 1941. He spent all of 1941 training new men and requesting material needed for the defense of the Fleet. Needless to say he did not get it.

While the Fleet was in Pearl Harbor, it was the Army's duty to protect it. General Short had this assignment. He, too, requested materiel time and time again for the protection of the Fleet and of the Islands. Those in Washington thought it more important to give available supplies to the British, the Chinese, and the Russian Communists. As a consequence, Hawaii lacked the radar, reconnaissance planes, and anti-aircraft guns it needed to protect the Fleet. The needs of others were considered more important than the safety of the needlessly exposed U.S. Fleet.

As November 1941 opened, Secretary of State Hull feared a tough stand with Japan might lead to war. He asked the advice of those in charge of the U.S. Army and Navy. Secretary of War Stimson, while anxious to go to war with Japan, wanted to put it off until at least February, by which time he thought he would have enough troops and planes in the Philippines to make short shrift of the Japanese, so he was willing to bid for time.

On November 3, 1941, the Joint Army and Navy Board, with 25 top Army, Navy, and Air Corps officers present, met behind closed doors. Its minutes show that it opened with a statement:

that on August 17th the President had issued an ultimatum to Japan that it would be necessary for the United States to take action in case of further Japanese aggression.…Hull was of the opinion there was no use to issue any additional warnings to Japan, if we can't back them up and he desired to know if the military authorities would be prepared to support further warnings by the State Department.…

Admiral Ingersoll felt that the State Department was under the impression that Japan could be defeated in military action in a few weeks. General Marshall felt the information he had indicated the Japanese authorities might be expecting to decide upon the national policy by November 5th. He emphasized the danger of moving Army Air Forces away from the Philippines.…It was his belief that by the middle of December the Army Forces in the Philippines would be of an impressive strength and this of itself would have a deterrent effect on Japanese operations.…Until powerful U.S. forces had been built up in the Far East, it would take some very clever diplomacy to save the situation.…U.S. policy should be to make certain minor concessions which the Japanese could use in saving face. These concessions might be a relaxation on oil restrictions or on similar trade restrictions.


Following these discussions, the Board adopted a proposal that:

the War and Navy Departments prepare a memorandum for the President, as a reply to the State Department's proposed policy in the Far Eastern situation. Among other things the memorandum would:

Oppose the issuance of an ultimatum to Japan.…

Advocate State Department action to put off hostilities with Japan as long as possible.

Suggest agreements with Japan to tide the situation over for the next several months.

Point out the effect and cost of a United States-Japanese war in the Far East on defense aid to Great Britain and other nations being aided by the United States.

Emphasize the existing limitations on shipping and the inability of the United States to engage in a Far Eastern offensive operation without the transfer of the major portion of shipping facilities from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

The next day top U.S. officials in Washington read a Tokyo message to the Japanese Ambassadors in Washington. It read, in part:

Relations between Japan and the United States have reached the edge and our people are losing confidence in ever adjusting them.…

Conditions…are so tense that no longer is procrastination possible, yet in our sincerity to maintain pacific relations…we have decided…to gamble once more…But this is our last effort. If we do not reach a quick accord…then, indeed will relations between our two nations be on the brink of chaos. I mean that the success or failure of the pending discussions will have an immense effect on the destiny of the Empire of Japan. In fact, we gamble the fate of our land on the throw of this die.

Then on November 5, 1941, Chief of Staff George C. Marshall and Chief of Naval Operations Harold R. Stark sent the President a joint "Estimate Concerning Far Eastern Situation." It read, in part:

The Secretary of State has requested advice as to the attitude this government should take toward a Japanese offensive against Kunming and the Burma Road.…

The question that the Chief of Naval Operations and the Chief of Staff have taken under consideration is whether or not the United States is justified in undertaking offensive military operations with U.S. forces against Japan to prevent her from severing the Burma Road. They consider that such operations, however well-disguised, will lead to war.…

The United States Fleet in the Pacific is inferior to the Japanese Fleet and cannot undertake an unlimited strategic offensive in the Western Pacific.…To do so, it would have to be strengthened by withdrawing practically all naval vessels from the Atlantic.…

The current plans for war against Japan in the Far East are to conduct defensive war in cooperation with the British and Dutch, for the defense of the Philippines and the British and Dutch East Indies. The Philippines are now being reinforced. The present combined naval, air and ground forces will make attack on the islands a hazardous undertaking. By about the middle of December, 1941, United States air and submarine strength in the Philippines will have become a positive threat to any Japanese operation south of Formosa. The U.S. Army air forces in the Philippines will have reached the projected strength by February or March 1942. The potency of this threat will have then increased to a point where it might well be a deciding factor in deterring Japan in operations in the areas south and west of the Philippines. By this time, additional British naval and air reinforcements to Singapore will have arrived. The general defensive strength of the entire southern areas against possible Japanese operation will then have reached impressive proportions.…

The Chief of Naval Operations and the Chief of Staff are in accord with the following conclusions:

(a) The basic military policies and strategy agreed to in the United States-British staff conversations remain sound.…

(b) War between the United States and Japan should be avoided while building up defensive forces in the Far East and until such time as Japan attacks or directly threatens territories whose security to the United States is of great importance. Military action against Japan should be undertaken only in one or more of the following contingencies:

(1) A direct act of war by Japanese armed forces against the territory or mandated territory of the United States, the British Commonwealth or the Netherland East Indies;

(2) The movement of Japanese forces into Thailand to the west of 100° East or 10° North; or into the Portuguese Timor, New Caledonia, or the Loyalty Islands.

(c) If war with Japan cannot be avoided, it should follow the strategic lines of existing war plans; i.e., military operations should be primarily defensive, with the object of holding territory and weakening Japan's economic position.

(d) A Japanese advance against Kunming,…or an attack on Russia, would not justify intervention by the United States against Japan.

(e) All possible aid short of actual war should be extended to the Chinese Central Government.

(f) In case it is decided to undertake war against Japan, complete coordinated action in the diplomatic, economic, and military fields, should be undertaken in common by the United States, the British Commonwealth and the Netherlands East Indies.

The Chief of Naval Operations and the Chief of Staff…based on the above…recommend:

That the dispatch of United States armed forces for intervention against Japan in China be disapproved.

That material aid to China be accelerated consonant with the needs of Russia, Great Britain and our own forces.

That aid to the American volunteer group be continued and accelerated to the maximum practical extent.


(Signed) G.C. Marshall, Chief of Staff

H.R. Stark, Chief of Naval Operations


That same day top U.S. officials in Washington read a cable from Tokyo to their Washington representatives:

Because of various circumstances, it is absolutely necessary that all arrangements for the signing of this agreement be completed by the 25th of this month. I realize this is a difficult order, but under the circumstances it is an unavoidable one. Please understand this thoroughly and tackle the problem of saving the Japanese-United States relations from falling into a chaotic condition. Do so with great determination and with unstinted effort, I beg of you.

This information is to be kept strictly to yourself only.

Then on November 22, another message from Tokyo was coded and translated. It stated:

It is awfully hard for us to consider changing the date we set.…You should know this. However, I know you are working hard. Stick to your fixed policy and do your very best. Spare no efforts and try to bring about the solution we desire. There are reasons beyond your ability to guess why we wanted to settle Japanese-American relations by the 25th, but if within the next three or four days you can finish your conversations with the Americans; if the signing can be completed by the 29th (let me write it out—twenty ninth); if the pertinent notes can be exchanged; if we can get an understanding with Great Britain and the Netherlands and in short if everything can be finished we have decided to wait until that date. This time we mean it, that the deadline absolutely cannot be changed. After that things are automatically going to happen. Please take this into your careful consideration and work harder than you ever have before.


A November 25 meeting at the White House was recorded in Mr. Stimson's diary as follows:

The President brought up the event that we were likely to be attacked perhaps (as soon as) next Monday, for the Japanese are notorious for making an attack without warning, and the question was what we should do. The question was how we should maneuver them into the position of firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves. It was a difficult proposition.…I pointed out to the President that he had already taken the first steps towards an ultimatum in notifying Japan way back last summer that if she crossed the border into Thailand she was violating our safety and that therefore we had only to point out (to Japan) that to follow any such expedition was a violation of a warning we had already given.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials had prepared a proposed modus vivendi which would allow Japan to import her needs for 90 days, without adding to her stockpiles while negotiations were continued. This modus vivendi was approved by the British, the Dutch, the Australians, the Canadians and by the top U.S. people in Washington. It was to be offered Japan with some hopes that they might accept it and give the United States time to be ready in the Philippines.

Just as it was to be sent, the Communists stepped into the picture. (See the author's "The Real Infamy of Pearl Harbor" in the December 1974 issue of Southern Libertarian Review.) Owen Lattimore, then an advisor to Chiang Kai-shek, sent an objecting cable to Lauchlin Currie, a confidential advisor to Roosevelt. He apparently put similar pressure on Churchill and the Chinese Ambassador in Washington. The latter went to Harry Dexter White, who went to his chief, Secretary of the Treasury Morgenthau, who went to the White House with the story that this would be letting China down. Secretary Hull was called to the White House and it was decided to discard the modus vivendi and send an ultimatum which everyone knew Japan could not accept.


Secretary Stimson's diary for November 27, 1941, reads:

A very tense long day. News is coming in of a concentration and movement south by the Japanese of a large expeditionary force moving south from Shanghai and evidently headed toward Indochina, with a possibility of going to the Philippines or to Burma, or to the Burma Road, or to the Dutch East Indies, but probably a concentration to move over to Thailand and to hold a position from which they can attack Singapore when the moment arrives.

The first thing in the morning I called up Hull to find out what his finale had been with the Japanese—whether he had handed them the new proposal which we passed on 2 or 3 days ago or whether, as he suggested yesterday he would, he broke the whole matter off.…As he put it, "I have washed my hands of it and it is now in the hands of you and Knox—the Army and Navy." I then called up the President. The President gave me a little different view. He said they had ended up, but they had ended up with a magnificent statement prepared by Hull.…

Knox and Admiral Stark came over and conferred with me and General Gerow. Marshall is down at the maneuvers today and I feel his absence very much. There was a tendency, not unnatural, on the part of Stark and Gerow to seek for more time. I said that I was glad to have time but I didn't want it at any cost of humility on the part of the United States or of reopening the thing which would show a weakness on our part. The main question has been over the message we shall send to MacArthur.

A message was drafted and sent to MacArthur over the signature of Marshall, who was out of town. A similar message was sent to General Short in Hawaii as well as the commanders at the Panama Canal and on the West Coast. The Navy also sent a November 27 war-warning message to their top officers in the Far East with a copy to the top U.S. Navy man in London. It stated, in part:

The number and equipment of Japanese troops and the organization of naval task forces indicates an amphibious expedition against either the Philippines, Thai or Kra Peninsula or possibly Borneo. Execute an appropriate defensive deployment preparatory to carrying out the tasks assigned in WPL-46.…

The Army message directed General Short "to undertake such reconnaissance as you deem necessary but these measures should be carried out so as not, repeat not, to alarm civil population or disclose intent. Report measures taken.…"


Upon its receipt, General Short called a meeting of his staff. They decided to go on the alert for sabotage. Accordingly he wired back to Washington:


This was received in Washington on the 27th and was initialled by both Stimson and Marshall. Under Army regulations then in effect, when an officer reported an action taken with which his superior was in disagreement, the superior officer was required to issue new orders. Marshall issued no further orders. Consequently Short remained on the sabotage alert right until the time of the attack. This called for bunching the planes and hiding the ammunition.

On November 28, G-2 Washington sent a message to G-2 Hawaii to be on the alert for sabotage. The Air Force Command in Washington sent a similar sabotage warning message to the Air Force Command in Hawaii. General Short took these messages as a confirmation of his sabotage alert. On the matter of reconnaissance, all but six of Short's B-17's had been ordered to the Philippine Islands. Consequently, he was unable to undertake any reconnaissance. Short knew this was known to Marshall. Unfortunately Stimson had sent the message over Marshall's signature.

Meanwhile, the top Washington people read a November 28 Tokyo message to their Washington Ambassadors which said in part:

You two Ambassadors have exerted superhuman efforts but, in spite of this the United States has gone ahead and presented this humiliating proposal. This was quite unexpected and extremely regrettable. The Imperial Government can by no means use it as a basis for negotiations. Therefore, with a report of the view of the Imperial Government on this American proposal which I will send you in two or three days, the negotiations will be de facto ruptured. This is inevitable. However, I do not wish you to give the impression that the negotiations are broken off. Merely say to them that you are awaiting instructions and that, although the opinions of your government are not yet clear to you, to your own way of thinking the Imperial Government has always made just claims and has borne great sacrifices for the sake of peace in the Pacific.…

The following day Tokyo instructed their Washington representatives:

We wish you to make one more attempt verbally along the lines: The United States government has always taken a fair and judicial position and has formulated its policies in the full consideration of the claims of both sides.

However, the Imperial Government is at a loss to understand why it has now taken the attitude that the new proposals we have made cannot be made the basis of discussion, but instead have made new proposals which ignore actual conditions in East Asia and which greatly injure the prestige of the Imperial Government.

So the Ambassadors made another trip to the White House. This was reported in the press. The officers in Hawaii were thus led to believe that negotiations had been resumed.


All sorts of important messages then began flowing in. Some dealt with the destruction of codes. Another indicated the war would be against the United States and Britain, but not against Russia. Everyone in Washington privy to the coded messages was on the alert for the Japanese answer to the U.S. ultimatum of the 26th. A special phone was put in so that it could be phoned immediately to the Secretary of State. On the morning of December 6, a message was picked up, decoded and translated. It read:

1. The Government has deliberated deeply on the American proposal of the 26th of November and as a result we have drawn up a memorandum for the United States contained in my separate message No. 902 (in English).

2. This separate message is a very long one. I will send it in 14 parts and I imagine you will receive it tomorrow.…The situation is extremely delicate, and when you receive it I want you to please keep it secret for the time being.

3. Concerning the time of presenting this memorandum to the United States, I will wire you in a separate message. However, I want you in the meantime to put it in nicely drafted form and make every preparation to present it to the Americans just as soon as you receive instructions.

This "Pilot Message" was distributed to those entitled to see it shortly after noon. It is not exactly an invitation for responsible officers to disappear on normal weekend relaxations, as the public was later told they did.

Another message instructed the Japanese Washington Ambassadors:

Be absolute sure not to use a typist or any other person. Be most extremely cautious in preserving secrecy.

The first 13 parts of the 14-part message came in Saturday afternoon, December 6. The Navy men went right to work on them. By the middle of the afternoon Army decoders were called back to help. These parts being in English did not need to be translated. Copies were ready for distribution before 9 p.m.


Top Naval officers were having a party that night. So a special young Navy lieutenant was detailed to the White House to deliver these messages to the President in a locked pouch immediately upon their arrival. When he did so he found the President waiting for him with Harry Hopkins.

At the time of the Congressional hearings this officer, then Comdr. Robert Schulz, was in the middle of the Pacific. He was flown back and was the only Navy witness the administration was unable to approach privately before his testimony. He testified in part:

The President read the papers which took perhaps ten minutes then he handed them to Mr. Hopkins.…Mr. Hopkins then read the papers and handed them back to the President. The President then turned toward Mr. Hopkins and said in substance—"This means war." Mr. Hopkins agreed, and they discussed then for perhaps 5 minutes the situation of the Japanese forces.…

The President mentioned a message he had sent to the Japanese Emperor concerning the presence of Japanese troops in Indochina, in effect requesting their withdrawal.

Mr. Hopkins then expressed a view that since war was undoubtedly going to come at the convenience of the Japanese, it was too bad that we could not strike the first blow and prevent any sort of surprise. The President nodded and then said, in effect, "No, we can't do that. We are a democracy and a peaceful people." Then he raised his voice and this much I remember definitely. He said, "But we have a good record.…"

During this discussion there was no mention of Pearl Harbor. The only geographic name I recall was Indochina.…

Then the President said that he believed he would talk to Admiral Stark. He started to get Admiral Stark on the telephone…but I believe the White House operator told the President that Admiral Stark could be reached at the National Theater…the President went on to state, in substance, that he would reach the Admiral later, that he did not want to cause public alarm by having the Admiral paged or otherwise when in the theater, where, I believe, the fact that he had a box reserved was mentioned and that if he left suddenly he would surely have been seen because of the position which he held and undue alarm might be caused, and the President did not wish that to happen because he could get him within perhaps another half hour in any case. His words were in effect that he would reach the Admiral later.…The matter of it being another hour is my own observation based on the fact that the theater was eventually going to close that evening.

Later, when testifying. Admiral Stark could not remember that upon arrival home that night he had excused himself from the theater party, gone upstairs to return the President's call. After his original testimony he had to be reminded of this by a member of the theater party.


Early on the morning of December 7, the 14th part came in as well as the message telling them to deliver it at 1 p.m. Washington time, which was dawn at Pearl Harbor. Other messages thanked the Ambassadors for the job they had done and bid them goodbye.

The inside story of December 7 was recorded in the Stimson diary:

Today is the day that the Japanese are going to bring their answer to Hull and everything in MAGIC indicated that they had been keeping the time back until now in order to accomplish something hanging in the air. Knox and I arranged a conference with Hull at 10:30 and we talked the whole matter over. Hull is very certain that the Japs are planning some deviltry and we are all wondering where the blow will strike. We three stayed together in conference until lunch time, going over the plans for what should be said or done.…Hull was to see the Japanese envoys at one o'clock but they were delayed.…I returned to Woodley to lunch and just about 2 o'clock, while I was sitting at lunch, the President called me up on the telephone and in a rather excited voice asked me, "Have you heard the news?" I said, "Well, I have heard the telegrams which have been coming in about the Japanese advances in the Gulf of Siam." He said, "Oh, no. I don't mean that. They have attacked Hawaii. They are now bombing Hawaii." Well, that was an excitement indeed. The messages which we have been getting through Saturday and this morning are messages . . . showing that large Japanese forces are moving up into Gulf of Siam.…The British were very much excited about it and our efforts this morning in drawing our papers were to see whether or not we should all act together. The British will have to fight if they attack the Kra Peninsula. We three all thought that we must fight if the British fought. But now the Japs have solved the whole thing by attacking us directly in Hawaii.

As soon as I could finish my lunch, I returned to the office and began a long conference which lasted until 6 o'clock. The news coming in from Hawaii is very bad. They seem to have sprung a complete surprise upon our fleet and have caught the battleships inside the harbor and bombed them severely with losses. They have also hit our airfields there and destroyed a great many of our planes, evidently before they got off the ground. It has been staggering to see our people there, who have been warned long ago and were standing on the alert, should have been so caught by surprise.…

When the news first came that Japan had attacked us my first feeling was of relief that the indecision was over and that a crisis had come in a way which would unite all our people. This continued to be my dominant feeling in spite of the news of catastrophes which quickly developed. For I feel that this country united has practically nothing to fear; while the apathy and diversion stirred up by unpatriotic men have been hitherto very discouraging.


The public was told that President Roosevelt was surprised while busy with his stamp collection that Sunday morning. The public was also led to believe that George Marshall was out horseback riding that fateful morning. Actually, a June 8, 1942, memorandum of his duty officer states:

"He arrived at the office at about 10:00 o'clock or shortly thereafter." A Naval officer also testified that Admiral Stark talked with him over the telephone about 9 o'clock and that shortly thereafter he joined a conference in Admiral Stark's office. After this conference, General Marshall returned to his office shortly before noon and sent a message to MacArthur in the Philippines with similar ones to Short in Hawaii as well as the commanding officers at the Panama Canal and on the west coast. The message read:

Japanese are presenting at 1 PM Eastern Standard time today what amounts to an ultimatum. Also they are under orders to destroy their code machine immediately. Just what significance the hour set may have we do not know but be alert accordingly. Inform Naval authorities of this communication.

After Marshall refused the Navy's offer of its more powerful transmitter, the message to Short was sent to the Presidio in San Francisco. The Presidio was not able to raise Fort Shafter in Hawaii, so the message was sent downtown to RCA for transmission to Honolulu. A messenger was taking it to Fort Shafter when the attack came. It was not delivered until several hours after the attack.

Immediately after war was declared on December 8, Secretary of Navy Knox flew out to Pearl Harbor for the first official investigation. On his return to Washington, he handed his report to President Roosevelt on December 14. It said in part:

Neither Short nor Kimmel, at the time of the attack, had any knowledge of the plain intimations of some surprise move, made clear in Washington, through the interception of Japanese instructions to Nomura, in which a surprise move of some kind was clearly indicated by the insistence upon the precise time of Nomura's reply to Hull, at one o'clock on Sunday.…

Neither the Army nor the Navy Commander expected an attack would be made by the Japanese while negotiations were still proceeding in Washington. Both felt that if any surprise attack was attempted, it would be made in the Far East.…

Of course, the best means of defense against air attack consists of fighter planes. Lack of an adequate number of this type of aircraft available to the Army for the defense of the Island, is due to the diversion of this type before the outbreak of the war to the British, the Chinese, the Dutch and the Russians. The next best weapon against air attack is adequate and well-disposed antiaircraft artillery. There is a dangerous shortage of guns of this type on the Island. This is through no fault of the Army Commander who has pressed consistently for these guns.


The United States was now in the war, a war that sunk free enterprise even deeper than the New Deal had. Europe was made safe for socialism and Asia for communism. National unity required a suspension of any meaningful investigation. Meanwhile, papers were destroyed, witnesses died, key messages disappeared, a carefully selected Roberts Commission (including Frank R. McCoy) exonerated those in Washington while making scapegoats of the innocent Hawaiian commanders. Those who helped in the "coverup" went on to higher places, while those who told the truth remained unpromoted for the rest of their careers, even though Congress granted one of them $100,000 for his work in breaking the Japanese codes.

Perhaps one of the greatest anomalies of the Watergate-Pearl Harbor parallel is the roles played by Gerhard A. Gesell. As a bright young man, he was a devoted member of the New Deal bureaucracy. He was later rewarded with a coveted position with Dean Acheson's law firm. He took a leave from this firm to serve as Chief Assistant Counsel for the Joint Congressional Committee on the Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack. The original Chief Counsel was the elderly William D. Mitchell, but it was Gesell who was the administration's workhorse. The original whitewash plan was to limit the hearings to four weeks and prevent any serious investigation into areas the Democratic administration thought should be kept secret.

These plans were foiled. Mr. Gesell resigned and the hearings were extended to about six months. Mr. Gesell was one of three members of the "coverup" team to be rewarded with a Federal judgeship. More recently in the Watergate affair, the same Gerhard Gesell has been on the other side of the fence. This time, as a Federal judge, he helped in the exposure of a miscreant Republican President, whereas before he had been a leader in attempting to suppress the perfidies of the Democratic President and his administration responsible for Pearl Harbor.

That we know any of the truth of Pearl Harbor is due largely to the courage and sagacity of the late John T. Flynn. His allegation that the administration was reading Japanese messages made necessary the Congressional investigation, which the administration rigged for a whitewash. The minority members, however, were able to spread many enlightening facts on the record. Unfortunately, the 45 official volumes are a maze that few will read and still fewer will be able to comprehend. Additional information has since been revealed in memoirs and official records. As with Watergate, there was a great disparity between what Americans were told and the realities behind the closed doors of officialdom. The full unbiased Pearl Harbor story remains to be written.

If our nation is to be revived, we must move rapidly in the direction of a free market society. We must also reduce the power of future presidents to suppress the truth of their antisocial actions. A politically managed economy is not a free society.

Percy L. Greaves, Jr. received a B.S. in Business from Syracuse University in 1929. He pursued graduate work in economics at Columbia University, and at New York University under Ludwig von Mises. During World War II he was Research Director for the Republican National Committee, and after the war was Chief of the Minority Staff in the joint Congressional investigation of Pearl Harbor. He is the author of numerous articles on economics, history, and public affairs, and his most recent books are Understanding the Dollar Crisis and Mises Made Easier.