The Pearl Harbor Myth
By John V. Denson - July 28, 2007
"LewRockwell" -- -- A new book entitled The Pearl Harbor Myth: Rethinking the Unthinkable by George Victor and published by Potomac Books Inc. of Washington, D.C. is well researched and gives a very clear picture of how and why the Pearl Harbor myth was created. This "patriotic political myth" states that the attack by the Japanese was unprovoked and was a surprise to the Roosevelt administration, as well as, the key military personnel in Washington; but the commanders of Pearl Harbor were at fault for not being ready. Based on a good summary of the up-to-date research the author, who is an approving admirer of Roosevelt, concludes that Roosevelt deliberately provoked the attack and that he and his key military and administrative advisers clearly knew, well in advance, that the Japanese were going to attack both Pearl Harbor and the Philippines. Roosevelt wanted to get into the European War but he had been unsuccessful in provoking Germany; therefore, he considered the sacrifice of Pearl Harbor and the Philippines as the best way to get into the European War through the back door of Japan. The cover-up of this strategy started immediately after the attack and continues to this day. The author concludes that this information of the coming attack was intentionally withheld from the military commanders because it was known that the Japanese were depending upon the element of surprise and if warnings had been sent to the commanders of Pearl Harbor and the Philippines, their preparation for the attack would have caused the Japanese to cancel their plans.
The losses and damages at Pearl Harbor are described by Victor as follows:
"In the Pearl Harbor attack, the United States lost twenty-four hundred troops along with a quarter of her fleet. Many military leaders and Knox, Hull, and Roosevelt had underestimated the harm Japan could do, even by a surprise attack. And U.S. losses were much increased by two unlikely events. A Japanese bomb penetrated the battleship Arizona’s armor at an odd angle, reaching her magazine and causing her to explode. And the torpedoed battleship Oklahoma capsized. The explosion of the Arizona and the capsizing of the Oklahoma resulted in the drowning of sixteen hundred sailors."
The tremendous losses in the Philippines have been virtually hidden from the American public but they were mostly the native soldiers and civilians. Victor states:
"The Philippines suffered widespread destruction and was captured. Twenty-four hundred troops and seventy civilians were lost in Hawaii. In the Philippines, one hundred forty thousand troops were lost and civilian deaths – still unreported – are estimated to have been as high as three million. Nonetheless, the defeat at Pearl Harbor became a wrenching tragedy, and the administration sacrificed the commanders there to restore public confidence, while the defeat in the Philippines became a noble defense. Despite devastation and loss of the Philippines, a public relations operation turned MacArthur into a hero and he was promoted. The public reaction is not strange, however, when seen in the light of government control of information – a usual wartime practice."
The author states that the most recent Pearl Harbor investigation by Congress in October, 2000 resulted in a resolution by Congress "calling on President William Clinton to restore the reputations of Short and Kimmel. It provoked the flurry of accusations that Congress was usurping the job of historians, revising history, and reviving a long-discredited conspiracy theory. Clinton took no action on the resolution."
The author, Victor, includes a chapter from the viewpoint of the Japanese. They were being pressured strongly by Germany to enter the war by attacking the Soviet Union, thereby creating a two-front war for the Communist nation. This strategy came within the actual interests of Japan since they, like Germany, saw Communism as a great evil and a threat to their respective nations. Furthermore, Japan had substantial claims to parts of Manchuria as a result of defeating Russia in the war of 1905. Both Germany and Japan wanted to avoid a war with America at almost any cost. Roosevelt was well aware of this pressure on Japan by Germany but he felt that it was necessary to protect the Soviet Union as being the best weapon against the Germans, and therefore, he wanted to prevent Japan from attacking Russia. Roosevelt began extensive provocations to cause Japan to abandon its attack on Russia and instead attack America which also served the purpose of giving Roosevelt the reason to enter the war. Roosevelt launched an eight-point provocation plan primarily through the cutting off of oil supplies to Japan so that by the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor Japan was virtually out of oil and on the verge of industrial and military collapse. The attack on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines also would provide Japan with the ability to attack the Dutch interests in the Pacific, thereby giving them a new supply of oil.
Victor sees Roosevelt’s decisions as being based upon the assumption of the truth of the following statement: "Hitler’s plan to conquer and enslave most of the world was hardly a secret." The author cites no authority for this plan of Hitler to conquer the world and you will not find this in the two books that Hitler wrote nor in any of his speeches. His intentions were well known before and during the war. He stated from the beginning, before he took power, as well as thereafter, that he was against the harsh and unfair Versailles Treaty which virtually disarmed Germany and it included the inequities created for Germany in Poland and Czechoslovakia, which he intended to correct either through negotiation or, if necessary, by force. He stated and wrote that the only war he wanted was to fight Communism and to regain some of the living space that Germany had acquired in their treaty with Russia during World War I, which was abrogated by the Versailles Treaty. Nevertheless, the defeat of Hitler, not Germany, appears to be the premise upon which the author states that Roosevelt acted so that the end justified the means. Hitler, the man, must be defeated at all costs and these costs included the sacrifice of Pearl Harbor and the Philippines in order to get into the European War via Japan.
I need to depart from a review of Victor’s book momentarily in order to take issue with his basic assumption that Roosevelt’s main interest was the defeat of Hitler. If his primary end was simply the death of Hitler, Roosevelt had an excellent opportunity of letting the key military officers in the regular German army carry out a plan of assassination.
Allen Dulles was stationed in Switzerland with the OSS (which preceded the CIA) and was assigned the primary duty of seeing if there was a resistance movement in Germany which might overthrow Hitler. Dulles learned of a very substantial plot to kill Hitler early in the war in 1942 after Germany’s defeat at Stalingrad. While Stalin had murdered 35,000 to 50,000 of his senior military officers prior to the war in order to put in his loyal officers, Hitler had resisted this strategy and did not purge the regular German army of its senior officers. Early in the war a large number of these senior officers, including his Chief of Staff, General Ludwig Beck, built up a strong resistance movement with the purpose of assassinating Hitler and then surrendering to the American and British forces. They intended then to continue the war against Communism and the Soviet Union. A new government was to be created with Beck at the head and Dr. Carl Goerdeler, former mayor of Leipzig, to be the two top people. There was originally a large group who helped draw up the plan which included numerous civilians who would serve in the new democratic government, so it was not just to be a military coup. Dulles stated that even after the resistance movement had been discouraged by Roosevelt’s unconditional surrender policy, nevertheless, a small group of officers who remained committed to the assassination of Hitler made an unsuccessful attempt on Hitler’s life on July 20, 1944. Hitler rounded up all of the people who were even suspected of being a part of this plot and this amounted to over 200,000 Germans who were put in concentration camps and many were killed. The two principal high-ranking German officers who took part in the plot met their fate on the next day after the attempt, with one being shot by a firing squad and General Beck was allowed to commit suicide in the presence of the Nazi officers.
When Roosevelt first learned of this significant resistance movement and the plan of the Germans to surrender immediately to America and the British, he unilaterally announced the unconditional surrender policy which caused much of the resistance movement to dissolve and their plans to be abandoned. Roosevelt’s unconditional surrender policy was not well received by either Churchill or Stalin. Dulles, as well as, many key military advisers, were unsuccessful in getting Roosevelt to abandon or substantially revise this policy. They pointed out to Roosevelt that it would discourage the assassination of Hitler. It would make the Germans fight harder, cause the war to last longer and be more costly than necessary. Roosevelt’s policy required unconditional surrender to the British, the Soviets and America simultaneously. No surrender would be accepted unless it was made to all three at the same time. Many of the German officers decided that they would rather fight against all three rather than surrender to the Soviet Union. (See Germany’s Underground: The Anti-Nazi Resistance by Allen Dulles and Unconditional Surrender by Anne Armstrong.)
One of the best writers on World War II was Hanson Baldwin, who covered the war for The New York Times. After the war he wrote a book entitled Great Mistakes of the War, which was published in 1949. Baldwin says the greatest mistake made was the unconditional surrender policy of Roosevelt. He states that the policy "probably discouraged the opposition to Hitler" and adds that it "probably lengthened the war, cost us lives and helped to lead to the present abortive peace." Baldwin then points out that it also had a detrimental effect in the war against Japan. The Japanese had indicated they were willing to surrender if the unconditional surrender policy was changed so as to allow them to keep their Emperor but President Roosevelt ignored the offer in January of 1945. After Roosevelt’s death, President Truman stated he was going to continue the unconditional surrender policy and rejected the offer in July, 1945. The war continued and Truman ordered the atomic bombs to be dropped in August of 1945 and the surrender followed in September. The Japanese were allowed to keep their Emperor after the war, and so in the end, the unconditional surrender policy was dropped as to Japan, but only after they were bombed with two atomic bombs. (See The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb by Dennis D. Wainstock and The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb by Gar Alperovitz.)
My argument is that Roosevelt’s unconditional surrender policy was designed to stop the resistance movement because Roosevelt did not want an early end to the war. He wanted a new chance to create a world organization, which he may have actually believed would end all war for the future. President Wilson had made this promise with the creation of the League of Nations. Roosevelt’s plan was to bring all nations under the cover of the United Nations with America and the Soviet Union as the remaining two super powers who would be virtually in control of this new world organization. Roosevelt had been part of the Woodrow Wilson administration and personally witnessed the worldwide adulation of President Wilson immediately after World War I when he came to Europe. Roosevelt saw the admiring mobs of people who lined the streets in France and Italy to cheer Wilson and the newspaper reports stated that thousands of people lined the railroad tracks at night just to watch Wilson’s train go by. Wilson was considered by millions of people as the greatest man in the world at that time because it was perceived that he brought peace to the world and had saved Europe. His vision for the League of Nations was considered by many as the hope of the future throughout the world to stop all war forever. (See Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World by Margaret MacMillan.) Roosevelt made 800 speeches in his vice presidential campaign in 1920 praising the League of Nations. Roosevelt felt that America’s entry into World War II would give him a chance to succeed where his mentor and idol, Woodrow Wilson, had failed when the American Senate failed to approve the Versailles Treaty which contained the provision creating the League of Nations.
In August of 1941, Roosevelt met with Churchill prior to Pearl Harbor and brought up the United Nations idea to which Churchill objected. Nevertheless, Churchill went along with it because he needed America in the war. Stalin also objected to the United Nations idea and both he and Churchill felt that the postwar settlement should have separate spheres of influence for each victor rather than a world organization to which the countries might lose their sovereignty and also lose control of their special goals.
The best account of Roosevelt and the United Nations is thoroughly covered in the book entitled FDR and the Creation of the U.N. by Townsend Hoopes and Douglas Brinkley published by the Yale University Press in 1997. Both authors are admirers of Roosevelt and of his accomplishment in creating the United Nations. A brief summary of the main points and several excerpts will tell that story.
"On November 10, 1939, Pope Pius XII proclaimed the need to establish ‘a stable international organization’ after the war. In a private response of December 23, President Roosevelt voiced his belief that, while no spiritual or civic leader could now define a specific structure for the future, ‘the time for that will surely come’; meanwhile, the United States would ‘encourage a closer association between those in every part of the world – those in religion and those in government – who have a common purpose.’ "
The authors then point out that extensive planning began to take place by others in regard to the postwar settlement:
"Into this planning vacuum stepped the private Council on Foreign Relations with an offer to study postwar issues secretly and make its deliberations available to the State Department. The council was a Northeastern seaboard phenomenon, an elitist mix of prominent New York bankers and lawyers with European interests and prominent academics and intellectuals, many of whom had served as advisers to Woodrow Wilson at the Paris peace conference. The businessmen provided the money, while the scholars furnished most of the intellectual leadership. The council operated mainly through off-the-record conferences, study groups, and small dinners confined to members, who were addressed by foreign or American statesmen. It published Foreign Affairs, a scholarly quarterly that had become the leading American journal of its kind. In an age when fewer than one thousand Americans could claim a journeyman’s competence, or even a sustained interest, in foreign affairs, the Council on Foreign Relations was a rare island of influence and expertise in the body politic."
In less than one month after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and followed immediately by the declaration of war by Congress, Roosevelt began forming the United Nations into a specific entity:
"On January 1, 1942, the Soviet and Chinese ambassadors in Washington joined with Roosevelt and Churchill (who had arrived at the White House in late December) in signing the Declaration by United Nations. The following day, representatives of twenty-two other nations at war with the Axis powers added their signatures to the document, which created a wartime alliance of states who promised to wage war with all of their resources and not sign a separate peace. The president apparently thought up the name ‘United Nations’ and secured the Prime Minister’s approval by bursting into his bedroom at the White House while the doughty Britain was taking a bath."
Roosevelt felt that Wilson had been partly to blame for the failure of the Senate to authorize the signing of the Versailles Treaty, thereby causing America not to join the League of Nations. Roosevelt felt that he could be more flexible if he only had a war which would give him an opportunity to succeed where Wilson had failed. Hoopes and Brinkley give a quick historical review as follows:
"The Senate’s rejection of the League of Nations treaty on March 19, 1920, was a result of many factors, of which perhaps the most basic was the enduring fear and contempt for Europe’s continual intrigues and wars. As most Americans saw it, they had sent their young men to France in 1917 to fight and die for a worthy cause – to make the world safe for democracy." But they had recoiled in disgust and disbelief at the spectacle of greed displayed by the European victors and embodied in the vengeful Treaty of Versailles. More direct and immediate reasons for the Senate’s rejection of the League were the personal bitterness between President Wilson and Senator Henry Cabot Lodge (R-Massachusetts), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the misplaced loyalty of the Democratic Senators to their party leader in the White House. The primary cause of failure, however, was the absolute rigidity rooted in moral and intellectual arrogance, of Woodrow Wilson."
The authors point out that Roosevelt was much more flexible and willing to compromise in order to create the United Nations.
After America entered the war there was a great deal of activity in trying to help Roosevelt create the United Nations. Hoopes and Brinkley state the following:
"John Foster Dulles apparently felt that the Shotwell group was too secular, for he formed the Commission to Study the Bases of a Just and Durable Peace, under the auspices of the Federal Council of Churches. In one of many speeches, he declared, ‘the sovereignty system is no longer consonant with either peace or justice,’ and said that he was ‘rather appalled’ at the lack of any agreed peace aims ‘to educate and crystalize public opinion.’ Yet he too offered no specific remedies. In a long editorial in Life magazine entitled ‘The American Century,’ publisher Henry Luce noted the ‘golden opportunity’ for world leadership that the United States had passed up in 1919, and called on the American people to help Roosevelt succeed where Wilson had failed. It was now the time, Luce wrote, to accept ‘our duty and our opportunity as the most powerful and vital nation in the world.’ "
Hoopes and Brinkley go on to describe Roosevelt’s immediate public endorsement of the United Nations in his State of the Union address as follows:
"The President’s State of the Union address on January 6, 1942 – just one month after the attack on Pearl Harbor – was praised by George Orwell on BBC radio as a ‘complete and uncompromising break . . . with isolationism.’ Roosevelt said, ‘the mood of quiet grim resolution which here prevails bodes ill for those who conspired and collaborated to murder world peace. The mood is stronger than any mere desire for revenge. It expresses the will of the American people to make very certain that the world will never so suffer again. He referred to the signing of the Declaration by the United Nations just six days before, and defined the primary objective of that act to be ‘the consolidation of the United Nations’ total war effort against our common enemies.’ His focus was entirely on the war effort.
But if the Administration had decided that the public disclosure of postwar plans were dangerously premature, such inhibitions did not apply to the press and private sector. Throughout 1942, there was a steady procession of proposals for shaping the new world and educating the American people.
The Commission to Study the Organization of Peace, whose president, Columbia professor James T. Shotwell, was an occasional adviser to the State Department planning effort, accepted the need for an ‘Anglo – American directorate’ to run the world in the immediate postwar period . . .
On March 5, 1942, the Commission to Study the Bases of a Just and Durable Peace, headed by John Foster Dulles, proposed a far more radical solution. It called specifically for a world government complete with a parliament, an international court, and appropriate agencies. The world government would have the power to regulate international trade, settle disputes between member nations, and control all military forces, except those needed to maintain domestic order..."
"A more convincing, more sophisticated argument for realpolitik was Walter Lippmann’s 1943 best-seller, U.S. Foreign Policy: Shield of the Republic, a brilliant essay designed to counter the idealistic one-world internationalism of which Wendell Willkie was the leading purveyor. It sold nearly one half million copies. Lippmann, a crusading editor who had helped Woodrow Wilson prepare his peace program, had been disillusioned by the Versailles Treaty and the League of Nations, but retained the conviction that American leadership in world affairs was an absolute prerequisite of stability and peace. He thought Willkie’s thesis was founded on sand and that its corollary – that the United States must undertake to police the world – was a dangerous doctrine. Lippmann argued that all nations must balance their commitments with their resources and should avoid being overextended.
Lippmann’s formula for peace was no new League of Nations but a basic alliance of the United States, Britain and Russia. No other nations were serious factors in the world power equation. China and France were not great powers. Only Britain and Russia were strong enough to threaten U.S. security, but given America’s close ties to Britain, there was no risk from that quarter. The only real danger was a falling out with Russia, but peace and stability required that this be avoided at all costs, for an Anglo-American alliance against Russia would set the stage ‘inexorably’ for a third world war."
Hoopes and Brinkley summarize the negotiations between Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin, pointing out that Roosevelt suggested the Big Four World Policeman would be America, Great Britain, Russia and China and then there would be seven representatives of regional organizations. However, Roosevelt privately stated to his key advisers that Soviet Russia and America would be the two remaining super powers and would be actually in charge of the organization. The authors then state:
"Also, he did not believe that Stalin would join an all – embracing international organization without the protection of an absolute veto power. . .
While America’s postwar planners were thinking in terms of some synthesis of regional and global organization to replace the League of Nations, the British Prime Minister was thinking of authoritative regional arrangements without a global nexus, and his focus was on Europe. He was dismissive of China, and uneasy at the idea of sharing responsibility for the future of Western Europe with the Soviet Union. In a note to Eden of October 12, 1942, Churchill wrote, ‘I must admit that my thoughts rest primarily in Europe – the revival of the glory of Europe, the parent continent of the modern nations and of civilization.’ It would be a ‘measureless disaster if Russian barbarism overlaid the culture and independence’ of these ancient states. ‘We certainly do not want to be shut up with the Russians and the Chinese’ in Europe. Moreover ‘I cannot regard the Chungking Government as representing a great world power.’ "
The authors describe Roosevelt’s opinion regarding the necessity of having Stalin’s cooperation for creating and operating the United Nations as follows:
"Much depended on Stalin, for the Soviet Union would be the only first-rate military power on the continents of Europe and Asia after the war. If the dictator chose cooperation, the foundations of a peaceful society would be laid with confidence; if he chose another course, the Western allies would be ‘driven back on a balance of power system.’ "
The authors also cover the importance of the Yalta Conference in regard to the creation of the United Nations:
"Calling the Yalta Conference a turning point – ‘I hope in our history and therefore in the history of the world’ – FDR said that whether it could bring forth lasting results ‘lies to a great extent in your hands.’ The Senate and the American people would soon face ‘a great decision that will determine the fate of the United States – and of the world – for generations to come.’ Everyone should understand there was no middle ground. ‘We shall have to take responsibility for world collaboration, or we should have to bear the responsibility for another world conflict.’ The Yalta agreements ‘ought’ to spell the end of unilateral actions, exclusive alliances, spheres of influence, and balances of power that ‘have been tried for centuries – and have always failed.’ It was time to substitute ‘a universal organization,’ and the President was confident that Congress and the American people would accept the Yalta agreements as laying the foundations of ‘a permanent structure of peace . . .’ "
The agreement on Poland was entirely dependant on Stalin’s word, for there was no practical way to confront Russian power in Eastern Europe. In part, this stance was dictated by the basic need for Russian military cooperation to finish the war against Germany and then join the war against Japan; in larger part it reflected FDR’s judgment that establishing the United Nations organization was the overarching strategic goal, the absolute first priority. He faced, as he viewed it, a delicate problem of balance. To prevent a U.S. reversion to isolationism after the war, U.S. participation in the new world organization was the sine qua non, but the United Nations could not be brought into being without genuine Russian cooperation, and that depended on Western accommodation to unpalatable manifestations of the Soviet Communist system in Eastern Europe." [Emphasis supplied]
The authors then point out that on April 6, 1945 the president authorized Archibald MacLeish to prepare the speech he intended to make at the opening session of the San Francisco conference. There had been some speculation that he might even resign his position as president in order to be leader of the United Nations. However, on April 12, he died and the authors state:
"To internationalists, the fallen leader promptly became a martyr and symbol of their cause. Intoned the New Republic, ‘Franklin Roosevelt at rest at Hyde Park is a more powerful force for America’s participation in the world organization than was President Roosevelt in the White House."
If Roosevelt’s primary aim in World War II was to create the United Nations and thereby bring world peace forever (in his own mind), and that he considered the cooperation of Stalin and the Soviet Union as the essential piece to that puzzle, this helps explain why Roosevelt was so compromising with Stalin throughout the war. It also helps explain why he let Harry Hopkins live in the White House and be his closest adviser. The author, George Victor, in his preface, addresses the fact that Hopkins was probably a Communist agent and then he states "there are speculations that Hopkins influenced U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union in 1941, but no evidence of it." He then defends Hopkins by saying that Hopkins never did anything without the express direction of Roosevelt, which may defend Hopkins, but it certainly does not defend Roosevelt. Roosevelt surely must have been aware of the intercepted cables which show that Hopkins was an agent of the Soviets. The cables called "The Venona Cables" were those communications between Soviet spies in America that were intercepted by American intelligence forces which were available to Roosevelt. These "Venona Cables" were released to the public in 1995 and in a sensational book entitled The Venona Secrets: Exposing Soviet Espionage and America’s Traitors by Herbert Romerstein and Eric Breindel they show the fact that Harry Hopkins was a Soviet agent, being number 19. They point out that the cables revealed that the Soviets were ordering tons of uranium in March of 1943 and that Major George R. Jordan objected to sending the uranium since he and General Groves, head of the Manhattan project, were concerned about Soviet espionage. Major Jordan testified that he objected to sending the uranium but that "Harry Hopkins had told him on the phone to expedite the shipments." Major Jordan later wrote a book claiming that Hopkins had helped the Soviets against the interests of the United States.
In conclusion of my argument, I take issue that the end justified the means, and therefore disagree with Victor on this point. Roosevelt’s personal ambitions for greatness, obtaining worldwide adulation, and his desire to create the United Nations could hardly be considered ends that justified the means he employed.
Getting back to Victor’s book, he states in his last chapter entitled "History and the Unthinkable" that the disaster in Pearl Harbor "needs to be remembered, not for anything about Japanese treachery or U.S. blunders. Its main lessons are about sacrifice, deception and political considerations as common features of military planning." He points out that other presidents have caused similar sacrifices of the lives of soldiers and sailors, as well as civilians, with similar acts of deception for political considerations. He states:
"Polk, Lincoln and McKinley confronted dilemmas between what they considered important U.S. interests and popular opposition to war. Lincoln’s problem was extreme; for years, conflict over slavery had been tearing the nation apart. As Lincoln saw it, the secession and the likelihood of further splitting threatened the nation’s existence. ‘However, there was one way out,’ according to historian Richard Hofstadter, ‘the Confederates themselves might bring matters to a head by attacking Sumter . . . . It was precisely such an attack that Lincoln’s strategy brought about.’ Hofstadter added that ‘the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor did for [Roosevelt] what the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter had done for Lincoln.’"
Victor carefully analyses the situation with Abraham Lincoln as being comparable to Roosevelt in starting their respective wars:
"On becoming president in 1861, Abraham Lincoln’s highest priority was preserving the Union. To end the secession, he was willing to guarantee federal noninterference with slavery. He therefore pushed a constitutional amendment for noninterference through Congress, and three states quickly ratified it, but the secession continued. Lincoln was also willing – if necessary for preserving the Union – to fight a war. But he found his nation – and his own cabinet – against such a war. Even radical abolitionists opposed it.
The Confederacy had taken over most federal installations in its states – installations surrendered on request by their administrators. Of those remaining in federal hands, Fort Sumter in South Carolina was exposed to attack and running out of supplies. Lincoln asked his cabinet’s advice on whether to supply the fort. With one exception, they opposed it because doing it risked war. Lincoln then sent the supplies, prompting an attack on the fort which became the incident he used to start the Civil War.
If known at the time, Lincoln’s deliberate exposure of the fort might have caused serious political repercussions. Later historical accounts that imputed to him the intention of fostering an incident for war in order to preserve the Union have created little stir. His towering place in history is undamaged by them and he, too, is viewed as a president with a clear idea of his mission, effective in carrying it out."
The author, Victor, also goes into some detail in regard to President Polk starting the Mexican War:
"On becoming president in 1845, James Polk told his cabinet that California would be annexed. (His predecessors had offered to buy California, but Mexico had refused to sell.) To his consul in California, Polk suggested fomenting a revolution and promised U.S. support for residents who rose against Mexico. A tiny uprising under Capt. John Fremont had no effect on California’s status. Polk then sent an army to the Rio Grande.
History books describe that area as U.S. territory, Texas territory, or land in dispute between the United States and Mexico. The area was, however, recognized by a U.S. treaty as within Mexico’s borders. As Polk expected, Mexico attacked the army, slaughtering a troop.
On sending the army, Polk wrote, in advance, a request to Congress for a declaration of war based on the incident he expected. After it happened, he submitted his request, claiming that Mexican troops ‘had passed the boundary of the United States . . . invaded our territory and shed American blood upon American soil . . . . War exists notwithstanding all our efforts to avoid it.’ But Polk, not Mexico, had sought the war. Congress then declared war on Mexico and by an easy victory, Polk acquired the southwest for his nation."
Victor points out that President McKinley sent the battleship Maine into the harbor of Havana, which was Spanish territory, as a provocation to the Spanish and when the ship exploded from within it killed 260 U.S. sailors. The false propaganda was that the Spanish caused it, thus giving McKinley an excuse to go to war and to acquire from Spain America’s first empire. McKinley was strongly supported in his efforts to get into the war by none other than the "Megaphone of Mars," Teddy Roosevelt, who was serving as the Assistant Navy Secretary. Roosevelt declared "The Maine was sunk by an act of dirty treachery on the part of the Spaniards." The new battle cry for the war was now "Remember the Maine."
The author expresses no moral judgment against these presidents for starting their respective wars and states that:
"Deception is as old as the history of war. According to the classic work The Art of War by Sun-tzu ‘All warfare is based on deception.’ It is, of course, practiced on enemies, but deception is also used on subordinates. A common example is a suicide attack. In order to have troops carry it out officers may hide the attack’s hopelessness from them. They may even mislead troops to believe that it will succeed."
Victor recites the views expressed by General George C. Marshall at the Pearl Harbor hearings before Congress in 1945–6, as follows:
"In my view, General Marshall was indeed an outstanding chief of staff, upright, honorable, and incorruptible – as much so as his position permitted. Testifying to various tribunals investigating the Pearl Harbor disaster, other military officers vigorously denied that they had withheld vital information from field commanders. The denials were false. Marshall was the exception; he testified to a congressional committee that withholding vital information from commanders was routine practice. World War II documents show not only withholding of information from field commanders, but also distortion of it to mislead them."
The author concludes this extremely disturbing book with the following two paragraphs:
"Despite the history of war, the idea that Roosevelt withheld warnings from Kimmel and Short for the purpose of getting the United States openly into the European war is still unthinkable to many people, but to fewer and fewer as the years pass. As has happened over time with other unthinkable acts, the repugnance aroused by the idea of using the Pacific Fleet as a lure will probably continue to fade. Polk’s exposure of an army, Lincoln’s exposure of a fort, and McKinely’s exposure of a battleship are more or less accepted. In the Philippines, Midway, Wake, Guam, Samoa, and in other outlying islands, U.S. forces were exposed to Japanese attack, and that is also more or less accepted.
The Pearl Harbor disaster was different from losses of the Philippines and other Pacific islands because it shattered America’s confidence, arousing massive fear, a crisis of trust in the nation’s leaders, and an outcry for scapegoats. The nation seized on the administration’s explanation of betrayal by Japan and by Kimmel and Short, and the disaster unified the nation to fight World War II with the slogan ‘Remember Pearl Harbor!’ The explanation became a major national myth, which has substantially withstood the unearthing of secret alliances, war strategies, and warnings received in Washington."
In the preface the author states: "I am not the first admirer of Roosevelt to present him in Machiavellian terms." Victor goes on to quote an admiring biographer of Roosevelt, James MacGregor Burns, who stated: "It was not strange that [Roosevelt] should follow Machiavelli’s advice . . . for this had long been the first lesson for politicians." Victor’s final assessment is that:
"History has recorded many, many rulers’ manipulations of their people into war without their subordinates blowing the whistle. Presidents James Polk, Abraham Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson did it before Roosevelt; and others have done it after him . . . .
Presidents who succeeded Roosevelt also ordered sacrifices, but toward smaller and sometime meaner ends. Here Roosevelt’s manipulations and the sacrifices he ordered are compared to those of Polk, Lincoln, McKinley and Wilson, all of whom were implementing ends considered noble in the light of traditional values." [Emphasis supplied]
The author, George Victor, mentions the deceit of President Wilson in getting us into World War I but provides no details. However, you can find this in Charles Tansil’s excellent book entitled America Goes to War. Justice Brandeis, who was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by Wilson, rendered his opinion to President Wilson that the alleged sinking of the French cross-channel passenger ship, the S.S. Sussex, by a German submarine in the English Channel with the loss of lives of the U.S. citizens justified a declaration of war against Germany by the United States. The ship was painted all black and the usual insignia to show it was not a military ship were missing. The German commander of the submarine wrote that he took the ship to be a military ship rather than a passenger ship. Wilson relied on this legal opinion of Justice Brandeis, who was Wilson’s most influential adviser along with Col. House, and the president addressed both houses of Congress on April 2, 1917 using the sinking of Sussex and the loss of American lives as a reason to declare war on April 7, 1917. It was only after America was committed to the war that the truth came out, which apparently was not considered material by the news media, so the public never was fully informed. The Sussex was not sunk and no American lives were lost. The ship was torpedoed by the Germans but made it safely to the harbor at Boulogne where it was hidden for some period of time.
Victor mentions that subsequent presidents to Roosevelt have also deceitfully taken America into wars but provides no names. He could have cited President Lyndon Johnson and his lies about the Gulf of Tonkin incident to get Congress to authorize him to retaliate to get America into the Viet Nam War. He could also have mentioned our current president and the lies about weapons of mass destruction to get us into the war with Iraq. In both cases Congress accepted the lies of the president and unconstitutionally delegated the war making power to the president rather than declaring war itself, as the Constitution requires.
I agree that Victor has accurately described the deceitful conduct of the presidents he cites (see the chapters "Lincoln and the First Shot" and "Roosevelt and the First Shot" in my book A Century of War) but I strongly disagree with his conclusion that the American people have knowingly condoned the deceitful activity of the presidents Victor mentions because our history books do not contain this information, it is not taught in the schools and universities and it is not recited by the news media. You have to have independent researchers like Victor to find and disclose most of this information.
I wonder if Victor’s book will be taught or read at West Point, Annapolis or the Air Force Academy. After finishing it, the famous lines from Tennyson’s poem The Charge of the Light Brigade came to mind:
"Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred."
John V. Denson is the author of A Century of War, The Costs of War and Reassessing the Presidency.