Sunday, May 23, 2010


"Truthers" are part of American conspiracy lore going way back. For instance, one of Jonah's intellectual forbears, Robert Welch, made his bones claiming that Roosevelt knew about Pearl Harbor and purposefully did nothing to stop it. In fact, that has been an article of faith among a segment on the right for many decades
Nicholson Baker, Human Smoke, page 238:
Admiral Richardson, commander of the U.S. fleet, had a confrontation with President Roosevelt. It was October 8, 1940. Richardson said...that Pearl Harbor was the wrong place for ships. Roosevelt said he thought that having the fleet in Hawaii had a "restraining influence" on Japan.

Was the United States going to war? Richardson asked the president. "He replied," in Richardson's account, "that if the Japanese attacked Thailand, or the Kra Peninsula, or the Dutch East Indies we would not enter the war, that if they even attacked the Philippines he doubted whether we would enter the war." But the Japanese couldn't always avoid making mistakes, the president said. "Sooner or later they would make a mistake and we would enter the war."
And page 282:
In Tokyo, the American ambassador to Japan heard something about a possible surprise attack. "There is a lot of talk around town to the effect that the Japanese, in case of a break with the United States, are planning to go all out in a surprise attack at Pearl Harbor," the ambassador, Joseph Grew, wrote in his diary. "Of course I informed my government." It was January 24, 1941.
And page 415:
Edgar Mowrer, the journalist, was at a bar in Manila, having a drink with a man who worked for the Maritime Commission. It was late October 1941, and Mowrer was on a spy mission for Colonel Donovan....

The maritime man in the bar, Ernest Johnson, said he had a daughter in San Francisco. He didn't expect ever to see her again. "The Japs will take Manila before I can get out," Johnson said.

"Take Manila?" said Mowrer. "That would mean a war with us."

Johnson nodded. "Didn't you know the Jap fleet has moved eastward, presumably to attack our fleet at Pearl Harbor?"
And page 431:
Roosevelt's army chief of staff, George Marshall, had some reporters--from Time, Newsweek, the Times, the Herald Tribune, and three wire services--into his office for a briefing. "We are preparing an offensive war against Japan," Marshall said.... The aim was to "blanket the whole area with air power." Keep it a secret, he said. It was November 15, 1941.
And page 433:
Henry Stimson was writing in his diary. He, Knox, Stark, Hull, and Marshall had been in the Oval Office with the president, batting around a problem that Roosevelt had brought up. The Japanese were likely to attack soon, perhaps next Monday, the president said. "The question was how we should maneuver them into the position of firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves," Stimson wrote. "It was a difficult proposition." It was November 25, 1941.
And page 445:
In Washington that night [after the attack on Pearl Harbor], Edgar Mowrer couldn't sleep. He thought, The man in the bar in Manila was right! "And if a member of the Maritime Commission knew the destination of the Japanese fleet, why had the President, why had Knox and Stimson and Hull who were expecting war, not known it and taken the necessary precautions?

And then Mowrer realized: "Nothing but a direct attack could have brought the United States into the War! Here was the 'break' for which both Churchill and T.V. Soong had been waiting."
Of course, Digby probably thinks Human Smoke has a dangerous affect on poor mindless readers who can't be trusted to think about what they take in.


Jack Crow said...

Brilliant. Using Nick Baker to take out a Diggles thesis?

100 pts.

JM said...


See page 2.

Ethan said...

Jenny, that comedy magazine's "debunking" of the myth makes no sense. For example: yes, the US was in peace negotiations with Japan at the time of the attack, but it was simultaneously deliberately provoking them. One of the ways it was doing so was by having an enormous military buildup at Pearl Harbor. And as mentioned in the quoted passages from Human Smoke, they did in fact expect an attack right about when it actually happened.

Ethan said...

(Also, thanks Jack.)

Richard said...

You know what's the most annoying thing, Jenny, about your comments? It's the "ahem" and "um" you invariably use to introduce your lame and point-missing and often wrong gotcha link. Try something else.

druff said...

Great post. Thank you for not being afraid to dig under the surface a little for fear of being thoughtlessly and sneeringly dismissed as an unhinged lunatic. Conventional wisdom is a comforting blanket for so many and a lot of my favorite blogs are too quick to back down from such disturbing possibilities, even when they're otherwise radical.

Anonymous said...

It does seem clear that Roosevelt recognized that war with Japan was imminent and he may have welcomed it. However It really doesn't make sense that he would knowingly allow the destruction of a large part of his Pacific fleet. Is there any explanation for that?

Ethan said...

Richard, druff: thank you both.

Anonymous: Honestly I don't know, but I could easily see that being a mistake. One impression I've always got of FDR is that he thought he was far smarter and more in control than he actually was.