Title: Day of Deceit
Author: Robert B. Stinnett
Stinnett, Robert B. (2000). Day of Deceit: The Truth about FDR and Pearl Harbor. New York: The Free Press
Date Updated: February 28, 2017
My uncle always held that FDR wanted us in the war and deceitfully arranged it to be so. He also read a book The Strange Death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and argued that FDR was totally wrapped in conspiracy. He made my dad furious with his assertions. Stinnett’s book is another in the series of books that have tried to find FDR as a neo-Machiavelli, allowing, if not arranging for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941.
“‘Day of Deceit’: On Dec. 7, Did We Know We Knew?“ by Richard Bernstein reviews this book for The New York Times.
For nearly 60 years it has been bruited about —and for nearly 60 years unproved—that President Franklin D. Roosevelt knew in advance of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, but, because he wanted some national shock therapy to get the reluctant country into the war, he did nothing about it. Now Robert B. Stinnett, a Navy veteran of the war who subsequently made a career as a journalist for The Oakland Tribune, has produced the results of a 17-year search for documentary evidence on this important historical question.
The basic conclusion of his new book, Day of Deceit: The Truth About F.D.R. and Pearl Harbor, is this: Not only was the “surprise attack” no surprise to Roosevelt, but also the effort to provoke Japan into military action was the principal policy of the Roosevelt administration for the entire preceding year.
Despite a dogged and sometimes compelling effort to substantiate this conclusion, Stinnett has produced no “smoking guns” on the subject, contrary to Gore Vidal’s excited blurb on the dust jacket. Stinnett’s main and most radical argument about Roosevelt does not overcome previous substantial and contrary historical work on the approach of the war. On less global subjects, too, this book will probably elicit skeptical responses from other historians who will properly argue that Stinnett has failed to take account of less radical explanations for the data he has uncovered.
Historians of World War II generally agree that Roosevelt believed war with Japan was inevitable and that he wanted Japan to fire the first shot. What Stinnett has done, taking off from that idea, is compile documentary evidence to the effect that Roosevelt, to ensure that the first shot would have a traumatic effect, intentionally left Americans defenseless. One of the most sensational of Stinnett’s claims in this regard concerns Japan’s most important spy on Hawaii, Tadashi Morimura, who, in the months before the attack, gave Tokyo grids of the harbor showing the location of American naval vessels.
Just before the assault took place he sent radio messages to Tokyo saying that a surprise attack remained feasible. Stinnett demonstrates that Morimura’s dispatches were intercepted by American naval intelligence, which had cracked the Japanese code, and that translations of those intercepts were sent to Washington. But they were never given to Adm. Husband E. Kimmel, the United States Navy commander for the Pacific, or to his Army counterpart, Lt. Gen. Walter Short.
The implication here is that Roosevelt, by withholding critical information from commanders in the field, wanted, as Stinnett puts it, to “ensure an uncontested overt Japanese act of war.” Given that 2,273 American soldiers and sailors died at Pearl Harbor, this basic conclusion, if it is correct, would require some drastic rethinking about Roosevelt and the American entry into the war. But while the volume of documentation provided by Stinnett is impressive, he hardly decides the issue once and for all.
Stinnett’s strongest and most disturbing argument relates to one of the standard explanations for Japan’s success in keeping the impending Pearl Harbor attack a secret: namely that the aircraft carrier task force that unleashed it maintained strict radio silence for the entire three weeks leading up to Dec. 7 and thus avoided detection. In truth, Stinnett writes, the Japanese continuously broke radio silence even as the Americans, using radio direction finding techniques, were able to follow the Japanese fleet as it made its way toward Hawaii.
Among the Japanese who made radio broadcasts were Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, commander of the Japanese Imperial Navy, and Vice Adm. Chuichi Nagumo, commander of the leading element in the Japanese Pearl Harbor strike force. Stinnett writes that their messages were intercepted, deciphered and provided to Washington by a coded transmission procedure known as TESTM. Roosevelt, Stinnett says, would have been provided the TESTM documents, but they were not given to Kimmel or Short.
It is possible that Stinnett might be right about this; certainly the material he has unearthed ought to be reviewed by other historians. Yet the mere existence of intelligence does not prove that that intelligence made its way into the proper hands or that it would have been speedily and correctly interpreted.
Gaddis Smith, the Yale University historian, remarks in this connection on the failure to protect the Philippines against Japanese attack, even though there was a great deal of information indicating that such an attack was coming. Nobody, not even Stinnett, believes that there was any intentional withholding of information from the American commander in the Philippines, Douglas MacArthur. The information available was for some reason just not put to use.
In her 1962 book, Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision, the historian Roberta Wohlstetter used the word “static” to identify the confusion, the inconsistencies, the overall uncertainty that affected intelligence gathering before the war. While Stinnett assumes that most information that now seems important would have gotten speedy attention at the time, the Wohlstetter view is that there was a great avalanche of such evidence, thousands of documents every day, and that the understaffed and overworked intelligence bureaus may simply not have interpreted it correctly at the time.
The fact, for example, that Morimura provided bomb grids to Tokyo has long been known. It is extremely disturbing that interceptions of his radio transmissions to Tokyo did not tip the American side off to the impending attack, but that failure by itself does not prove Stinnett’s contention of a conspiracy to deprive commanders of the information they needed.
In short, it is difficult, after reading Stinnett’s copiously documented book, not to wonder about some previously unchallenged assumptions about Pearl Harbor. His disclosures about supposed radio silence are certainly compelling. But his failure to take into account other, less drastic possible analyses of the way intelligence was disseminated and interpreted leads one to read his book with both interest and a strong dose of skepticism.