Michael Gaynor
Donald Trump's right. "W" didn't keep America safe from attack. Neither did FDR keep America safe from the Pearl Harbor attack, Charles Krauthammer
By Michael Gaynor
October 20, 2015

What's Mr. Krauthammer's excuse for treating the thought that FDR bore blame for Pearl Harbor to be absurd?

Donald Trump is right: the thousands who died on September 11, 2001 and the thousands more who died or will die prematurely thereafter from the long-term effects of the attack, particularly heroic first-responders and those who dealt with the debris, were not kept safe by President George W. Bush.

These people should not be forgotten or ignored by any presidential hopeful.

President Bush was not primarily responsible for the failure to foil the September 11 attack, but Jeb Bush's unqualified statement that his brother the President had kept America safe is false.

Charles Krauthammer, no admirer of Trump, snidely dismissed Trump's point with the suggestion that Trump would blame FDR for the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Perhaps Trump (and Krauthammer) should.

In fact, FDR was President on December 7, 1941, when the Empire of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

It is far from clear that FDR was blameless for that attack coming as a shock

It is indisputable that FDR did not prevent that attack, i.e., "keep us safe."

That attack came as a shock to the bulk of the American population, but it was not shocking that Japan attacked the United States without declaring war first to people in power who could and should have prevented it.

The United States ultimately prevailed, but it would have done so faster and at far less cost if the American military forces at Pearl Harbor were waiting instead of surprised.

Japan did conducted a "sneak attack" on Russia in 1904, attacking Russia's Far East Fleet at Port Arthur, and then declaring war. Tsar Nicholas II's ministers had assured him that Japan would not fight and he did not believe that Japan would commit an act of war without a formal declaration, even though a declaration was not yet required by international law until 1907 and Russia had attacked Sweden in 1809 without a declaration of war.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a former Secretary of the Navy and a cousin of the man who received a Nobel Peace Prize for mediating the Russo-Japanese War and advocated "carry[ing] a big stick" as well as "speak[ing] softly" (President Theodore Roosevelt), recognized the danger posed by Hitler and wanted to do more to help the British than the law allowed and the war averse American people wanted.

Seeking an unprecedented third presidential term in 1940, Franklin Roosevelt made two strategic moves:

First, he appointed prominent Republicans as Secretary of the Navy (Frank Knox, former 1936 Republican vice presidential candidate) and Secretary of War (Henry Stimson, a former Secretary of War and Secretary of State).

Second, he pledged to keep the United States out of the war in Europe, declaring: "I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again and again; your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars." It was not a pledge he kept and he surely knew that he needed a compelling reason to break it.

Franklin Roosevelt had learned one of the lessons of nineteenth century American history: the American people will go to war when they think they have good cause.

Before the "Remember Pearl Harbor " slogan, there were "Remember the Alamo" and "Remember the Maine." "Remember the Alamo" became the battle cry that led to Texas winning independence from Mexico and was revived during the Mexican-American War. "Remember the Maine" was the American battle cry for the Spanish-American War. President Roosevelt did not want the attack on Pearl Harbor to be a devastating as it was, but he did want Japan to attack.

Shortly before Japan's attack, Stimson wrote in his diary: " [Roosevelt] brought up the event that we are likely to be attacked perhaps 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.*

Roosevelt's administrative assistant at the time of Pearl Harbor, Jonathan Daniels, stated: "The blow was heavier than [President Roosevelt] had hoped it would necessarily be. ... But the risks paid off; even the loss was worth the price. ..."

Vice Admiral Frank E. Beatty. an aide to Secretary Knox related: "Prior to December 7, it was evident even to me... that we were pushing Japan into a corner. I believed that it was the desire of President Roosevelt, and Prime Minister Churchill that we get into the war, as they felt the Allies could not win without us and all our efforts to cause the Germans to declare war on us failed; the conditions we imposed upon Japan – to get out of China, for example – were so severe that we knew that nation could not accept them. We were forcing her so severely that we could have known that she would react toward the United States. All her preparations in a military way – and we knew their over-all import – pointed that way."

On October 7, 1940, Lieutenant Commander Arthur McCollum of the Office of Naval Intelligence submitted a memo to Navy Captains Walter Anderson and Dudley Knox, President Roosevelt's most trusted military advisors.

The memo detailed an 8 step plan to provoke Japan into attacking the United States.

McCollum's eight recommendations were prefaced as follows: "It is not believed that in the present state of political opinion the United States Government is capable of declaring war against Japan without more ado; and it is barely possible that vigorous action on our part might lead the Japanese to modify their attitude. Therefore the following course of action is suggested...."

The suggestions were:

"A. Make an arrangement with Britain for the use of British bases in the Pacific, particularly Singapore.

"B. Make an arrangement with Holland for the use of base facilities and acquisition of supplies in the Dutch East Indies.

"C. Give all possible aid to the Chinese government of Chiang-Kai-Shek.

"D. Send a division of long range heavy cruisers to the Orient, Philippines, or Singapore.

"E. Send two divisions of submarines to the Orient.

"F. Keep the main strength of the U.S. fleet now in the Pacific in the vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands.

"G. Insist that the Dutch refuse to grant Japanese demands for undue economic concessions, particularly oil.

"H. Completely embargo all U.S. trade with Japan, in collaboration with a similar embargo imposed by the British Empire."

President Roosevelt implemented the recommendations in 1941.

Following the implementation of the eighth recommendation, Japan attacked.

Secretaries Stimson and Knox had worked to make Pearl Harbor ready for a Japanese attack , but, like President Roosevelt, they did not warn that "the Japanese were coming."

On January 24, 1941, Secretary of War Knox wrote to Secretary of War Stimson as follows:

"The security of the U.S. Pacific Fleet while in Pearl Harbor, and of the Pearl Harbor Naval Base itself, has been under renewed study by the Navy Department and forces afloat for the past several weeks. This reexamination has been, in part, prompted by the increased gravity of the situation with respect to Japan, and by reports from abroad of successful bombing and torpedo plane attacks on ships while in bases. If war eventuates with Japan, it is believed easily possible that hostilities would be initiated by a surprise attack upon the Fleet or the Naval Base at Pearl Harbor.

"In my opinion, the inherent possibilities of a major disaster to the fleet or naval base warrant taking every step, as rapidly as can be done, that will increase the joint readiness of the Army and Navy to withstand a raid of the character mentioned above."

"[T]he character mentioned above" was "a surprise attack upon the Fleet or the Naval Base at Pearl Harbor."

Knox's letter listed six dangers to be provided for and stated that the first two – (1) air bombing attack and (2) air torpedo plane attack – had not "been provided for satisfactorily," and asserted that "the solution" to "the problems encompassed in (1) and (2)" was "of primary importance."

Knox proposed the following counter measures:

"(a) Location and engagement of enemy carriers and supporting vessels before air attack can be launched;

"(b) Location and engagement of enemy aircraft before they reach their objectives;

"(c) Repulse of enemy aircraft by antiaircraft fire;

"(d) Concealment of vital installations by artificial smoke;

"(e) Protection of vital installations by balloon barrages."

Secretary of War Stimson replied on February 7, 1941 that he completely concurred as to the importance of Pacific Fleet security and the urgency of making every possible defense preparation. His reply began: "1. In replying to your letter of January 24, regarding the possibility of surprise attacks upon the Fleet or the Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, I wish to express complete concurrence as to the importance and the urgency of our making every possible preparation to meet such a hostile effort. The Hawaiian Department is the best equipped of all our overseas departments, and continues to hold a high priority for the completion of its projected defenses because of the importance of giving full protection to the Fleet."

Stimson expected an aircraft warning system to be in place in Hawaii long before December 7, 1941.

Stimson: "4. With reference to the Aircraft Warning System, the equipment therefor has been ordered and will be delivered in Hawaii in June. All arrangements for installation will have been made by the time the equipment is delivered. Inquiry develops the information that delivery of the necessary equipment cannot be made at an earlier date."

Stimson forwarded Knox's letter and his reply to the Commanding General, Hawaiian Department, and directed him "to cooperate with the local naval authorities in making these measures effective."

To be sure, the defense to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was NOT "effective."


Peru tried to "keep us safe"!

On February 1, 1941, the Chief of Naval Operations wrote to the commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet concerning "Rumored Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor" as follows:

"1. The following is forwarded for your information. Under date of 27 January the American Ambassador at Tokyo telegraphed the State Department to the following effect:

"The Peruvian Minister has informed a member of my staff that he has heard from many sources, including a Japanese source, that in the event of trouble breaking out between the United States and Japan, the Japanese intend to make a surprise attack against Pearl Harbor with all of their strength and employing all of their equipment. The Peruvian Minister considered the rumors fantastic. Nevertheless he considered them of sufficient importance to convey this information to a member of my staff.'"

The dispatch continued:

"2. The Division of Naval Intelligence places no credence in these rumors. Furthermore, based on known data regarding the present disposition and employment of Japanese Naval and Army forces, no move against Pearl Harbor appears imminent or planned in the foreseeable future."

That evaluation proved to be tragically short-sighted.

What's Mr. Krauthammer's excuse for treating the thought that FDR bore blame for Pearl Harbor to be absurd?

© Michael Gaynor


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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Michael Gaynor

Michael J. Gaynor has been practicing law in New York since 1973. A former partner at Fulton, Duncombe & Rowe and Gaynor & Bass, he is a solo practitioner admitted to practice in New York state and federal courts and an Association of the Bar of the City of New York member... (more)


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