by H. Arthur Scott Trask

“Finally I say let demagogues and world-redeemers babble their emptiness to empty ears; twice duped is too much.”

~ Robinson Jeffers

Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor
by Robert B. Stinnett
New York, NY: Free Press; 260pp., $26.00

The late Murray Rothbard often argued that far from being evidence of a “paranoid” strain in the American mind, belief in conspiracies as a factor in American history was usually not taken far enough. The truth behind most conspiracies, he alleged, was far more heinous and diabolical than even the most diehard conspiracy theorist suspected. While many have assumed Rothbard was only being half serious, a new book on the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor by Robert B. Stinnett offers compelling evidence that Murray had it right. The truth that emerges as one makes his way through this exhaustively researched volume is of an American political and military establishment whose brilliance is exceeded only by its utter lack of moral scruple or genuine patriotism. Sixty years after the fateful attack, Stinnett has uncovered, presented, and substantiated the truth behind Pearl Harbor. It is now clear that FDR did know the Japanese attack was coming. He knew more than a year in advance of Japanese plans to bomb the United States’ Pacific fleet at Pearl, and he knew more than a week before that the attack would come early Sunday morning. He knew because American naval intelligence had cracked the Japanese naval codes in the early fall of 1940, 15 months before the fateful attack.

The smoke had barely cleared from Pearl Harbor before rightwing journalists, cranky poets, and some Republican politicians began suspecting that somehow Pearl Harbor was all a set-up. Since then, revisionist historians have contended that FDR both provoked and welcomed the war; and some even charged that he knew of the attack beforehand. Establishment historians and government officials countered these charges by insisting that the attack was indeed a surprise due to a failure of American intelligence and incompetence in the naval high command. Stinnett quotes historian Stephen E. Ambrose who claimed, as recently as a 1999 Wall Street Journal editorial, that “the real problem was that American intelligence was terrible.” According to Ambrose (who echoes the official story), the navy had not yet broken the Japanese naval codes, and the Japanese task force maintained strict radio silence on its way to Hawaii. As a result, “in late November, intelligence ‘lost’ the Japanese aircraft carrier fleet.” Other historians have contended that the Japanese caught us by surprise due to faulty analysis of pretty good intelligence, bureaucratic squabbling among high-level naval officers in Washington, underestimation of Japanese daring and capabilities, and expectations that the attack would come against Dutch or British possessions in East Asia, not against Hawaii. Stinnett exposes each one of these theories to be false. For instance, he amply demonstrates that the ships of the Japanese carrier fleet engaged in daily radio communication with the high command in Japan, military commands in the Central Pacific, and with each other. Stinnett found out the truth by reading American naval intelligence radio intercepts of the Japanese transmissions. American intelligence did not lose the carriers.

How did Stinnett manage to uncover the truth when congressional investigations (in both 1945-1946 and 1995) failed to do so? The answer lies in Stinnett’s intelligence, integrity, and unflagging research effort (lasting 17 years), qualities that we know from experience are all too lacking in congressional investigations. But it also lies in a crucial Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by the author in 1983. In that year, Stinnett learned of the existence of the Pacific War communications intelligence files of the United States Navy (a top secret file containing over one million documents relating to U.S. communication intelligence before and during the war). The author’s request was at first denied, but in 1994 the navy decided to declassify the records, or at least most of them. As the Stinnett soon discovered, key intercepts and documents were kept back, some were missing from the records, and other documents had been altered to conceal vital information. However, enough information was released, perhaps inadvertently, to enable Stinnett to piece together the truth.

American communication intelligence operations in the Pacific theater was primarily a naval operation. The intelligence network was composed of 21 radio intercept stations located along the North American coast from Panama to Alaska and on Pacific islands from Hawaii to the Philippines. As Stinnett demonstrates, well over 90 percent of all Japanese radio transmissions were intercepted by one or more of these stations. Once intercepted, these messages were sent to one of three regional control centers, two of which were also cryptographic centers, and from there they were sent on to Station US in Washington, the headquarters for naval communications intelligence. Of course, all official Japanese communications were in code. Diplomatic messages were sent in the Purple, Tsu, or Oite codes; naval communications in one of 29 codes called the Kaigun Ango, the most important of which were the 5-Num (naval operations), SM (naval movement), S (merchant marine), and Yobidashi Fugo (radio call sign) codes. Stinnett conclusively demonstrates that American cryptologists (codebreakers) had broken all four naval codes by October of 1940. (American intelligence had broken Japanese diplomatic codes even before: Tsu in the 1920s, Oite in 1939, and Purple in September 1940. As a result, cryptologists could intercept, decipher, and translate almost all Japanese diplomatic and military radio traffic within a matter of hours after receiving them. The decryption (decoding) and translating was done at three cryptographic centers: Station CAST on Corregidor in the Philippines; Station HYPO on Oahu; and Station US in Washington.

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