This interview is excerpted from the KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles broadcast of December 10th. The entire half hour segment can be heard here.
This interview of Robert Stinnett, author of Day of Deceit: The Truth about FDR and Pearl Harbor, covers much of the same material from his previous interview of December 7th. There are additional discussions about Stinnett’s 1982 discovery of Pearl Harbor’s cryptographic listening station, the reclassification of WWII era documents following the PATRIOT Act’s passage and other topics of interest.
Scott Horton: For KPFK 90.7 FM in Los Angeles, I’m Scott Horton. This is Antiwar Radio.
All right, y’all, welcome to the show. This is Antiwar Radio, Pacifica 90.7 FM in Los Angeles, 90 something point all kinds of things all across Southern California. I am Scott Horton. I have archives of my interviews going all the way back to 2003 at scotthortonshow.com, more than 1500 interviews there, and approximately that number at antiwar.com/radio. I keep all my foreign policy interview archives there for your listening enjoyment.
And now this week marked the 69th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, and around this time of year I always like to interview Robert Stinnett. He is a fellow at The Independent Institute. He is a biographer of George Bush, Senior, author of the book George Bush’s World War II Years, and wrote in 1999 Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor. Welcome to the show, Robert. How are you doing, sir?
Robert Stinnett: Doing fine, and thank you for inviting me.
Scott Horton: I really appreciate you spending time with us tonight on the show. And real quick, I want to give one footnote out. If people will just google “Day of Deceit,” of course they’ll find the return for your book for sale all over the place, but they’ll also find a blog entry at antiwar.com that I wrote back in 2005 that has links to all kinds of important information, and especially down at the bottom it has a link to The Independent Institute’s Pearl Harbor resources page, which is absolutely invaluable. So I wanted to turn people on to that. So now, very briefly, Mr. Stinnett, if we could talk a little bit about your history and your service in the Navy. You fought in World War II in the Pacific theater, isn’t that right?
Robert Stinnett: Yeah, that’s right. I was in the Pacific Fleet for the whole war.
Scott Horton: And contrary, I guess I should say, to the typical smear this time of year – we can always read it on the editorial pages at the beginning of every December that crusty old Franklin Roosevelt haters who just can’t get over what a great president he was always trot out this myth that he knew about the Pearl Harbor attack before it happened and they just ride this hobbyhorse even though it’s not true – and yet you say in your book and you’ve told me in previous interviews that you’re not a crusty old FDR hater at all and in fact, even though you proved the case in your book that he did in fact know about the impending attack on Pearl Harbor before it happened, that you think that that was justified on his part.
Robert Stinnett: Well, I don’t know that I would use the word justified. I would say that was the only option he had, and so he wanted to end the isolation movement in this country that didn’t want anything to do with Europe’s war. It was not called World War II as yet, it was still Europe’s war until the Pearl Harbor attack. So he adopted a Navy plan to get Japan to attack us at Pearl Harbor, and it was a backdoor approach to war really with Germany.
Scott Horton: Mmhmm. Well, and you told me before though that you think that he really did have to do it, as you say just there he had no option, but you think that the consequences of doing nothing would have been far more disastrous and therefore it was worth it, right?
Robert Stinnett: Well, what was happening in 1940 when he adopted this, in October 1940 Germany was bombing London daily and nightly and was assembling invasion forces to invade England, and they surely would have overpowered the English and seized the British fleet and then merged it with the Nazi navy, and then could have come over here and threatened the United States and got English possessions in Bermuda, in the Caribbean and so forth. So Roosevelt had no other option except to get Japan to attack us and that would then trigger the link between Germany, Italy and Japan called the Tripartite Pact, where one another would come if they were attacked by another nation not in the war. That sort of sounds complicated, but it was a backdoor approach to get us in.
Scott Horton: Mmm. Well I just wanted to establish that this is revisionism without a grudge, rather than, you know, the way it might be portrayed and in fact the way it has been portrayed in some book reviews and so forth. So I think that’s an important point about your motive in writing this book. Now, tell me, when was it that you decided that you wanted to, as a historian, take a fresh look at what happened at Pearl Harbor?
Robert Stinnett: Well, when I read in a – in 1982, I read in a book by Gordon Prange that the U.S. Navy had a cryptography monitor station at Pearl Harbor that was serving the Pacific Fleet, and this was prior to December 7th, and it had been operating for a number of years and was giving Admiral Kimmel intercepts – these are, by word intercepted, they were listening into the Japanese Navy orders sending their warships to Pearl Harbor and also to Southeast Asia. And I had never heard of that before. I was in the Pacific Fleet and I didn’t need to know that and under the need-to-know basis this was a – not what I would get into. So that’s why it got me interested. I wanted to know more about it.
Scott Horton: Mmhmm. Well, and even though you weren’t in the need-to-know loop during the war, it seems like they could have told the truth after the war, but they didn’t. They lied for decades about the extent to which they had broken the Japanese code. Isn’t that right?
Robert Stinnett: That is right. The breaking the codes is the important thing to know, and it’s still secret. You still can’t get a lot of records out, and even though I’ve written personally to President Obama to release the records, he’s not replied to my requests.
Scott Horton: All right, it is Antiwar Radio on Pacifica 90.7 FM in Los Angeles, and I’m speaking with Robert Stinnett, author of the book Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor. And now, ever since John T. Flynn, and maybe even before that, there have been people who accused Franklin Roosevelt of having prior knowledge of that attack and turning a blind eye to it, but the case was really close to you with the final Freedom of Information Act dump in 1999, correct? What was it that you found in there that was the ironclad proof that you thought would be the capstone to your book, Day of Deceit?
Robert Stinnett: Well, it was released to me the overt act of war plan that the U.S. Navy presented by Admiral –
Scott Horton: You’re speaking of the McCollum memo, Arthur McCollum’s memo.
Robert Stinnett: Yes. But it antagonized James Richardson, Admiral Richardson, who heard about the McCollum memo, and when he met with President Roosevelt in the Oval Office – Roosevelt had called him from Hawaii on October 8, 1940 – this was a year before Pearl Harbor – and told him they’re going to, he wanted to keep the fleet in Pearl Harbor as a lure to Japan. Well, the admiral blew up at him and said that the officers in the Navy don’t have any confidence in your judgment. And that made Roosevelt furious. He fired Admiral Richardson and put in Admiral Kimmel in the Pacific Fleet. So I hope you’re following all of this, but it – it was really to put the overt act of war into policy.
Scott Horton: Mmhmm. And so, to make sure I understand you there, you’re saying when Commander Arthur McCollum of Naval Intelligence, when he wrote up his eight-point plan of how to provoke Japan into attacking us, that the admiral above him balked and didn’t want to go along, and so at that point that was what made Franklin Roosevelt fire him and hire Admiral Kimmel to replace him.
Robert Stinnett: Yeah, that’s correct.
Scott Horton: Okay. And then so now can you take us through this McCollum memo? I’ll urge anyone and everyone in the audience to go to your favorite search engine and just type in McCollum memo and you can find it’s an eight-point plan lettered A through H here, how to provoke Japan into committing the first overt act of war, firing the first shot, as Henry Stimson said.
Robert Stinnett: Yes. That is correct, Scott, and among the eight provocations, one was to send U.S. cruiser forces into Japanese territorial waters. The other was to keep the fleet at Pearl Harbor as a lure and also to send submarine forces, and then a variety of embargoes that were imposed on Japan, that theoretically was to keep them from making war. But they did give them enough, President Roosevelt did allow enough oil to be given to Japan so it would last them until about November 1943. So while we had an embargo, there really wasn’t; Japan was getting the oil they needed to have the overt act of war.
Scott Horton: Mmhmm. So, it wasn’t enough of an embargo to actually cripple their ability to wage war, just enough to anger them and help provoke them.
Robert Stinnett: They had enough oil to fuel their warships until about November 1943, and that’s when we really started our offensive against Japan at Tarawa.
Scott Horton: Mmhmm. Now, in your book I believe you say, Mr. Stinnett, that Admiral Kimmel and General Short both were cut out of the loop of information, that the cryptographers at Hawaii were actually funneling the information to Washington D.C. but it wasn’t coming back again, and yet when we spoke recently you said that you have new information which indicates that Admiral Kimmel was in fact in the loop.
Robert Stinnett: Yes he was. There were about a thousand Japanese naval messages intercepted each day in the area of Pearl Harbor, and a summary was made of these messages and these were given to Admiral Kimmel by his cryptographic officer, so this is what I’m investigating now is why this was allowed to happen and Kimmel is looking the other way.
Scott Horton: Mmhmm All right, now, I’m Scott Horton. It’s Antiwar Radio. I’m talking with Robert Stinnett from The Independent Institute, author of Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor. And now, Mr. Stinnett, when I was a kid, I learned what a great stroke of luck it was that all of America’s best ships, the aircraft carriers especially, were out at sea that day and that only the remnants of the World War I fleet were left in harbor at Pearl Harbor and how the war might have gone very differently in the Pacific had that not been the case. Was that just luck, or this was part of the prior knowledge, that they got their best ships out of the way but left enough to make a real sacrifice to change that 80% against war to 80% for it?
Robert Stinnett: Yes, that is what happened. Our two – there were two carrier task forces of about 30 warships. Those two were our most modern warships, and they were there at Pearl Harbor. But they were sent out of the harbor just about four or five days before December 7th, and ostensibly it was an excuse to deliver some airplanes to Wake Island and to Midway Island. But one delivery was made to Midway, but the one other carrier task force just sailed around and didn’t go anywhere. And the whole idea was to keep, so our modern ships would not be damaged. What was hit at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese were the old World War I battleships and other warships that were outmoded.
Scott Horton: Mmhmm. Well now, a lot of Franklin Roosevelt’s defenders over the decades have said that, “Well, we thought that there might be an attack, but they thought it would be at the Philippines, and so we were prepared to defend the Philippines but just got taken by surprise.” Is that correct?
Robert Stinnett: Well, no. Because you see the monitor station, the cryptography station at Pearl Harbor, also had radio direction finders aimed at the Japanese warships, so they knew where they were, and we had points in Alaska and on the West Coast of the United States that we could pinpoint them in the North Pacific. And that’s what was done beginning on November 26th, 1941, and Washington, once they realized that the Japanese fleet was heading towards Pearl Harbor and was in the North Pacific, they declared it a vacant sea, which kept all warships out of the vacant sea, meaning American warships and British warships. The only warships allowed were the Japanese warships that proceeded to cross over the North Pacific and then come down the 157th longitude which headed to Pearl Harbor.
Scott Horton: Well, you know I’m wondering how did the Secretary of War, George Marshall, ever pretend that really he was just out horseback riding with his grandson and had no idea that any of this was going on. I mean, that story didn’t even hold up at the time, did it?
Robert Stinnett: Well, it did during the war, but people, there were doubts of it during the wartime, and then it, the whole thing was that he did not want to interfere with the Japanese attack where it would look like we had maneuvered Japan into doing it. That was the big secret that I discovered in the National Archives. General Marshall, Admiral King, who was the head of the Navy, they were all part of this act, but they felt that this was the only way to get us into the European war was to have an attack so atrocious by Japan that it would unite America, and that’s what happened.
Scott Horton: Mmhmm. Well, and maybe I’m just 21st Century cynical, but it just seems like a pretty transparent alibi on the part of these men.
Robert Stinnett: Oh, it is, yeah it is, but no one questioned them at the time.
Scott Horton: Mmhmm. Now, I believe the first time we spoke back in 2003 or 4, Mr. Stinnett, you told me that your research into the Pearl Harbor attack and more, other stories about World War II including FDR’s putting the concentration camps in Europe on the Do Not Bomb No Matter What list, and you told me that because of the Patriot Act, the government had reclassified files from 60 and 70 years ago and were preventing you from completing the research you had already gotten underway on.
Robert Stinnett: Yes, that is correct. There’s still Pearl Harbor secret documents in National Archives, there’s tens of thousands of them that have been withdrawn and historians are not allowed to see them. And I object to that, and I’m trying to get those released, but I have not had any luck with it. But fortunately I got the McCollum memo that you talked about earlier, and that really told what was really going on.
Scott Horton: Mmhmm. Well, you know, a lot of people have tried to make the case over the years, and I think that your book is the final beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt treatment of the subject, and although it hasn’t been completely put to rest yet, I’m glad to give you the opportunity to tell people about your book and what you found in it on the show tonight, so thank you very much, Mr. Stinnett. Appreciate it.
Robert Stinnett: My pleasure.
Scott Horton: Everybody, that is Robert Stinnett. He’s a fellow at The Independent Institute. He’s the author of George Bush’s World War II Years and Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor. You can check out the Pearl Harbor resources page at independent.org.