Antiwar Radio: Robert Stinnett

Robert Stinnett, author of Day of Deceit: The Truth about FDR and Pearl Harbor, discusses how he found the McCollum memo outlining the FDR administration’s eight step plan to provoke a Japanese attack while searching through the National Archives; the radio listening stations that intercepted the Japanese fleet’s coded transmissions, earlier decrypted by the US; official orders from Naval command to stand aside and let the attack happen; and Stinnett’s new work-in-progress book, dealing in part with whether Admiral Kimmel’s was complicit or framed-up.


Scott Horton: All right, y’all, welcome to the show, back to it. It’s Antiwar Radio. I’m Scott Horton and our first guest on the show today is Robert Stinnett. He’s the author of Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor, and if you just search the term “Day of Deceit,” you will find a blog entry that I did at quite a few years back now, and there’s a link there at the bottom to The Independent Institute’s Pearl Harbor archive, tons of great articles and resources, book reviews, book links, and everything else that you can find. Robert Stinnett is associated with The Independent Institute, as is the great Anthony Gregory, who will be joining us later on the show. Welcome back, Robert, how are you, sir?

Robert Stinnett: Doing fine, thank you.

Scott Horton: I’m very happy to have you here. Appreciate you joining us today, especially on short notice like this.

Robert Stinnett: Glad to be with you.

Scott Horton: All right, so I guess the first thing we should talk about today is the McCollum memo. Maybe first of all, how did you find the McCollum memo, where was this thing, and then tell us about what’s in there.

Robert Stinnett: Yes, the McCollum memo is a Navy proposal to get Japan to attack us at Pearl Harbor, and he was advocating the use of eight provocations that would lure Japan to make the attack, and President Roosevelt adopted that plan on October 7, 1940, this was about 14 months before Pearl Harbor, and set the eight provocations in motion the following year. One of the provocations was to send American warships into Japanese territory really to tick off the nationalistic movement of Japanese, and that was done, and then to cut off Japan’s access to raw materials.

Scott Horton: And how was it that you came across this memo? Where was it?

Robert Stinnett: The memo was – I found it in the National Archives in Washington D.C. It was part of Navy records, intelligence records, and I was just going through boxes after boxes of them. I had asked, I had filed a Freedom of Information Act request to see Navy documents pertaining to Pearl Harbor, and the release signed, and there was 20 boxes in the first batch and each one held about 300 documents, and that’s where I found the McCollum memo.

Scott Horton: Mmhmm. And now you say in your book that Arthur McCollum had been stationed in Japan and was very familiar with their customs and culture, and so he really knew what he was talking about when he was saying, if we do these eight things, A through H here, that will, must be sufficient to provoke them into going ahead and striking us. It says here, “If by these means Japan could be led to commit an overt act of war, so much the better.” This is how to provoke them. We’ll poke them in the chest until they haul off and knock our block off.

Robert Stinnett: Yeah, that is right, and that’s what President Roosevelt wanted, and that’s why he adopted the plan. And he knew he was to go against the America First movement in the United States that was led by Charles Lindbergh and Henry Ford the auto magnate and the Hearst newspapers, all that had ties to Germany, and so 80% of Americans didn’t want anything to do with Europe’s war. That’s what it was called. It was not World War II. This was adopted, the whole plan was to get Japan to commit this overt act of war that it would arouse the American public. Which it did.

Scott Horton: And now, so now back to the details of the McCollum memo. It says here, “Make an arrangement with the British for the use of their bases in Singapore.” Did they do that?

Robert Stinnett: No, they didn’t go to Singapore, but they made arrangements with the British, with Rabaul, which is in the South Pacific in New Guinea, and we were actively developing Rabaul into an American base at the time. That was one of the provocations.

Scott Horton: Mmhmm. And then did they follow through on negotiating with Holland on the Dutch East Indies?

Robert Stinnett: Yes, they did. The Dutch government also participated and cut off oil supply to Japan. Dutch were in control of the Burma area and other areas which we now call Indonesia and they had rich oil deposits there plus other raw materials that Japan needed for war-making, so they were cut off from all of that by one of the provocations.

Scott Horton: Mmhmm And then C says, “Give all possible aid to the Chinese Government of Chiang-Kai-Shek,” and of course we know about the Flying Tigers and all that. That was certainly part of it, right?

Robert Stinnett: Yes, that is right, because as you know at the time Japan and China were at war with one another and so we were loaning the Chinese leader multimillions of dollars in war supplies and funds to continue the war against Japan.

Scott Horton: Mmhmm. And then D and E are about strengthening the long-range heavy cruisers and submarines in the Orient. F is “Keep the U.S. fleet at the Hawaiian Islands.” Now Hawaii was a U.S. territory at the time, which we’d only stolen it a few decades before, I guess, at this point.

Robert Stinnett: That’s right.

Scott Horton: But how does that count as a provocation, keeping the fleet – I could see sending them past Hawaii, but how is keeping the fleet at Hawaii a provocation to Japan?

Robert Stinnett: Because Japan regarded that fleet as interfering with their plans to occupy Southeast Asia and get at the oil. This was like a sweeping motion just to knock out the Pacific Fleet so we couldn’t stop Japan seeking the oil in Southeast Asia.

Scott Horton: Mmhmm. And then G, basically he says, “Insist the Dutch cut the Japanese off from their oil in Indonesia.” Did that go through?

Robert Stinnett: Yes, it did. The ambassador to the Dutch met Washington, and also in Batavia, which is in Indonesia, and they just refused to sell oil to Japan and would not allow their tankers, the Dutch tankers, to be used to carry any oil to Japan. Japan was literally cut off from oil, which it needed. There’s no oil resources in Japan itself. They had to import it.

Scott Horton: Mmhmm. And then there was the complete embargo, a joint embargo with the UK on steel as well, and did the British join in on that?

Robert Stinnett: Yes, the British did.

Scott Horton: Like it’s recommended here?

Robert Stinnett: Yes, that’s right. The British joined in. That was to their advantage. And then in July 1941 a total embargo was ordered by President Roosevelt in an order that cut off all access by Japan to the world’s resources. There was no way that she could get supplies to keep her country going, so that forced them to align the fleet and get ready for an attack on the United States and Britain.

Scott Horton: Well, you know, I just – maybe it’s just me, maybe it’s you too. I don’t think that we could overstate the importance of this memo. I mean, here, if you were just going back and doing some revisionist history and said, “Wow, you know, FDR really did embark on a lot of policies that provoked Japan into attacking us,” that would be one thing. But here you have the memo, and this was, you know, contemporary to your time. I know you served in the Pacific war in World War II, and now here you find this memo that says that all these policies were designed in order to provoke them into attacking us. “If they could be led to commit an overt act of war, so much the better,” the memo reads. It’s amazing.

All right, now hold it right there, everybody. We’ll be right back with Robert Stinnett, author of Day of Deceit, after this. We’re going to talk about some of these military radio codes.

– break –

Scott Horton: All right, y’all, welcome back to the show. It’s Antiwar Radio. I’m Scott Horton. I’m talking with Robert Stinnett from The Independent Institute. That’s Check out their Pearl Harbor archive of resources page there. He’s got an article at called “The Pearl Harbor Deception,” and the book is Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor. And I’m sorry we got interrupted by the break in the middle of me ranting there, Mr. Stinnett, but what I was getting to was you were in the Pacific war in World War II.

Robert Stinnett: Yeah, that’s right.

Scott Horton: And these things were kept from you. You could have saw this as a terrible blundering into war with Japan in a way, and then here you’re the one who found this McCollum memo that says here’s how to blunder into war with Japan.

Robert Stinnett: Yeah, that is right, but you know that the “overt act of war” was a total secret that was kept from the American public all throughout World War II and until I really found it in the National Archives, as we discussed earlier.

Scott Horton: Mmhmm. And now I think you told me on the show before in years past when we’ve talked about this that you were told at the time in the Navy during the war that the diplomatic codes had been broken but that they had never been able to break the Japanese navy’s military codes, and then you found out, I think you said, in the early 1980s that that wasn’t quite right. Was it John Toland’s book, Infamy, that flipped your switch there, or was there something else?

Robert Stinnett: Well, I first learned that we had a monitor station in Pearl Harbor by reading the book At Dawn We Slept, and I learned that in 1982, and that was what alerted me to find out more about that. And I was working on the Oakland Tribune at the time and I went to the editor, told him about it and said we ought to do it for our 1982 story on Pearl Harbor, which all the newspapers did. So he agreed, and I went there and saw where the station was and met some of the cryptographers who were listening into the Japanese navy’s radio dispatches and they told me where I could find this message. I had never heard of this before, because during World War II when I was a part of the Pacific fleet sailors, that never leaked out.

Scott Horton: So were you immediately aware of the importance of this, that if they had intercepted – I mean, after all, the story is that they maintained radio silence, there was nothing to intercept, they were so sneaky, the Japanese.

Robert Stinnett: That’s right. And I believed all that, that there was radio silence, because the existence of these radio monitor stations were top secret in this country, and I was instrumental in getting this revealed by my book Day of Deceit. There were 25 stations in the Pacific Basin listening into the Japanese naval frequencies. We had Japan wired for sound.

Scott Horton: And so you have at this point in your work you were able to get your hands on the cables that show exactly what? That they certainly knew good and well Pearl Harbor was going to be attacked on the 7th, or how specific is the evidence in there?

Robert Stinnett: Yes, well the monitor stations were also, they not only had receivers to listen in to the Japanese broadcasts, which were done in a Japanese Morse code, which is different than our Morse code, but they also had radio direction finders so when a Japanese warship sent out a radio message, a radio direction finder can locate them on the waters of the Pacific wherever they are, and this is part of my discovery once I met the cryptographers over in Pearl Harbor in 1982. They told me I could find these records, and that’s what I set out to find, and did, and got the monitor stations that said that the Japanese fleet that was heading to Hawaii was on “extensive radio communications”, and that was a major find.

Scott Horton: Mmhmm. And they identified carriers and submarines and battleships and all of these, you know, a major fleet in communication with each other.

Robert Stinnett: Well that’s right. When the Japanese Hawaii force departed from Japan on November 26th, the commander of the carriers was in radio contact with the commander of the submarines and also the invasion forces of Wake and Guam islands, and these extensive communications lasted for several days.

And John Toland wrote about that in his book Infamy, quoting from a person in the Twelfth Naval District who plotted the radio direction finder bearings on a map showing that they were proceeding in the North Pacific about the 40˚ latitude.

Scott Horton: Well, you know, I could just hear the Republicans from our current days now saying, “Well, you know, there was a lot of chatter but we just missed it,” and so I wonder if you can really show that this intelligence was understood for what it signified and whether then the Secretary of War and the President of the United States were made aware of this at the time. And in real time.

Robert Stinnett: No, that is a good question, Scott, and when the cryptographers located the fleet in the North Pacific on November 26th, a priority message was sent to Washington asking what we should do, and it was sent by Admiral Kimmel, the commander of the Pacific fleet. “These Japanese warships have been located – what should we do?” And the Navy Department waited two days and then told him to stand aside and let Japan commit the first overt act. Don’t jeopardize your defense, but let them strike first. I found those documents. Those were just as revealing as that overt act of war memo.

Scott Horton: Well and then it was I think in Stimson’s diary, he says the same thing, that that was their object, right?

Robert Stinnett: Yes. There’s some version of that, but I think the order, first of all, that the eight provocations and then plus the order of November 27th ordering the Pacific commanders to stand aside and let Japan commit the first overt act. That was, the overt act was right out of that October 1940 memo that President Roosevelt adopted.

Scott Horton: Mmhmm. And then really this wasn’t that much of a mystery at the time, am I right? Pretty much a lot of people assumed that they had let this attack happen, and not just, you know, wingnuts, but people with power and influence in Washington D.C., famous writers like John T. Flynn and others, immediately accused Roosevelt, didn’t they?

Robert Stinnett: Well, yes. During the war and then right after the war, these accusations were made, but a professor at Yale University came out with a book pretty much suggesting that this was happening, so somehow that leaked out to the professor and some of the other newsmen. But of course during wartime they did not want to reveal to the Japanese that we had broken their codes. That would have been a terrible tragedy for the Allies and so that was not done. And so after the war, a series of court historians, I would say, came out with books extolling the radio silence and a lot of other falsehoods about the Pearl Harbor attack.

Scott Horton: And now I believe you told me previously that you had originally thought that Admiral Kimmel and General Short had both been cut out of the loop of communications here of the information, that even though it was people I guess under Kimmel who were doing the deciphering, that they were sending it straight to D.C., not through him, but then you told me that you found out later that, no, he did know, and I wonder, you know, if I could get you to clarify. Was Kimmel in on this, turning a blind eye to this incoming attack?

Robert Stinnett: Well, that’s a very good question, and it’s something that’s puzzling to me, because the station, the monitor station, was located in Pearl Harbor. It was called Station HYPO, and they were furnishing daily bulletins to Admiral Kimmel. They were called daily summaries. They were summarizing what had been intercepted during the 24-hour period each day. And so Kimmel had the right to ask for more questions, but he never did, and I’m working on a new book now to find out why it was this kind of collusion of Admiral Kimmel with the cryptographers to hide this information, because he was getting information in the fall of the year but not during the spring of the year. That’s when Admiral Kimmel was making the complaints to Washington, and he was called to meet with President Roosevelt in June 1941, which he did, but there’s no record of what was said during the m– there was about a three-hour meeting in the Oval Office in June 1941, but neither Kimmel or his family or the White House has ever revealed what went on there.

Scott Horton: All right, well I want to thank you very much for your time. I’m sorry, we’re just scratching the surface of the information in the book, but I highly recommend it to people. Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor. And can you tell us when you expect the new book to be finished?

Robert Stinnett: Well, I’m doing the research now and checking in all the records. It’s going to be about two years.

Scott Horton: Okay, well, we’re going to talk to you next year and then we’re going to look forward to the year after that for sure. Thank you so much for your time on the show. I really appreciate it.

Robert Stinnett: That’s great, Scott. Thank you for inviting me.

Scott Horton: Everybody, that’s Robert Stinnett. The book is Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor, and you can find him at The Independent Institute. They have a tremendous Pearl Harbor archive for you there, and we’ll be right back after this.

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