Did FDR Have Prior Knowledge Of Pearl Harbor?

On the 7th December, 1941, the United States was shaken to its core, when the Japanese launched a surprise military strike on their naval base, at Pearl Harbor The attack destroyed almost 200 U

S aircraft and killed 2,400 Americans 24 hours after the attack, congress reversed its political position of neutrality in the conflict raging across the rest of the world It declared war on the Empire of Japan, inevitably leading to war with Japan’s allies, Germany and Italy The events at Pearl Harbor became an important fixture in American war propaganda But the questions surrounding how Japan managed to launch a secret attack on an American naval base persisted

In 1944 journalist John T Flynn argued that, shockingly, President Franklin Delaney Roosevelt had prior knowledge of the attack but let it happen, in order to justify America entering the Second World War In 2001 former sailor Robert Stinnett claimed to have uncovered evidence that the Roosevelt administration deliberately provoked and allowed the Japanese to attack Pearl Harbor, in order to bring the USA into the world war Stinnett argues that America had broken Japan’s secret naval code as early as 1940 and was able to intercept Japanese transmissions But Stinnett’s claim is dismissed by historians who have shown that Japan’s messages couldn’t be decrypted by the time of the attack

Even if the US hadn’t managed to learn about Japan’s imminent attack by deciphering coded messages, Stinnett also claims that radio signals from the approaching Japanese fleet as they crossed the Pacific Ocean would have been detected early on by US intelligence He says this information was deliberately not passed on to the Naval officers stationed at Pearl Harbor But this theory has also been discredited Surviving officers from the Japanese strike force have testified that all of the radio transmitters aboard their ships and airplanes were disabled, to ensure that the fleet remained radio silent Stinnett also argues that America moved their naval base to the Pacific ocean in order to lure the Japanese into attacking it

Historian Mark Parillo, in his essay ‘The United States in the Pacific’, emphasizes the strategic importance of Pearl Harbor being located in the Pacific As Japan was set on a course of conquering territories in the Pacific, Roosevelt “would have been foolish to sacrifice one of the major instruments needed to win the war just to get the United States into it” Whilst most scholars, including CIA historian Donald Steury, dismiss Stinnett’s claims as baseless, there does appear to be evidence that the USA’s increasingly harsh sanctions against Japan strained their relationship to the point of inevitable conflict between the two powers Diary entries by the United States Secretary of War, Henry L Stimson, detail a revealing meeting with the President

The diary records that, just 10 days before the attack, Roosevelt pondered 'how to maneuver the Japanese into the position of firing the first shot without allowing America to engage themselves’ In reviewing his diary after the war, Stimson revealed that the commanders at Pearl Harbor had been warned of the possibility of attack and that he was surprised at how unprepared the navy base was in case of attack The theory that Roosevelt had advanced knowledge of the attack on Pearl Harbor has been rejected by mainstream historians But an authorized Congress investigation into how the Japanese managed to ambush Pearl Harbor, known as the Clausen Inquiry, found that Roosevelt’s government underestimated Japan’s capabilities and intentions and lacked the adequate intelligence necessary to fully prepare the army and navy for an attack However, 75 years later, many of the documents relating to the Pearl Harbor attack still remain classified, whilst others were destroyed during the war

With so much obscurity still surrounding the Japanese attack, we may never know the extent to which FDR had prior knowledge of Pearl Harbor

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