Did FDR Provoke Pearl Harbor?

On Dec. 8, 1941, Franklin Roosevelt took the rostrum before a joint session of Congress to ask for a declaration of war on Japan.

A day earlier, at dawn, carrier-based Japanese aircraft had launched a sneak attack devastating the U.S. battle fleet at Pearl Harbor.

Said ex-President Herbert Hoover, Republican statesman of the day, “We have only one job to do now, and that is to defeat Japan.”

But to friends, “the Chief” sent another message: “You and I know that this continuous putting pins in rattlesnakes finally got this country bit.”

Today, 70 years after Pearl Harbor, a remarkable secret history, written from 1943 to 1963, has come to light. It is Hoover’s explanation of what happened before, during and after the world war that may prove yet the death knell of the West.

Edited by historian George Nash, Freedom Betrayed: Herbert Hoover’s History of the Second World War and Its Aftermath is a searing indictmentof FDR and the men around him as politicians who lied prodigiously about their desire to keep America out of war, even as they took one deliberate step after another to take us into war.

Yet the book is no polemic. The 50-page run-up to the war in the Pacific uses memoirs and documents from all sides to prove Hoover’s indictment. And perhaps the best way to show the power of this book is the way Hoover does it — chronologically, painstakingly, week by week.

Consider Japan’s situation in the summer of 1941. Bogged down in a four year war in China she could neither win nor end, having moved into French Indochina, Japan saw herself as near the end of her tether.

Inside the government was a powerful faction led by Prime Minister Prince Fumimaro Konoye that desperately did not want a war with the United States.

The “pro-Anglo-Saxon” camp included the navy, whose officers had fought alongside the U.S. and Royal navies in World War I, while the war party was centered on the army, Gen. Hideki Tojo and Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoka, a bitter anti-American.

On July 18, 1941, Konoye ousted Matsuoka, replacing him with the “pro-Anglo-Saxon” Adm. Teijiro Toyoda.

The U.S. response: On July 25, we froze all Japanese assets in the United States, ending all exports and imports, and denying Japan the oil upon which the nation and empire depended.

Stunned, Konoye still pursued his peace policy by winning secret support from the navy and army to meet FDR on the U.S. side of the Pacific to hear and respond to U.S. demands.

U.S. Ambassador Joseph Grew implored Washington not to ignore Konoye’s offer, that the prince had convinced him an agreement could be reached on Japanese withdrawal from Indochina and South and Central China. Out of fear of Mao’s armies and Stalin’s Russia, Tokyo wanted to hold a buffer in North China.

On Aug. 28, Japan’s ambassador in Washington presented FDR a personal letter from Konoye imploring him to meet.

Tokyo begged us to keep Konoye’s offer secret, as the revelation of a Japanese prime minister’s offering to cross the Pacific to talk to an American president could imperil his government.

On Sept. 3, the Konoye letter was leaked to the Herald-Tribune.

On Sept. 6, Konoye met again at a three-hour dinner with Grew to tell him Japan now agreed with the four principles the Americans were demanding as the basis for peace. No response.

On Sept. 29, Grew sent what Hoover describes as a “prayer” to the president not to let this chance for peace pass by.

On Sept. 30, Grew wrote Washington, “Konoye’s warship is ready waiting to take him to Honolulu, Alaska or anyplace designated by the president.”

No response. On Oct. 16, Konoye’s cabinet fell.

In November, the U.S. intercepted two new offers from Tokyo: a Plan A for an end to the China war and occupation of Indochina and, if that were rejected, a Plan B, a modus vivendi where neither side would make any new move. When presented, these, too, were rejected out of hand.

At a Nov. 25 meeting of FDR’s war council, Secretary of War Henry Stimson’s notes speak of the prevailing consensus: “The question was how we should maneuver them (the Japanese) into … firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves.”

“We can wipe the Japanese off the map in three months,” wrote Navy Secretary Frank Knox.

As Grew had predicted, Japan, a “hara-kiri nation,” proved more likely to fling herself into national suicide for honor than to allow herself to be humiliated

Out of the war that arose from the refusal to meet Prince Konoye came scores of thousands of U.S. dead, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, the fall of China to Mao Zedong, U.S. wars in Korea and Vietnam, and the rise of a new arrogant China that shows little respect for the great superpower of yesterday.

If you would know the history that made our world, spend a week with Mr. Hoover’s book.



Patrick J. Buchanan


Patrick J. Buchanan is a columnist, political analyst for MSNBC, chairman of The American Cause foundation and an editor of The American Conservative. Mr. Buchanan has written ten books, including six straight New York Times best sellers, served as a senior advisor to three Presidents, was a two-time candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, and was the presidential nominee of the Reform Party in 2000.

  • pammie

    I very much appreciate PJB’s attempts to set his fellow citizens straight on fairly recent historical events. One can begin to see a deliberate pattern of deception by our government and a slow but insidious progression to the lies and misinformation bubbling and boiling in today’s world. “Truth” has become what is “perceived to be true” and not what really happens/ed.

    It has been said that those who can control the past have an easier time controlling the future. And those who can control the future have the power over the present.

  • Thomas C. Coleman, Jr.

    Great companion piece to Fr. Rutler’s articles on the “Diplomat’s War.” Can you tell us is if Fr. Rutler plans to publish any articles on the Pacific theater or whether or not he has any reactions to the present piece by PJB?

  • Unless Buchanan is saying that we should have invaded every OPEC nation in the 1970s, he’s being a hypocrite. We angered Japan in the 1920s when we restricted immigration. Should they have attacked us then? No. Japan went to war with us in 1941 to protect their wars of conquest. Buchanan’s position is a disgrace to the American Firster’s who were patriots and supported the war effort after we were attacked. PAt has no shame or sense of Patria.

  • Thomas C. Coleman, Jr.

    I understand that in this short space Mr. Buchanan could not address all of the events that led to conflict between Japan and the West, but if we fail to consider waht Japan was already doing in Aisa even before it invaded Manchira, as well as the likely conduct of a Japan unchecked by athe restraints of civilization we cannot arrive at an accurate view of either the decisions made by Western leaders or the likely consequences of allowinig Japan free reign in the Pacific. To begin with, soon after the peace treaty between Russia and Japan that Teddy Roosevelt got the Nobel Peace Prize for brokering, Japan annexed Korea with shameful US aquiesence and began to commit cultural genocide there. Japnaese elf-race-worship antedated German National Socialism by decades, but the West misunderstood this, not realzing that Japan did not recongnize thier fellow Asians as equals but as inferiors who were to be enslaved, all the the while telling the rest of the world that that they were doin this for the good of those whom they subjugated, tortured, and killed. The idea of a C-Prosperity Sherre was a ruse intended to trick the West into ignroing Japanese natoricities, just as Japna’s claim to acting in defesne is sillier than a ciam that Muslim conquest of Northern Africa and Spain was a dfesen measure against chrsitian aggression. Those familiar with first half of the 20th Centruy know that the Japanese miltarists, like the Nazis had no moral restraints at all. Anucelar armed, ICBM equipped Nazi-Japan Axis could have meant the end of civilization. Finally, I think that in evaluating Wadhinton’s moves at that time intellectual honesty demands that we factor in the fact that since at least 1905 the Japanese had mastered the art of public relations and deception, evening hirng US PR firms, and the West had already learned the in the Land of the Rising Sun duplicty was a virute. In other words, the US had no reason to take Japan’s peace gestures as anything than the ruses that they probably were.

  • TomD

    Of all the wars of the twentieth century, the involvement of the United States in the Second World War is the most defensible.

    Americans must remember that without United States military involvement, (1) the entire western Pacific region would have been conquered by Japanese Imperialism . . . probably from Korea to Burma and as far south as Indonesia (Australia and New Zealand, too?), and (2) all of Europe, including Britain, and North Africa would have been conquered by Hitler, with, for all we know, continuing conflict between Fascist Germany and the Communist Soviet Union along the Eastern Front.

    How we could have accepted this reality, pretending that it didn’t exist, is unfathomable to me. The cause of freedom in the world was in the hands of the United States during this dark time in human history, and, thank God The Greatest Generation responded militarily.

  • Robert Brennan

    In this article, every motive the Japanese govt makes, even in the light of its genocidal activity in China, is pure while every motive of the FDR administration, and believe me I am no fan of those folks, is suspect.

  • Stephen Perry

    I find these criticisms astonishing. Cannot these people read? The argument is not “Japan good, US bad,” but rather that if American diplomacy had supported the Konoye government, war with Japan might possibly have been avoided, and Japan’s imperialism might possibly have been reined in by Konoye’s party. But FDR didn’t want that to happen. Even FDR’s supporters (“Day of Deceit” by Robert B. Stinnett) admit that FDR provoked war with Japan in order to force the US into the war in Europe. How’d that work out? That famous picture of the fallen Berlin has a Soviet flag, not an American one, displayed in the bombed-out building.

    Does it not occur to anyone that if the US had eventually gotten into the war in Europe (not to say that was desirable, but just for the sake of argument) without being at war with Japan, we could have brought to bear enough resources to defeat Germany before the Soviets had overrun Eastern Europe and before the idiots Churchill and FDR could have had a chance to give away the peace?

    How was it in US interests to destroy the anti-communist regional “super” power, Japan? You can be sure the moles and fellow-travellers in the FDR administration knew it was not. And did China end up better off with possession of both Manchuria and Mao?

  • Thomas C. Coleman, Jr.

    Mr. Perry, I am flabbergasted to read anyone suggest that imperialist Japan’s opposition to Communism was anything other than sefl-interest. Have you ever had much contact with Koreans, Chinese, Filipinos, Burmese, or Indo-Chinses surviviors of the Co-Prosperity Sphere? Perhaps you should go to a Korean restraunt and tell them how unfortunate they are to have been liberated from the power that had a policy singed off on by none other than Hirohito of kinapping middle shcool girls to use as sex-slaves and then started to girl those young girls as the war coame to a close to hide the crime. I offer to physically carry you into a Korean restraunt and translate for you as you tell them of the misfortune of their liberation from the power that tried to wipe out their laguage and culture. Can any rational person seriously imagine that a power as diabolical as Imperial Japan was interested in peace at all. It was in the interest of the entire free world to dstroy the power of both Imperial Japan and nazi Germany. That clear fact is not negated by that traitorous Communists within the US government used the victories of one set of devils to advacne the purpose of another set of devils. But to suggest that the ciliized world should just have sat by while Imperial Japan had its diabolical way with Asia bespeaks not only of inhumane cynicism but of a kind of racism as well, since it seems to rest on the sentiment that we ought not carre what happens to a bunch of Asians, which is sentiment that the Japanese of the time counted on. As I stated above, from the early part of the 20th Century, the Japanese had learned to manipulate public opinion in other countries and even hired PR men to convince the US government that the people of Korea were just fine with losing control of their country and culture. Those who imagine that the civilized world could have reached some mdus vivendi with Germany and Japan should remember that both countries and actice nuclear weapons and long range missile programs and that both powers had demonstrated that they had absolutely no moral restranints, Germany having abandoned Christianity for a wiches of brew of race-worship, Nietzsche, Darwin, and Satanism, while Japan had been untouched by Christianity since killing everry Christian they could find centuries before. Shame on you and Mr. Buchanan!

    • Paul

      Hey Tom, listen to yourself. Your so fixated about your ‘expert’ analysis that you don’t even read right. This article is about FDR. We agree with who Japan(they’re barbarians then) is but this article is examining what FDR & his government did prior to Dec 7th.

      • Carl

        Hey Paul,
        The point of Pat’s piece in his own words “Out of the war that arose from the refusal to meet Prince Konoye came scores of thousands of U.S. dead, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, the fall of China to Mao Zedong, U.S. wars in Korea and Vietnam, and the rise of a new arrogant China that shows little respect for the great superpower of yesterday.”
        Pat does well here in portraying himself as a peace-at-all-costs liberal. But when did evil upon further reflection, through kindness of an adversary, see the error of its way and redeem itself.

        • sarto

          Japan merely wanted what Britain, France, the Netherlands, Germany, and the United States all enjoyed: An empire. Each of the above mentioned conquered brutally and plundered ruthlessly. They had set the tone. But expanding her empire meant colliding with other empires. And besides, the clock was ticking on the whole idea. After the War, the powerful tried to go back to their old borders, but the brown, black, and yellow people had watched their overlords stumble, and the indigenous struggle against empire was on. Fr. William McDougall, a teacher of mine who spent time in a Japanese prison camp, covers this brilliantly in “By Eastern Windows.”

          The U.S. still has a few vestiges of its empire: Puerto Rico and a few islands in the Pacific.

          • Carl

            Wow sarto, blame America first? We’re the blame for WWII? So Western Civilization is the bane of the world? Astounding !

            And those few vestiges of our empire are free to leave any time and get off our welfare rolls! Good riddance I say.

            • Carl

              One sure can point out the failures of European Colonization but to lump in The United States as an equal in this is disingenuous to say the least! And there is certainly little comparison to any of the mentioned to NAZI Germany and Imperial Japan!

              The Spanish after 400 years of colonial rule in Puerto Rico saw the indigenous population nearly exterminated and African slave labor introduced. After the Spanish-American war Puerto Rico received:
              * Free citizenship to US
              * Popularly elected governors
              * Constitution providing for self government
              * Including the right to alter the exist political status (welfare state)
              * All this in less than 50 years

              Interesting that you compare the US to Japan and not Colonial Spain!

              And the “few islands in the Pacific,” I can repeat the same for the Philippine Islands. And didn’t Japan invade these islands?

  • Carl

    Me thinks Pat Buchanan is trying too hard to portray a Michael J. Fox “Back to the Future” Time machine game with history.

    How many lives would have been spared if FDR followed General Patton’s suggestion to invade Russia?

    How about General McArthur attacking and defeated China?

    Patton “Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”

  • Thomas C. Coleman, Jr.

    Paul, I fully understand that what the central point of Mr. B’s article was. But now matter how much one hates FDR and the New Deal, misrepresent the diabolical Japanese as being interested in peace anymore than Hitler wanted nothing more than the annexation of Austria. In order to make the case for a trustworkthy, peace-seeking Japan one must commit the sin of omission of failing to report the truly monstrous nature of the Japan at that time. The real question we must ask oursevles is whether or not the leader of a democracy has the moral right to deceive his people about the chances for peace if he knows that while his people hate war a war for which the stakes are national survival is inevitable. I am not sure what the answeer to that is. By the way, I never used the word “expertise.” My knoweldge of some of these matters comes from my first career as a Korean linguist for the US Army (obviouly not as a typist) and my current position as a Korean instructor for the Defense Department. I do not opine on baseball or any other topic that I have only a galncing knowledge of.

  • digdigby

    Just a one word answer to this whole article. China.
    Japan’s mass murders, savagery and barbaric excesses in wars of naked conquest were just as much an affront to civilization as the Nazis in Europe. Mr. B’s ‘sensible’ and ‘understanding’ and ‘benefit of the doubt’ interpretations of Bushido and Nazism is rather suspect, to say the least.

    FDR’s lend-lease put Britain up in hock to the eyeballs and on austerity measures well into the fifties. Britain had to pay the U.S. for every screw and washer. And on top of it FDR was out to destroy the British Empire via the U.N. which happened too. So I’m no friend of FDR and yes, he probably pushed the war to happen sooner rather than later and I am thankful for that!

  • Rebecca

    I wonder if the tactics Pat Buchanan promotes could have worked with Germany; if the US could have supported moderate members of Nazi Germany and prevented the US involvement in war with Germany.