The Good War, Revisited
Each Pearl Harbor day offers a fresh opportunity for those who correctly believe that Franklin Roosevelt knew of an impending attack by the Japanese and welcomed it as a way of snookering the isolationists and getting America into the war. And year by year the evidence continues to mount. The Naval Institute’s website featured a detailed article by Daryl Borgquist to the effect that high Red Cross officials with close contacts to Roosevelt quietly ordered large quantities of medical supplies and experienced medical personnel shipped to Hawaii well before Dec. 7, 1941.
In 1995, Helen Hamman, the daughter of one of these officials, wrote to Bill Clinton a letter disclosing that her father had told her in the 1970s that shortly before the Pearl Harbor attack Roosevelt had told her father of the impending raid and told him to send Red Cross workers and supplies to the West Coast to be deployed in Hawaii. Roosevelt, Ms. Hamman wrote, told her father “the American people would never agree to enter the war in Europe unless they were attack [sic] within their own borders.” Borgquist’s research, now published in Naval History magazine, shows that the Red Cross was indeed staffed up and on a war footing in Hawaii by November 1941.
Foreknowledge by FDR of the “surprise attack” on Pearl Harbor has been demonstrated about every five years, ever since the Republicans made a huge issue of it after World War II. Each time there’s a brief furor, and then we slide back into vaguer language about “unproven assertions” and “rumors.” It’s one of the unsayables of 20th-century history, as Charles Beard discovered in 1948 when he published his great book President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War (1941), subtitled “A Study in Appearances and Realities.” Beard effectively disposed of the “surprise attack” proposition after researching official government documents and public hearings. For example, the State Dept.’s own record showed that FDR’s Secretary of State Cordell Hull conferred with the British ambassador on Nov. 29, 1941, and imparted the news that “the diplomatic part of our relations with Japan was virtually over and the matter will now go to the officials of the Army and Navy.” As Beard and others pointed out, the U.S. had already not only undertaken the blockade and embargoes that forced Japan into the war, but also knew that Japan was about to attack and waited for it to do so, so the isolationists could be outmaneuvered and the U.S. could enter the war on a tide of popular feeling.
At dawn on Dec. 7, 1941, the first wave of Japanese planes flew in from the east over the Waianae Mountains, leaving about 4000 American casualties with 2400 dead. Beard’s scholarly but passionate investigation into secret presidential diplomacy incurred venomous abuse, as did his judgment that the ends (getting the U.S. into the war) did not justify the deceptive means.
Back in the early 1980s John Toland published his excellent book Infamy, which mustered all the evidence extant at that time about U.S. foreknowledge. He advanced the thesis that though FDR and his closest associates, including Gen. Marshall, knew the Japanese naval force was deployed with carriers in the North Pacific, they were so convinced of the impregnability of the base that they didn’t believe the attack would have much serious effect. They thought a surprise Japanese raid would do little damage, leave a few casualties but supply the essential trigger for entering the war. Toland quoted from Labor Secretary Frances Perkins’ diary an eerie description of Roosevelt’s ravaged appearance at a White House meeting the night of Dec. 7. He looked, Perkins wrote with extraordinary perception, ”not only as though a tragedy had occurred but as though he felt some more intimate, secret sense of responsibility.”
The U.S. military commanders on Honolulu, Husband Kimmel and Walter Short, were pilloried, destroyed, set up to bear the major responsibility. For many years they fought to vindicate themselves, only to face hidden or destroyed evidence and outright perjury from their superiors.
In May of 1983 an officer from the Naval Security Group interviewed one of Toland’s sources who had previously insisted on remaining anonymous. The person in question was Robert Ogg, who had been an enlisted man in naval Intelligence during the war, and was one of those who detected the presence, through radio intercepts, of a Japanese task force working its way toward Pearl Harbor in the first week of December 1941. This force had been under radio silence, but the “silence” had been broken on a number of occasions.
Both Ogg and his immediate superior, Lt. Hosner, reported their intercepts and conclusion to the chief of intelligence of the 12th Naval District in San Francisco, Capt. Richard T. McCullough. McCullough was not only a personal friend of Roosevelt’s but enjoyed assured access to him through Harry Hopkins’ phone at the White House. Ogg confirmed in 1983 that McCullough had said at the time that the information about the Japanese task force had been passed to the White House. British code-breakers at Bletchley had also passed the news to Winston Churchill that Pearl Harbor was to be attacked.
The lesson here is that there is no construction too “bad” or too “outrageous” but that it cannot be placed upon the actions of powers great or small, though usually great. When Toland’s book was published there were many who scoffed at the “inherently implausible argument,” the “fine-spun conspiracy theory.” Gazing up the newly emerging national security state and the dawn of the Cold War, Beard argued that the ends did not justify the means, and concluded thus:
“In short, with the Government of the United States committed under a so-called bipartisan foreign policy to supporting by money and other forms of power for an indefinite time an indefinite number of other governments around the globe, the domestic affairs of the American people became appendages to an aleatory expedition in the management of the world… At this point in its history the American Republic has arrived under the theory that the President of the United States possesses limitless authority publicly to misrepresent and secretly to control foreign policy, foreign affairs and the war power.”
Truer words were never written.
The ”Good War”
Just as FDR’s foreknowledge of the attack is rediscovered every few years, so, too, is the fact that the Pacific war was a very nasty affair. Every so often new accounts and photographs emerge documenting the cruelties of that war. In 2001, the BBC aired combat film of American soldiers shooting wounded Japanese and using bayonets to hack at Japanese corpses while looting them. “Former servicemen interviewed by researchers spoke of the widespread practice of looting gold teeth from the dead–and sometimes from the living.”
The archival film is fresh evidence of the atrocities, but the war crimes themselves are an old story, best told by John Dower in his 1986 book War Without Mercy. Back in the February 1946 issue of The Atlantic the war correspondent Edgar L. Jones wrote, “We shot prisoners in cold blood, wiped out hospitals, strafed lifeboats, killed or mistreated enemy civilians, finished off the enemy wounded, tossed the dying in a hole with the dead, and in the Pacific boiled the flesh off enemy skulls to make table ornaments for sweethearts, or carved their bones into letter openers.”
By the spring of 1945 the Japanese military had been demolished. The disparities in the casualty figures between the Japanese and the Americans are striking. From 1937 to 1945, the Japanese Imperial Army and Navy suffered 1,740,955 military deaths in combat. Dower estimates that another 300,000 died from disease and starvation. In addition, another 395,000 Japanese civilians died as a result of Allied saturation bombing that began in March 1945. The total dead: more than 2.7 million. In contrast, American military deaths totaled 100,997. Even though Japan had announced on Aug. 10 its intentions to surrender, this didn’t deter the bloodthirsty Gen. “Hap” Arnold. On Aug. 14, Arnold directed a 1014-plane air raid on Tokyo, blasting the city to ruins and killing thousands. Not one American plane was lost and the unconditional surrender was signed before the planes had returned to their bases.
This raid, like the dropping of the A-bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was aimed at Moscow as much as Japan, designed to impress Stalin with the implacable might of the United States. The Cold War was under way, and as Beard prophesied in 1948, democracy wilted amid the procedures of the national security state, whose secretive malpractices are still being exhumed.
Papers released by the American Dept. of Energy showed that scientists from the UK Atomic Energy Authority removed children’s bones and bodies to ship to the United States for classified nuclear experiments. There is a transcript of a secret meeting in Washington of “Project Sunshine,” where Willard Libby, a scientist who later won the Nobel Prize for his research into carbon dating techniques, told colleagues, “Human samples are of prime importance, and if anybody knows how to do a good job of body-snatching, they will really be serving their country.”
British scientists from Harwell and the Medical Research Council supplied not only American researchers but their own labs with body parts, collecting about 6000 corpses between 1955 and 1970. As The Observer reported, Jean Prichard, whose baby died in 1957, said her child’s legs were removed by hospital doctors and taken to Harwell without permission. To prevent her from finding out what had happened, she says she was forbidden to dress her daughter for her funeral. “I asked if I could put her christening robe on her, but I wasn’t allowed to, and that upset me terribly because she wasn’t christened. No one asked me about doing things like that, taking bits and pieces from her.”
10 Small Groups That a Big Difference
It takes guts for an environmental group to stand up to a Democratic president in an election year and call him on his betrayals. You risk being marginalized and stripped of your funding by the Democratic-aligned foundations that underwrite most of the mainstream groups. Here are ten groups who stand up for what they stand on, who put protection of the environment before politics. They all operate close to the bone, their meager budgets are spent on activism and litigation, not on self-promoting direct mail operations, glitzy offices or bloated administrative expenses. These groups will put your money to work defending the planet. Now pony up!
Alliance for the Wild Rockies
P.O. Box 505
Helena, Montana 59624
Alliance for the Wild Rockies fights to secure the ecological integrity of the Wild Rockies Bioregion through citizen empowerment, litigation and the application of conservation biology, sustainable economic models and environmental law.
6930 Carroll Avenue, Suite 400
Takoma Park, MD 20912
The nation’s feistiest and most uncompromising anti-nuclear power group, which is fighting to shutdown aging nuclear plants like Indian Point and protesting the construction of a new generation of nuclear plants. Beyond Nuclear also highlights the symbiotic relationship between nuclear power and nuclear weapons production.
Buffalo Field Campaign
PO Box 957
West Yellowstone, MT 59758
Since 1985, the federal government, working in concert with Montana cattle barons, has killed more than 6,800 bison that have migrated out of Yellowstone National Park. The slaughter is rationalized on the specious grounds of preventing the spread of brucellosis from bison to local cows. The Buffalo Field Campaign has exposed this dreadful bloodbath as a political hoax. Their volunteers courageously place themselves between the bison and their would-be killers. They spend all day, from sunrise until sunset, watching and documenting actions taken against the buffalo. They run patrols from cars, skis and snowshoes to protect buffalo outside the park. Their tactics range from video documentation to nonviolent civil disobedience.
Civil Liberties Defense Center
259 E 5th Ave, Ste 300 A
Eugene, OR 97401
In 2003, Lauren Regan, executive director and CLDC’s staff attorney, in combination with a group of environmental and social justice activists and attorneys, founded the Civil Liberties Defense Center (CLDC). The creation was an urgent response to a growing and increasingly crucial need for education and legal assistance within the progressive change movement in the post-September 11th era in which decrees like the PATRIOT Act were put in place. CLDC immediately developed a number of public education and outreach programs, offering low and reduced-rate legal assistance to activists, conducting national media interviews and commentary, and monitoring and challenging repressive legislation in the courts. Their legal know-how, ability to effectively translate legalese, and litigation expertise, provide a foundation in which activists can rely on to tackle the tough issues they are confronting. Additionally, the CLDC’s training sessions weave together to build activists’ confidence and awareness of what to expect from interactions with law enforcement or counter-protesters.
Climate Ground Zero
PO Box 163, Rock Creek,
West Virginia, 75174
The frontline battles against big coal aren’t being fought in Durban or Washington, but in the mining towns of Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia, where citizens are placing their bodies on the line to stop mountain top removal mining. This grotesque form of mining has devoured more than a million acres of forest, buried hundreds of miles of streams under toxic debris and is steadily annihilating a way of life for the mountain people of Appalachia. The coal industry has struck back hard, hitting activists with SLAPP suits, trying to intimidate greens from engaging in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience. Mike Roselle started this group and he hasn’t compromised since he bunted once in Little League.
Fund for Wild Nature
P.O. Box 900
Kelso, WA 98626
Think of the Fund for Wild Nature as a kind of mutual fund for radical environmentalism. Instead of investing in stocks and bonds, the Fund for Wild Nature puts its money into non-compromising grassroots environmental groups. Unlike most foundations, the Fund for Wild Nature’s budget doesn’t derive from oil companies, sweatshops or software magnates, but from individuals who want to see militant action taken in defense of the earth. Join them. You’ll feel better about yourself.
P.O. Box 538
Gosport, IN 47433
The midwest was once blanketed with a majestic hardwood forest containing more than 70 species of hardwood trees. Unfortunately, much of this forest has been cleared and what remains is mostly isolated fragments of public land that nonetheless play a critical role in providing habitat for wildlife, purifying the air and water, moderating global climate change, and offering places of beauty and enjoyment. Heartwood was founded in 1991, when concerned citizens from several midwestern states met and agreed to work together to protect the heartland hardwood forest. Their campaigns remain rooted in the heart of the central hardwood region, with an emphasis on our “core states” of Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, and Missouri. Over time, Heartwood has branched out to serve areas of need throughout an 18-state region, giving special attention to the “at risk” national forests in Michigan, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, West Virginia, and Virginia.
PO Box 466
Moab, UT 84532
Living Rivers is working to overturn one of the greatest environmental crimes in American history, the damming of Glen Canyon. The goal is to restore not only Glen Canyon, but the much abused Colorado River itself. With a series of restoration initiatives and organizing efforts in both the Colorado and Rio Grande River watersheds, Living Rivers has begun building a popular movement to promote strategies for large-scale river restoration. From the ejidos communities in Mexico, through Indian reservations, farming towns and into metropolitan areas, Living Rivers is engaging people to pressure water agencies to embrace the simple solutions that offer opportunities for restoring our rivers and improving quality of life for millions of people across this arid region. Living Rivers gives you more bang for you bucks than any other American environmental group.
Los Alamos Study Group
2901 Summit Place NE
Albuquerque, NM 87106
Since 1989, the Los Alamos Study Group community has consistently provided leadership on nuclear disarmament and related issues in New Mexico. Their work includes research and scholarship education of decisionmakers, providing an information clearinghouse for journalists, organizing, litigating, and advertising. They place particular emphasis on the education and training of young activists and scholars. LASG’s careful, reasoned approach developed many whistleblowers in the nuclear labs and plants. Since September 11, 2001, their work has increasingly placed nuclear weapons in the context of aggression abroad and the militarization of our society at home. One of LASG’s most recent campaigns is the effort to end nuclear waste disposal in northern New Mexico. Official estimates place current annual waste generation and burial at Los Alamos at about 45,000 drums’ worth per year, with increases planned if the University of California begins production of plutonium “pits,” the cores of nuclear weapons. New pits are not needed for any existing weapons, but they are needed for some of the new weapons now being designed at Los Alamos, which include weapons specially-tailored for aiming at Third World countries.
Utah Environmental Congress
1817 South Main Street, Ste. 10
Salt Lake City, Utah 84115
Phone (801) 466-4055
Utah, which still harbors some of the wildest country in the lower-48, is under perpetual siege from uranium and coal mining, oil drilling, tar sands and shale extraction, logging and a crazy scheme to put a nuclear power plant near the small town of Green River. The UEC often finds itself alone on many of these battles. They are a fearless and unflinching outfit that doesn’t back down. Instead they advance. Their latest project is an audacious campaign to break wolves back to Utah. Now that’s a radical and welcome idea!
Wild Idaho Rising Tide
P.O. Box 9817,
Moscow, Idaho 83843
Since October 2010, Imperial Oil, a Canadian subsidiary of ExxonMobil, has shipped, barged, and trucked over one hundred pieces of gargantuan, Korean-made, industrial equipment from the Ports of Vancouver and Pasco, Washington, and Lewiston, Idaho. During the next six months, Northwest interstates could be overrun by another 300 transports of these two-lane wide, 500,000-pound “megaloads” escorted by aggressive, industry-sponsored state police. This is the second front in the fight against the tar sands oil frenzy in Canada. Wild Idaho Rising Tide is leading the battle against ExxonMobil’s scheme to turn all available Northwest and Northern Rockies highways into permanent corridors to the largest industrial project on Earth.
The Pearl Harbor essay is adapted from an article that appeared in the June 2001 edition of CounterPunch.
Jeffrey St. Clair is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature, Grand Theft Pentagon and Born Under a Bad Sky. His latest book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion. He can be reached at: email@example.com.