Was the Attack at Pearl Harbor Inevitable?

Dreams die hard, as many in the generation of left baby boomers found out in the right-wing years of “great” change that followed the late 1960s and early 1970s. In fact, the death of those dreams and actions, at least for most, was the most bitter pill to swallow.

But there was at least some solace to be taken in one’s heroes. And I think the ideal embodied in the policies and persons of one’s heroes is important. For decades, Franklin Delano Roosevelt has been one such hero, and when a hero is from among the elite, well, doesn’t that contribute to the sense that at least some things in this system of government and larger society do work for the common good?

There are some elements of the New Deal that were among the best accomplishments of the federal government during the Great Depression. There were serious blemishes in some of those programs, like racism. The government worked for some ordinary people.

To understand the US before its entry into World War II at the end of 1941, one must comprehend the general hesitancy to support foreign wars. The horrors of trench warfare and abhorrence at fighting for the interests of wealth and power, kept public opinion at a healthy distance from war following World War I.

The late historian Howard Zinn has rightly noted the difference between war, that can never be just by its very nature, and a just cause in war. An example of a just cause was the defeat of facism through World War II, yet the incidences of unjust actions within that war were obvious. Pacifists epouse yet another line of reasoning in total rejection of war.

FDR is seen as a great president and the leader who helped end the economic depression and rid the world of fascism, but that story is far from complete, especially with research compiled over the past several decades.

I’m no fan of conspiracy theories because much of the wrongdoing of governments is sometimes out in the open. Jeremy Kuzmarov’s article in CovertAction Magazine “Eighty Years of Lies: President Roosevelt Told Public Pearl Harbor Was A Surprise Attack—However There Is Considerable Evidence Demonstrating Government Foreknowledge,” (December 7, 2021), does, however, point to several important issues that could have been in play at the time of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor.

The Japanese government’s secret code had been broken by the time of the attack at Pearl Harbor. At the very least, the Roosevelt administration knew that an attack would take place at Pearl Harbor and they knew the approximate day. Could thousands of lives have been saved? Might the war in the Pacific have turned out differently? Could Japan have left the Axis powers? Might Japan have reached an agreement with the Allies to pull out of China?

These issues are covered in the CovertAction article, and at the very least, the treatment of these issues creates opportunities for viewing World War II in a somewhat different light. There was the bald-face aggression of Germany and Italy, but what might the war have looked like if Japan was even somewhat out of the picture as a major hostile force?

One issue I differ with in the article is citing the America First movement as an antiwar movement. The America First movement viewed Hitler and Naziism as forces that needed to be left to their own designs, but that view gave the world unimaginable suffering and mass murder.

The possibilities, while not sanguine vis-à-vis Japan’s militarism, are worthy of consideration even 80 years after that awful morning in December. It may have been possible to have sounded alarms and saved some of those who perished that day. War may have been inevitable, but the research points toward the direction of a different war.

Some of the same issues were raised regarding the September 11, 2001 attacks. It has been determined that there was sound evidence that the murderers were known to government agencies and that they would attack from the air. Here, again, is the case of history rhyming in lethal ways rather than precisely repeating itself.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).