Pearl Harbor: Did FDR Let It Happen?
From the start of WWII in 1939, then-U.S. president Franklin Roosevelt made it clear that that America did not support Hitler’s Nazis. When Pearl Harbor was struck on December 7, 1941, few saw the connection, but today, many conspiracy theorists see the beginnings of a master plan to drag the U.S. into the global crisis.
In the two years before the U.S. joined the war effort on the side of the Allies, Roosevelt enacted policies — such as the Lend-Lease program — which allowed the United States to give military aid to Britain while still maintaining its officially neutral status.
Many Americans were happy with this situation – the gaze of the nation shifted inward during the economic depression of the 1930s, and the general public supported anti-immigration, anti-Europe policies.
Even with the start of the war in Europe, isolationist sentiment prevailed in America. This is why some people believe that Roosevelt spent the first two years of the conflict looking for a casus belli, or reason for war. Historian Charles Tansill suggests that Roosevelt finally decided to use a war with Japan as a back door to launching a war against Germany. In the summer of 1941, Roosevelt froze all Japanese-held assets in U.S. banks and cut off oil shipments from the U.S. to Japan. His military advisers said that this was tantamount to a declaration of war, but Roosevelt proceeded with the policy anyway.
On this the history books agree; however, it is Roosevelt’s actions in the days leading up to the “date which will live in infamy” that bear greater scrutiny.
This is because some people think that not only did Roosevelt know about the impending attack on Pearl Harbor but that he took additional steps to amplify the tragedy and thus increase the likelihood that the event would push America into war, not only in the Pacific, but also in Europe. For instance, those who think that Roosevelt knew about the attack cite intercepted radio transmissions that Japanese used to coordinate the attack. Those historians say the transmissions were ignored by U.S. intelligence officers during the week before the attack. Similarly, reports that Japanese planes had showed up on radar the morning of December 7 were also ignored by naval officers.
When the attack began, the American naval assets were configured to make their destruction almost too easy for Japanese bombers. The three naval carriers with the firepower to fight back were out of port for war games. The remaining ships were all anchored close together in Pearl Harbor. Similarly, most of the navy’s planes were lined up on the tarmac rather than stored in bunkers. They were easy targets.
All told, 4 battleships were sunk, 188 aircraft were destroyed, while 2,402 Americans were killed and another 1,282 were wounded.
The day after the tragedy of Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt addressed the Congress with a passionate speech that vilified the Japanese and urged the U.S. to go to war to “make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.” Less than an hour after his speech Congress declared war on Japan and Germany – ostensibly Roosevelt’s intention all along.
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