Pearl Harbor conspiracy theory
|Some dare call it|
The Pearl Harbor conspiracy theory states that US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had foreknowledge of the attack on Pearl Harbor and deliberately allowed the naval station to be attacked. No scholarly historical research supports the theory (though much pseudo-scholarship does). This is similar to the idea of a false flag operation in motive, but the attack is orchestrated by a real enemy and just allowed to happen.
These are the points generally brought up by the Pearl Harbor theorists:
 Lead-up to the attack
 FDR wanted war with Japan/Germany. He had been planning it all along
This point is actually a recycled criticism of FDR from the days he was actually in office. There was a strongly isolationist atmosphere in the US due to disillusionment with World War I and the Great Depression. Young adults of the Roaring Twenties were referred to as "The Lost Generation." With the economic collapse in 1929, people were far more worried about the state of their own country than international affairs. The Old Right, "Taft Republicans," and Republicans in general were hard-line isolationists (seriously). Conspiracy theorists often like to throw out quotes by FDR's opposition painting him as a warmonger.
However, FDR's arms build-up enjoyed bi-partisan support. The Army was so poor it was training its soldiers with wooden guns during the Depression. FDR was a Wilsonian and supporter of free trade, and so clearly came down on the side of the Allies with policies such as the Lend-Lease Act and the Four Freedoms. However, his stated policy was "All aid short of war" and had issued memos to the military making it known that they should not attempt to engage in any offensive action. Furthermore, FDR was far more concerned with Germany than Japan. This is similar to Truthers who cite Project for a New American Century documents. It's merely circumstantial evidence, not definitive proof.
 There were clear signs in radio transmissions intercepted by intelligence
This ignores the signal-to-noise ratio in the intelligence. Most messages were vague or not fully decoded and the ones that were more explicit were awash in a much larger sea of intelligence stating the opposite or having nothing to do with Pearl Harbor. There were also similar problems in intelligence collection to the ones that happened pre-9/11: Oftentimes, low-level intelligence officers would decode reports and then file them away in some dusty cabinet, never to be seen again. Communication between agencies wasn't perfect, or even that good, so a full picture of what the intelligence suggested never emerged. If anything, these conspiracy theories are a good argument for streamlining intelligence rather than arguments for a real conspiracy.
There is also the fact that intelligence gathered the week of the attack suggested that Japanese forces were most likely moving toward Thailand or Malaysia in that time frame. The Navy's phone taps in the Japanese consulate were found and removed about a week before the attack as well.
 The McCollum memo, outlining a strategy in the Pacific, proves war was the goal
More circumstantial evidence. FDR, as well as his military advisors and naval officers in the Pacific, were wary of the growing Japanese empire and the possibility that it could strike the US. Every country draws up war plans for preparation for vast numbers of situations that may never occur. This sort of thing isn't unique to the run-up to Pearl Harbor. The memo itself, however, was not a blueprint for all-out war, but aimed at containment of Japan (though it does make a brief mention of provocation). In addition, it never went all the way up the chain of command to Roosevelt himself.
This assertion, by the way, still leaves open the question of what sort of incredibly clever and competent conspiratorial leadership would sacrifice a large portion of the Pacific Ocean fleet, at enormous military and economic cost, in order to begin a naval war with an already-aggressive Pacific Ocean power.
 December 7
 A Japanese midget submarine was sunk before the bombing began.
This is an argument for incompetence rather than conspiracy. If FDR knew the attack was coming but the Navy didn't, this tells us nothing. If FDR knew it and had informed Navy higher-ups to ignore it, then we're getting into vast conspiracy territory and assume that none of the informed Naval officers ever squealed, even in memoirs later in life. If everyone knew about, it's an even more vast conspiracy and it wouldn't make much sense to fire on the sub if they wanted Pearl Harbor to be attacked. What actually happened was that one of the officers was informed of the incident and took his men off their posts to breakfast. In addition, the ship that reported the incident sent a message saying it had attacked a sub, not sunk it.
 Three aircraft carriers were out of port on war games. They obviously did this to save the carriers.
The thing is, battleships were considered of primary importance in those days as carriers were untested weapons of war up to that point. If this were a conspiracy, letting the enemy take out such a huge portion of your fleet, even sans the three carriers, ranks as a massive failure at best and batshit crazy at worst. In addition, (if it were a conspiracy) wouldn't it have been better to launch a counter-attack just as Japanese forces were about to hit Pearl Harbor? That way, it would still look like an attack on the US but the fighters and warships could be saved while the Japanese would be handed a defeat in the first battle of the war. What's more is that one of the carriers, Enterprise, was actually scheduled to be in port on Dec. 7 but delayed in getting back, making this point even more nonsensical.
 The planes were sitting ducks outside of their hangars. They left them out in the open intentionally.
The fighters were actually sitting on the tarmac outside the hangars to prevent an attack. Some of the Naval commanders were afraid of saboteurs breaking into the hangars and messing with the planes, so they left them out in the open.
 Japanese planes picked up on radar were ignored.
The enlisted men who were stationed at Opana Point, where the Japanese squadrons were detected, were fresh recruits who had never used the equipment before, which itself was still under construction. Conspiracy theorists claim that the admiral in charge, Adm. Kimmel, ignored the transmission. In reality, it reached a lieutenant at Pearl Harbor, who mistook them for a squadron of B-17 bombers scheduled to arrive in the morning. Kimmel was never made aware of this. In addition, even if they were identified correctly, it's unclear if the naval base would have had sufficient time for preparations to fully fight off the attack.
 Vastness of the conspiracy
Most versions of the theory would implicate a good chunk of the Pacific fleet's chain of command, up to and including, of course, the president himself. The higher-ups stationed at Pearl Harbor would not only have to put their men's life on the line, but also their own. And all without any of them letting anything leak, speaking up about it later, or objecting that the idea would be completely bonkers. This would be truly impressive considering the biggest conspiracy committed by the executive in American history was foiled by some fools who failed to tape over a door lock the right way.
The conspiracy theory originated during World War II among members of the America First Committee, something of an alliance of far left (mostly socialists) and far right pacifists and isolationists. The first work to posit the theory was a 1944 pamphlet by John T. Flynn, a journalist and head of the New York Chapter of America First. It has seen a revival in recent years by 9/11 truthers attempting to use the "FDR knew" canard as precedent for 9/11 being a false flag operation.
- Skeptoid on the Pearl Harbor conspiracy theories
- Conspiracy theory: FDR and Pearl Harbor (Commentary and History Channel Special)
- History of the Pearl Harbor conspiracy, Spinning Clio
- The Myths of Pearl Harbor, Pearl Harbor History Associates
- Records of the nine Pearl Harbor investigations
- Report Debunks Theory That the U.S. Heard a Coded Warning About Pearl Harbor, New York Times
- Pearl Harbor 'Winds Message' Controversy: A New Critical Evaluation, Committee for Skeptical Inquiry
- Debunking at Bartcop
- Dive-bombing FDR, Salon
- Pearl Harbor and the "back door to war" theory, article in the Encyclopedia Britannica online by historian Robert Dallek
- What Every Cryptologist Should Know About Pearl Harbor, NSA
- The McCollum memo
- Day of Deceit by Robert B. Stinnett is probably the most popular work espousing this theory:
- ↑ Indeed, during the interwar period the United States had drawn up plans for war with the British Empire, including an invasion of Canada.
- ↑ Transcript of "The Truth About Pearl Harbor" by John T. Flynn.