Ever since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, people have surmised that President Franklin Roosevelt knew that the attack was coming and intentionally let it happen. After all, it is undisputed that U.S. officials had, at the very least, broken Japan’s diplomatic code and were reading the instructions that Japanese officials were sending to their diplomats in Washington in the days and hours leading up to the attack.
But that’s not the only issue involved here. The other issue is whether FDR intentionally provoked the Japanese into attacking U.S. forces somewhere in the Pacific with the specific aim of getting the United States into World War II.
Prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the American people were overwhelmingly opposed to entering the war against Nazi Germany. They had not forgotten the senseless carnage some 20 years before during World War I.
Tens of thousands of American men had been sacrificed for nothing in that war. President Wilson had naively believed that U.S. military force could be brought to bear to finally straighten out centuries of European discord and conflict. U.S. intervention was supposed to make this the war to end all wars. American deaths would be considered worth it because this would be the war that would make the world safe for democracy.
It was not to be. No one can rationally deny that American soldiers died for nothing in World War I. After all, within a relatively short period of time, the European powers were at it again, this time erupting into what amounted to renewed conflict from World War I, this time involving a Germany headed by the Nazi regime.
After the senseless carnage of World War I, Americans had had enough of foreign interventionism. That’s why they were overwhelming opposed to getting involved again in what became known as World War II. That anti-intervention mindset was reflected in Congress.
President Roosevelt himself felt the same way, or so he said. When he was campaigning for a third term for president in 1940, he told Americans that he was on their side — that he too opposed U.S. re-involvement in the European war. As he put it in one campaign speech,
And while I am talking to you, mothers and fathers, I give you one more assurance. I have said this before, but I shall say it again, and again and again. Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars. They are going into training to form a force so strong that, by its very existence, it will keep the threat of war far away from our shores. The purpose of our defense is defense.”
The problem is that FDR was lying when he expressed that sentiment. The truth was that he was determined to get the United States involved in another war on the European continent.
The U.S. Constitution, which is the highest law of the land — the law that we the people impose on federal officials — provided FDR with the legal means to achieve his end. All that he had to do was appear before Congress and make his case for a congressional declaration of war against Germany.
There was nothing to prevent FDR from doing that. He could have argued that Nazi Germany, unless defeated, would end up conquering the United States and the rest of the world, the justification that interventionists ultimately relied upon to justify FDR’s secret machinations to get the United States into the war.
Why didn’t FDR do that? Because he knew that neither Congress nor the American people would buy it. After all, given that Germany lacked the military means to simply cross the English Channel to conquer England, it would be a tough sell that Germany had the military might to cross the Atlantic Ocean to invade, occupy, and conquer the United States.
Even if a case could be made that Hitler would ultimately want to conquer the United States and the rest of the world, how would that have been different from Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union? Weren’t we told throughout the Cold War that Stalin and the communists aimed to conquer the United States and the rest of the world? If the United States could survive Stalin and the Soviet Union, why couldn’t it have done the same with Hitler and Nazi Germany? Certainly, one cannot make the case that Stalin was somehow more benign than Hitler.
FDR knew that he would fail in trying to make the case for intervention to Congress and the American people. That left him with but one alternative to achieve his goal of getting America into the war: somehow maneuver Germany into “firing the first shot” so that FDR could go to Congress and exclaim, “We’ve been attacked! We’re innocent! You now have no choice but to give me my declaration of war.”
So, FDR embarked on a campaign to provoke Germany into attacking the United States. He began supplying England with war materiel and equipment under his “Lend-Lease” plan. He also ordered the convoying of British ships carrying war materiel to England. He ordered U.S. ships into the war zones with instructions to fire back if Germany fired on them.
The scheme, however, did not work. While there were convoy battles between Germany and U.S. forces in the Atlantic, the conflicts were not sufficient to enable FDR to get his declaration of war from Congress.
That’s when FDR shifted his focus to the Pacific. That’s when he began provoking the Japanese into “firing the first shot.” The way FDR figured it, if he could get Japan to attack first, he could use that as a “back door” to getting a congressional declaration of war against Germany as well.
That’s why FDR imposed his oil embargo on Japan — as a way to squeeze Japan’s war machine, which was heavily engaged in its brutal war in China. That’s why he also froze Japanese bank accounts in the United States. That’s why he also began making demands on the Japanese that he knew would be construed as humiliating to Japanese rulers, including the demand to exit China.
FDR’s strategy worked. Needing the oil for its war machine in China and refusing to kowtow to FDR’s humiliating demands, Japan finally concluded that war with the United States was inevitable. Japan decided to strike first, with the hope of knocking out a large portion of the U.S. Navy, thereby giving Japan a free hand to secure its oil supplies in Southeast Asia.
To achieve his end of getting Japan to “fire the first shot,” FDR knew that he had to look the other way as Japan made its plans to attack. If FDR instead focused on all the obvious signs of an impending attack and publicized such plans and prepared for them, that might have meant that Japan’s attack plans would be foiled. If Japan decided not to fire the first shot, that would have obviously ruined FDR’s plan to get the United States into the war.
FDR’s masterful political strategy paid off. Japan attacked at Pearl, killing thousands of American troops, which then enabled FDR to go to Congress and effectively exclaim: We’ve been attacked! We’re innocent! You have no choice now but to give me my declaration of war.
Interestingly, Nazi Germany declared war on the United States, fulfilling FDR’s aim of getting the United States into the European conflict.
While the jury is still out on whether FDR knew for a fact that the Japanese were going to attack Pearl Harbor, there’s little question but that FDR aim was to have them attack U.S. forces somewhere in the Pacific as a way to get the United States into a war that the American people and Congress overwhelmingly opposed.
If that’s not a high crime or misdemeanor worthy of impeachment, what is?
Two videos I have recently mentioned in my blog posts have now been posted:
Dr. Israel’s Kirzner’s talk at the Mercatus Center (See my blog post entitled “One of the Best Lectures I’ve Ever Seen.”)
(Here is the link to full event video at Mercatus.)
John Stossel’s show on immigration on the Fox Business Network, in which I debated conservative Mark Krikorean on the issue of immigration controls vs. open immigration.