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FDR and Pearl Harbor: Scott Horton's 2013 interview of Robert Stinnett, author of Day of Deceit

transcriber's picture

We are now up to the latest of the interviews, 2013, podcast at link, about 20 minutes long. I'll let Stinnett himself sum this up, from his dedication in Day of Deceit

– to the conclusion of his 2002 interview with Douglas Cirignano, Do Freedom of Information Act Files Prove FDR Had Foreknowledge of Pearl Harbor?

Transcript below the fold.

(Previous interviews in this series: 2003, 2005, 2007, 12/7/2010, 12/10/2010, 2011 and 2012.)

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Scott Horton interviews Robert Stinnett
The Scott Horton Show
December 6, 2013

Transcript

Scott Horton: All right, y’all. Welcome back to the show. It’s the show. I’m Scott Horton, this is my show, Scott Horton Show. The website is scotthorton.org, new and improved, brand new. Check out the new front page at scotthorton.org, pulling together all the latest from all the different parts of the site kind of a thing, and it sure seems like an improvement to me, so stop by, check it out, scotthorton.org.

All right, now, our next guest on the show today is Robert Stinnett, American historian and World War II Navy vet, author of Day of Deceit, and now this is I think always a great point to really get into what happened there is how you found out, or really how you decided that you wanted to know this story and ultimately write this book about the truth on the question of what FDR knew before the Pearl Harbor attack. Can you talk about that?

Robert Stinnett: Yes. Like all Americans and in fact the people of the world, I believed the fact that the Japanese attack was a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor and that it was planned to sneak up on the Pacific Fleet, which was anchored at Pearl Harbor, and I believed that until I read a book called At Dawn We Slept in 1982, and it mentioned in that book that the U.S. Navy had an intercepting station or a monitor station that they were listening to the Japanese fleet and all the messages. These are radio messages issued by radio Tokyo to the carrier fleet that attacked us at Pearl Harbor. So I worked for the Oakland Tribune and suggested that for a story for the anniversary on December 7th, 1982. The editor agreed, and that’s where I first learned and confirmed that we had a station manned by cryptographers that had broken the Japanese code and were listening and knew that the attack was coming.

Scott Horton: All right, now, from the very beginning after the Pearl Harbor attack, people like John T. Flynn accused FDR of knowing about the attack and deliberately more or less turning a blind eye and allowing it to happen, and in your book you actually put quite a bit into making the argument that not only was the code broken but it had come to the attention of the necessary people and in fact the intelligence was being forwarded to the highest levels in Washington D.C. Is that correct?

President Roosevelt in October 1940 adopted a Navy plan to entice Japan into attacking the fleet at Pearl Harbor. So he moved the fleet from the West Coast to Pearl Harbor in the spring of 1940.

Robert Stinnett: Yeah, that is correct, Scott. President Roosevelt in October 1940, this is 14 months before Pearl Harbor, and he adopted a Navy plan to entice Japan into attacking the fleet at Pearl Harbor. So he moved the fleet from the West Coast to Pearl Harbor in the spring of 1940, and this angered the admiral in charge and he protested and then had a meeting with the president in the Oval Office in October 1940 where the admiral got into a heated argument with the president and said the Navy officers don’t want to do this and don’t have any confidence in your administration. Well, you don’t talk to President Roosevelt that way, and the admiral was fired. But the adoption, the president adopted the overt act of war plan, which was planned by the Navy, on October 8th, 1940.


McCollum memo

Scott Horton: Mmhmm. That’s the Arthur McCollum memo of how to provoke Japan into attacking us first.

Robert Stinnett: Exactly.

SH: How can you be certain that the codes that were being broken, that that intelligence that was coming from those military codes wasn’t just being thrown in the wastepaper basket? Because that would be the argument of the court historians here.

Scott Horton: But now on the specific question of the broken military code, they’ve sort of said all along that, well, as you say, it wasn’t until the early 1980s that it came to your attention that there was any information out there that they had actually broken any military codes at all, only the diplomatic codes, had been the official story up until that time, but how can you be certain that the codes that were being broken, that that intelligence that was coming from those military codes wasn’t just being thrown in the wastepaper basket? Because that would be the argument of the court historians here would be that, “Oh, well, Robert Stinnett imagines perfect information, but just because they had broken the code doesn’t mean anyone was paying attention to it, doesn’t mean that FDR or anyone in the cabinet would have known about it.” Can you refute that?

RS: I filed a whole series of FOIAs to get these records. They’re called the Crane files, because they were hidden in Navy vaults in Crane, Indiana, and these show that we had broken the Japanese navy code, which the Japanese called Code Book D. We called it RIP 80, Radio Intelligence Publication 80, and these records are Navy records that were hidden and weren’t available until I got these in 1995.

Robert Stinnett: Well, you’re right, that is, you had to overcome that allegation, but the National Archives in Washington D.C. have the Navy records. These were top secret records that were not released until I filed a Freedom of Information Act, a whole series of FOIAs, to get these records. They’re called the Crane files, because they were hidden in Navy vaults in Crane, Indiana, and these show that we had broken the Japanese navy code, which was called Code Book D. That’s what the Japanese called it, Code Book D. We called it RIP 80, Radio Intelligence Publication 80, or RIP 80, and these records are Navy records that were hidden and weren’t available until I got these in 1995.

Scott Horton: Now, about that McCollum memo. We talked before about how McCollum was a Navy intelligence officer and how, you know, clearly this memo had gone up the chain of command, but you argued in the past, I believe, sir, that it was basically definitive beyond question that FDR himself was deliberately implementing this plan step by step, in order even, in the different provocations that were used to, from their point of view, to make sure that the Japanese would feel that they had no choice but to strike first.

Robert Stinnett: That is, that is correct, and that was difficult for me to believe because during my tour of duty in the Navy there was never any hint that this was taking place, and these eight provocations were suggested by Commander McCollum to the president in the Oval Office on October 8th, 1940, as I said earlier, and the admiral of the fleet was there arguing with the president and he called it a cockeyed plan, and this all, your listeners can see it in the National Archives. These are not my records. These are the National Archives.

Scott Horton: I want to make sure I understand right. The argument where Admiral Richardson was fired because he objected to keeping the fleet at Pearl Harbor, that argument was actually not just about keeping the fleet at Pearl Harbor, it was about the implementation of the entire McCollum memo. That was what got Richardson fired, you’re saying.

Admiral Richardson in his book On The Treadmill to Pearl Harbor describes what went on in the meeting, and he met later that night, after this knock-down drag-out with the president, with Navy officials in Washington and told them about it, and he said it was a cockeyed plan.

Robert Stinnett: Yes, that is right. And Admiral Richardson tells about that in his book, it’s called On The Treadmill to Pearl Harbor, and your listeners [...?] the Richardsons should get that book because he describes what went on in the meeting and he also discu– he met later that night, after [they?] had had this knock-down drag-out with the president, with Navy officials in Washington and told them about it, and he said it was a cockeyed plan.

Scott Horton: Mmm. And now I believe, sir, that when we first spoke, I first read your book back – it was either 2003 or 4, and we spoke at that time, and then but we’ve spoken quite a few times over the years since then, almost 10 years now, I feel very privileged for you giving me your time like this, but I believe that you actually changed your mind about one thing. At some point you used to have it that Kimmel, Admiral Kimmel, and General Short both had been cut out of the chain of information here, but later on you decided that that wasn’t true, that in fact at least one or both of them had known about this, the impending attack, and they had turned their blind eye there on the scene, as blamed.

Robert Stinnett: Well, that is correct, Scott. But President Roosevelt changed the secrecy orders on November 27th when he sent a message to the Pacific commanders, military commanders. One was in Manila, that was General MacArthur and Admiral Hart, and in Hawaii it was Kimmel and General Short. And he told them to stand aside and let Japan commit the first overt act of war.

 
source: Day of Deceit, pp. 282-285


Nov. 27, 1941 message to General Short


Nov. 28, 1941 message to Admiral Kimmel, resend of Nov. 27 message with "first overt act" added

That’s what I call the McCollum memo is the “overt act of war,” which the president adopted in 1940. And because he issued that order on November 27th, resulted from our radio direction finders locating the Japanese fleet in the North Pacific, where they were breaking radio silence. Most authors say they did not break radio silence, that their radio transmitters were turned off and not able to use, but the records show that they were intercepted in the North Pacific.

Scott Horton: J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI had a spy there in, or had officers there who had noticed a Japanese spy there in Pearl Harbor, correct?

There was a lone Japanese naval spy attached to the Japanese consulate in Honolulu, and he was spying on the Pacific Fleet, and in October he prepared bomb plot messages and sent to Tokyo over RCA communications, and we were also intercepting these. These were in addition to that Code Book D.

Robert Stinnett: Yes, that’s right. There was a lone Japanese naval spy attached to the consulate, the Japanese consulate, in Honolulu, and he was spying on the Pacific Fleet, and in October he prepared bomb plot messages and sent to Tokyo over RCA communications, and we were also intercepting these. These were in addition to that Code Book D. And he assigned positions in the various anchorages in Pearl Harbor, where the battleships were, where cruisers and destroyers. And President Roosevelt found out about that and knew about that and did sort of try to get Admiral Kimmel and General Short to do something about that. But then that all was changed on November 27th when President Roosevelt told them to stand aside and let Japan commit the first overt act of war.

Scott Horton: So, but what about Hoover? Why didn’t Hoover have the FBI just nab the guy as soon as they found him?

Robert Stinnett: Well, yes, Edgar Hoover and agents were, his agents were following where the spy was going in the Hawaiian islands, but Hoover was also under the control of President Roosevelt and he followed the orders that let Japan commit the first overt act.

Scott Horton: Right. And now that’s also, that exact language is echoed in the Secretary of War’s diaries as well too, that we had to maneuver them into firing first.

Robert Stinnett: Yes, that’s right. The Secretary of War was Henry Stimson, and in his diary he was talking about, on November 25th he was talking with the president to figure out ways to maneuver Japan into position to attack us at Pearl Harbor.

SH: You don’t consider yourself any kind of cranky old right-wing Roosevelt hater by any means, correct? You’re still very, very proud of your service in the war and even you told me in the past that you think that Roosevelt did what he had to do in order to get the Americans to stop the Germans.

RS: Well, that is true.

Scott Horton: Amazing. All right, now, and one thing is too that I think is very interesting to note here, I guess I should have mentioned this at the beginning, that you don’t consider yourself any kind of cranky old right-wing Roosevelt hater by any means, correct? You’re still very, very proud of your service in the war and even you told me in the past that you think that Roosevelt did what he had to do in order to get the Americans to stop the Germans.

Robert Stinnett: Well, that is true. I believe, Scott, that there were just, Roosevelt had two options; one was to not interfere with the Japanese attack and let Japan commit the first overt act, or not to do, or to try send the Pacific Fleet to interfere with the Japanese attack, and the Japanese had a far superior force and able to just sunk the entire fleet. The whole idea was to overcome the isolation movement in this country, where 80% of Americans wanted nothing to do with Europe’s war. That was the whole heart of this, and that’s where McCollum came up with this memo to overcome the opposition. He felt that if Americans could be convinced that it was a sneak attack, they would wholeheartedly support the war effort and then go after Germany, which was the real villain in this, in World War II, because they had the ability for building armaments and so forth.

Scott Horton: Mmhmm. Um, well, and, yeah, and I think that’s an important point because the conventional wisdom would have it that anyone who’s as critical as you are about the facts of the lead-up to the attack must just have a bent against Roosevelt and against the war, and I think it’s, you know, very important that people understand that that’s actually not the point of view that you’re coming from, as to them, to a lot of people that would tend to discredit it in some way. If they’re looking for a reason to not believe, that might be one. But so now to get back to the story here, what about the, the – I’m curious about when Roosevelt refused to meet with the Prime Minister of Japan, who had asked for direct talks in August of 1941. Wasn’t that kind of scandalous? Weren’t people saying, “Jeez, here they’re trying a last-ditch effort to avoid war and our president won’t even meet with them”? Or, how did that work out back in the late summer of 1941?

Robert Stinnett: You’re right. The Prime Minister Konoye was trying to arrange a meeting with the president to work out the plan. Well, he wanted nothing to do with that. He wanted the attack to take place to overcome this isolation movement and unite the American people, and that’s what he wanted to do, so he did everything he could to avoid it. There were two Japanese emissaries that were sent here to try to work things out, but that was just a play contentions that they were involved in. The whole idea was to get Japan to make this attack and unite the country, which happened.

Scott Horton: Right. But, you know I read about how his failure to get the talks, to get the audience with Roosevelt, led to his fall and his replacement by Tojo, which was of course a major step toward the start of the war there that fall. But what I guess what I’m curious about is that antiwar movement that you refer to and all the president’s enemies, were they aware that he had refused to meet with the Japanese prime minister that August? And, I mean that must have been huge ammo for their argument that he was deliberately trying to get the American people into a war that he had promised not to get them into.

The president was engaged also in a third term run for president in the November elections in 1940, so he promised American parents that "Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign war." But what he didn’t say was “unless we are attacked.”

Robert Stinnett: Oh, you’re right. The president was engaged also in a third term run for president in the November elections in 1940, so he promised American parents that "Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign war." But what he didn’t say was that “unless we are attacked.” So he put out this frontage in his political speeches in the fall of 1940 that there would be no troops sent into what was called Europe’s war at the time.

Scott Horton: Yeah, and you know it’s interesting what you said about at that point where, you know, the week of the attack or what have you, that at that point the choice was either have our Navy meet them out at sea and surely lose or go ahead and take it on the chin. I mean that was the position that they had put themselves in. I was raised to believe, I guess this is the History Channel version, is what great luck it was that none of the newer ships were in harbor that day, only the leftover World War I era ships, and that the carriers were out at sea and were spared from the attack. But I actually saw where I had written about you before on antiwar.com and there’s a very interesting comment there from a Japanese man saying that that was Roosevelt’s only choice at that point; otherwise if he had met us out at sea we’d have sunk y’all’s whole fleet and we would have known that you’d broken the code, and then you would have had a much harder time for the rest of the war, and I guess at that point he’s attributing America’s breaking of the military code a lot of credit. You know, he’s giving that fact a lot of credit for later naval successes against the Japanese fleet. Do you agree with that?

The president was reading the Japanese navy’s messages so he knew where these ships were, that they were in the North Pacific – this was before Pearl Harbor – and then after the nation was united to go against the Japanese and also Hitler, we learned that they were going to attack Midway. So we were able to ambush the Japanese fleet, which could have been done on December 7th but President Roosevelt did not want that. He wanted America to be united by this sneak attack.

Robert Stinnett: Oh, that’s absolutely right. That’s exactly what happened. The president was reading the Japanese navy’s messages so he knew where these ships were, that they were in the North Pacific – this was before Pearl Harbor – and then after the nation was united to go against the Japanese and also Hitler, we learned that they were going to attack Midway. So we were able to ambush the Japanese fleet, which could have been done on December 7th but President Roosevelt did not want that. He wanted America to be united by this sneak attack.

Scott Horton: Right. That’s such an amazing story, and you have to admit, it’s ironic, even if you favor it – and after all, the Imperial Japanese and the German Nazis were some of the, a couple of the worst regimes that have ever existed in the history of humanity, so there’s not much arguing that point – but even if you’re for this setup by the president, you got to admit it’s kind of ironic that he’s got to commit this worst act of treason ever in order to get the people to do the right thing and go fight the Nazis, right?

Robert Stinnett: Well, that’s right. But it was an old, it goes back to the time of Plato, and before Christ, Plato writes about it in his discourse called The Republic where you get your enemies or other tribes to attack you and then you can unite your own forces to go against other tribes. So it’s one of the oldest ruses in military history.

Scott Horton: Oh, I didn’t realize that’s in The Republic. I’ve read that! Why didn’t I notice that? Well, I’ll have to go back now and look.

Robert Stinnett: There’s a whole book published by Harvard University about that. Let’s see, her name is Sissela Bok, B-O-K. She was the wife of the president of Harvard. It’s a great book to read.

Scott Horton: Isn’t that interesting, Plato and the provocation. That’s what the Russians call it, a provocation.

Robert Stinnett: Yes, that’s right. Right.

Scott Horton: Very interesting. All right, now, can I ask you real quick, it’s a kind of a minor point, but there was a historian, you may not remember, it’s been a few years now, but there was a historian that wrote in to antiwar.com saying, “No, it’s all about JN25,” and this and that factoid about JN25, and you dismissed that completely, the way I recall, and said “No,” again, as you mentioned earlier in the interview, “it’s all about Code Book D, Table 7.” But can you explain the discrepancy there, why it is that this historian would cling to this "JN25" when, as you say, that’s old information?

Robert Stinnett: Well, the U.S. Navy designated, put the phony designator called JN-25 for the Japanese Code Book D. And it was to hide the fact that we had broken it in 1941, and they claim that we had broken JN-25 wasn’t till after the war or, excuse me, after the Pearl Harbor attack. But we had broken it prior to that. But they just put this phony name JN-25 –

Scott Horton: I got it. It’s the old [...], in other words.

Robert Stinnett: Most people believe that. Most historians. Well there was nothing at the time to show that it was not true.

Scott Horton: All right, that’s Robert Stinnett, author of Day of Deceit. Thank you so much for your time, sir. Appreciate it.

Robert Stinnett: Bye.

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