1. Skip to navigation
  2. Skip to content
  3. Skip to sidebar

The Ludwig von Mises Institute

Advancing Austrian Economics, Liberty, and Peace

Advancing the scholarship of liberty in the tradition of the Austrian School

Search Mises.org

The Real Crime of Pearl Harbor

Mises Daily: Saturday, May 26, 2001 by

A
A

In casting for the almost three-hour epic, "Pearl Harbor," Hollywood forgot seventeen-year-old Lawrence McCutcheon, a U.S. Navy seaman from Gridley, California.  No character in the movie portrays McCutcheon, the first of 2,476 Americans killed on that fateful day, December 7, 1941.  

The young patriot was serving his country high up in the foremast of the battleship Maryland when the first of hundreds of Japanese planes began machine gunning the men on the decks of American vessels lined up like sitting ducks.

Leaving heroes like McCutcheon to the footnotes of the history books, to  make room for airheads such as Alec Baldwin and Ben Affleck to strut their stuff, is par for the course in Hollywood these days.  

That’s not by a long shot the most offensive element of Jerry Bruckheimer’s "Pearl Harbor."  The sappy, drawn-out love story that almost begs for Japanese intervention isn’t the primary faux pas either.  No, the real crime of this film is the preposterous portrayal of the American commander-in-chief, the man every statist lives to cover up for—Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

FDR (played by John Voight because Barbara Streisand was too busy banging out deep treatises in political theory) sits at the left hand of God in this movie.  Surprised and stunned by the Japanese attack, he summons the righteous indignation of a wounded nation.  From his wheelchair, he stands tall and strong, inspiring even reluctant military men to do their duty. What a hero!  Rumor has it that Bruckheimer cried when advised that the movie was already too long to include the scene where FDR wins a fifth term.

Anyone afflicted by watching this historical poison should rush out immediately and get the antidote in the form of Robert B. Stinnett’s blockbuster book, Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor. Judged by the Chicago Sun-Times’ Tom Roeser as "perhaps the most revelatory document of our time," the Stinnett book appeared in hard cover last year and in paperback just in time for the movie.  Drawing on a wealth of previously classified material, the author proves beyond all doubt that FDR could not possibly have been surprised by what the Japanese did or where and when they did it.  

For at least a year before the attack, FDR pursued a policy of goading the Japanese to do it.  He saw no other way to overwhelm American isolationist sentiment and get the country to enter the war against the Axis powers. 

For key command posts, he carefully picked and placed naval officers who would not obstruct his provocation plans.  Vice-Admiral James O. Richardson, commander-in-chief of the United States Fleet, strenuously objected to White House orders to bottle up the main elements of our Pacific navy in one place, Pearl Harbor.  He was sacked.  To fill Richardson’s place, FDR vaulted Admiral Husband Kimmel over 32 others.  Kimmel was a decent man and no stooge, but the White House systematically denied him information that the Japanese were targeting Hawaii.

Indeed, on his own initiative in late November 1941, Kimmel dispatched a portion of the fleet to the sea north of Hawaii where he suspected a gathering of Japanese carriers.  It turned out to be the staging area of the ultimate assault on Pearl Harbor, but Kimmel was stopped short of confirming that by strange orders from the White House to get his ships back to Oahu.

There’s a scene in the movie where Kimmel receives a cable from Washington, well after the attack had started, that hostilities with Japan were imminent.  He tosses the untimely scrap of paper to the ground.  No mention is made of what Stinnett proves: "By the closing months of 1941, America was intercepting and breaking—within a matter of hours—most every code that Japan could produce."  

No less than seven Japanese naval broadcasts intercepted between November 28 and December 6 confirmed that Japan was planning to wipe out the bulk of America’s Pacific fleet ensconced at Pearl Harbor, but Kimmel was kept completely and deliberately in the dark.  He was later the designated fall guy for the whole debacle, when the treacherous FDR relieved him of his command and demoted him unceremoniously to rear admiral.  

The film shows an utterly flabbergasted FDR muttering upon hearing the first report of the attack, "My God.  An entire fleet at anchor!"  Perhaps at that critical moment FDR betrayed no foreknowledge when an aide brought him the news, but the indisputable record as presented by Stinnett shows that it could only have been an example of good acting.

To be sure, the pyrotechnics in the movie are superb.  Hollywood really knows how to blow things up, whether it be bombs doing it to battleships or a script accomplishing the same thing to historical fact.  

Perhaps the most interesting utterance from John Voight’s FDR is this line: "Now I wonder every hour of my life why God put me in this chair."  Read Robert Stinnett’s Day of Deceit and you’ll wonder the same thing, but for very devastatingly different reasons.  The attack of December 7, 1941 is not the only thing that should live in infamy.  The character and behavior of the man "Pearl Harbor" deifies is another.

-------------- 

Lawrence W. Reed, an adjunct scholar of the Mises Institute, is president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Michigan. See his Daily Article Archive and send him mail