When Sander Hicks asked me to consider reading and/or reviewing Daniel Hopsicker’s new 9/11 book, « Welcome to Terrorland, » I wondered: How does one discuss September 11, 2001 without sounding naïve, paranoid, or complicit?
If you’re Michael Moore, well, you film a 116-minute John Kerry ad.
I’m no Michael Moore, but I think a little historical context might be helpful. So, until I find time to read Hopsicker’s book, here is my take on the December 7/September 11 parallel…as featured in my own book, « The Seven Deadly Spins »: The Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 is the mother of all sleeping giant spins. The day after the attack, Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed Congress. The U.S. was « at peace » with Japan, he stated, yet had been « suddenly and deliberately attacked. » Yet, as historian Thomas A. Bailey wrote: « Franklin Roosevelt repeatedly deceived the American people during the period before Pearl Harbor… He was like the physician who must tell the patient lies for the patient’s own good. »
The diplomatic record reveals some of what Dr. Roosevelt neglected to include in that now-mythical « Date of Infamy » speech:
•Dec. 14, 1940: Joseph Grew, US Ambassador to Japan, sends a letter to FDR, announcing that, « It seems to me increasingly clear that we are bound to have a showdown [with Japan] some day. »
•Dec. 30, 1940: Pearl Harbor is considered so likely a target of Japanese attack that Rear Admiral Claude C. Bloch, commander of the Fourteenth Naval District, authors a memorandum entitled, « Situation Concerning the Security of the Fleet and the Present Ability of the Local Defense Forces to Meet Surprise Attacks. »
•Jan. 27, 1941: Grew (in Tokyo) sends a dispatch to the State Department: « My Peruvian Colleague told a member of my staff that the Japanese military forces planned, in the event of trouble with the United States, to attempt a surprise mass attack on Pearl Harbor using all of their military facilities. »
•Feb. 5, 1941: Bloch’s December 30, 1940 memorandum leads to much discussion and eventually a letter from Rear Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner to Secretary of War Henry Stimson in which Turner warns, « The security of the US Pacific Fleet while in Pearl Harbor, and of the Pearl Harbor Naval Base itself, has been under renewed study by the Navy Department and forces afloat for the past several weeks… If war eventuates with Japan, it is believed easily possible that hostilities would be initiated by a surprise attack upon the Fleet or the Naval Base at Pearl Harbor… In my opinion, the inherent possibilities of a major disaster to the fleet or naval base warrant taking every step, as rapidly as can be done, that will increase the joint readiness of the Army and Navy to withstand a raid of the character mentioned above. »
•Feb. 18, 1941: Commander in Chief, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel says, « I feel that a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor is a possibility. »
•Nov. 25, 1941: Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson writes in his diary that, « The President…brought up entirely the relations with the Japanese. He brought up the event that we’re likely to be attacked [as soon as] next Monday for the Japanese are notorious for making an attack without warning. »
•Nov. 27, 1941: US Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall issues a memorandum cautioning that « Japanese future action unpredictable but hostile action possible at any moment. If hostilities cannot…be avoided, the United States desires that Japan commit the first overt action. »
•Nov 29, 1941: Secretary of State Cordell Hull, responding to a speech by Japanese General Hideki Tojo one week before the attack, phones FDR at Warm Springs, GA to warn of « the imminent danger of a Japanese attack, » and urge him to return to Washington sooner than planned.
If it wasn’t a total surprise, why did Japan attack Pearl Harbor?
The events of December 7, 1941 were roughly two decades in the making. In 1922, the US and Britain imposed upon Japan an agreement that the Japanese navy would not be allowed more than 60 percent of the capital ship tonnage of the other two powers. That same year, the US Supreme Court declared Japanese immigrants ineligible for American citizenship, and a year later the Supreme Court upheld a California and Washington ruling denying Japanese the right to own property. The year 1924 saw the passage of the Exclusion Act-which virtually banned all Asian immigration.
On the economic front, when Japan textiles began out-producing Lancashire mills, the British Empire (including India, Australia, Burma, etc.) raised the tariff on Japanese exports by 25 percent. Within a few years, the Dutch followed suit in Indonesia and the West Indies, with the US (in Cuba and the Philippines) not far behind. Such moves, combined with Japan’s expanding colonial designs, brought the US and Japan closer and closer to conflict.
When France fell to Germany, the Japanese moved quickly to take military control of French colonies in Indochina (the primary source for most US tin and rubber). On July 21, 1941, Japan signed a preliminary agreement with the Nazi-sympathizing Vichy government leading to Japanese occupation of airfields and naval bases in Indochina. Almost immediately, the US, Britain, and the Netherlands instituted a total embargo on oil and scrap metal to Japan…tantamount to a declaration of war. This was followed soon after by the US and UK freezing all Japanese assets in their respective countries.
Radhabinod Pal, one of the judges in the postwar Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal, later argued that the US had clearly provoked the war with Japan, calling the embargoes a « clear and potent threat to Japan’s very existence. »
If it wasn’t a total surprise, why were the Americans caught with their pants down on December 7? Never underestimate the collective power of arrogance and racism.
Racists within the US military and government never imagined that Japan could orchestrate such a successful offensive. Few Westerners took the Japanese seriously, with journalists regularly referring to them as « apes in khaki » during the early months of their conquest of Southeast Asia. « Many Americans, including Roosevelt, dismissed the Japanese as combat pilots because they were all presumed to be ‘nearsighted’, » Davis writes. « There was also a sense that any attack on Pearl Harbor would be easily repulsed. »
Which brings me smoothly back to 9/11. For a moment, let’s put aside theories about remote-controlled planes or devices planted in the WTC. Let’s also shelve Moore’s decision to focus on Republicans and Saudis while absolving Democrats and Israelis.
It’s easy to imagine that Clinton and/or Bush had more than an inkling that Osama and Co. were plotting something big. Why not? As in the decades leading up to Pearl Harbor, the US was acting as « a clear and potent threat. » It’s equally as palatable to assume that either administration would gladly exploit any attack on the homeland for their benefit and that of their corporate benefactors. Finally, and here’s where the December 7 angle really comes into play, what reasonably objective observer would be shocked to learn that both US regimes never believed that a group of cave-swelling nomads could pull off anything approaching the success of 9/11?
Racism and arrogance…a potent combination. And here’s one more parallel to ponder: Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, with the image of a uniquely treacherous enemy spread throughout America, US Admiral William Halsey, soon to become commander of the South Pacific Force, vowed that by the end of the war, « Japanese would be spoken only in hell. » His favorite slogan « Kill Japs, kill Japs, kill more Japs » echoed the sentiments of Admiral William D. Leahy, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who wrote that « in fighting with Japanese savages, all previously accepted rules of warfare must be abandoned. »
Change the word « Japanese » to « Muslim » and-voila-you have Ronald Dumsfeld. No one yet has discerned all the answers about the events surrounding 9/11 but, in this history-challenged society, it never hurts to examine what has come before.