One of my favorite conspiracy theories center around the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Most of my historical research has focused on the claims made by some historians and writers trying to put forward some form of conspiracy to explain why the us navy and army was not ready and sustained such heavy losses that day.
There are as many theory’s as there are writers but the basic premise centers on the actions in Washington and the alleged motivations of the top policies makers. The truth is very clear that there was no conspiracy to set up or sacrifice the pacific fleet to meet any kind of agenda political or otherwise.
My first clue is that most, if not all, of the theory’s completely ignore Japan and her actions leading up to the attack. Second is that the theory’s ignore Japan’s actions that particular day.
The genesis of the Pearl Harbor conspiracy lies with John T. Flynn and “America First Committee”. Before the war, Flynn was an active anti-Roosevelt anti-new deal journalist with a number of contacts in congress. There seems to be evidence that Flynn used these contacts to learn about the breaking of the Japanese “Purple” code and “Magic”, the machine that performed the decoding. Flynn would publish an article in the Chicago Tribune Sunday edition on September 2, 1945 stating that the “At 9 o’clock Saturday Dec. 6 1941 – the night before Pearl Harbor – the American government was in possession of the full text of a note which the Japanese government had sent to its diplomats in Washington”. While nowhere in the ensuing article mentions “Purple” or “Magic”, it’s clear that the text Flynn was referring to was the “14 part message” that was sent by “Purple” code to the Japanese embassy in Washington and was decoded by “Magic”.
It also appears that Flynn passed this information to two associates from the America First Committee who were, at the time, well respected historians. Charles Baird and William Chamberlin would go on and write books and papers attempting to create a “Washington knew” hypotheses.
While all this was going on an Army historian, working in Japan after the war, began interviewing surviving members of the Pearl Harbor attack and compiling Japanese histories for the war department. Gordon W. Prange Ph.D. would collect the best and most definitive historical account of Japan’s actions before and during the war. A year after the passing of Dr. Prange, his work would be compiled and published by Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon as the book “At Dawn We Slept”.
Within a year after the publishing of “At Dawn We Slept”, another well respected writer John Toland published a Pearl Harbor book “Infamy”. This book brought into question some of the information in the Prange book. Toland’s “Infamy” would be the first to question the governments official stand and challenge the official history of the Pearl Harbor attack.
Subsequent revisionist and conspiracy theorists would attempt to prove a government involvement in the attack, either they knew and did nothing or it was a deliberate set-up. Below is a list of what is believed to be the evidence of a set-up.
1. “Winds Message” –
On November 23. 1941, two messages were decoded in Washington from Tokyo to the embassy in Washington establishing a code in case communications were severed. Below is the full text with the important parts highlighted. As you can imagine, this created a stir in Washington and within a couple days a system was in place to listen for a “Winds” message. Capt. Laurence Safford would lead this effort for the Navy Department. On either December 3rd or 5th, Safford would and later testify that a winds message was received by his office. While there was no physical evidence that a message was received, Safford would state he was shown a message marked-up by Lt. Commander Alwin Kramer that stated “War with U.S., War with Britain, Peace with USSR”.
“19 November 1941
“Regarding the broadcast of a special message in an emergency.
“In case of emergency (danger of cutting off our diplomatic relations),
and the cutting off of international communications, the following
warnings will be added in the middle of the daily Japanese-language
short-wave news broadcast.
“(1) In case of a Japan-U. S. relations in danger: HIGASHI NO KAZEAME. (East wind, rain)
“(2) Japan-U. S. S. R. relations: KITANOKAZE KUMORI. (North wind, cloudy) “
(3) Japan-British relations: NISHI NO KAZE HARE. (West wind, clear)
“This signal will be given in the middle and at the end as a weather
forecast and each sentence will be repeated twice. When this is heard
please destroy all code papers, etc. This is as yet to be a completely
“Forward as urgent intelligence.
“JD-1: 6875 (Y) Navy Trans. 11-28-41 (S-TT)”
“19 November 1941
“When our diplomatic relations are becoming dangerous, we will add the
following at the beginning and end of our general intelligence
“Relay to Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, San Francisco.
“JD-1: 6850 (Y) Navy Trans. 11-2641 (S)”
2. “S.S. Lurline” –
This event and the “Seaman Z” event seems to be the Smoking gun used by John Toland in his book “Infamy” to support a “Washington Knew” that Pearl Harbor would be attacked.
Two interesting events first brought forth in John Toland book “Infamy” concerns the possibility of the Japanese strike fleet breaking radio silence. The implication that the strike fleet broke radio silence would potentially breakdown the arguments of the mainstream historians, give credence to the conspiracy writers, and implies a serious failure within the upper levels of government.
Every interview with the surviving members of Kido Butai and the Japanese Navy’s own after battle report acknowledged the fact that the ships maintained radio silence as they crossed the Pacific Ocean. This the Japanese would credit for the success of the Hawaii operation. The post war interviews with the surviving members of the attack force relate stories of sealed transmitters, Morse code keysets sealed and restricted access to radio rooms.
The Marston line maintained a fleet of passenger liners with regular service to ports in the Pacific Ocean. One ship the SS Lurline ran a regular schedule from San Francisco to San Diego then to Honolulu Oahu then back to San Francisco. During the passage of December 3rd through 9th, the radio operators Leslie Grogan and Ralph Asplund monitored coded radio signals believed to be emanating from the land based station JOS and JCS in Japan. These signals were repeated from lower power sources emanating from an area northwest of Hawaii.
This event, when analyzed, have many glaring errors that should be addressed.
One simple fact is that the Lurline wasn’t the only ship at sea at that time yet the ship and her radio operators were the only one who heard these signals.
There seems to be no analysis written to try to explain what may have been heard. Considering that the Soviet fishing fleet was operating North West of Hawaii at the time, yet nothing was mentioned by Toland in his book.
To understand these problems of radio, one must understand certain principals. Radio signals of the time are much like today’s am radio. AM radio offers the potential of long distance transmission and a wide range of frequencies to operate on. Depending on time and weather, AM radio signals can potentially span the globe.
Direction finding equipment is basically a radio receiver with a rotatable antenna. When the antenna is positioned 90 degrees to the incoming signal is the signal received is the strongest and based on this position is the direction to the signal.
When the antenna is pointed at the incoming signal, one needs to remember that the direction may be to either side of the receiver, that is that the signal may be coming 180 degree from the display reading.
In order to accurately determine the location of the signal, readings from different stations must be made. A plot is made of the signals and where they cross is the location of the target.
This is one reason why one should discount or doubt Grogan’s story since there were no cross bearings on the ‘signals’ he was listening to, and knowing that , the radios he may have heard could easy be the Japanese southern expedition signals. Plotting a line from the an approximation of the Lurline’s position thru a estimated point northwest of Hawaii and have it continue will find that it continued over Japan, French Indochina and near Singapore.
The fact that the Luriline’s radio log is missing and the version quoted is an after the fact reproduction should be considered hearsay evidence.
3. “Seaman Z – Robert D. Ogg” –
The seaman Z’s story is similar to the Luriline story, that “Z” was shown a map that was plotting the position of a “Japanese Fleet” tracking across the northern Pacific ocean. “Z” would tell Toland this story and would be used as a “smoking gun”. Years later, Robert Ogg would come foreword stating he was “Seaman Z” in the Toland book and would completely deny and contradict what was stated in the book.
4. McCollum Memo –
Since 1931, Japan’s war in China slowly becomes a problem in the west. Initially with Japan’s seizure of Manchuria was viewed with concern in Europe, little was done to stop her. Britain’s problem was that both Japan and china was a valuable trade partners and any action may upset British economic balance. Coupled with the general economic depression plaguing the west, Britain took a kind of standoff attitude toward Japanese expansion. Most likely England profited by supplying Japan with military goods and expertise. The United States took a similar course since they supplied most of japans iron and petroleum. After Japan’s expansion into china proper and her eying up of the French colonies in Indochina, the United States began to change its policy toward Japan. In typical Roosevelt fashion, he tapped his brain trust for ideas on how to deal with Japan. Lt. Commander Arthur H. McCollum issued a memo describing 8 actions to take against Japan that would hinder japans war making ability without direct military action. Using the typical tools of embargo he recommends a general embargo by the United States and her allies. In Robert B. Stinnett’s book, “day of deceit” the memo is used as the smoking gun as to Roosevelt’s attempt to provoke Japan into war. Stinnitt’s assertion is that implementation of the points of the memorandum would provoke Japan to attack and cause Germany to invoke the tripartite pact and aid Japan with a declaration of war against the United States.
The unfortunate mistake made by stinnit is that there was no provision for the Tripartite signatories to join a war where one of the members was the aggressor. This seems to be a common error made by history writers.
A basic analysis of the McCollum memo contains 2 areas of action. Part one (sections A thru F) involved repositioning military assets to locations to best deal with a Japanese move. Positioning American naval units in the Philippines would allow for a quick response to moves against the Mandate Islands, Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Positioning American naval units at Pearl Harbor would allow for a quick response to moves against the Mandate Islands, Wake Island, Solomon Islands and such with the possibility of an offensive move against the Japanese home islands. Requesting from the British the ability to base units in Singapore and Australia would expand American capabilities in the Indian Ocean, Indonesia, Burma (Mymar), Siam (Thailand) and surrounding areas. It was extremely important to keep Burma open as the major supply roads and rail to china originated in Lahore, Burma.
The second part (section G and H) involves an embargo of war material to Japan. Embargo has been and will continue to be used as a tool of diplomacy by the democracies since it is one of the most overt actions that can be taken short of war. Historically, embargo’s has had mixed results. America’s current embargo of Cuba has had little effect on Castro and his communist regime.
5. War Secretary Henry L. Stimson Comment –
Nov. 25. General Marshall and I (Stimson) went to the White House, where we were until nearly half past one. At the meeting were Hull, Knox, Marshall, Stark, and myself.
The President brought up the event that we were likely to be attacked, perhaps (as soon as) next Monday, for the Japanese are notorious for making an attack without warning, and the question was what we should do. The question was how we should maneuver them into the position of firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves. . . .
This comment by Stimson has been used as the ultimate smoking gun by most, if not all, conspiracy theories. Usually, this statement is taken out of context and presented cut down to the final sentence. Also this is the only record known of this meeting. Again, conspiracisists use this as proof of a “secret meeting” since no transcripts or meeting notes exist. Stimson would later comment that the discussions that led to this comment revolved around America’s unwillingness to go to war in support of the British, and it would require Japan to attack the United States to change public opinion. Simpson would further comment that between public opinion and an isolationist Congress, any overt action undertaken by the United States against Japan would certainly divide the American people and would certainly push government policy toward deeper isolation.
The above five points have been used by conspiracists even to the present day. Even though longtime as passed since these have been debunked, other conspiracists try to use a Pearl Harbor conspiracy is part of a greater conspiracy such as New World order.