|December 7, 1941
Every year at this time, charges arise that FDR knew in advance of the coming attack on Pearl Harbor. We live in an age of rampant conspiracy theorizing with fires stoked by Internet speculation, yet these charges lack credible evidence. Yes, FDR knew in a general sense that the Japanese might launch an attack on American military positions throughout the wide Pacific, but he did not know that the naval base at Pearl Harbor would be targeted in the early morning hours of December 7. FDR, having served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy during World War I, loved the US Navy above all other military branches, and he would have done anything in his power to preserve it from destruction.
|FDR statue, Grosvenor Square, London
These charges against FDR are based upon a gross underestimation of Japanese abilities. The Japanese Navy really did achieve strategic surprise against the Americans. They did so mainly because Admiral Nagumo ordered the fleet to maintain strict radio silence for its voyage from Japan to the Hawaiian Islands: “All transmissions of messages are strictly forbidden.”
Many Americans simply could not credit the Japanese with such military skill. Even after the Pearl Harbor attack, some suggested that the Zeroes marked with the Rising Sun must have been piloted by Germans!
When the news of the Battle of Little Bighorn first spread in 1876, many Americans could not accept that Custer’s 7th Cavalry had been wiped out in Montana by a force of Native Americans.
While history may be the record of mankind’s crimes and follies it also holds valuable lessons. The lesson of December 7 is that one should never allow ethnic stereotypes to underestimate one’s opponent. The only effective cure for racism is knowledge.
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