I’ve been off for a couple days, fighting a case of the blah’s. I would go to the office in the morning, then end up working from home in the afternoon. And by the time 4:00pm got here, I was pretty wiped out. This evening I’m better, though still not great. But let’s talk about something…and try to keep it brief.
How about a little conspiracy?
For years, there has been speculation that President Franklin Roosevelt knew in advance about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. As Commander-in-Chief, any President has access to classified information that no one else can see. FDR was certainly no exception, and in 1994 the McCollum Memo was declassified. Conspiracy theorists jumped on this highly sensitive document like flies on stink as proof the President not only knew an attack was coming, but that he had purposely engineered the debacle, then expressed outrage when it occurred.
What is the McCollum Memo? It’s a 6-page document penned by Arthur McCollum, a Lt. Col. in the Office of Naval Intelligence, and submitted to his superiors on October 7, 1940 (14 months before the Pearl Harbor attacks). Germany, Italy, and Japan had, less that two weeks before, signed the Tripartite Pact, and McCollum’s paper begins with his strategic view of the world in light of their close association. He then offered up an assessment of Japan’s strengths and weaknesses.
So far so good.
But then McCollum added 8 steps he believed would drive the Japanese to declare war on the United States. They included things like keeping the U.S. Fleet parked in Hawaii (which we did), instigating a trade embargo with Japan (which we did), and aiding Chiang Kai-shek and the Chinese military (which we also did). He finished the document with the curious phrase, “If by these means Japan could be led to commit an overt act of war, so much the better.”
The “superiors” to whom he submitted his work weren’t just “the next guys in the chain”, they were Captains Walter Anderson and Dudley Knox, both very close to President Roosevelt. And you’re all sleuthy enough to put the sequence of events together…Knox and Anderson receive the memo, which they read and pass to the President. The President then reads the memo, has light-bulbs go off in his brain, and manipulates foreign policy to follow McCollum’s suggestions, and then allows Pearl Harbor to be attacked so we can enter the war with Britain.
But the 64-thousand-dollar question still lingers…while this sequence of events is possible, did it actually happen?
And, unfortunately for the conspiracy theorists, the best answer is likely “no”. Anderson (the Director of Naval Intelligence) certainly read McCollum’s paper…he added his own comments at the end, which included the phrase, “…we should not precipitate anything in the Orient.”
The eight “steps to war” proposed by McCollum were largely followed by the Roosevelt Administration, but they were measures that were largely dictated by the current political/military situations of the moment rather than a pre-meditated drive to war. There is zero factual evidence (and only the most obtuse of circumstantial evidence) that the McCollum Memo ever landed in front of the President’s eyes. And finally, it was Japan who attacked first, regardless of real or implied provocation, and it was they who jumped through all kinds of hoops to make it not look like an undeclared act of war.
In the end, I think the McCollum Memo was far more a “what if” analysis by a mid-level officer than a serious policy document that the administration adapted for its own purposes. There may be “smoking guns” in the the Roosevelt Administration (like there are in many), but those looking for a real story will probably have to look elsewhere.
Recommended Reading: Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor – I recommend Stinnet’s book as an interesting read, not necessarily the Scouts-honor gospel of what happened leading up to Pearl Harbor. The McCollum Memo looms fairly large in this book. For another good take (and links to the entire document), check this site as well.