Friday, 9 December 2011


Throughout the history of the US, there have been many conspiracy theories, from presidential assassinations to why the hidden causes and ulterior motives for which the US has gone to war. Some of those theories have turned out to be nothing but idle speculation, others, like government testing drugs or infecting its own citizens and others overseas have proved to have some substance. Some of those theories may take decades to prove right or wrong, others may never lead to any conclusion. Pearl Harbor is one of those historical events that has fascinated people in the last seven decades and I suspect that 9/11 may be in the same category. 

Besides the countless pieces by amateur historians and enthusiasts devoted on the Pearl Harbor conspiracy, there are many serious scholarly works on the subject, works that have examined the role of military officers and politicians in the Pearl Harbor affair, that boils down to whether the US, and other countries including UK, had advance knowledge about the Japanese attack. I have not studied all of these works and various theories, nor have I looked at all of the evidence ranging from intelligence and military operations, to how politicians interpreted such intelligence, timing of the intelligence, military orders given and timing of such orders, etc.

While I am generally against conspiracy theories, in the case of Pearl Harbor, there is sufficient evidence for me to argue in favor of inconclusiveness on the matter of whether FDR and top administration officials knew about it. More intriguing is the historiography of interpretations on Pearl Harbor. In the early years, FDR centrist and leftist supporters defended the theory that the administration knew nothing about it. As time went on, they argued just the opposite. FDR-Cordell Hull conservative critics that wanted the US to remain isolationist have been more consistent on the issue.

If isolationism was the mood of the nation, combined with bitter memories from the first war and trying to deal with the ongoing economic depression, and if the FDR administration had to move the nation toward embracing a direct role in WWII, then at the very least Pearl Harbor helped the administration's goal, regardless of any prior knowledge that Washington may have had. 
We now know that when FDR went to Chicago in spring 1938 to speak before a labor convention, he issued a mild and implicit warning to the AXIS Powers, while secretly he had given the order for a massive military build up. This was after Japan's invasion of China and Anschluss. We also know that FDR, unlike Woodrow Wilson, did not wait to begin helping European allies against Germany, and it was a matter of time that the US would enter the war in order to secure the Axis defeat. 

What exactly is the truth about Pearl Harbor, and why are there people to this day who believe that the government lied in order to drag a reluctant nation into war? Because the Axis powers posed a threat to the global balance of power and to Western bourgeois democracies, and because the outcome of the war was positive for the US, the Pearl Harbor controversy is not nearly as much an issue as it would have been if things had turned out differently.

By contrast, the war on terror has not been going very well for the US, not in Iran, not in Afghanistan, not in Africa or Asia. While the homeland has been secure, and that is indeed the place on which to focus fighting terrorism, the price that citizens have paid for that type of security is one of surrendering many of their freedoms and in certain cases civil rights. 
For this reason, people question whether there is anything even remotely suspicious about 9/11, anything like the murky details of how Flight #93 was brought down. It is true that if al-Qaeda never existed there would be no issue, but the degree to which the US government has been forthcoming is an issue. In short, conspiracy theories have staying power when things go wrong, because people in open societies demand accountability from their government under such circumstances.Conspiracy theories reflect not only the irrational and cynical aspects of human nature, but a sense of fear that the individual cannot control her/his own fate because powerful forces like government, businesses, and other institutions determine everything including versions of what is true and what is not.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The law of liberty will be the standard by which these men are judged.