September 11 and the origins of the "War
A revisionist account
by Stephen J. Sniegoski sixth update
Table of contents
The Roberts Commission,
Investigating 9/11 in light of 12/7
By STEPHEN J. SNIEGOSKI
With the continuing revelations that security agencies of the U.S. government possessed considerable information pointing to the terrorist attacks of September 11, numerous voices have arisen calling for a special, independent commission to investigate the extent of Washington's foreknowledge. Leading officials (actual and nominal) of the Bush administration oppose the idea, supporting instead the ongoing (tepid) inquiry by the intelligence committees of Congress on the grounds that only in that way will classified information remain shielded from America's enemies. Moreover, they claim that a broader inquiry by an independent commission would divert administration resources from the ongoing "war on terrorism."
In contrast, proponents of a special commission argue that only such an independent commission composed of knowledgeable citizens could get to the bottom of the government's handling of terror warnings before 9/11.
Legislation to create a special commission has been introduced by Senators Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.).  The idea has attracted the support of many critics of the administration, as well as the backing of the victims' families. However, and ominously, pro-war defenders of the administration such as George Will and the neocon Weekly Standard have also come out in support of a special commission.  Recently, momentum for the commission proposal was diminished by President Bush's announcement of a plan to create a Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security. But the proposal is likely to move to the forefront in the near future.
Doing it right
Just as it has been commonplace to draw analogies between the 9/11 attacks and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, so the proponents of a special commission allude to Franklin Roosevelt's establishment of a special investigatory commission immediately after Pearl Harbor as a model for dealing with the question of September 11.  Now that the bolt-from-the-blue fairy tale has disintegrated, it is apparent why Will, the Weekly Standard, and other fans of the Terror War are supporting a commission, for Roosevelt's handpicked Pearl Harbor commission was simply a means of covering up the entire affair. As William Kristol and Robert Kagan put it in the Weekly Standard: "Done right, such a commission could give the public something it now lacks: confidence that somebody is taking an honest look at what went wrong, and confidence that the administration will be put under pressure to change the ways its agencies operate."  Certainly, in perpetrating an effective cover-up, Franklin Delano Roosevelt provided a model for having things "done right."
In the immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbor, although Roosevelt was pushing the "surprise attack" explanation, he also realized that in order to head off a possible congressional probe, he himself would have to initiate an investigation in which some Americans would be blamed. (The idea that anyone should have been prepared for a surprise attack would appear to be a contradiction, but logical contradictions are quite commonplace in American statecraft.) The fundamental purpose of Roosevelt's investigation was to shield his regime from all blame, and, most especially, to dispel any notion that government leaders had any prior knowledge of the Japanese attack.
Roosevelt made every effort to rig the investigation so it would serve his interests. First, his executive order of December 18, 1941, creating the commission specifically restricted it to investigating errors and derelictions of duty on the part of U.S. Army and Navy personnel. In short, the commission could not explore the responsibilities of civilian authorities and how well they had been discharged. Thus, unbeknownst to the unwary American public then and, apparently, to many today who see the commission as an investigatory model the crucial issue, namely whether President Roosevelt and his Cabinet ministers had any role in the Pearl Harbor disaster, was completely outside the scope of the investigation!  That meant that the essential points of what became Pearl Harbor revisionism that the Roosevelt administration's foreign policy pushed the Japanese into war and that leaders of the administration had prior knowledge of the attack was outside the investigatory mandate of Roosevelt's "independent" commission.
Seeking even greater security, the president then made sure the commission would consist of individuals linked, by personal loyalty or political belief, to the administration and its pro-war agenda. To achieve that goal, Roosevelt relied on his secretary of war, Henry Stimson, to propose three of the commission's five members. Stimson was the pre-eminent war hawk who recorded in his diary on November 25, 1941, that "the question [of the United States dealing with the Japanese] was how we should maneuver them into the position of firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves." 
Stimson nominated Supreme Court Justice Owen J. Roberts to head the commission: accordingly, the panel investigating the Pearl Harbor attack would be commonly known as the "Roberts Commission." The fact that Roberts was a Supreme Court justice as well as a Republican lent the commission an aura of non-partisanship. In reality, Roberts had been a staunch war interventionist prior to Pearl Harbor. Stimson also named General Joseph T. McNarney, the right-hand man of Chief of Staff George C. Marshall and a key insider in Roosevelt's pro-war cabal. Before Pearl Harbor, McNarney had played a major role in secret military negotiations with the British involving secret American preparations for war. Finally, Stimson tapped Major General Frank R. McCoy, his close friend and aide for more than 30 years who was also president of the pro-interventionist Foreign Policy Association. 
The final two commission members were named by Secretary of Navy Frank Knox: retired Rear Admiral Joseph Reeves, whom Roosevelt had given a job in lend-lease, and Admiral William Standley, a former fleet commander. Of all the members, only Standley had no obvious pro-war sentiments or direct connection with the Roosevelt administration. 
Not only was the membership specially stacked to come up with a pro-administration verdict, but also the White House made sure that it was not provided with any information that could lead to any other finding. While the members of the commission were vaguely informed that the United States had intercepted some Japanese messages before Pearl Harbor, they did not know what the messages contained.  And of course the commission knew nothing at all about the other evidence subsequently uncovered that pointed to the Roosevelt administration's foreknowledge of the attack. (I discuss much of that information in my article on Pearl Harbor revisionism in the Occidental Quarterly. )
An "admirable view of the facts"
Despite the fact that the Roberts Commission was about as much of an objective finder of fact as Stalin's show trials, the "independent commission" approach did serve to gull the American public. In the words of the much-acclaimed Pearl Harbor historian Gordon Prange, a vigorous apologist for Roosevelt's pro-war foreign policy, "the most widespread idea which the press conveyed to the public was that this commission would be a party to no whitewashing." 
The Roberts Commission laid the blame for Pearl Harbor on the commanders in Hawaii General Short and Admiral Kimmel. The commission charged that the pair ignored the importance of an alleged war warning from Washington and charged that they failed to take sufficient defensive actions. Overall, the two officers were said to be guilty of dereliction of duty. On the other hand, the commission in its report held that the top military leaders in Washington, Admiral Stark and General Marshall, had performed impeccably. That section of the report was first submitted to none other than Stark and Marshall for their approval.
Admiral Standley dissented from the findings but did not write a minority opinion after being told that to do so would weaken the public's confidence in its leaders and thereby harm the war effort. To make absolutely certain that the commission's report was to his liking, Roosevelt insisted on reviewing it before it became public. Finding that the report did suit his purposes, Roosevelt decided to release it in its entirety to the press. 
The Roberts Commission report encountered less-than-universal acceptance by the few people who both understood and disapproved of the situation. For example, Admiral James Richardson, Kimmel's predecessor as Pacific Fleet commander, condemned the report:
It is the most unfair, unjust, and deceptively dishonest document ever printed by the Government Printing Office. I cannot conceive of honorable men serving on the commission without greatest regret and deepest feelings of shame. 
Some calls for congressional investigations were heard, especially from those who had resisted intervention before 12/7. But by and large the American people accepted the verdict of the Roberts Report. As Senate Majority Leader Alben Barkley put it, the report presented a "comprehensive and admirable view of the facts and the people are justified in believing that nothing will be kept from them." All suspicions should end, he declared, because now "everybody knows what happened." 
The Roberts whitewash sufficed until the very end of the war, when leaks revealed that the United States had broken the Japanese diplomatic code before 12/7. Another whitewash, this time by the Democratic-controlled Congress, was then successfully undertaken.
The risk to Bush
What is the significance of the Roberts Commission for us? Undoubtedly, a comparable "independent" commission today would be filled by prominent (read: pro-Establishment) people who would spin a defense of the administration. Undoubtedly it would heap blame on lower-level officials, who would become scapegoats like Kimmel and Short.
Given the past success of such an "independent" agency approach, one might ask why the Bush administration has avoided that route. In part, the White House may fear that it could not come up with a commission that was, in fact, comparable: that is, a commission that could be sold to the public as objective and nonpartisan and was at the same time sufficiently pliable. That is not to say that any members of such a commission would actually want to establish the truth about the event; but some might want to embarrass the administration in order to benefit the Democrats or Israel. (Israel Firsters are opposed to a strong U.S. regime that could pressure the Jewish state to make concessions on Palestine.)
More significant, however, is the consideration that far more anomalies emerged immediately after the September 11 attacks than emerged immediately after the attack of December 7, 1941. That factor would make a public whitewash more difficult. A closed congressional inquiry is less risky for the administration because the public is not told what material Congress is dealing with. If a few leaks can distress the Bush regime, the public airing of a mass of sensitive material would surely render it utterly distraught.
Again, that is not to say that an independent commission would discover any real truths; the real danger would be that Zionists and Democrats might manipulate it to embarrass the Bush White House. A new Roberts Commission would not impede the "war on terrorism," but it might place its direction in the eager hands of others such as Joseph Lieberman, Madeleine Albright, and Albert Gore.
July 5, 2002
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