Sniegoski on Pearl Harbor evasions

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Bodyguard of evasions

Establishment historians never pay much attention to the secret U.S. promises and war plans, and they don't take them seriously. A prime case in point is what is frequently represented as the pre-eminent work on Pearl Harbor: At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor  by Gordon Prange in collaboration with Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon. The work fails to address the ABD agreement in its main text and makes only a brief reference to it in an appendix, where an effort is made to deny the agreement's significance by means of what could be called a combination of Talmudic, Jesuitical, and Clintonesque reasoning. The appendix is the work of Goldstein and Dillon, not Prange.

1. Goldstein and Dillon point out that the U.S. agreement with the British and the Dutch was not a treaty and that the president could not constitutionally commit the United States to war.

Obviously the president could not declare war, but America has certainly fought undeclared wars, before and since 1941. Moreover, more than one president has steered the country into a position that made a formal declaration of war likely. The Dutch certainly expected Franklin Roosevelt to be able to keep his promise, though the British were less than certain about that and sought assurances. The Dutch would not have dared to initiate the war plan if they did not expect the United States to do likewise. Here the authors seem oblivious to the significance of the Dutch action, writing that "the Netherlands East Indies had no authority to commit the United States to war, regardless of what actions the Dutch took or recommend for their own protection." (p. 849) Obviously the Dutch could not "force" the United States to fight, but just as obviously they would enact the war plan against the powerful Japanese only if they thought that they would have the support of the United States. And it seems reasonable to believe, in light of his overall aims, that Roosevelt intended to keep his promise, else the agreement would have not have been made in the first place.

2. The authors claim further that the Rainbow plan was a strategy for fighting the war once it began but did not commit the United States to enter the war: "These plans and discussions did not commit the United States politically to go to war with Japan, Germany, or both; they outlined the military strategy to be followed if the country joined the conflict." (p. 846)

However, the agreement explicitly said that the plan would go into effect if Japanese moved beyond a particular geographical point.

3. The authors acknowledge that in early December 1941 Roosevelt promised British Foreign Minister Lord Halifax that the British could count on American "armed support" if the Japanese moved southward. The authors interpret "armed support" to be simply the provision of arms. (p. 847)

But the United States already supplied arms to Britain through lend-lease. The promise of "armed support" definitely implied something more muscular than was currently taking place. It implied American military involvement, though perhaps not a full-scale declaration of war; Roosevelt would need an incident to generate public support for the latter.

Stephen J. Sniegoski

June 11, 2001


© 2001 by WTM Enterprises. All rights reserved.

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*New York: McGraw Hill, 1981. [Back]