INFAMY: Pearl Harbor and Its Aftermath by John Toland

INFAMY: Pearl Harbor and Its Aftermath

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Conspiracy theories, notoriously, never die. Put forth in shocked amazement, they may even appear new-born. Toland, as he explains at the outset, has done an about-face on Pearl Harbor: in But Not In Shame (1961), he held the Japanese responsible for the attack and ""every American"" implicated in the disaster; when he wrote The Rising Sun (1970), he blamed ""mutual misunderstanding""--and ""no individuals on either side""; now, he thinks Roosevelt (and Simpson, Knox, and Marshall) knew that a Japanese carrier force was headed toward Pearl Harbor and did nothing to avert an attack in order to get a divided America ""into the crusade against Hitler."" His second, related, equally stale charge is that they launched ""a massive coverup"" of their inaction and made scapegoats of the Pearl Harbor commanders, General Short and Admiral Kimmel. This is what Kimmel, thwarted in his fight for exoneration, came to believe; over the years certain officers produced what they considered supportive evidence; the wartime investigations left some doubts-in order not to reveal that the US had cracked Japanese codes. And Short and Kimmel undoubtedly were penalized by the search for culprits, while FDR was probably overprotective of some Washington reputations. But virtually all the tangible evidence for either charge cited in Toland's stripped-down, souped-up account is closely examined and either discredited or offset in Gordon W. Prange's At Dawn We Slept (1981, p. 1216). And any doubt that might remain about the key charge--of prior knowledge based on intercepted messages--is dispelled by Ronald Lewin's The American Magic (1981, p. 1504). (Lewin even explains why signals of a Pearl Harbor attack that look clear in retrospect--one foundation of the conspiracy theory--were anything-but-clear at the time.) Much of the supposed evidence here, however, is intangible--a matter of aspersion and innuendo along the lines of why-couldn't-Marshall-remember-where-he-spent-the-evening-of-December 6? All of it is presented in a context of Roosevelt villainy--so we have Henry Luce, irrelevantly, on the suppression of photos of a ""dying"" FDR during the 1944 election and MacArthur commenting, at his death, on his propensity for lying. Those determined to believe as Toland does will not be deterred by the flimsiness of his case or the tawdriness of his methods. But the Prange and Lewin books should prevent the charges from gaining renewed currency.

Pub Date: March 26th, 1982
Publisher: Doubleday