Robert Stinnett’s book Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor (http://www.amazon.com/Day-Of-Deceit-Truth-Harbor/dp/0743201299/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1375304298&sr=8-1&keywords=Day+of+Deceit%3A+The+Truth+About+FDR+and+Pear+Harbor) is a stunning deconstruction of one of our most enduring myths, and it opens up another perspective on the subject of gatekeeping.
Pearl Harbor is one of those points where history – or the selective, partial presentation of history – or the fabrication of history by agents of state power – meets our need to believe in a story that gives meaning to our lives. This is where history becomes mythology.
Gatekeeping in Government: At the end of his book, Stinnett lists 36 specific individuals, all of them in the military or in Franklin Roosevelt’s cabinet, including the President himself, who had unrestricted access to decoded and translated Japanese diplomatic and military radio transmissions. Most of these men had precise knowledge of Japan’s intentions and chose not to inform the actual commanders (General Short and Admiral Kimmel) in Hawaii.
Indeed, Washington specifically told Kimmel not to send search planes over the part of the ocean where the Japanese aircraft carriers were known to be approaching. As a result, the American fleet was unprepared for the attack. Short and Kimmel were fired and permanently scapegoated after the disaster.
What three generations of Americans have been told was a “surprise attack” actually fulfilled FDR’s policy: “The United States desires that Japan should commit the first overt act.”
The book shows in exhausting detail just how this occurred. It leaves speculation about why FDR provoked Japan into war to the reader, although many would conclude that this was a necessary sacrifice for a greater good, the destruction of the Axis Powers. Indeed, one of Roosevelt’s principal intelligence advisors stated that Pearl Harbor was “a cheap price to pay for the unification of America.”
I would argue that our nation has experienced several “events” that were intended to unify it when great numbers of Americans were openly questioning the basis of the myth of innocence.
But what interests me more in this case is the sixty-year-long cover up of the truth. In several Congressional hearings beginning in the 1940s, the intelligence community, including the NSA (yes, that NSA), kept thousands of documents unavailable to public scrutiny right into the 21st century. Stinnett writes,
Immediately after Day of Deceit appeared in bookstores in 1999, NSA began withdrawing pre-Pearl Harbor documents from the…Archives…As of January 2002, over two dozen NSA withdrawal notices have triggered the removal of Pearl Harbor documents from public inspection. (http://www.antiwar.com/orig2/stinnett1.html)
The official histories of Pearl Harbor continue to blame Short and Kimmel for being unprepared, and several Presidents have refused to posthumously rehabilitate their memory or restore their ranks.
Gatekeeping in Academia: Several books that questioned the Pearl Harbor narrative were written from the 1940s through the 1970s. All of them were viciously attacked by mainstream historians. Gary North (http://www.lewrockwell.com/2000/12/gary-north/pearl-harbor-historiography-a-lesson-in-academic-housecleaning/) writes that the academic gatekeepers:
…smeared the reputations of first-rate historians who told the truth early, and then for the next fifty years used their power over graduate schools and professional academic journals to screen out the truth.
In 1948 Charles A. Beard was at the end of a long and distinguished career. He was the only scholar ever to be elected as president of both the American Historical Association and the American Political Science Association. But immediately after publishing the controversial President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War, he was dismissed by his colleagues as senile, and he permanently lost his reputation:
…the most eminent of the Roosevelt academic defenders were recruited to contribute to the character assassination. Probably the most outrageous was that of Harvard’s Samuel Eliot Morison, Roosevelt’s handpicked choice to write a history of American naval operations in World War II, and even elevated to the rank of Admiral in recognition of his labors.
Yes, that Samuel Eliot Morison, whose college textbook The Growth of the American Republic claimed that slaves “suffered less than any other class in the South.” North continues:
What happened to Beard sent a warning to any aspiring young grad student who might have been tempted to follow in Beard’s revisionist path…This is why there are no tenured World War II revisionists who write in this still-taboo and well-policed field. The guild screened them out, beginning in the early 1950′s…The WWII revisionist books of 1947-55 were out of print by 1960…World War II revisionism remains a fringe movement of non-certified, non-subsidized historians.
Fast forwarding from World War Two past the Viet Nam War…or perhaps we should tarry a moment. In 1964, Lyndon Johnson needed Congressional approval to escalate hostilities, bomb the north and introduce (eventually) over 500,000 ground troops. He got his approval with the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, a vote validating his claim that North Vietnamese boats had attacked American ships. The gatekeepers have made it difficult to find this quote from Admiral James Stockdale, one of the American pilots at the scene, but not impossible: “I laughed to myself…Here we go. I’m starting a war under false pretenses.” This event occurred nine months after the John F. Kennedy assassination, an event that itself has become iconic as an example of government lying to its own people.
It is critically important to understand this process of gatekeeping, whether it comes from government or from academia. Regardless of your opinion about who knew what before the World Trade Center was attacked, it is obvious that George W. Bush’s handlers had full knowledge of these and other previous cover ups and had good reason to assume that future gatekeepers would continue to protect them. Their 9/11 Commission never mentioned the collapse of Building Seven, and partially due to media inattention, to this day a third of the public has never realized that a third skyscraper fell that day.
So far, the Obama administration has kept its word, refusing to investigate any of Bush’s crimes. And in recent months the entire corporate media has united in its condemnation of Edward Snowden and other whistleblowers.
In my blog # 34 (https://madnessatthegates.wordpress.com/2013/01/11/barrys-blog-34-academic-gatekeepers-2/) I wrote about the ongoing attempts by mainstream historians to demonize the memory of Howard Zinn, who had managed to bypass them all with his best-selling People’s History of the United States.
Recently it was revealed that Mitch Daniels (now president of Purdue University) had, while serving as governor of Indiana, sent e-mails to a state education official seeking assurance that Zinn’s “truly execrable, antifactual piece of disinformation” was “not in use” in Indiana classrooms. This time a gatekeeper got more trouble than he’d expected, as 90 Purdue professors criticized his comments. Meanwhile, Zinn’s publisher HarperCollins said the dispute has been good for business; sales of the e-book version of People’s History doubled in the week following the AP story. Regardless, Purdue trustees voted to give Daniels an additional $58,000 in incentive pay for his first six months on the job, saying he “exceeded expectations.”
The dispute continues, however, as conservatives rally to Daniel’s defense and – more importantly – high school history textbooks all across the country continue to “white” wash American history (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/13/education/13texas.html?_r=0). And mainstream political commentators continue to freely use the phrase “conspiracy theorists” whenever they want to demonize those who question our dominant narratives.
Those narratives are so important because they continually buttress the notion that Americans and their governments have always stood courageously for freedom and human rights. They continually reinforce the myth of American exceptionalism, the still powerful story that we tell ourselves about ourselves.
To paraphrase the old saying, those who re-write the past are doomed to force others to relive it. And those who know how much our gatekeepers keep from our awareness are encouraged to perpetrate the crimes of history. But more and more of us, especially younger people, continue to publicly question that story.