Pearl Harbor Questions and Other US War Catalyst Questions

by Heather Gray
December 7, 2016

It was on this day 75 years ago that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. This was largely the catalyst to convince Americans to enter WWII. Questions continue to surround the whole incident. But then questions surround the catalysts leading the United States into virtually every other war in the late 19th as well as the 20th and 21rst centuries such as: the Spanish American War (1898-1902); WWII (1941-1945); the Vietnam War (Johnson’s escalation 1963-69); the Iraq War (2003 invasion). What were the catalysts needed to convince the American people to send their youth into these wars? Below are some scenarios.

Spanish American War and The Maine

In the late 1980s I visited the Philippines. While there, I began to learn about “Spanish American War” (1898-1902) directly from the Filipinos. The Filipinos often describe it as the first Vietnam War and rightly so.

As the Filipinos had finally wrenched themselves from some 400 years of Spanish colonialism in the late 1800s and had begun to build their own independent government, the Americans invaded the country at Manila Bay in May 1898 – even before the US had defeated the Spanish in Cuba in August 1898.

The battle in Manila was also before the Paris Treaty was affirmed and signed in December 1898 that ceded the Spanish colonies (Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines) under US control. This was the first overseas empire initiative by the United States.

Fast forward to Cuba, that I visited in 2014. where I began to learn from the Cubans as well about this short, yet dreadful war.

The beginning of the Spanish American War was largely launched thanks to the blowing up of the American battleship known as the USS Maine in Cuba’s Havana Harbor in March 1898. This led to a declaration of war against Spain by the United States.

What happened? It was widely reported in the United States in 1898 that the USS Maine was blown up by a Spanish mine, whereas, subsequently, it has been found this was likely not the case at all. First, here is a report about the incident:

A massive explosion of unknown origin sinks the battleship USS Maine in Cuba’s Havana harbor, killing 260 of the fewer than 400 American crew members aboard….

An official U.S. Naval Court of Inquiry ruled in March that the ship was blown up by a mine, without directly placing the blame on Spain. Much of Congress and a majority of the American public expressed little doubt that Spain was responsible and called for a declaration of war…. (History)

Years later in 1976, however, it was determined by American naval investigators that the Maine was not blown up by the Spanish but rather more likely by a fire that ignited the ammunition on the ship (History).

World War II and Pearl Harbor

While war was raging in Europe by the late 1930’s, America had not yet formerly joined with its British ally against Germany. President Franklin Roosevelt seemed openly noncommittal about joining in this battle even in spite of the fact that Prime Minister Winston Churchill kept trying to convince him otherwise. But apparently secretly Roosevelt actually desired entrance into the war to, with England, defeat the Germans.

Given the American people were, overall, not supportive of the prospect of joining in yet another European war, it is thought that Roosevelt recognized there needed to be a catalyst. There needed to be an act of war against the United States to rally the Americans into a war mentality. The Pearl Harbor bombing on December 7, 1941 by Japan was just such a stimulus. Here was the destruction and loss of life.

All eight U.S. Navy battleships were damaged, with four sunk. All but the USS Arizona (BB-39) were later raised, and six were returned to service and went on to fight in the war. The Japanese also sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, and one minelayer. 188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed; 2,403 Americans were killed and 1,178 others were wounded. Important base installations such as the power station, shipyard, maintenance, and fuel and torpedo storage facilities, as well as the submarine piers and headquarters building (also home of the intelligence section) were not attacked. Japanese losses were light: 29 aircraft and five midget submarines lost, and 64 servicemen killed. One Japanese sailor, Kazuo Sakamaki, was captured (Wikipedia).

What is also not known by most Americans is about the brilliant Australian named Captain Eric Nave who had broken the Japanese code prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and, therefore, knew it was to happen.

Nave was born in Adelaide, Australia and died in 1993 at the age of 94. He had joined the Australia navy in 1916 and by 1919 had decided to study Japanese, “learning it so well that in 1924 a Japanese admiral called him a genius” (NY Times).

Prior to his death, however, Nave along with British author James Rusbridger published a book in 1991 entitled “Betrayal at Pearl Harbor“. In the book, Nave describes what happened in 1941. Below is an except from the book review of “Betrayal at Pearl Harbor” by Dr. Richard M. Ebeling (who, at the time, was Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Free Enterprise Leadership at The Citadel):

Betrayal at Pearl Harbor by James Rusbridger and Eric Nave traces the history of the American and British breaking of the Japanese secret codes. They show how, from the 1920s on, both the British and Americans were able to intercept and translate most of the Japanese diplomatic and military messages. Therefore, Britain and the U.S. had direct and inside information about practically all the Japanese plans and strategies leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

But the British had been able to break some codes that the Americans had not. As a result, the British were able to track both the departure of the Japanese fleet that had left the Kurile Islands for the attack on Pearl Harbor and its refueling point in the North Pacific half-way to Hawaii. It was clear to both the British intelligence agents reading the codes and to Winston Churchill (who received all the Japanese code information every day) that the Japanese were planning to attack, that the attack would be against Pearl Harbor, and that the attack would be on the weekend of December 7. This information was not passed on to either Roosevelt or U.S. military intelligence.

Passing on this information might very well have provided the time for the U.S. to prepare defensive measures – including a counterattack – against the Japanese. And if these defensive plans, in turn had been discovered by the Japanese, they might have precipitated a decision by the Japanese to call off the attack. War thereby would have been prevented or delayed in the Pacific, and the “back door” to America’s entering the war as Britain’s ally may have been closed shut.

Thus, the British kept the information to themselves; the Japanese attacked; and Winston Churchill got what he wanted – but at the cost of thousands of American lives.

The New York Times reports, however, that military historian Stephen E. Ambrose, wrote that this charge against Churchill “makes no sense at all.

He said that if Churchill “knew the attack was coming, he certainly would have wanted the United States Navy to meet and defeat it — after all, the United States would be fully into the war the moment the battle began” (NY Times).

Yet another book written a few years later, “Day of Deceit” (2001) by Robert Stinnett, details it all with extensive American references. Stinnett, “a decorated Navy veteran, longtime journalist and BBC consultant” notes that:

At the center of the scheme to spark a war was (US) Lt. Cmdr. Arthur H. McCollum, head of the Far East Section at the Office of Naval Intelligence. Code-named “F-2.”

McCollum-born to Baptist missionary parents in Nagasaki and well versed in Japanese language and culture-oversaw the routing of communications intelligence to the president from early 1940 to December 7, 1941. Every intercepted and decoded Japanese report destined for the White House passed through McCollum’s office, which was an element of Station U.S., a secret cryptographic center at the Navy Department in Washington (Historynet).

Indications are from this that Roosevelt knew and helped to orchestrate what was to occur and those in Pearl Harbor were sacrificed for this purpose.

Here is some more detail about Stinnett’s book:

Explosive, revealing and disturbing, this book gets to the heart of the debate about America’s leadership as the nation was swept into the war. It is a sober and careful study, however, without sensationalism. Stinnett has simply done his homework doggedly and thoroughly, and has sought to present what he believes is the full story behind the Japanese attack.

One of the most shocking of McCollum’s proposals, says the author, was Action D, the deployment of U.S. warships within or adjacent to Japanese territorial waters. During secret White House meetings, Roosevelt personally took charge of Action D, labeling the provocations “pop-up” cruises. According to Stinnett, Roosevelt said, “I just want them to keep popping up here and there and keep the Japs guessing. I don’t mind losing one or two cruisers, but do not take a chance on losing five or six.” Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, commander of the Pacific Fleet, objected, saying, “It is ill-advised and will result in war if we make this move.”

From March through July 1941, Stinnett writes, White House records show that FDR flouted international law and dispatched naval task groups into Japanese waters on three such cruises. One of the most provocative was a sortie into the Bungo Strait, southeast of Honshu, the principal access to Japan’s Inland Sea….

The commanders in Hawaii, Admiral Kimmel and Army Lt. Gen. Walter Short, were deprived of intelligence that might have made them more alert to the risks entailed in FDR’s policy, but they obeyed his order. After the Pearl Harbor raid, both men were relieved of command (Historynet).

The above is offering two different perspectives. One is that Churchill had prior knowledge of the bombing but was not revealing information to Roosevelt and the other was that Roosevelt was deliberately scheming to provoke the Japanese into an attack. Nevertheless, it does appear that once the Japanese code was broken, by the likes of Nave and the Americans as well, that the Japanese were no longer doing anything in secret and that the Pearl Harbor event was, for all intents and purposes, a set-up.

On December 8, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor, the United States Congress declared war on Japan. The rest is history as they say!

The Vietnam War in the 1960s

On August 10, 1964, the US Congress passed the “Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.” It was of historical significance because it accelerated the US war in Vietnam and in the Southeast Asian region overall:

“…it gave U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson authorization, without a formal declaration of war by Congress, for the use of conventional military force in Southeast Asia. Specifically, the resolution authorized the President to do whatever necessary in order to assist “any member or protocol state of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty“. This included involving armed forces (Wikipedia).

The resolution to expand the war was based on two reported incidents at the Gulf of Tonkin, both described as “sea battles”. One took place on August 2, 1964 in which the USS Maddox fired warning shots at North Vietnamese torpedo boats. There were no American casualties in this incident that left 4 Vietnamese dead and 6 wounded. “(USS) Maddox” was unscathed except for a single bullet hole from a Vietnamese machine gun round” (Wikipedia).

It was said the second Gulf of Tonkin incident was on August 4, 1964 and apparently never actually occurred, as noted later by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara. Yet it was also used as a rationale for Congress to accelerate the US war against the Vietnamese:

It was originally claimed by the National Security Agency that a Second Gulf of Tonkin incident occurred on August 4, 1964, as another sea battle, but instead evidence was found of “Tonkin ghosts” (false radar images) and not actual North Vietnamese torpedo boats. In the 2003 documentary The Fog of War, the former United States Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara admitted that the August 2 USS Maddox attack happened with no Defense Department response, but the August 4 Gulf of Tonkin attack never happened (Wikipedia).

Iraq War in 2003

George W. Bush was president at this juncture. He advocated for and won approval from Congress, on October 2, 2002. for the American invasion of Iraq. It was known as the Iraq Resolution. It was passed after the September 11, 2001 tragic strike against the two World Trade Center buildings in New York, the Pentagon strike and an absconded United Airline flight 93 that went down in Pennsylvania.

“The attacks killed 2,996 people, injured over 6,000 others, and caused at least $10 billion in property and infrastructure damage and $3 trillion in total costs” (Wikipedia).

Al-Qaeda, under the leadership of Osama Bin Laden, was largely blamed for the incident.

Strangely, Iraq, headed by Saddham Hussein, became a culprit as well after this tragedy that led to the US invasion of the Iraq in 2003. The rationale was partly that Iraq was claimed by the Bush administration to have nuclear capabilities, which have largely been reported as false claims (Huffington Post). The Bush administration had said it wanted to rid Iraq of its “weapons of mass destruction” that could be used by the so-called terrorists, many of whom, Bush said, were being harbored in Iraq.

Questions also prevail about the actual strike against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. There was, in fact, another building – World Trade Center building 7- that also imploded and was not struck by a plane. The two Trade Center buildings collapsed to the ground as did building 7 in what many seem to infer was carefully orchestrated and perhaps with bombs planted inside the buildings, as in a planned demolition.

Was all this, along the false claims about Iraq having nuclear weapons, coordinated by the United States as a rationale to convince Americans to go to war against Iraq? That is what is largely inferred by the conspiracy theorists.

Conspiracy theories continue to prevail on the 9/11 incident and its subsequent result with the invasion of Iraq along with on-going destabilization of the region, massive deaths of Iraqis, the killing of Saddham Hussein, increased surveillance in the United States, etc.


In all these instances mentioned above there are questions as to the catalysts to start these wars. The question also remains, who or what benefits from sending young Americans to be killed and/or to kill other human beings? Invariably, the beneficiaries in these painful and violent conflicts are the Military Industrial Complex and corporate America that also largely control the American government. But also there is clearly a demand by the US and other western countries, in particular, to grab and control natural resources in the world wherever they might be. It was General Smedley Butler who, in the mid 1900’s, warned us that “war is a racket” to benefit corporate America and we’ve not taken heed of his profound warning.

In the Iraqi debacle, for example:

The Center for Public Integrity’s… (2003) published investigation into private contractors and the war on “terror” reveals that over 70 American companies have secured close to $8 billion in government contracts to rebuild Afghanistan and Iraq. They also shared ongoing and close relations with the federal government and provided more in campaign contributions to George Bush than any other official over a twelve year period” (James Carter).

The question remains, should we be forced into wars that kill our youth and have them kill others to benefit the military industrial complex and corporate America? I think not. Many innocent Americans and those in countless other countries have been ruthlessly used as pawns. All of us need to be more aware of these tactics and who and what benefits from it all and, importantly, who suffers from these violent policies. There’s got to be another way. To repeat, as many of us have noted, Mahatma Gandhi is credited with saying, when asked about western civilization, that it would be a good idea. Clearly we are not there yet.

War? Is it unreasonable to say we should not use Americans and others as pawns?  Is it unreasonable to start talking more with each around the world while maybe even offering some compassion, respect and perhaps considering sharing our resources with each and/or being respectful of resources that rightly belong to others rather than American corporations? Is it unreasonable to try some of the above recommendations rather than using greed and violently grabbing from others as a rationale and method? Something to think about!

HEATHER GRAY produces “Just Peace” on WRFG-Atlanta 89.3 FM covering local, regional, national and international news. In the early 1990’s one of her photographs on the exhumation of graves in Negros, Philippines was included in Amnesty International’s national photographic tour on the “Disappeared.” She can be reached at:


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