Criticism of Bush's Handling of Terror Threat Has Historical Parallel

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:28 PM EDT

( - Questions from Democrats in Congress over whether President Bush had advance knowledge of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks remind historians of the Republican criticism aimed at Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt after Pearl Harbor in Hawaii was bombed on December 7, 1941.

Many Republicans believed Roosevelt was complicit in the Pearl Harbor attack in order to get America involved in World War II, which had been going on since 1939.

In his book titled, "Day of Deceit," author Robert Stinnett claimed the U.S. not only expected the attack on Pearl Harbor but also deliberately provoked it.

Following the attack, a presidential panel created by Roosevelt concluded that the president had no advance warning and that local commanders were to blame for their lack of preparedness.

But Stinnett claims decrypted cable messages prove a Japanese spy on the island of Oahu transmitted information, including a map of bombing targets, beginning in August of 1941 and that U.S. government intelligence knew all about it.

Stinnett also claims Admiral Husband Kimmel was prevented from conducting a routine training exercise at the eleventh hour that would have uncovered the location of the oncoming Japanese fleet. And contrary to previous claims, Stinnett says the Japanese fleet did not maintain radio silence as it approached Hawaii. Its many coded cables were intercepted and decoded by American cryptographers in Hawaii and Seattle, Wash., Stinnett charged in his book.

But a joint congressional committee, chaired by Vice President Alben Barkley, investigated the Pearl Harbor attack and released its report in 1946.

"Virtually every witness has testified he was surprised at the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor," the report stated. "This was essentially the result of the fact that just about everybody was blinded or rendered myopic by what seemed to be the self-evident purpose of Japan to attack toward the south-Thailand, Malaysia, the Kra Peninsula, and perhaps the Philippines and Guam.

"Japan had massed ships and amphibious forces, had deployed them to the south, and had conducted reconnaissance in that direction," the Barkley report also stated. "So completely did everything point to the south that it appears everyone was blinded to significant, albeit somewhat disguised, handwriting on the wall suggesting an attack on us elsewhere."

The joint congressional committee exonerated President Roosevelt.

"The committee has found no evidence to support the charges, made before and during the hearings, that the president, the secretary of state, the secretary of war, or the secretary of navy tricked, provoked, incited, cajoled, or coerced Japan into attacking this nation in order that a declaration of war might be more easily obtained from the Congress," the Barkley committee report stated.

"On the contrary, all evidence conclusively points to the fact that they discharged their responsibilities with distinction, ability, and foresight and in keeping with the highest traditions of our fundamental foreign policy."

The report concluded by praising "the president, the secretary of state, and high government officials" for making "every possible effort, without sacrificing our national honor and endangering our security, to avert war with Japan."

The joint congressional inquiry was preceded by seven other investigations, most of them conducted by the military.

Several years ago, the United States Senate voted to exonerate Pearl Harbor Commanders Kimmel and Lt. General Walter Short after the Pentagon officially declared that blame should be "broadly shared" among all in governmental responsibility on Dec. 7, 1941.

But Stinnett thinks otherwise.

"The evidence is overwhelming. At the highest levels - on FDR's desk - America had ample warning of the pending attack. At those same levels, it was understood that the isolationist American public would not support a declaration of war unless we were attacked first. The result was a plan to anger Japan, to keep the loyal officers responsible for Pearl Harbor in the dark, and thus to drag America into the greatest war of her existence," said Stinnett.

Roosevelt had won an unprecedented third term as president in 1940 against Republican Wendell Willkie. Thomas Dewey, a New York prosecutor and Roosevelt's GOP opponent in 1944 found out about America's ability to intercept Japanese radio messages and thought this knowledge would enable him to defeat FDR.

Before the election, Dewey had also planned a series of speeches charging FDR with foreknowledge of the attack. But some historical accounts say Gen. George Marshall, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, persuaded Dewey not to make the speeches.

Dewey said nothing and in November, Roosevelt coasted to victory for a fourth term.

While many still criticize FDR for his handling of Pearl Harbor, it did not diminish him in the eyes of many Americans and American historians.

Many historians still rank Roosevelt as one of the "great" presidents in the same league as Washington and Lincoln.

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