President Franklin Roosevelt moved the generally isolationist American public to an interventionist position on entering WWII by failing to reveal foreknowledge of an attack on Pearl Harbor.

 Using the documents and knowledge of the period 1921-1945, assess the validity of this statement.




From: Navy Department To: CinCUS, Pearl Harbor Date: 16 Oct. 41

The resignation of the Japanese Cabinet had created a grave situation. If a new Cabinet is formed it will probably be strongly nationalistic and anti-American. If the Konoye Cabinet remains the effect will be that it will operate under a new mandate which will not include rapprochement with the U.S. In either case hostilities between Japan and Russia are a strong possibility. Since the U.S. and Britain are held responsible by Japan for her present desperate situation there is also a possibility that Japan may attack these two powers. In view of these possibilities you will take due precautions including such preparatory deployments as will not disclose strategic intentions nor constitute provocative actions against Japan."

From: Navy Department To: CinCUS, Pearl Harbor Date: 24 Nov. 41

Chances of favorable outcome of negotiations with Japan very doubtful. This situation coupled with statements of Japanese Government and movements of their naval and military forces indicate in our opinion that a surprise aggressive movement in any direction including attack on Philippines or Guam is a possibility. Chief of Staff has seen this dispatch concurs and requests action addressees to inform senior Army officers their areas. Utmost secrecy necessary in order not to complicate an already tense situation or precipitate Japanese action. Guam will be informed separately."

From: War Department, Washington To: Army Hq. Hawaii Date: 27 Nov. 1941

War Department Msg No. 472 " Negotiations with Japan appear to be terminated to all practical purposes with only the barest possibilities that the Japanese Government might come back and offer to continue. Japanese future action unpredictable but hostile action possible at nay moment. If hostilities cannot, repeat cannot be avoided the United States desires that Japan commit the first overt act. This policy should not, repeat not, be construed as restricting you to a course of action that might jeopardize your defense. Prior to hostile Japanese action you are directed to undertake such reconnaissance and other measures as you deem necessary but these measures shout be carried out so as not, repeat not, to alarm civil population or disclose intent. Report measures taken. Should hostilities occur you will carry out the tasks assigned in Rainbow Five [the Army's basic war plan] so far as they pertain to Japan. Limit dissemination of this highly secret information to minimum essential officers.

From: Radio Communication Station, Hawaii To: alcon Date: 7 Dec. 1941

Air raid. Pearl harbor. This is not drill."

From: Adm. Nagumo To: Pearl Harbor Attack Force Date: 7 Dec. 1941

Brilliant success was achieved for our country through the splendid efforts of you men. But we still have a great way to go. After this victory we must tighten the straps of our helmets and go onward, determined to continue our fight until the final goal has been won.

Source:  Selected dispatches to Pearl Harbor, October-December, 1941.




U. S. Forces Japanese Forces
 9 Battleships  10
 3 Carriers  10
13 Heavy Cruisers  18
11 Light Cruisers  17
80 Destroyers 111
55 Submarines  64

Source:  Comparative fleet strengths (Pacific & Asiatic Fleets), December 1, 1941.




“Yesterday, December 7, 1941- a date which will live in infamy- the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

 “The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with the government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. 

“Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleagues delivered to the Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message.  While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or armed attack.

 “It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days of even weeks ago.  During the intervening time, the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace. 

“The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces.  Very many American lives have been lost.  In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

 “As commander in chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measure be taken for our defense.  Always will we remember the character of the onslaught against us. . . .

 “I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.”

Source: Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Pearl Harbor Address to the Congress of the United States, December 8, 1941.




"On the other hand, the American Government, always holding fast 
to theories in disregard of realities, and refusing to yield an 
inch on its impractical principles, cause undue delay in the 
negotiation.  It is difficult to understand this attitude of the 
American Government and the Japanese Government desires to call 
the attention of the American Government especially to the 
following points:. . .

Of the various principles put forward by the American 
Government as a basis of the Japanese-American Agreement, there 
are some which the Japanese Government is ready to accept in 
principle, but in view of the world's actual condition it seems 
only a utopian ideal on the part of the American Government to 

attempt to force their immediate adoption. . . . 

Thus, the earnest hope of the Japanese Government to adjust 
Japanese-American relations and to preserve and promote the 
peace of the Pacific through cooperation with the American 
Government has finally been lost.  

The Japanese Government regrets to have to notify hereby the 
American Government that in view of the attitude of the American 
Government it cannot but consider that it is impossible to reach 
an agreement through further negotiations.

December 7, 1941.

Source:  Note from the Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Government, December 7, 1941 (Often referred to as the “Fourteen Part Message."




“Almost a century ago the President of the United States addressed to the Emperor of Japan a message extending an offer of friendship of the people of the United States to the people of Japan. That offer was accepted, and in the long period of unbroken peace and friendship which has followed, our respective nations, through the virtues of their peoples and the wisdom of their rulers have prospered and have substantially helped humanity.

“Only in situations of extraordinary importance to our two countries need I address to Your Majesty messages on matters of state. I feel I should now so address you because of the deep and far-reaching emergency which appears to be in formation.

“Developments are occurring in the Pacific area which threaten to deprive each of our nations and all humanity of the beneficial influence of the long peace between our two countries. Those developments contain tragic possibilities.

“The people of the United States, believing in peace and in the right of nations to live and let live, have eagerly watched the conversations between our two Governments during these past months. We have hoped for a termination of the present conflict between Japan and China. We have hoped that a peace of the Pacific could be consummated in such a way that nationalities of many diverse peoples could exist side by side without fear of invasion; that unbearable burdens of armaments could be lifted for them all; and that all peoples would resume commerce without discrimination against or in favor of any nation.

      “I am certain that it will be clear to Your Majesty, as it is to me, that in seeking these great objectives both  
      Japan and the United States should agree to eliminate any form of military threat. This seemed essential to
      the attainment of the high objectives."

Source:  Message from President Roosevelt to the Emperor of Japan, December 6, 1941.




                                                          JAN. 24, 1941.
Serial 09112

“MY DEAR MR. SECRETARY: The security of the U. S. Pacific Fleet while in Pearl Harbor, and of
the Pearl Harbor Naval Base itself, has been under renewed study by the Navy Department and forces
afloat for the past several weeks. This reexamination has been, in part, prompted by the increased
gravity of the situation with respect to Japan, and by reports from abroad of successful bombing and
torpedo plane attacks on ships while in bases. If war eventuates with Japan, it is believed easily possible that
hostilities would be initiated by a surprise attack upon the Fleet or the Naval Base at Pearl Harbor.

In my opinion, the inherent possibilities of a major disaster to the fleet or naval base warrant taking every step, as rapidly as can be done, that will increase the joint readiness of the Army and Navy to withstand a raid of the character mentioned above.
The dangers envisaged in their order of importance and probability are considered to be:

(1) Air bombing attack.
(2) Air torpedo plane attack.
(3) Sabotage.
(4) Submarine attack.
(5) Mining.
(6) Bombardment by gun fire.

Defense against all but the first two of these dangers appears to have been provided for satisfactory. The following paragraphs are devoted principally to a discussion of the problems encompassed in (1) and (2) above, the solution of which I consider to be a primary importance.”

Source:  Letter from U.S. Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson, to U.S. Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox, January 24, 1941.




Source:  Anchorage of Naval Fleet, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; 7:55 A.M. December 7, 1941.




"Various conspiracy theories [90] have been advanced, but no evidence has
been offered to support those theories. Rather, the evidence of the
handling of these messages in Washington reveals some ineptitude, some
unwarranted assumptions and misestimates, limited coordination,
ambiguous language, and lack of clarification and follow-up at higher levels.

 “Together, these characteristics resulted in failure by senior Army and
Navy leadership to appreciate fully and to convey to the commanders in
Hawaii the sense of focus and urgency that those intercepts should have
engendered. The Service reports and the Joint Congressional Committee
properly recognized and criticized those failures as errors of judgment
which must take their place alongside the errors of judgment by Admiral Kimmel and General Short.

 “Advocates for Admiral Kimmel and General Short argue, in effect, that
the failure of Washington officials to provide the critical intercepts
to the Hawaiian commanders excuses any errors made in Hawaii. It does
not. No war-fighting commander ever has enough information or enough
resources. It is the job of the commander to carry out his or her
mission as best he or she can with the information and resources
available to him or her. Indeed, placing exclusive reliance on
Washington for tactical as well as strategic warning of air attack was an act of misplaced faith.

 “In summary, this review of the Pearl Harbor investigations and of the
available evidence provides no reason to reverse the conclusions of the
Services and the Joint Congressional Committee that Admiral Kimmel and
General Short made errors of judgment in the use of the information and

the employment of the forces available to them.”

Source:  The Dorn Report, Part III-Page 16, investigating the attack on Pearl Harbor




Source:   Editorial cartoon by Theodor Seuss Geisel, December 9, 1941.




Source:  WWII propaganda poster, by Allen Saalberg, 1942.


DBQ Question created by:

Mr. Matt Waddingham, student
McDonough High School
Pomfret, MD
April, 2001