Saturday, November 5, 2011

Conspiracies - Pearl Harbor and 9/11

I listened to a Pearl Harbor survivor today who described in somewhat horrific detail his experiences on the USS West Virginia on December 7, 1941. He was a dynamic speaker, with a great memory for detail, especially considering he celebrated his 90th birthday recently. What struck me was that towards the end he brought up his belief that the U.S. government was aware the attack was coming and did nothing to prevent it. It made me think of the "truthers" in our generation who want to blame 9-11 on a conspiracy. It seems that there are always conspiracy theories to explain events with complex causes, because we can't accept their complexity. Even the sinking of the Maine has been attributed to a conspiracy by the U.S. government.

As someone who has experience in government, as well as some knowledge of intelligence operations, I can tell you that hindsight is a great thing to have, when discussing the clues that some untoward event was going to take place. In a government as vast as ours, with responsibilities for intelligence gathering split, by necessity among so many agencies, it amazes me that we figure out anything ahead of time. I liken the problem of predicting adversary actions based on intelligence to solving a jigsaw puzzle, except that you don't have the picture available to guide you and some joker has added thousands of extra pieces to a puzzle of only a few hundred.

Stupid things happen, people are occasionally incompetent, agencies protect their own turf rather than share. All this is human nature as it manifests itself within government. "Never ascribe to malice what can be explained by stupidity" is a good rule of thumb for evaluating a bad situation.


  1. How about Gulf of Tonkin and Iraqi soldiers killing Kuwaiti babies in hospitals?

  2. & have you read Confessions of an Economic Hit Man?

  3. I'd say conspiracy is perhaps too harsh of a word. Didn't they have coded messages that suggested an attack, but they refused to believe the Japanese would reach all the way to Hawaii?

    But yes people really do love their conspiracies. My experience with government is that its just not competent enough to pull off something really big.

  4. The US code guys had a few coded messages -- but they weren't de-coded until after the attack. They had a lot of traffic to decode, after all, and it took a while back then.

    Also, amazingly, if you're going to have a surprise attack, you don't normally send out a huge number of coded messages telling even your own people about it. Operational security is a lot easier if you just pass messages hand to hand.

    Heck, the Japanese Embassy in DC didn't manage to decode the huge detailed long message from their own government, telling them to go declare war, until after the attack. So why do we assume our guys would be faster?

  5. From memory, part of the reason for the conspiracy-- besides the control aspect you mention-- is that they'd never sent all the carriers out without everyone else, before. If the ships that had pulled out had been there, we would've REALLY been screwed.

    I'm no history expert, naval expert or tactical expert, and I haven't tracked down the official movements of ships prior to WWII; heck, I don't even know about the various ships around LDH2 while I was on her, unless it smacked up against me.

    From knowing about the way people work, I'd guess that straight-up paranoia may have been involved in any unusual movements-- there wasn't anything like reason to believe that Pearl Harbor would happen, but some suspicious SOB, somewhere, talked SOMEBODY into actions that were rather irrational on known facts but turned out OK.
    Kind of like when I'm doing my evening walks after the girls are in bed and I'm on one of my usual paths and I suddenly have a bad feeling about going through that shadow over there. Most of the time, I feel silly, but every so often....

  6. While conspiracy theory is often wrong, so is history as we learn it.

  7. I’m Japanese and should tell you what actually happened.
    Please understand Japanese people and American people didn’t have any intention to fight each other before 1941. Japanese hated Britain because of territorial disputes in eastern Asia but no intention to attack US. However, Roosevelt supported China by spending 14 million USD spending more than Chinese government spent and sent Flyingtigers to Burma to help British fighter pilots there before the Pearl Harbor attack. This part was denied publicly, though Japanese fighter pilots saw US planes and recruited US pilots admitted that was before the Pearl Harbor attack. Trying to avoid a war against US, Japanese government disparately made efforts by proposing two consession plans. After a peace treaty Japan was willing to abonedone newly acquired territory. However, US government demanded to give up all the territories outside Japan while implementing trade sanction including oil embargo against Japan. 7 years before the Pearl Harbor attack the policy of trade sanction including oil embargo against Japan was already formulated. But Hoover denied it as he thought the plan was a sure way to war. He was clever enough to think Japan as a blockade against communism. Later the plan was implemented by Roosevelt who said to his servicemen “I give you a god damn war!” As the original scenario goes Japan, Japan attacked the Pearl Harbor. If he/she was sane enough just before the attack, anyone would predict such apparent intention. After removing Japan as a military power in Asia, US needed to face communism directly in Korea and Vietnam. So many lives were wasted.

  8. Sappro, thank you for commenting, certainly, Roosevelt was trying to tilt the war against the Japanese prior to Pearl Harbor. This is because Japanese expansion through warfare and occupation was contrary to U.S. interests. We had an interest in free trade and a China free of foreign domination. So I hope you are not blaming America for the war, when Japanese invasions of China, Korea and other Asian countries was a violation of international treaty of the day and inimical to U.S. national interests.