Truth about Pearl Harbor - John T. Flynn

When Did America Go To War?

The first proposition is that on December 7, 1941, this country was at peace. Being at peace our guard was down. Out of a clear sky Japan, without warning, struck us at Pearl Harbor—stabbed us in the back.

Before Pearl Harbor there had been much debate about whether we were at war and whether or not we should, go to war. But surely no man, now looking honestly at the picture of those days, will say we were at peace. We had of course declared war on no one and no one had declared war on us. But the day of declared war is somewhat in the past. But let us see what we were actually doing in the two years preceding Pearl Harbor.

When Germany invaded Poland, and Britain and France declared war on Germany, our sympathy went out with equal fullness to Poland, France and Britain. We began by selling arms to Britain and France, which we had a right to do. We refused under our Neutrality Law, however, to deliver these arms to them. While we thus aided them greatly no one could call that war. Then came the fall of France in May, 1940. At this point the President made available to the British 500,000 Enfield rifles which were the property of the American Army, some planes and some 75 together with a great deal of ammunition. By this time the question of how far we should go to aid the allies became a national issue. The country approved aid and ever-increasing aid, but opposed a shooting war.

Late in 1940 the President proposed to give the British, hard-pressed in the Atlantic, fifty American destroyers. This was getting close to an act of war, though this construction on our act was denied.

In February 1941, the President announced that Britain could no longer pay for all the arms she needed. He proposed that our government purchase guns and tanks and planes and munitions from American manufacturers, pay for them and lend them to Britain, China and other countries to use against the Germans. This was not a declaration of war. But to say it was not making war on Germany is to juggle words. It is possible to say that the country was doing the right thing in this action, but it is not possible to say it was not war.

The President next decided on a step which put us finally into actual war against Germany. Britain had occupied Iceland—a few hundred miles off the shores of England—in the summer of 1940. In July 1941, the President decided to join Britain in the occupation of Iceland. Before this the President had established a naval patrol. That is. American destroyers and planes were sent out into the Atlantic into combat zones to hunt submarines and report the presence of these submarines to the British, who would then send destroyers or planes to drop depth bombs on them. To say we were not at war with Germany when our Navy was acting as a scout for the British Navy is to close our eyes to the truth. But when we reinforced the British army in Iceland and proceeded to use Iceland as a base for this naval patrol in the very heart of the European combat waters we were in the war beyond all dispute. Mr. Churchill hailed the occupation of Iceland as "a new cooperation between the British and American armed forces." Cooperation in what? In the war against Germany.

Charles Hurd, in the New York Times, wrote Nov. 9. 1941:

"The establishment of a naval base in Iceland marked a change by which American international policy stepped from one of passive aid to Great Britain and her allies into active participation in the Battle of the Atlantic."

Against whom was the battle of the Atlantic being fought? Against Germany. If we were "actively participating" in that battle we were actively participating in a war against Germany. The New York Times, defending these acts, said:

"The Nazis made war on us in the Atlantic. We are making war on them in return."

I do not raise the question whether the President should or should not have done this. Certainly many of our very best citizens urged him to do it and approved what he did. I merely say that as we were making war on Germany. however justified, we are bound to recognize the fact and concede it as a fact.

The occupation of Iceland had immediate repercussions. The President decided to convoy British vessels sailing into Iceland. He knew this meant war. Secretary of the Navy Knox had said to a Senate Committee not long before that "convoys mean shooting and shooting means war."

Obviously if an American warship convoyed a British vessel carrying war material to England or Iceland and a German submarine came near, the American warship would shoot. That is precisely what it would be there for. A British warship would shoot and make no explanation of the act, because Britain was openly and admittedly at war with Germany. But when an American warship shot at a German submarine that also was war. The President, however, couldn't admit it because Congress had not declared war and he naturally could not admit what he was doing or concede its significance. In fact he denied it. When a newspaper writer reported that the Navy was convoying British ships, the President publicly called him "a liar." When the President said that, he knew of course that the Navy was convoying ships and that the reporter was telling the truth.

The truth came out later, only last year, when the Navy by Order No. 190, directed the issuing of awards of ribbons to men in the Navy, Marine and Coast Guard who had been in "actual combat" with German submarines "before December 7, 1941." Moreover on April 29, 1944, W. A. Crumley, famous naval reporter of the London Express, writing of the death of Secretary Frank Knox, said:

"The full extent of our debt to Colonel Knox has not yet been disclosed but it can be said that American warships were assisting Atlantic convoys as early as March, 1941, eight months before Pearl Harbor."

The inevitable result of this, of course, was that several American ships, including naval vessels, were torpedoed or sunk. One of these was the Greer. On September 11, 1941, the President announced:

"The U.S. Destroyer Greer, proceeding in full daylight toward Iceland had reached a point southeast of Greenland. She was carrying American mail to Iceland. She was flying the American flag. Her identity as an American ship was unmistakable. She was then and there attacked by a submarine. Germany admits it was a submarine."

Now the public assumed from this statement that this destroyer was proceeding on a peaceful mission, bringing mail to American soldiers in Iceland when she was deliberately attacked by a submarine. The truth came out a little later in a letter from the Navy to the Senate Naval Affairs Committee. The Greer was going to Iceland to American soldiers billetted there with the British army. A British patrol plane found a submarine ten miles from the Greer. The Greer put on speed and pursued the sub. The submarine tied. The Greer crowded it, broadcasting its position to the British Navy. A British plane appeared and dropped four depth bombs on the sub, while the Greer continued to crowd it for three hours and 28 minutes, before the submarine turned and fired at the Greer. The Greer then attacked with its guns. This was war.

Charles Hurd, Times correspondent, called attention to the fact on November 9 that the Greer was not the only such incident. There was also the case of the Kearny and the Reuben James. He wrote that information had come belatedly that "in all three cases, the destroyers were hunting the submarines"—the Greer to report where one lay and the other destroyers in an actual effort to destroy them. W. Averill Harriman, the President's personal agent in London, said November 23:

"The U.S. Navy is shooting Germans—German submarines and aircraft at sea."

The President's difficulty arose from the fact that he was waging a foreign war while at the same time assuring the people that he was not, and would not take them into war. But men like Herbert Agar, editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal, an ardent New Dealer and a leader in one of the war committees, caustically reproached the President for making these pretenses when in fact the Lend-Lease Bill was an act "to enable him to conduct an undeclared war on Germany."

It must be conceded that the President dared not admit that he was making war because the country was still registering its opposition to war in all the polls. Yet we were in fact at war and it was not until long after Pearl Harbor that the people began to hear and realize the truth. We had been at war—shooting war—for many months before Pearl Harbor. Mr. Arthur Sulzberger, publisher of the New York Times, devoted to the President's war policy said in a speech last year:

"I am not one of those who believed that we entered the war because we were attacked at Pearl Harbor, but that we were attacked at Pearl Harbor because we were already in the war."

Indeed in Washington to-day the man who would say in informed circles that we did not enter the war until Pear! Harbor would be roundly laughed at.

The assumption, therefore, that on December 7 this country was in a state of peace and was therefore in a condition where it could plead surprise at an attack is utterly without foundation.