Every dozen years or so a new book comes out about Pearl Harbor.
Some of these books merely tell how the attack succeeded. e more
interesting ones seek to explain why. Why was it possible for a far-oﬀ
country to surprise the mighty United States and sink some of its
most powerful warships? e puzzle has been deepened by the knowl-
edge that the United States had been breaking some of Japan’s codes
and reading some of its secret messages.
Orthodox historians argue that Japan had cloaked its attack in such
complete secrecy that no form of intelligence then used by the United
States could have penetrated it. Revisionists oﬀer a diﬀerent answer.
e attack succeeded, they say, through treachery—at the highest
level. President Franklin D. Roosevelt is the traitor. ey argue that
Roosevelt, eager to get America into World War II to save Britain and
defeat Hitler, needed an enemy attack on American forces to unite the
nation. To ensure that such an attack would succeed, he and his sub-
ordinates withheld intelligence from Admiral Husband E. Kimmel,
commander-in-chief of the Paciﬁc Fleet, and Lieutenant General
Walter C. Short, commanding general of the Hawaiian Department.
Roosevelt thus was responsible for the deaths of 2,400 Americans and
the sinking of eleven warships to get his war.
Among the revisionists are some distinguished historians: Charles
A. Beard, a former president of the American Historical Association,
for example, and John Toland, a Pulitzer Prize–winning author. e
newest, most ambitious revisionist author, Robert B. Stinnett, a for-
mer photographer on the staﬀ of the Oakland Tribune, is not in their
class. He has spent a decade and a half on Day of Deceit but has come
up with the most irrational of the revisionist books.
Stinnett posits a conspiracy so immense as to dwarf anything the
earlier revisionists had proposed. One theory, for example, required
* From e New York Review of Books (November 2, 2000), 59–60.
WO RLD WA R II' S G RE ATES T SP Y
only that the chief of naval operations sneak into the oﬃce of a subor-
dinate, ﬁnd in his ﬁles an intercept revealing the coming attack, and
destroy it. Stinnett contends, however, that many naval oﬃcers passed
documents to Roosevelt and his advisers while keeping them from
Kimmel; they then concealed their acts from congressional investi-
gators and historians—until Stinnett unearthed the conspiracy. He
maintains that newly released documents, new interviews with aging
survivors, and government suppression of papers support his view.
But he misreads the record, misunderstands intelligence, mishandles
facts, and misdirects readers.
One expert on communications intelligence found 23 pages
containing technical errors in the ﬁrst third of Stinnett’s book before
publication, but the author refused to correct any.
a detailed review of Stinnett’s book in the journal Cryptologia, by
To those of us who are familiar with Japanese naval codes and com-
munications procedures at the time, available documentation in the
Pearl Harbor arena as well as the pertinent personnel and history of
OP-20-G [the Navy’s communication intelligence center], it is abun-
dantly clear that the book fails to prove any part of its massive revision-
ist conspiracy theory.
Central to the surprise was the radio silence of the strike force. e
Japanese, commanders and radio operators alike, say unanimously
that they never transmitted any messages whatever, not even on low-
power ship-to-ship messages. Except for Homer “Charlie” Kisner, an
American intercept operator now near ninety, everyone else who was
listening for Japanese messages says the same thing.
And the naval
communications intelligence summaries produced in Hawaii have
only one statement to make about the Japanese aircraft carriers after
November 26, when the strike force sailed: “Carriers are still located in
home waters.” On December 3, in the last mention before the attack,
the summaries say, “No information on submarines or Carriers.”
But Stinnett says the strike force did transmit at least one message
and that US naval intelligence heard and located it. e US Navy did
this by the well-known procedure of radio direction-ﬁnding. In this
method, radio receivers determine the direction in which a transmitter
lies by rotating and listening, just as people turn a portable radio to get