Pearl Harbor: Did Churchill Know?

by Richard Langworth on 25 June 2009

This may seem like a silly question but it was brought up by a supposed World War II “historian,” with no proof, of course. The person stated that Churchill “tricked” Franklin Roosevelt into joining the war effort. Is there any proof of this or is it just a myth?  I find it hard to believe. FDR joined the war after Pearl Harbor was attacked. I cannot see how someone is tricked into joining a war. Any insight you can give will be much appreciated. —G.K.

It’s an old favorite of the “full-mooners,” but has long been rejected by the more serious historians. The Churchill Centre had a former CIA officer explode the theory that Churchill (or FDR) knew about the Japanese attack but did nothing for political reasons. 

Sir Ian Kershaw, the Hitler biographer, published a fine book that touches on this and related events: Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions that Changed the World, 1940-1941, which I reviewed in Finest Hour 138, Spring 2008. (Not yet on the Churchill Centre website; available from me by email.)

Kershaw points out that Churchill was near despair in late 1941, thinking the USA would never come in, and wondering how he would cope in 1942 with a reeling Stalin as his only ally in arms. So naturally, Churchill was heartened and felt relieved when he heard the news from Hawaii, and frankly admitted that he “slept the sleep of the saved and the thankful.”

One of the fascinating accounts in Kershaw is how Japan went to war virtually expecting to lose, and how FDR and his Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, so handled matters as almost to cause Japan to strike. I was surprised and intrigued at this new angle on Tojo and Hirohito. This is a well-written, fast-paced book that is definitely worth reading.


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