For those of us interested in US foreign policy, anniversaries of significant events serve multiple purposes. As libertarians, putting opposition to war at the forefront of our outreach is paramount, both for the sake of ideological consistency and because the permanent warfare state is the primary obstacle to peace and freedom for all. Our history as a movement, however, is full of lapses when it comes to promoting non-intervention.
The circumstances surrounding the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor cannot be given a pass, nor can they be blamed on non-intervention. The unjustness of the war must not be left out of the conversation either. Enough individuals were murdered by governments during World War II, an estimated 60 million or more, that preventing such a disaster from transpiring again is the least we owe the dead. We also owe them — and ourselves — the truth.
That day, seventy-five years ago, sparked a turning point in military mobilization, central economic planning, and the supposed triumph of benevolent government forces over belligerent foreign monsters. But the reality is that there were multiple aggressors, all of them responsible for various war crimes. War is never an occasion to celebrate.
On this date, like so many others, the government and its choir of media mouthpieces propagate information unreasonably deferential to the well-established power structures in America. The glorifiers of empire seize upon the anniversaries of previous failures as opportunities to reinforce the prevailing government narrative.
As libertarians, it is up to us to refute government propaganda from the left and the right, especially on the days the State holds sacred, like the Day of Deceit.
Scott Horton, managing director of the Libertarian Institute, has interviewed Robert Stinnett, World War II Navy veteran and the author of that very book, on numerous occasions since 2003.
On the fifty-ninth anniversary of the attack, Horton and Stinnett discussed a number of controversial and important points related to Pearl Harbor, including FDR’s provocations of the Japanese to gain the support of Americans for US entry in WWII; the McCollum memo’s 8-part strategy to isolate and weaken Japan; the possibility that Admiral Kimmel was indeed privy to FDR’s war plans; and the US cracking Japanese naval and diplomatic codes before the Pearl Harbor attack.
Horton and Stinnett continued along this line of inquiry on the sixtieth anniversary, discussing Stinnett’s discovery of the McCollum memo in the National Archives, and the US interception of Japanese coded transmissions. Stinnett also commented:
“…when the cryptographers located the fleet in the North Pacific on November 26th, a priority message was sent to Washington asking what we should do, and it was sent by Admiral Kimmel, the commander of the Pacific fleet. ‘These Japanese warships have been located – what should we do?’ And the Navy Department waited two days and then told him to stand aside and let Japan commit the first overt act. Don’t jeopardize your defense, but let them strike first. I found those documents. Those were just as revealing as that overt act of war memo.”
All of Horton’s interviews of Stinnett can be found archived online.
Sheldon Richman, executive editor of the Libertarian Institute, authored “Pearl Harbor: the Controversy Continues” in December 1991. Richman explores many of the contentious points surrounding the incident long before the publishing of Stinnett’s work, but the questions remain just as relevant today:
“Pearl Harbor is actually a bundle of controversial questions. In order of descending controversy, they consist of: whether Roosevelt and his closest aides knew there would be an attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7; whether they knew there would be an attack against American or British targets somewhere in the Pacific; and, finally, whether Roosevelt’s policies toward the Japanese were intended to provoke the Japanese into sulking at American interests, thereby providing a ‘back door to war’ and grounds for full public support for the war effort.”
As I reported a few months ago, the controversy over code-breaking arose again this year after a panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 to unseal grand jury records related to the journalism of a Chicago Tribune correspondent’s June 7, 1942 report that implied the government had broken Japan’s secret naval code.
“The Tribune’s tacit revelation of the code-breaking coup infuriated Washington. President Franklin Roosevelt wanted to have Marines occupy Tribune Tower,” wrote the Chicago Tribune’s Editorial Board the Friday following the court’s decision to unseal the records due to high historical interest and the negligible need for secrecy in 2016.
The Taxpayer Education Foundation has published several reports on this controversy over the years, most recently on the seventieth anniversary of the attack, much of it drawing from the work of Robert Stinnett and John Tolan.
The Independent Institute’s substantial Pearl Harbor Archive is a wealth of information for both those familiar with and new to this historical controversy, including resources by previously mentioned authors Stinnett and Tolan, as well as Robert Higgs, John T. Flynn, Anthony Gregory, and Alexander Cockburn, among others.
Those critical of our questioning of the government’s narrative and its celebration of World War II should consider the question posed by Angela Keaton, executive director of Antiwar.com and a member of the board of the Libertarian Institute, during a debate at 2015’s Freedom Fest.
After an audience member brought up the subject of World War II during Keaton’s engagement with historian and archaeologist Ian Morris on his book, War! What is it Good For?, Keaton was prompted to channel the work of Bill Kauffman and respond thusly:
“Here’s a better question: Why is that what actually happened – the roundup and murder of six million Jews, tens of millions of Russians and Poles and Germans and Japanese and others, a half a million American deaths, and an unprecedented uprooting of our population, and the hypertrophic growth of the American state, and the deliverance of half of Europe to Stalin and Soviet tyranny – why is this the “Good War”? Why is this thought to be the best possible outcome, that bloody-soaked hell? And why is it some horrible breach of etiquette to ask if other paths and policies would’ve produced a better outcome? Shouldn’t employing the largest military might on Earth – the largest military might the world has ever seen – be the last resort?”
War is the culmination of all the worst aspects of government. War is theft, property destruction, and rapacious taxation. War means violating individual rights, enforcing collective punishment, and destabilizing markets.
Is war the engine that drives government or is government the engine that drives war? As Randolph Bourne famously wrote, “War is the health of the State,” and to add a corollary, taxes are its sustenance.
If we wish to realign American politics and culture to reject militarism at home and abroad, then libertarians must undertake a new mission to implore both the left and the right to embrace liberty and reject our enemy, the State, and the wars and taxes which maintain its power.
Nothing short of this will rollback Leviathan and free us from our government.