History is what we choose to remember. Once again I have been in a conversation with a group of intelligent and well-informed people and the subject of the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese comes up. This time, more or less as usually happens, the question arises, “did President Roosevelt know of the impending attack?” The usual generalized arguments are aired and nothing much comes of it. Also, as usual, I quote some actual facts and they are tossed aside as hearsay. I repeat, I am the world’s worst salesman! I can place documented facts before people’s eyes and they will brush them away because they don’t fit their preconceptions. People come to anything of which they have the slightest knowledge with a preconception of how everything fits together, and when any new factual information is introduced it is glued into their preexisting set idea. If a new idea doesn’t fit a man’s preconception he ignores it. Because of this human propensity it is very important to be exposed to accurate facts before forming any generalized opinion. Our best option is to identify and avoid invalid facts and corrupt thinking.
The Japanese attack was anticipated long in advance and everyone knew it was coming, and coming soon. In 1941 the most popular magazine in the United States was LIFE. The issue of LIFE on everyone’s table was about how the Japanese were poised to attack and it showed maps on how they were going to proceed. The fact that the President of the United States and his entire military were sleeping when daggers were pointing at them from both sides is ludicrous. Look at the pages below and judge for yourself.
It’s hard to read the small type, so here is LIFE’s Top of the News, typed out for easier reading.
“U.S. cheerfully faces war with Japan; Nazis push toward Moscow;”
“For a nation poised on the precipice of two-ocean war, the U.S. was extraordinarily complacent last week. Washington cocked tense ears for the first sounds of shooting on the wide Pacific. Congressional leaders—even isolationists—predicted that a declaration of war on Japan could be shoved though both houses with as little difficulty as a minor appropriation.
There was no question that the country was thoroughly aware of the situation. Newspaper headlines loomed heavy with portents. Yet no one worried. … ”
Those were their words, not mine. “the country was thoroughly aware of the situation.” And, what’s the situation? The number three rated navel power in the world, Japan, was about to attack us. And the number one rated land power, Germany, had all but defeated Russia and was about to turn its attention toward us. The proof of those outlandish statements – Japan attacked the next week and Germany declared war on us a couple of days later.
These clips are from the most popular magazine of the day. This issue of LIFE is dated Dec. 8, 1941 but the publishers put later dates than when they were printed to keep the issues on the newsstands looking current longer. This week’s issue was about a week old when the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor. The only surprise about the attack was that it was at Pearl Harbor rather than exactly as shown in these maps. The invasion of the Philippines began over the next few days and went pretty much as shown in the maps.
We remember what we want to remember and we fit new facts to old ideas.