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1 December 2003
This article is part of the series The creation of war motives.
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Creating Motives for War
Pearl Harbor and the Gulf of Tonkin Incident

The Dutch in the original article has been translated into English by Marienella Meulensteen.

By Daan de Wit. Published first in The Humanist.
Incidents that led to war often appear to be consciously provoked or even created. There are strong indications that the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 was known beforehand by the U.S. And the immediate cause of the war in Vietnam, the ‘Gulf of Tonkin Incident’, was most likely blown out of proportion on purpose.

On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor is attacked. Years later, American President George W. Bush compares the attack of September 11, 2001 with the one on Pearl Harbor. But does this comparison fit? Or was it that the American government of that time knew ahead of time that the Japanese attack would take place? Also according to John Toland, historian and winner of a Pulitzer prize, President Roosevelt had advance knowledge of the attack.

The American government knew about the coming attack, thanks to information from the Dutch government, Toland writes in his book Infamy, Pearl Harbor and its Aftermath. He learned about this from the Dutch general Albert C. Wedemeyer, who stated how during a meeting in 1943, vice-admiral Conrad E. L. Helfrich of the Dutch Navy had been astounded that the Americans were surprised by the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Dutch had broken the Japanese code and were aware of the attack beforehand, and thereupon the Dutch government had warned the American government. And so now the question is whether the American government was indeed surprised?

In this context, the notes of Harold Ickes, the advisor to Roosevelt, are deemed to be remarkable. He writes in a memo to his President on June 23, 1941, one day after Hitler's invasion of Russia: 'there might develop from the [American] embargoing of oil to Japan such a situation as would make it not only possible but easy to get into this war in an effective way'. The White House had such devious thoughts because three quarters of the population did not want to get involved in WWII. Secretary of war, Henry Stimson writes on November 25, 1941, in his diary: 'The question was how we should maneuver them into the position of firing the first shot'.

The Three-Power Pact
Also the head of the Far East Bureau of the Secret Service of the Navy, lieutenant Arthur McCollum, who was born and raised in Japan, wanted to involve the United States in a war by means of an attack on Japan, with the main objective being to begin an offensive against Germany. Japan had signed the Three-Power Pact on September 27, 1940, an alliance with Germany and Italy by which the countries would help each other in case they were attacked. In order to achieve the U.S. government's goal of starting a war, McCollum developed an eight-step plan, author Robert B. Stinnett unveils in May 2000 during a presentation of his book Day of Deceit - The truth about FDR and Pearl Harbor.

The plan was based on the fact that not only the diplomatic code but also the military code of the Japanese was broken, and for 11 months, until the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. was totally aware of the Japanese plans. Stinnett is a war veteran, has served on a warship with George Bush Sr., and did research for the book for seventeen years. Author Gore Vidal, The New York Times and the Washington Post were very positive about his book.

The most important part of the eight steps - 'Action F' - saw to it that the Pacific Ocean fleet would be in vulnerable Hawaiian Pearl Harbor instead of on the West Coast of the U.S. On October 8, 1940, one day after receipt of the plan, Roosevelt approved it and informed the commander of the American fleet, admiral James Richardson. The latter refused to cooperate and was fired, after which Roosevelt gave his job to the up until that time unknown admiral Husband Kimmel, who he promoted to a four-star admiral. Walter Short made the same career jump as he was promoted to a three-star lieutenant-general and became the commander-in-chief of the troops in Hawaii.

In the meantime, Roosevelt knew that the enemy was not sitting still, thanks to the continuously intercepted messages from a Japanese spy in Pearl Harbor, who was making preparations from March of 1941 onward for the Japanese bombardment. This spy was able to do his work without obstruction. The plans of attack that the Japanese admiral Yamamoto developed were also followed diligently. This was possible thanks to the interception of coded messages by 22 radio stations, among them British and Dutch stations in the East Indies, after which the messages were decoded by the U.S. Plan B of the 8-step plan: 'Make an arrangement with Holland for the use of base facilities and aquisition of supplies in the Dutch East Indies'.

Nothing was left to chance to make Roosevelt's provocation politics a success. To keep control over the press, they were informed on November 15, 1941. The army chief of staff, general George Marshall, informed the bureau chiefs in Washington of, among others, the New York Times, the New York Herald Tribune, Newsweek and Time. He swore them to secrecy that the Japanese codes were broken and that the war was expected to begin during the first week of December. The journalists were quite nice to keep quiet, just as they so respectfully did later during the Greet Hofmans affair here in the Netherlands, and the silence about the Bilderberg meetings going on right now.

Scrap barges
At the end of November 1941, Roosevelt sends a message to all military commanders: 'The United States desires that Japan commit the first overt act'. General MacArthur received orders from Roosevelt to step aside. ''Don't go on the offense, remain in a defensive posture'. The official word was, the U.S. desires that Japan commit the first overt act of war', thus author Stinnett paraphrases President Roosevelt.
In the meantime, Roosevelt spoke to the American public. Stinnett in an interview: '[...] His statement was, "I won't send your boys to war unless we are attacked." So then he engineered this attack---to get us into war really against Germany. But I think that was his only option. I express that in the book', according to Stinnett.

As soon as the Japanese had left for their attack, ships en route to Pearl Harbor were diverted under instructions of the American Navy so as to prevent them from running into the Japanese. Because the fleet would be very vulnerable in the middle of the enormous Pacific Ocean, Roosevelt took action. He took care that the newest warships left Pearl Harbor for a safe haven, while only a few depreciated ships from the First World War were left. Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941; almost 2400 were killed.

Communist torpedo boats
The immediate cause of the beginning of the Vietnam war was the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, in which the 'Free West' was attacked by the 'imperial communists'. But almost forty years later, not everyone still agrees on that. Even a prominent American encyclopedia was non-committal: ' On Aug. 4, 1964, North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin were alleged to have attacked without provocation U.S. destroyers that were reporting intelligence information to South Vietnam', states Encyclopedia.com

One of the people who has always been devoted to bringing the truth to light about the immediate cause of the Vietnam war is Daniel Ellsberg. At that time he worked at the Pentagon and read the most recent army reports that came in uncensored about the tricky situation prior to the war with Vietnam. He later worked on the top secret document Decision-making in Vietnam, 1945-68 by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. In 1969 he photocopied the 7000-page report and gave it to an investigative commission and to a number of newspapers, after which it became known as the Pentagon Papers.
In the first chapter of his book Secrets, A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers Ellsberg writes about the contrast between what he read and what really happened, and the lies that the Pentagon told Congress. It started with information being withheld about the backgrounds of Plan 34A, also called 34 Alpha. In the August 1997 issue of Vietnam Magazine, the American Captain Ronnie E. Ford writes that thanks to all kinds of new publications and released government documents, the story comes to light about the one-time South Vietnamese special forces who were part of the American secret operation Plan 34A.

Plan 34A was a CIA operation that consisted of inciting unrest and provoking the North Vietnamese army by carrying out bombardments and sabotage. The goal was to invoke counterstrikes so that there would be a motive to declare war on North Vietnam. So as not to miss the results of the provocations, a destroyer of the DeSoto patrol was nearby, which did its part by carrying out espionage patrols within the territorial waters of North Vietnam. 

After a first counter-attack by the North Vietnamese without casualties on the American side, President Johnson decided not to take further action, except adding a destroyer to the DeSoto patrol. He also sent a formal protest to Hanoi that stated that 'every following unprovoked offensive against the American forces would inevitably have serious consequences'.

On August 4, The Maddox and the USS C. Turner Joy reported that they were being attacked (thus a second attack), 17 hours after 34Alpha attacks on Cap Vinh Son en Cua Ron. Ellsberg receives a series of blood curdling messages from captain Herrick about the attack taking place in pitch darkness. There are torpedos everywhere, barely dodged by the ships that fight back hard in the meantime. Suddenly the messages stop and Ellsberg has time to start sorting the information.

Shooting at the shadows
After a half hour a new series of messages start, but this time much calmer than the previous ones: Herrick reports that despite the chaotic action, it is possible that no attack has taken place after all. Part of the panic was that the sonar man of the Maddox had mistaken the propeller sound of his own boat for that of torpedos, after which hell broke loose and for hours shots were fired at random by the ships and the American fighter jets that came to the rescue. On a reconnaisance flight proposed by Herrick, pilot James Stockdale cannot find any remnants of a fight and reports 'nothing but black sea and American firepower'. Ellsberg says: 'In later years it was clear that there had not been an attack. They fought against radar and sonar shadows in the water, on which they fired. There were no torpedos in the water as they had thought'. [Something that is reconfirmed in December 2005 by released documents].

Captain Ford in Vietnam Magazine: 'Despite the recommendation of the recently appointed captain John J. Herrick that the circumstances - darkness, a stormy sea and an unexperienced crew - was reason for a 'thorough investigation', Secretary of War McNamara told Congress that there was 'irrefutable proof' of a second 'unprovoked attack on American ships'. A few hours after his disclosure, Congress gave its approval for the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. With this the secret 34A plans, which had earlier been delivered in detail by Ellsberg in person to the  303 Committee for verification, had succeeded. This committee authorized all secret operations and discussed them with the President. The U.S. started the Vietnam war on the basis of a provoked attack that never took place.

In 1964, President Johnson was challenged by the hawkish Republican Barry Goldwater. Johnson's tactical ambition to fill the role of the assailled dove of peace paid off after the acceptance of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in August 1964: in November he won with the biggest landslide ever.

War against terrorism
George W. Bush compared the attack of September 11 with the one on Pearl Harbor. Could it be, considering the accomplishments of his predecessors, that that comparison was more striking than it was intended to be? The list of indications that the White House was aware of the 911 attack beforehand grows day by day, and it also starts to occur to the regular media - witness a 7000 word article in The Guardian by Gore Vidal with all kinds of proof, and similar articles by former ministers Von Bülow (Germany) and Meacher (England).

The list of examples is frighteningly large. For example, what to think of the story that fifteen hijackers received their visas thanks to the CIA in Jeddah? Or Bush himself who, after the first crash on September 11, goes to visit a classroom in which he hears about the second crash while listening to a story about a little goat. Bush, the Commander in Chief of the armed forces, stays seated quietly, and gives a speech in the school forty five minutes after the first crash instead of coordinating counter measures.

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