My experiences aboard a Navy aircraft carrier that often entered and departed Pearl Harbor, each time passing by the U.S.S. Arizona, overrode George McCartney’s review of Pearl Harbor (In the Dark, August). I think the film is outstanding—indeed, one of the best of its kind ever produced.

It splendidly teaches history to American generations that know almost nothing about World War II. I know of no other major film that presents the Eagle Squadrons, American pilots—almost all of whom were civilians (including my cousin)—who volunteered to fly for the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain. If an American pilot in an Eagle Squadron (such as Ben Affleck’s Rafe) survived combat, there would have been nothing unusual in his returning to his old squadron in the Army Air Corps. (My cousin did not survive. He was killed in combat while flying for the R.A.F. over France in early 1942.)

The film’s center is, of course, the attack on Pearl Harbor. Those scenes were powerfully enhanced by the preceding transition from youthful innocence (such as the boys playing baseball when the attacking planes flew by) to immediate, terrible death for men who were often only a few years older than those boys.

Dr. McCartney dismisses the deluge of radio traffic the Japanese deliberately launched to hide their fleet’s movement toward Pearl Harbor, saying that our military intelligence personnel “quite easily” read Japanese codes as early as 1940. This is wide of the mark, and it seems to confuse “more easily read” open radio traffic/chatter with encoded messages.

In breaking encoded Japanese messages, the Army’s Signal Intelligence Service and the Navy’s Code and Signal Section were magnificent. One of the ironies surrounding the attack on Pearl Harbor is that the United States profited so little from one of the greatest cryptoanalytical feats of all history. No fault of any kind can be assigned to the codebreakers.

Generally, Army and Navy codebreakers broke the Japanese “Purple Code,” which was used for the highest level of diplomatic messages. Before the attack on Pearl Harbor, however, they were less suceessful in breaking the Japanese naval codes, especially the five-digit code that went into use in 1941. Some parts were broken, but the Japanese changed it on December 4, 1941, and it became unreadable until well after the attack.

Dr. McCartney suggests that Roosevelt was slightly complicit or culpable because, although not wanting the Pearl Harbor attack, he hoped for a “lesser assault in the Pacific,” which would lead to the declaration of war he desired. This is an inadequate analysis. The question is not “What did FDR know and when did he know it?” but “What did the Roosevelt administration know and when did it know it?” The Venona Papers demonstrate that key people in the administration knew that Japan would attack the United States, and they participated in policy development and proposals that assured Japan’s attack. They acted on behalf of the Soviet Union because they were communist spies who made certain that the United States would have policies as hostile to Japan as possible. These communist spies, so high up in the administration, changed the course of World War II and probablv caused the war to become worldwide.

The nurses in Pearl Harbor complete the film. They were young and beautiful. They were in love or wanted to be. In the movie, they were treated with chivalry and genuine respect. The gentle and abiding love that developed—a love that bears all, hopes all, endures all, that surpasses war itself—that love alone will cause a man to resist death and live on.

Men will not the for a president who holds a cigarette jauntily in his mouth or for some senator stuffed with bean soup in the Senate Dining Room. A man will fight and die for his family, or his friend in combat, or for the memory of a girl whom he believes is in mortal peril.

At the close of Pearl Harbor, after all of the chaos, the terrible injury and death in government-created war, a beautiful child is born. A new life and a new hope in a child who came from a transcendent love—that is worth fighting and dying for. Members of my generation did just that. In 1941 at Pearl Harbor, every man and woman did that. This film is a great tribute to them, as it should be.

        —William F. Harvey
Indianapolis, IN

As a World War II buff who has earned a mental and emotional Purple Heart by suffering through Disney’s Pearl Harbor, I am disappointed by George McCartney’s insubstantial review of this cinematic travesty.

Dr. McCartney stumbles over facts of which even the Disney Studio was aware: viz., that no American carriers were present at Pearl Harbor during the raid (whereas Dr. McCartney writes of “Zeros buzzing above and between U.S. carriers and battleships”); and that the Oklahoma, not the Arizona, capsized, the former being torpedoed, the latter blowing up from a direct hit by a bomb on a forward magazine. (To Disney’s credit, both of these events were portrayed rather well.)

Dr. McCartney was “impressed” by “computer-generated Zeros buzzing . . . like angry wasps on speed,” which indicates that he has never viewed (or did not recall) the earlier Pearl Harbor epic, Tora! Tora! Tora!, in which real and reproduction Japanese naval aircraft fly at far slower (but much cloecr to their actual combat) speeds.

Dr. McCartney tells readers that “it’s hardly credible that FDR would have welcomed the Pearl Harbor attack.” In point of fact, although he knew it was coming, he did nothing to stop it—which amounted to allowing it and accepting the thousands of needless casualties that resulted from it. No one who has read Robert B. Stinnett’s Day of Deceit can believe that Roosevelt (and a select circle around him) did not know what was about to happen sufficiently in advance to warn the Hawaiian commanders. And no one who has read John Poland’s Infamy, with its description of how Roosevelt and his sycophants scapegoated Admiral Kimmel and General Short, can believe that this thoroughgoing scoundrel would not have thrown thousands of ordinary sailors into the discard to achieve his political ends.

Dr. McCartney misses an opportunity to ask what should be the most important question about Pearl Harbor: Who really benefited? The usual answer is Roosevelt and his co-conspirator, Churchill, who, through the back door of the dastardly Japanese “sneak” attack, brought the United States into the war against Germany. But how could Roosevelt, Churchill, or anyone else have guaranteed that a japancse attack would have accomplished that result? Surely Hitler was not required to declare war on the United States simiply because of a Japanese act of aggression, and perhaps the wisest thing he could have done would have been to denounce the Japanese attack as unprovoked and to declare strict German neutrality, leaving Roosevelt with a purely Asiatic war and the America First group with another powerful argument for America to stay out of the European conflict. On the other hand, the Japanese attack on the United States completely removed the threat Japan posed to Stalin’s Russia, because even the most rabid commanders in the Kwangtung Army had sufficient sense to realize that Japan could not fight both Russia and America simultaneously. Inasmuch as the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor came at precisely the moment when the Russians desperately needed to transfer their Siberian troops to the central front to defeat Hitler’s drive against Moscow, we must wonder whether Pearl Harbor was engineered, not only by Roosevelt and his Anglophile cronies to save England, but by the knots of communist traitors in his administration to save Russia. Although the Japanese attack brought America into the European war de jure (through Hitler’s declaration of war), there was little the United States could do de facto to strike effectively at Germany in 1941 or 1942. But, by turning the Japanese south and embroiling them in a war with the United States, whoever influenced events in the Pacific provided immediate succor to Stalin in late 1941, relieving him of the specter of a two-front war in both European and Asiatic Russia, when his European armies and air force had already been severely mauled. Thus, what Dr. McCartney calls “FDR’s Pacific strategy” may actually have been Stalin’s Pacific strategy. And, in light of Roosevelt’s performances at Teheran and Yalta, no one should dismiss the possibility that Roosevelt and his inner circle (especially George G. Marshall) knew and intended as much. Admittedly, Disney cannot be expected to raise such issues. But Chronicles could be.

        —Edwin Vieira, Jr.
Manassas, Virginia

Dr. McCartney Replies:

Both Dr. Harvey and Mr. Vieira clearly have much invested in their interpretations of the Pearl Harbor attack, and each displays an exemplary grasp of historical detail. I thank Mr. Vieira for setting straight my errors regarding carriers and aircraft speeds. As for Dr. Harvey’s comments on our cryptographers’ difficulties, I concede that he may be correct: There have been conflicting reports. But, supposing parts of the code were unreadable in the days and hours before the attack, wouldn’t that call into question FDR’s perfidy? After all, he couldn’t have suppressed information that he didn’t have.

Whatever the film’s merits and shortcomings, it certainly has succeeded in arousing strong feelings. What interests me most about these letters is that they were written by two well-informed gentlemen who reach diametrically opposite judgments of the film’s merits while converging in their hatred for Roosevelt (or, at least, his administration). They are both convinced that FDR’s administration was a lair of sycophantic cronies, sleazy Anglophiles, reptilian spies, and commie traitors. Well, has there ever been an administration without sycophants and spies? And, while Anglophilism maybe a result of poor breeding, it’s not, I believe, a crime. As for the commies, Roosevelt’s administration probably harbored more than its share, who no doubt did what they could to help Uncle Joe. It doesn’t follow, however, that we shouldn’t have supported Russia against an enemy who was coming after us.

Roosevelt almost certainly adopted policies meant to provoke a Japanese attack. It is, however, highly unlikely that he foresaw the losses we incurred at Pearl Harbor. What rational leader would have accepted such an outcome? There are, after all, simpler interpretations of events, including the oft-cited passage from Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson’s diary. On November 25, 1941, Stimson writes: “The question was how we should maneuver them [the Japanese] into firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves.” Roosevelt seems to have been convinced that our Pacific forces could handle an attack—even a surprise assault—without significant casualties. Further, the administration assumed that any Japanese movement would be spotted well in advance by routine surveillance.

The worst we can say about Roosevelt with any certainty is this: Faced with what he believed to be an inevitable war, he made a callous gamble with other people’s lives, hoping there would be no casualties or, if there were, that they would be minimal. This, of course, is bad enough, but it’s not quite as monstrous as some have supposed.