Did Roosevelt Start the War? History Through a Beard

Navigator, historian, and teacher. SAMUEL ELIOT MORISON has been instructor, lecturer, and Professor of History at Harvard since 1915. In 1942, he was appointed historian of the United States naval operations in the Second World War with the rank of Lieutenant Commander, and in the years following, he was a participant in and witness of many of the great operations. His access to men and documents and his close study of that crucial period mark him as one well qualified to challenge Charles A Beard’s accusation that President Roosevelt was responsible for the Second World War.

by SAMl EL ELIOT MORISON

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ABOUT twenty years ago, Oliver Wendell Holmes in a letter to his friend Sir Frederick Pollock had something to say about Charles A. Beard’s Economic Interpretation of the Constitution. Beard, said Holmes, argued that “the Constitution primarily represents the triumph of the money power over democratic agrarianism and individualism. Beard . . . went into rather ignoble though most painstaking investigation of the investments of the leaders, with an innuendo even if disclaimed. . . . Belittling arguments always have a force of theirown, but you and I believe that high-mindedness is not impossible to man.”

That famous book came out in 1913, The “innuendo” that Holmes alluded to has been disclaimed by the author more than once, and his penultimate work, The Enduring Federalist (1948), might have pleased Alexander Hamilton. But his latest, President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War (1948), may also be characterized as a “rather ignoble though most painstaking investigation.”It is a coldly passionate argument, posing as objective history, to prove that Franklin D. Roosevelt planned to pull his country into World War II shortly after it commenced, deceived the American people into re-electing him a second time by swearing to keep them out, plotted with Winston Churchill to provoke some incident which he could call an “attack” by Germany; and, when Hitler refused to fall into the trap, “maneuvered” Japan into hilling the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor.

Nobody can laugh Beard off. He is, by any standards, an important historian and a fine man. Born in Indiana seventy-three years ago, he went through the regular mill for professional historians, rose to be full professor at Columbia, and taught students effectively for several years. His Rise of American Civilization, which appeared twenty-odd years ago, is still, in my opinion, the most brilliant historical survey of the American scene ever written; a delight to read, so clear, stimulating, witty, and revealing, He has been president of the American Historical Association. His American Government and Politics has been a standard text for almost forty years.

As a man, Beard is and should be an object of admiration. His resignation from Columbia University in 1917, as a protest against the dismissal of Professors Cattell and Dana, was a noble and a courageous gesture. No American since John Fiske had been able to earn a living by writing history, apart from an academic milch cow. But Charles and Mary Beard, the forthright lady whom he had married in 1900, preferred four-legged cows to the academic variety. They established themselves on a hilltop farm in New Milford, Connecticut, created a successful dairy farm, and continued to write books which have been no less profitable. Farmer Beard has been a good neighbor and a power in his community, while Dr. Beard has performed countless acts of kindness and encouragement to younger students, including myself. I won’t pretend that I hate to write what follows, for I enjoy controversy quite as much as does the Sage of New Milford; but my esteem for Beard the man far outweighs my indignation with Beard the historian.

No more rugged individualist exists than Charles Austin Beard, Since his salad days he has belonged to no party and joined no sect. He takes a puckish delight in shocking the smug and the complacent; but he also enjoys letting down with a thump any group of liberals who claim him as their own. At the present moment he is the darling of the McCormick-Patterson Axis, but I doubt whether he enjoys their patronage. Beard is no joiner, his name never appears on those long letterheads that spill down the margins, and he is always one jump ahead of the professional patrioteers. On rare occasions when a Legionnaire goes after Charles, or a D.A.R. after Mary, the assailant retires howling from the scene, like a jackal that attacks a lion; for Beard keeps a blunderbuss loaded with facts and figures at his barn door.

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ONE of the amusing if unamiable devices of Beard’s historical method is an effective use of innuendo. A typical one, in The Rise of American Civilization (II, 83), describes how “on one occasion” during the American Civil War, “Gladstone, whose family fortune contained profits from the slave trade . . . virtually acknowledged southern Independence.” Admiral Mahan, anathema to Beard, makes his bow in A Foreign Policy for America (p. 39) as “the son of a professor and swivel-chair tactician at West Point,” who “served respectably, but without distinction, for a time in the navy,” and “found an easy berth at the Naval War College.”In the Roosevelt book (p. 254), referring to a constitutional opinion that he dislikes, written by the Assistant Solicitor General, Beard remarks, “Mr. Cox, with a B.A. acquired at Christ Church, Oxford, England, whose knowledge of the American Constitution may have been slighter than his knowledge of the English Constitution. . .”Mr. Cox spent three years at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, after graduating from the University of Nebraska, and for several years before his government appointment, practiced law in New York. With equal unfairness I might write, “Mr. Beard, whose favorable reception in Japan many years ago predisposed him to favor that country rather than his own in 1941.”

Another trait that runs through Beard’s writings is a disbelief in the Great Man. One looks in vain for any appreciation of Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Jackson, Clay, Webster, Lee, or Cleveland as men. Their intellectual qualities may be praised, not their moral stature. Some are treated with subtle disparagement; others appear as wan products of economic forces. In all his work I can remember but three clear, well-rounded pictures of eminent personalities: Lincoln in the Basic History, Theodore Roosevelt and Jonathan Edwards in the Rise; and even T.R. is described as a natural product of a bourgeois background. Jonathan Edwards appears to be one of Beard’s few objects of admiration— an instructive parallel might be drawn between his theology and Beard’s historiography. If Charles could only have moved to Connecticut two centuries earlier, how he and Jonathan would have lambasted each other from rival pulpits!

A third constant in Beard’s work is his attitude toward war and those who fight and direct wars. Since his youth, when he tried to get into the summer frolic of 1898, Beard has detested war and has done his best to ignore war, to minimize its results and to deride military men. Now, one may share Beard’s detestation of war as a barbarous survival; but one must admit that American liberty, union, and civilization would never have been unless men had been willing to fight for them. Whether well directed or not, an immense amount of American effort has gone into preparation for war, making war, and paying for war; and to leave war out of any general history of the United States, whether it be called Basic, Political, Constitutional, or Cultural, is an evasion of essential truth. Beard, aloof on his Connecticut hilltop, was unofficial high priest for the thousands of churchmen, teachers, and publicists who promoted disarmament in a world where adventurers of various countries were substituting guns for butter, and who prepared the younger generation for everything but the war that they had to fight.

The clue to Beard’s inconsistencies and tergiversations is furnished by the historical method he has consciously adopted and consistently preached. This method, spread at large in several articles and books,1 is well known to the profession but hardly to the public, who have no reason to suspect that his standards of truth and objectivity differ from those of any other professional historian. He starts with a negative, the denial of Ranke’s classic dictum to write history “as it actually happened” (wie es eigentlich gewesen ist). Nobody, says Beard, can do that, since history, conceived as the sum total of human activity, is so multifarious and multitudinous that nobody could possibly put it all down in writing; and if he did, nobody would read it. (Of course that is not what Ranke meant, but never mind.) The historian therefore tries to make sense out of the totality of history by selecting facts that to him are significant. Consciously or not, he selects and arranges these facts according to some “frame of reference” as to what is socially desirable for the time, place, and circumstances in which he writes. “The historian who writes history . . . performs an act of faith, as to order and movement. . . . He is thus in the position of a statesman dealing with public affairs; in writing he acts and in acting he makes choices, large or small, timid or bold, with respect to some conception of the nature of things, and the degree of his influence and immortality will depend upon the length and correctness of his forecast” (American Historical Review, XXXIX, 226).

G. M. Trevelyan reminds us that “the object of history is to know and understand the past on all its sides”; but Beard will not have it so. The object of history, according to him, is to influence the present and future, in a direction that the historian considers socially desirable. The ordinary, dumb, as-it-really-happened historian admits he has some frame of reference; but he does not consciously go about polishing one up before he starts writing, or reject facts that do not fit the frame. He believes that he has an obligation to keep himself on the alert for facts that will alter any tentative conclusions with which he starts. Moreover, an historian conceives it to be his main business to illuminate the past in the light of his acquired knowledge and skill: not to use the past to project the future. He may wish to influence the future, but that should not be his main preoccupation. I naturally hope, through my naval history, to help persuade the American people not to scrap their navy; but that is incidental. My real task is to tell what the navy did in World War II, mistakes and all.

History fitted to a consciously set frame, with the historian’s sights set for the future, not the past, is really a kind of preaching. However noble or generous the objective set by such a writer, his product could only by exception be history in any modern or reputable meaning of that word. It would ordinarily be in a class with the violent sectarian histories of past centuries, or with those in which Communist historians throw the “party line” into the past.

When Beard set himself up as preacher and prophet, he was lost as an historian. One may quote against him the lines that James Russell Lowell wrote on himself: —

There is Lowell, who’s striving Parnassus to climb
With a whole bale of isms tied together with rhyme;
His lyre has some chords that would ring pretty well,
But he’d rather by half make a drum of the shell,
And rattle away till he’s old as Methusalem,
At the head of a march to the last new Jerusalem.

Beard’s last new Jerusalem is a socialized, collectivist state in isolation. “Does the world move, and if so, in what direction?” be asked in 1933, after both Hitler and Roosevelt were in power. “Does it move forward to some other arrangement which can be only dimly divined—a capitalist dictatorship, a proletarian dictatorship, or a collectivist democracy? The last of these is my own guess. . . .” And in an article, “ The World as I Want It,” which he wrote for the Forum in June, 1934, he showed clearly that by “collectivist democracy” he meant a “workers’ republic” without poverty or luxury; “a beautiful country . . . labor requited and carried on in conditions conducive to virtue.” A fair vision indeed, such as his Fabian friends had dreamed of at the turn of the century.

Within two years, however, there appeared a disturbing shadow, the threat of war. While Beard was not a pacifist in the strict meaning of the term, he felt he had been sold by Woodrow Wilson and the Treaty of Versailles. Although he had time and again urged students to get behind the doruments and discover the reality, he swallowed the famous Nye Report complete, without believing it was the whole truth. He supported disarmament and cast ridicule on the generals and admirals who opposed stripping the national defense.

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BEARD realized, however, that mere criticism was not enough. Hating war, yet faced with a world where Japan and Germany were arming feverishly, he conscientiously sought a way out. And in a series of publications he presented a positive program which he believed would let America live in peace and prosperity even if the rest of the world went to hell.2 The United States should evacuate the Philippines, renounce all “engines of war and diplomacy,” and apply its entire political thought and energy to a super New Deal directed by a super TVA, the “Standard of Life Authority.” Foreign trade would be controlled by a National Trade Authority with an eventual purpose of attaining complete economic isolation. Immigration must cease, except for students and tourists; the merchant marine must be allowed to sink, and the navy be reduced to a submarine or coast-defense force.

“Continental Americanism,” as Beard called this blueprint for the future, made no headway. It looked too much like that which the Chinese Empire had followed for some five hundred years, the end product of which was not alluring. It also had a disquieting resemblance to the economic autarchy practiced by Hitler. His friends wondered how a scholar of Beard’s knowledge and experience could propose anything so extravagant. Perhaps the answer is that isolation breeds isolationism. In a university there is an intellectual rough-and-tumble that one lacks on a hilltop. You get more back talk even from freshmen than from milch cows.

This pacifistic super-isolationism has apparently become Beard’s frame of reference for recent history. In a thoughtful letter to the Saturday Review of Literature (August 17, 1935), answering an article by Julian Huxley, he declared that there was an objective test for every system of economics or sociology; namely, “its continuing appropriateness for life and thought amid the remorseless changes of human affairs in time-which is the subject of historical inquiry.” In other words, did the prophet make good? One would suppose that if Hitler and Hirohito had not convinced Beard that a Chinese policy was inappropriate for America, the atomic bomb would. On the contrary, the whole Roosevelt book falls within that same frame. Beard is trying to show that Roosevelt dragged the nation into an unnecessary war. He is trying to revive the same masochistic state of public opinion into which he and most of the American people fell at the end of World War I. Wilson then, Roosevelt again, sold us down the river; watch out that Truman does not try it a third time.

Indeed, Beard is so firmly and emotionally enmeshed in this new frame of reference that he has smashed his earlier ones. Time was when history through a Beard moved with the sweep of relentless, dynamic forces. The American Revolution and the Civil War were foreordained by economics; the concept of the former as a quarrel caused by George III and his ministers “ shrinks into a trifling joke"; the latter “was merely the culmination of the deeprunning transformation that shifted the center of gravity in American Society. . . .”In a little book of 1936, entitled The Devil Theory of War, he again stressed dynamic economic-social forces, and reserved his mosl devastating sarcasm for the “childish” theory that “wicked politicians, perhaps shoved along by wicked bankers,”marshaled innocent people into war; that the politician “is a kind of deus ex machina, . . . making the people do things they would never think of doing otherwise.”

Yet, note how the deus (or rather diabolus) ex machina emerges ten years later. Franklin D. Roosevelt, personally, without any dynamic forces or interests behind him, completely changes the orientation of his country in American Foreign Policy in the Making, 1932-1940 (1946); and now appears in full diabolic array, with Stimson, Hull Knox, Stark, and Marshall as attendant imps.

The premise of both books is stated in the opening sentence of the second; “President Roosevelt entered the year 1941 carrying moral responsibility for his covenants with the American people to keep this nation out of war — so to conduct foreign affairs as to avoid war. Those covenants, made in the election campaign of 1940, were of two kinds. The first were the pledges of the Democratic Party. . . . The second were his personal promises. . . .

“The anti-war covenants of the Democratic Party . . . were clear-cut:‘We will not participate in foreign wars, and we will not send our Army, naval or air forces to fight in foreign lands outside the Americas, except in case of attack. . . . The direction and aim of our foreign policy has been, and will continue to be, the security and defense of our own land and the maintenance of its peace.’”

This is the first time, to the writer’s knowledge, that any historian has honored a party platform with the old Puritan name of “covenant.”As Beard is a great stickler for semantics, the use of so solemn a word for flimsies like party platforms and campaign promises is astonishing. Yet, even if we concede that a party platform is a promise binding the candidate, all promises have implied predicates. If Farmer Beard promises to sell twenty heifers on a certain date for a certain price, it is understood that if in the meantime the heifers die or the other parly goes bankrupt, or if he dies and his widow needs the heifers for her support, the promise no longer binds. So, political promises imply no important change of conditions that will make their implementation contrary to the public interest. A party platform is a party platform, not the supreme law of the land. The presidential oath of office-that the President will, to the best of his ability, “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United Stales"-must override any campaign promise. Moreover, that platform had a saving clause, “except in case of attack.” Not that that daunts Beard! Off he goes, like Don Quixote, to prove that the Japanese did not attack us at Pearl Harbor; F.D.B. attacked them.

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THE main object of foreign policy is not peace at any price, but the defense of the freedom and security of the nation. It is clear that Beard still firmly believes that nothing that the European Axis or Japan did or could do endangered the freedom or security of the United States, which he holds no less dear than docs any citizen. His argument for the faithlessness of President Roosevelt to his “covenant ” is carried out in a sort of dialectic isolationism, as if the issue of peace or war, the most momentous the nation had to face since 1861, was merely a matter of debate and negotiation between the two ends of Pennsylvania. Avenue, Washington, D.C., with Charles A. Beard of New Milford, Connecticut, in the role of God Almighty delivering the last judgment. If all books on the war before 1942 but Beard’s should perish from the earth, the curious reader in the far future would have to infer that a dim figure named Hitler was engaged in a limited sort of war to redress the lost balance of Versailles; that Japan was a virtuous nation pursuing its legitimate interests in Asia; and that neither threatened or even wished to interfere with any legitimate American interest.

Beard would answer, maybe the Nazis and Japs were devils too, but what the hell? Adopt my Chinese foreign policy and America is safe. Those responsible for American foreign policy naturally did not see it that way. Unlike the Sage of New Milford they lacked the imagination to suppose that American freedom could be defended if Japan was allowed to bring half the world’s population under her hegemony, and Hitler controlled most of the other half.

Even his stoutest supporters will not deny that President Roosevelt failed to take the American people into his complete confidence or that he attempted to build up national defense without clearly indicating what the dangers were. Mr. Stimson was evidently troubled by this and still believes that Theodore Roosevelt by sounding the trumpet earlier and more frequently would better have prepared the people psychologically for war. Mr. Sherwood in his articles based on the Harry Hopkins papers regrets that the President had to utter soothing phrases in 1940 in order to be re-elected. No one can be certain whether they are right or not. Let the reader, however, cast his mind back to 1940, or read a few newspapers or magazines of that year, and he will recall or ascertain a climate of opinion which compelled the President to do good by stealth. The American people were still bogged down in the most pacifistic or anti-war phase of their history since 1806. Disillusionment as to the results of World War I, the Nye Report, the appeasement of Hitler by Neville Chamberlain, the Communist propaganda against an “imperialist war,”and the speeches and writings of hundreds of able men, of whom Beard was one of the best, had brought about a state of opinion that regarded American entry into World War II as unthinkable. During the first half of 1940 men of good will, leaders in business and the professions, journalists and crossroads philosophers, were virtually united in the belief that the European war was “no concern of ours,” that to stop Hitler was not worth the life of one American, that the oceans were a sure defense of the United States, and that if Hitler tried any monkey business in South America, the American nations could stop him without aid from anyone. The fall of France and of the Low Countries and the expected attack on Britain shook this complacency but failed to break it.

Thus, the essential problem of the Administration was to support Great Britain (and after June, 1941, Russia) as much and as far as Congress and public opinion would permit, to build up American armed strength, and to keep Japan quiet by diplomacy; hoping by measures “short of war" to prevent an Axis victory or, if that did not suffice, to come into the war prepared to win it. There is no distinction of kind, in a world at war, between measures that a neutral takes to prevent being involved, and measures taken to win if finally involved; only a difference of degree. As James Madison once wrote: “The means of security can only be regulated by the means and the danger of attack. They will, in fact, be ever determined by these rules and by no others.”

Exactly when President Roosevelt and his advisers decided that “short of war" would not suffice may never be known. It is improbable that they knew, themselves. As the fortunes of war fluctuated in Europe, it seemed one day that with Lend-Lease and indirect aid Britain and Russia would win; then would come a sudden blitz in North Africa or Crete or elsewhere that dashed Allied hopes, Under those circumstances, inconsistency appeared between the Administration’s words and its deeds. It is an easy matter to draw a brief of Rooseveltian “hypocrisy.”Other great men under similar circumstances, puzzled and baffled under myriad pressures, have been subject to the same accusation. James Monroe published in 1797 a furious diatribe against Washington’s inconsistent conduct of foreign affairs; Lincoln was accused of vacillating over the issue of secession: Sir Edward Grey lay under the same charge in 1914; even Winston Churchill was not quite so consistent as he makes out in his Memoirs.

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Now for a few sordid details on President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War, a book so full of suppressio veri and suggestio falsi that it would take one of almost equal length to expose every error, innuendo, or misconception. The book is divided into three parts, “Appearances,”“Unvelling Realities,”and “Realities as Described by the Pearl Harbor Documents”; but there is a rather confusing interplay of the three.

Beard taunts Roosevelt with doing nothing to help Britain until he got re-elected; but the destroyer-naval bases deal, the first “short of war” aid, was consummated on September 2, 1940.3 An entire chapter. “Patrols as Appearances,” is vitiated by Beard’s confusion of the Neutrality Patrol, set up as early as September 5, 1939, and approved by the Act of Panama on October 2, with escort-ofconvoy operations; nor does he distinguish between escorting ships to occupied Iceland and escorting ships to belligerent Britain. The first Lend-Lease Act was passed by Congress March 11, 1941; Iceland was occupied by United States forces on July 7; and t.he navy was ordered to escort convoys to Iceland only a few days later. The firsl transatlantic convoy to be assisted by the U.S. Navy sailed from Halifax September 16; and until war was formally declared, the American escort dropped such convoys at a mid-ocean meeting point. The President’s denials in April that the navy was eseorting British ships to Britain were true and not false, as Beard contends; and the reference Beard gives on page 98, note 16, to prove the contrary only shows that the Atlantic Patrol was being augmented at the expense of the Pacific Fleet.

Part II, “ Unveiling Realities,”affords Beard a marvelous opportunity, by quoting all manner of gossip, slander, Congressional snipings, and the like, to build up in the reader’s mind an impression of frightful iniquity on the part of the Administration, For instance, David Lawrence is quoted on pages 289-290 as asking a number of rhetorical questions, such as: ” Why were all our battleships in harbor in Hawaii on December 7, 1941, instead of out at sea, and who in Washington gave the orders to keep them there?" But Beard never gives the answer: that they were there by Admiral Kimmel’s order, in accordance with normal peacetime routine, after he had received the “war warning” message of November 27.

Again, Lawrence is quoted to the effect that Admiral Richardson protested in 1940 against concentration of ships in Pearl Harbor on the ground that it “ was dangerous and offered the Japanese a chance to destroy much of the Navy at a single blow.” But Beard, after combing through the Richardson testimony, is not candid enough to state that the Admiral expressly disclaimed danger as motive for his protest, which was based entirely on logistic grounds — the difficulty of supply and the deprivation of leave and liberty to naval personnel.

The “Realities as Described by the Pearl Harbor Documents” are of course “realities” only in the Beardian sense; namely, such selections from the multitude of available facts as fit his conscious frame of reference, to the effect that President Roosevelt was a villain and the war was unnecessary. Unfortunately the average reader, unacquainted with Beard’s private conception of reality, does not know this, and expects an objective exposition, which he does not get.

An important insinuation against “the management of the Congressional Committee” (probably meaning its counsel, Mr. Seth Richardson) appears in a note on page 420. The “management” is accused of leaving out of the printed record, “for reasons of its own,” a letter of Admiral Stark, dated April 3, 1941, to the commanders in chief of the three fleets, in which Stark says, “The question of our entry into the war now seems to be when and not whether” “Students of history” are pompously warned by Beard to be “on guard” against such omissions. Now, it should be obvious to anyone who has combed through the records, that the Committee omitted this letter because it contained nothing important that was not in other letters which it did print. For instance, the Committee printed Stark’s private letter to Kimmel of April 4, in which he says, “Something may be forced on us at any moment which would precipitate action, though I don’t look for it as I can see no advantage to Mr. Hitler in forcing us into the war, . . . On the surface, at least, the Japanese situation looks a trifle easier, but just what the Oriental really plans, none of us can be sure.” This does not, of course, fit the Beard frame of reference.

Beard concludes his handling of Stark with another unjustified sneer. “Perhaps it was for this ‘indiscretion,’” he says — said indiscretion being the generous submission of his private correspondence file to the Congressional Committee—“that Admiral Stark, after services in the war for which he was awarded high honors, was cashiered by Secretary Forrestal, . . .” (p. 585). Admiral Stark was never “cashiered,” and the reproof by Admiral King and Secretary Forrestal, to which Beard refers, is dated over a year before the Admiral gave his testimony.

By harping on a rather unfortunate use of the word maneuver in the diary of Secretary Stimson, who, unlike Beard, is no expert in semantics, the author tries to prove that Japan was prodded and pushed into the attack on Pearl Harbor. Mr. Stimson, recording the so-called war cabinet meeting of November 25, 1941, noted (p, 516) that the President predicted “we were likely to be attacked perhaps next Monday. . . . The question was how we should maneuver them into the position of firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves.”Why should this caution be regarded as iniquitous? Throughout modern history Western nations in danger of war choose to await the first blow rather than give it. If Beard is right, American history will have to be rewritten; Captain Parker who at Lexington Green said, “Stand your ground. Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war let it begin here,” was a warmonger.

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ALTHOUGH Beard gives the chronology of the approach of war well enough, and makes accurate summaries of the voluminous notes that were exchanged, he gives so little of what the Japanese were doing as to provide a distorted picture. And it is strange that an historian so identified with economic influences should almost wholly ignore the significance of oil The assets-freezing order of July 26, 1941, which included complete stoppage of oil exports to Japan, is mentioned as a provocation without observing that it was an answer to the Japanese occupation of French Indo-China. Roosevelt is criticized for not publishing his next warning, of August 17, 1941, that if Japan took any further steps against “neighboring countries,” America would adopt all measures “necessary” to safeguard “legitimate rights and interests of the United States" (p. 488). But anyone who knows Japan would realize that the publication of this stern warning would infuriate the Japanese government and defeat the object of the note.

Again (p. 496), Roosevelt is attacked for his secrecy as to Prince Konoye’s proposed personal conference in September; but Beard fails to inform his readers that the secrecy was urgently requested by the prince premier, because he knew that if the proposal leaked, the Tojo crowd would throw him out—which is exactly what happened. We now know from Japanese sources, published by the Joint Committee, that Konoye promised us one thing and Tojo another, which is exactly what Hull suspected.

Beard gives the Japanese a break by describing their proposals of November 20 as a modus vivendi (pp. 506 ff.). They were not that, but (as the Japanese foreign minister said) an ultimatum; Japan’s Iasi alternative to making war on us and the British and the Dutch. They required the United States to cease reinforcing the Philippines and sending naval vessels into the South Pacific; but Japan was to be free to pour more troops into French Indo-China. The United States must unfreeze Japanese assets, restore the flow of oil and other strategic materials, and stop all aid to Chiang Kaishek. The only thing Japan promised to do in return for these concessions, appropriate for a nation defeated in war, was to move troops from southern Indo-China into northern Indo-China (whence she was planning to cut the Burma Road) and to evacuate that French colony after forcing China to conclude peace. Such is the proposed Japanese settlement which Beard considers fair and equitable, and the rejection of which by Hull and Roosevelt “proves” that they were bent on war at any price.

As for Pearl Harbor, Beard carries over from the minority report of the Joint Congressional Committee 1 he insinuation that Washington knew all along that the Japs were going to strike, and where. What Washington knew, as early as November 25, was that Japanese forces were moving southward and that something was going to happen soon, without a declaration of war. But everyone made two grave errors in evaluating the information at hand. They believed the Japanese to be incapable of more than one major operation at a time; and they assumed Tojo’s government had more sense than to arouse America by a sneak attack. No fact was more conclusively brought out by the Joint Congressional Committee than that nobody in authority at Washington, civil or military, anticipated Pearl.

Perhaps the most indecent of Beard’s numerous innuendoes in this book are those respecting the Roberts Commission. Mr. Stimson suggested Justice Roberts to head the Pearl Harbor Commission not only because of his personal integrity but as a Republican appointed to the Court by President Hoover, and as an experienced lawyer who had investigated the Teapot Dome scandal. Nevertheless, Beard insinuates (p. 380) that Justice Roberts’s appointment. was part of a triple play to put Kimmel and Short “out,” and conceal the iniquities of F.D.R. and Stimson in a cloud of dust. He creates suspicion by declaring (p. 378) that the appointment of a Justice of the Supreme Court to head an investigating commission was improper, unprecedented, and unconstitutional. That is pure nonsense. In Hayburn’s Case, to which Beard refers, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Jay refused as a Court to accept the additional duty of passing on pension claims, but at the same time declared that individual Justices might do it. Chief Justice Hughes served as chairman of President Taft’s committee to determine postal rates to be paid by newspapers; Justice Reed and others have recently served on civil service commissions. Even if Justice Roberts were the man to accept the dishonorable role imputed to him, how could he have played it, with two generals and two admirals, one a former commander in chief of the fleet, as colleagues?

Since the discrediting of the Roberts Report is necessary for Beard’s case, the Justice is pursued into the Congressional investigation with clubs and brickbats. Beard’s three charges against him on page 362 — that he had been uninformed on vital matters, that Senator Brewster forced him to concede error on a “crucial point,” and “unbecoming levity”—are not supported by the Justice’s testimony to which he refers. The point was not crucial, the matter was not relevant to the scope of his inquiry; and why criticize the Justice for keeping his sense of humor under the badgering to which he was subjected by Senators Ferguson and Brewster? The Roberts Commission was only concerned with the question whether American military authorities had shown “derelictions of duty or errors of judgment” on the basis of the information they then had; and the Commission’s findings as to the shortcomings of Admiral Kimmel were amply sustained both by the Navy Court of Inquiry and the Joint Congressional Investigating Committee. Beard’s statement (p. 604) that Kimmel was “exonerated by the Navy Board” is incorrect. Admiral King’s endorsement on the report of that board, dated November 6, 1944, and without which the report is incomplete, brackets Stark with Kimmel as committing “derelictions” which were “faults of omission rather than faults of commission,” indicating a lack of “superior judgment.” The “official thesis,” as Beard calls the Roberts Report, never has been “undermined,”except by partisan Congressmen or so-called historians who are unwilling to face the facts fairly.

In concluding, I wish long life and much happiness to Charles the Prophet and to Mary his wife, who have done so much in the past to illuminate American history. May they rise above the bitterness that has come from brooding over their lost horizon of a happy, peaceful, collectivist democracy insulated from a bad world. May Dr. Beard recast his frame of reference once again, raise his sights a little higher than the Connecticut hills, and apply his erudition, wit, and craftsmanship to writing history without innuendo, history tolerant of mistakes that men make under great stress; may he try to understand rather than to blame and to sneer, and even discover before he dies “that highmindedness is not impossible to man.”

  1. l “Written History as an Act of Faith,” American Historical Review, XXXIX (1934), 226. The Nature of the Social Sciences (1934) and The Discussion of Human Affairs (1936).
  2. Especially The Open Door at Home, a Trial Philosophy of National Interest. (1934). My quotations from Samuel F. Bemis’s review in American Historical Review, XL., 541-543; Giddy Minds and Foreign Quarrels (1939); A Foreign Policy for America (1940).
  3. Set my Battle of the Atlantic, pp. 33-36 Statements of fact hereinafter made may largely be verified from that book and The Rising Sun in the Pacific, Vols and III of my History of United States Naval Operationin in orld War II.