Why was the USA so unprepared for the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941?

Extract from an interview with journalist and author Robert B Stinnett, 2002

By courtesy of The Independent Institute

A lot of people probably don’t want to believe that a president would let something like Pearl Harbor happen. Have you gotten any criticism for contending that FDR had a foreknowledge of the attack?

Stinnett: Yes. I get about a seventy percent approval rating. From, you know, comments, news media, radio, and all that. And there’s about thirty percent just don’t accept this. But the nitty-gritty questions are fine to me. You know, the people who are attacking me, what they are really quoting from is 1950 information. They don’t have the 1999 or 2000 information.

The information you put out in your book. You’re talking about new things here.

Stinnett: That’s right. And this thirty percent, I feel they just don’t want to accept it, or they regard FDR as an icon who brought Social Security, and all that. But he also unified this country, and we were able to stop Hitler, you know, and the holocaust, and everything else that was going on. So, you could also say that this was a victory for President Roosevelt.

But it seems under our system of government if President Roosevelt felt it was an emergency to go to war with Germany then he should have come before the American people and the Congress and explained it and convinced us that we had to go defeat Hitler.

Stinnett: Well, you see that was the problem. The strong isolation movement. Eighty percent of the people wanted nothing to do with Europe’s war. And, you know, German submarines were sinking our ships in the North Atlantic. That did not rouse the American public. Nobody gave a damn. The USS Ruben James was a destroyer that was sunk, and lost a hundred lives about a month before Pearl Harbor. And there were other ships, merchant ships, and other ships in the North Atlantic that were sunk or damaged. But no one cared about it. I think the American people thought that Roosevelt was trying to provoke us into the German war, or Europe’s war. They didn’t want anything to do with that. But, you see, Commander McCollum was brilliant. He fashioned this - it was a real PR job - he got Japan to attack us in a most outrageous manner that really did unite the country.

A lot of people would probably be of the opinion that it wasn’t so brilliant. The families of the three thousand people who were killed and injured at Pearl Harbor probably wouldn’t think it was brilliant.

Stinnett: I know, I know. You see, that’s the argument today.

But if this is true, then you agree with what FDR did?

Stinnett: I do. I don’t see what other option he had.

Because a lot of the tone in your book seems to be questioning and disagreeing with Roosevelt’s actions.

Stinnett: Well, I disagree with the way he treated Admiral Kimmel and General Short, letting them hang out to dry.