Today, December 7, 2011, is the 70th anniversary if the day that will live in infamy - the day that Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and brought the United States into World War II.
It is also the focus of one of our more popular conspiracy theories. According to this theory, President Roosevelt knew that Japan was going to attack Pearl Harbor and kept the secret, helping Japan to destroy the American navy in a desire to get America into the war against Germany - Japan's ally.
It represents another example of people, impassioned by a love for a particular conclusion, blind themselves to truth and reason.
It is not just that there are problems with this thesis. All people make mistakes, and simple failures should be pointed out politely. The intellectually responsible person will revise their opinion based on new information.
The problem, in this case, is that some of these beliefs can be easily discredited with a moment’s thought, yet those people who embrace its conclusion continue to cling to these discredited arguments. Failure to recognize errors that a moment’s thought would expose demonstrates that those who hold to this error do not care to put in a moment's thought.
For example, a part of this conspiracy hypothesis is that by getting Japan to attack the United States, then Germany would have to attack the United States, and then America would be at war with Germany. This was Roosevelt’s goal and his reason for goading Japan into making the attack.
Here's a problem.
It is not true that Germany had to declare war upon the United States. In fact, it would have been (and was) foolish for them to do so. Germany DID declare war on the United States, but that was based on a false assumption that a wiser Germany would not have made.
But didn't Japan and Germany have a treaty that required Germany to declare war on Japan's enemies?
Japan and Germany had a treaty requiring each country to aid the other if the other was attacked by a currently (at the time of the treaty) no belligerent nation. But it gave no obligation to attack if the axis country attacked first.
The issue here is not just that those who advance this theory made a mistake about the requirements for Germany to declare war on the US. It is that anybody with a basic knowledge of that history already has all of the information necessary to realize these facts, and often present that evidence in the very same context in which they promote this conspiracy.
In 1941, Germany attacked the Soviet Union. Was Japan was forced to also declare war on the Soviet Union at that time?
In fact, Japan did not declare war on the Soviet Union. Japan and the Soviet Union remained at peace until 1945, when the Soviet Union attacked Japan – a fact known and sometimes stated in the same context in which an agent declares that Roosevelt provoked Japan to attack the US as a way of entering the war against Germany.
Germany had the option to doing to Japan what Japan had done to Germany. Germany attacked the Soviet Union and got no help from Japan. When Japan attacked America it might not have gotten any help from Germany.
So, if Roosevelt wanted to go to war with Germany by getting Japan to attack the United States, this was a very risky strategy to pursue - with a very large and potentially self-defeating cost. One of the effects might have been that Germany did not declare war on the US, and the American people saying, "We are already at war with Japan, we do not need another war with Germany."
Many of the people who make this assertion - that the US goaded Japan into attacking the US so it could enter the war against Germany - know this history. However, these facts do not support the agent's politically desirable conclusion, so the truth is ignored. All of the pieces are there for a person concerned with the truth to see, but are easily overlooked by anybody less concerned with the truth than with promoting their political tribe.
This is yet another clear example of people impassioned by a conclusion to a degree that abandons reason and truth. As soon as I hear that argument, I know that providing evidence and reason is a waste of time. I am talking to a political dogmatist - someone whose passion for a politically weighted conclusion outweighs their interest in the truth. Whereas attempts to use reason and evidence on those individuals presupposes an interest in the truth they may not have.