"Conspiracies" To Be Thankful For

Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay
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The conspiracy mill buzzes and hums with all sorts of claims that this or that historic event was engineered behind the scenes. I'd like to propose that there were some events that, if they were conspiracies, we should be glad for them.

"FDR Knew About Pearl Harbor"

Although informed politicians in Washington realized from the outset that Nazi Germany was the greater global threat, and many ordinary Americans shared the opinion strongly enough to join the British and Canadian armed forces even before the U.S. entered the war, it really took Pearl Harbor to galvanize American public opinion. There's a persistent conspiracy theory that Franklin Roosevelt knew an attack on Pearl Harbor was imminent but allowed it to happen. If so, all I can say is it was one of the best decisions in American history. Everything I've seen about American response to world problems convinces me that if it hadn't been for Pearl Harbor, Americans would have let the situation deteriorate until the war was unwinnable, at least on any terms we would regard as acceptable.

Unfair to the Americans killed at Pearl Harbor? Yes, but let's lay the responsibility where it really belongs, on the military commanders in Hawaii. It was their job to defend Hawaii and detect any incoming attack. On November 27, 1941, the Chief of Naval Operations sent the following dispatch:

This dispatch is to be considered a war warning. Negotiations with Japan looking toward stabilization of conditions in the Pacific have ceased and an aggressive move by Japan is expected within the next few days.

How much more warning do you need? A war warning! In his memoirs, Admiral Kimmel wrote:

The so-called "war warning" dispatch of November 27 did not warn the Pacific Fleet of an attack in the Hawaiian area. It did not state expressly or by implication that an attack in the Hawaiian area was imminent or probable. It did not repeal or modify the advice previously given me by the Navy Department that no move against Pearl Harbor was imminent or planned by Japan.

In these circumstances no reasonable man in my position would consider that the "war warning" was intended to suggest the likelihood of an attack in the Hawaiian area.

Maybe Hawaii wasn't specifically mentioned, but the difference between getting a medal and being cashiered in disgrace is often initiative. Let's see, here. The situation in the Pacific is turning sour. You have the biggest potential threat to Japan's operations, on the largest land mass between North America and Asia. You've even proposed basing the fleet in California to make it less vulnerable to attack. What part of "We are a prime target" couldn't the military figure out?

There are complexities in the Pearl Harbor story. Despite the U.S. Navy's hostility to anyone else but them doing coastal defense, Admiral Kimmel and General Short, the two senior commanders on Oahu, were actually coordinating fairly effectively. The War Department warning stressed Japanese plans in Southeast Asia, but the Japanese were thinking more broadly. They realized that attacking the Netherlands and Britain to get the oil fields of Indonesia and Burma would inevitably lead to war with the U.S., so they widened their scope to attacking Hawaii and the Philippines as well. Nevertheless, we were negotiating with Japan. If those negotiations broke off, and Admiral Kimmel was advised they were on November 27, why would you not expect Japan to attack? Nor can I agree with people who say that air assets in Hawaii were insufficient to conduct reconnaissance. We couldn't have ranged 700 miles out, but any warning would have helped. We got eleven planes in the air and shot down fourteen Japanese planes. What if we'd gotten fifty up? Could we have saved a couple of ships? What if they'd been waiting for the second wave? What if the anti-aircraft guns had been ready ahead of time? What if we'd sent up one plane to check out the radar sighting of the Japanese? It might very well have saved the careers of Admiral Kimmel and General Short. We might have been badly battered, maybe even as badly as we actually were, but at least we wouldn't have looked completely blind.

In William Sanders' alternative history story Billy Mitchell's Overt Act, General Billy Mitchell, instead of defying his superiors and being court-martialed, kept his mouth shut and bided his time. He became convinced the U.S. would eventually go to war with Japan and immersed himself in the study of Japanese language, history, and culture. As tensions mounted in the Pacific, Mitchell contrived to get assigned to Hawaii, where he relentlessly drilled his Army Air Corps squadrons. When his proposal to conduct long-range air patrols was rebuffed, he conducted long range "training flights" instead. Early in December, 1941, the subterfuge paid off. A flight spotted the Japanese fleet. While the brass in Hawaii dithered, Mitchell acted without authority and launched an attack. The fleet was shattered. Mitchell's plane, fatally damaged, smashed into the carrier Kaga, kamikaze style.

With no doubt that Japan was readying an attack, Roosevelt declared war. But since the U.S. had struck first, there was no national unity to the war effort. The losing campaign in the Philippines sapped American will. Protest marches against the war began, "Hell no, I won't go" graffiti appeared on walls. Roosevelt announced he would not run for re-election and died shortly after the election. Thomas E. Dewey was elected and concluded an armistice with Japan. The American public by this time was so soured on involvement in Asia that the Communists overran all of Asia. Could we have lost World War II, or at least failed to win it? Not a doubt in my mind. Pearl Harbor prevented that.

We can also thank Adolf Hitler for saving us. He declared war on the U.S. on December 11, 1941, after which the U.S. declared war on Germany. Do I believe American isolationists would have sat around and watched Britain being overrun, if Germany had not declared war? I have not the slightest doubt. Incredibly, we are even seeing the emergence of World War II denialists who claim the war was the fault of Britain and the U.S. for pressuring Germany and Japan.

[By the way, one person who has corresponded with me on this piece was a descendant of Admiral Kimmel. Considering the shrieking hysteria I get from people over things like 9/11, where they have no personal involvement whatsoever, Admiral Kimmel's descendant, who had considerably more reason to be annoyed with me, has been impeccably courteous and professional. In pre-Internet days, we called that "manners." I'm not here to bash Kimmel, but isolationists.]

[Also, the attack on Pearl Harbor actually started in Mongolia. One camp among the Japanese military argued for seizing Russia east of Lake Baikal. In August, 1939, a few days before Hitler invaded Poland, the Japanese in Manchuria probed the Russians. At the ensuing Battle of Khalkin Gol, the most important battle you've never heard of, the Russians handed the Japanese a resounding defeat. So the other camp, that favored expanding into Southeast Asia, triumphed, and the rest, as they say, is history.]

"General George Patton Was Assassinated"

General George S. Patton was planning to submit his resignation from the Army when he was in an auto accident in December, 1945. His neck was broken, and although he seemed to be recovering, he died a few days later.

In Target Patton, Robert Wilcox claims Patton was murdered on the orders of "Wild Bill" Donovan, head of the OSS. After a deliberate collision, an OSS marksman broke Patton's neck with a low velocity bullet (a rubber slug by some accounts), then, when Patton still survived, the NKVD was allowed to finish the job by poisoning him. The motive was that Patton wanted to go to war with the Soviet Union, and was threatening to go public on strategic blunders of Eisenhower and others.

This is all so deliciously Rube Goldberg it just has to be true. If the OSS had really decided to snuff Patton, it couldn't just slip a couple of agents into Patton's quarters at night, inject some air or potassium chloride into his veins, and sadly announce the General had died of a heart attack? They can't have him "accidentally" hit a mine or an uncleared booby trap or unexploded artillery shell (there were still lots of them around). No, they stage an auto accident with other people in the car, then, when Patton isn't killed - they couldn't have arranged the impact to hit Patton, apparently - they have a sniper fire a rubber bullet. And Patton was on his way to go pheasant hunting! So the OSS had to act quickly while he was on the road, because there was just no way for him to be accidentally killed on a hunting trip. Now of course the window had better be open or broken, otherwise the slug might have been deflected. But Patton, like Rasputin, just won't die, even with a broken neck. So instead of having an ambulance manned by OSS agents pick him up, neatly finishing the job en route, they allow him to be taken to the hospital, because of course a bouncy ride in an ambulance can't possibly injure a man with a broken neck. When he continues to recover and is about to be flown home, they can't put him on an OSS plane that conveniently "disappears" over the Atlantic. Nope, they allow the NKVD to poison him because, who knows? The OSS hasn't graduated from Hogwarts yet and doesn't do poison? Let's see now, how can we make this as difficult as possible?

Patton, like Douglas MacArthur, was an unfortunate mixture of personal courage, technical brilliance and toxic personality, and like MacArthur, a role model to three generations of mediocrities who equate pomp and nitpicking with excellence. Patton, correctly foreseeing that tensions would develop, wanted to go to war with Russia. If he had gotten his way, say in May or June, 1945, almost certainly the result would have been a catastrophic defeat. The fury of the Russians - not Stalin or the Politburo, but the Russian people - at being betrayed by their former Allies would have been unbounded. Here they've endured five years of slaughter at the hands of the Germans, only to be attacked by the West? World War II would have segued directly into World War III. By mid-1945, we had enough nuclear weapons to make the war dirty, not make a real difference. (And just imagine if the Russians captured one.) The Russians would have smashed their way to the Atlantic and the "Greatest Generation" would have died on the battlefield or in the Gulag. The President (Truman by this time) would certainly have been driven from office in disgrace, if not impeached or assassinated. Consider also the possibility of the Soviets allying with Japan to recapture their Pacific Empire and pin down U.S. forces in the Pacific (with, of course, Soviet forces having basing rights). The Russians and Japanese return together to Attu and Kiska. And they don't stop there. After all, the Russians have always regretted selling Alaska.

Patton sneered at the Russians, noting that they were bringing pigs and chickens along to keep their troops fed. Maybe, but they somehow managed to get from Moscow to Berlin that way while suffering 80 per cent of the Allied casualties in Europe. And once they captured enough American supplies, they'd be well fed indeed. Also Patton wanted to re-arm German troops. Ach ja, I survived three, four, five years on the Russian Front. Natuerlich I will go fight the Russians again!

By December, 1945, Patton's ability to provoke a war was pretty much history. If he had managed it, the defeat would have been swifter and more complete, because so many troops had been sent home or were settling comfortably into occupation duty. He was planning to retire, probably go into politics, and almost certainly make a career of blasting Eisenhower's leadership. Could Patton have been elected President? If the infinitely more qualified and palatable Robert Taft or Thomas Dewey couldn't manage it, what chance would Patton have had? Had he run for office, there were certainly thousands of men from the Third Army ready to expose his petty martinet abuses. The press had already pilloried him over the alleged incident of slapping a soldier. Just watch them go to work on every picayune temper tantrum he threw and every silly micromanaging order he issued during the whole war. He had crossed swords with Bill Mauldin, who, as an enlisted writer for Stars and Stripes, had to remain deferential. Now Mauldin and Patton would be of equal standing as civilians. Mauldin would have shredded Patton like coleslaw in the editorial pages. So, no, Patton was not much of a threat as a political candidate.

Could Patton have prevented Eisenhower from being elected President? Maybe, if what he said stood up to scrutiny and if he didn't self destruct into psychosis first. In all likelihood, Patton's main effect on American politics would have been to make the McCarthy Era even uglier than it was by reinforcing the accusations of Eisenhower of being soft on the Soviet Union. Could Patton and McCarthy together have rallied enough kooks to get us to go to war on the Soviet Union? An outside chance, but worth considering.

So if Wild Bill Donovan had asked me if I wanted in on this, heck yes. I'd have joined in a heartbeat. If Patton's death was a conspiracy, we should all be very glad it happened. No telling how many million lives were saved or how much further degradation American politics was spared. Who knows how many more lives might have been ruined if Joe McCarthy had had George Patton helping him. The irony is that McCarthy damaged America's foreign policy apparatus far worse than any number of genuine Soviet moles could have. (At least one alternative history story has been written in which McCarthy was a Soviet mole, not for ideological reasons, but simple corruption.)

As for Patton being eliminated because of his alleged political threat after retirement, we can consider the case of Douglas MacArthur, who wanted to go to war with China and was eventually sacked by Harry Truman. (Imagine MacArthur having Patton to help him push for war with China, with Joe McCarthy cheering them along). MacArthur had a lot more ammunition available than Patton, since the Korean war was hamstrung at every turn by political considerations. When MacArthur resigned and went on the lecture circuit, Truman ignored him, saying the public would quickly come to see what an empty figure he was. Truman was right. Patton would have gone the same route. And Patton was paralyzed from the neck down after the accident (or "accident"). His political prospects were nil. Why finish him off? Letting him live out his life paralyzed would have been a far worse fate.

Patton is also the hero of a lot of anti-Semitic anti-Illuminati sites that hint that Eisenhower was the darling of the Jewish financier cabal, that Patton was eliminated because he was too independent for Wall Street, and so on.


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Created 12 March 2007;  Last Update 02 June, 2010

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