Soviet Spy Under FDR Likely Set Off Pearl Harbor
Harry White subtly influenced policy on Japan
By Neal Colgrass, Newser Staff
Posted Dec 8, 2012 9:59 AM CST
Harry White, left, talks to John Maynard Keynes in Savannah, Ga., March 8, 1946.   (Wikimedia Commons)

(Newser) – Not all of us know about the Soviet mole who apparently inspired the attack on Pearl Harbor. Harry White was a top Treasury official in FDR's government when he began leaking information to Russian intelligence in the 1930s, reports Time. His Russian handler, Vitalii Pavlov, had one goal in mind by 1941: sparking a war between the US and Japan, so Russia wouldn't have to battle Germany on one front and Japan on another. White's influence over his boss, Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau Jr.—the most powerful member of FDR's Cabinet—made him perfect for the job.

When FDR came close to easing a US oil embargo on Japan in return for its slowly evacuating China, White wrote Morgenthau a blistering memo saying the move would ultimately "sell China to her enemies" and weaken America's influence. So FDR made harsher demands on Japan's emperor, who took them as a threat and reacted by attacking Pearl Harbor. Communist defectors eventually outed White, who died in 1948, but the story of his effect on Pearl Harbor only came out in Pavlov's memoirs in 1996. According to Pavlov, White saved the Soviet Union. (See a newly published account of the Pearl Harbor attack.)

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Showing 3 of 69 comments
Imhotep
Dec 10, 2012 10:07 AM CST
Everyone knew that FDR wanted to get into the war. The Japanese probably knew this too. If the USA had first declared war on Germany rather than Japan then Japan would have been forced to declare war on the USA just as Hitler was relunctantly forced to do after Japan attacked. Japan decided to strike while the iron was hot since they were probably convinced war was inevitable. It's never just the one thing.
RAD45
Dec 9, 2012 11:07 AM CST
It would seem conspiracy theories abound over the cause of WW2, how exactly it was prompted and who should be blamed for not catching the spark point. This latest theory of FDR being mislead by a Russian mole in the Treasury is one of the more interesting but unproven stories -- unless the relevant memo can be unearthed. Yes, America had 'intruded' into Japan's 'sphere of influence' in the Pacific, but remember that intrusion was at the end of the 19th Century and W2 started about the middle of the 20th, after a world-wide recession helped along by the U.S. depression of the late 20s through the 30s. Further, Japan's lopsided victory in the Russo-Japanese War was a harbinger of things to come. "The Pacific War" was all about oil and commodities -- owned by the colonial powers in the Pacific who badly under-estimated Japan. To credit the Pacific War to the actions of one "Russian mole" sounds a bit farfetched -- absent that and other memoes between FDR and his Cabinet, it all sounds plausible, but it's a reach. One poster made a major point, we seem to not have learned from our past mistakes in foreign policy and the economy.
DalaiLama
Dec 9, 2012 7:13 AM CST
I love all this focus on the past as we slide into one really ugly future.