Yes, all those history textbooks did get it wrong.
The outbreak of war in 1941 between the United States and Japan was certainly infamous. It was not at all necessary; the government of Japan, unremittingly evil in its aggression in Manchuria, Korea and China, had shown no sign of any intention to wage war against the US of A; the most it did was to prepare contingency plans, which all governments do constantly as a matter of course.
While it may have been appropriate to keep a wary eye on the warriors of the Rising Sun, there was therefore no defensive need for the US to be at war, and the US Government is authorized by Us the People to wage war only in defense, not in offense. That's a fact; read it for yourself in the Constitution!
Yet under the leadership of the worst President ever, the US Government did anyway go to war in 1941, and the result was incalculable carnage - and all the history of the last half century, which is most of our lifetimes. So it does behove us to enquire how that fateful step came to be taken.
The Big Lie
This was told by FDR on December 8th; he stood up before Congress and the world, and told it that Japan had launched a surprise and unprovoked attack on the US Fleet in Pearl Harbor. It is probably the biggest lie anyone has told this century. He called December 7th 1941 "A day that will live in infamy."
It was of course a complete surprise to the 2,400 US sailors who were killed there. It was a surprise to their commander, Admiral Kimmel, who was warned of the possibility of the attack only some hours after it had already taken place.
If he had known during the night of December 6-7 1941 what FDR and a very few of his senior advisors knew at that very same time, Kimmel would have at least placed the Fleet on full alert, and probably have moved it out of harbor. In all probability the Japanese would have been told (they had spies watching it who would report by signal) in which case the attack would have been cancelled and the war would not have started. Even if they had not called it off, the outcome would have been very different, and accordingly, the war much shorter.
But that was not what FDR intended, and to fathom what he did intend we have to go back at least four months, to July 26th.
On that day, Japanese industry was doing a great deal of business with American firms. There was a thriving trade in the export of scrap iron, for Japan had little iron ore and needed steel for its war in China. For the same purpose its government needed oil, and Japan has no oil resource; on July 26th 1941 it was importing 70% of its oil from the United States and was holding a large majority of its cash in United States banks.
Don't know about you, but I regard those facts alone as conclusive proof that there was no resolve in Tokyo to invade the US of A. You absolutely do not bank with someone on whom you mean to wage war; nor do you buy from him nearly all of your most vital raw materials. Not unless you expect to be able to invade and conquer him quickly; and the idea of a Japanese army landing in Oregon and sweeping across the country within a few months is ludicrous on its face.
But on July 26th 1941, Franklin Delano Roosevelt announced that thence forward, it was illegal for any US company to sell oil or scrap metal to any Japanese buyer, and ordered all Japanese assets in the US to be frozen. In the words of Samuel E Morison, a noted naval historian who was acquainted with FDR and who wrote his 13-volume history of the Navy in WW-II with FDR's full approval, "war was then inevitable." Morison supported the war, mind; he saw nothing wrong in that fact. But fact it was, and he so recorded it. From July 26th 1941, the REAL "day of infamy", there was no possibility that the Japanese government would not very soon attack; for in that one stroke FDR had cut off its most vital supplies AND prevented it buying them anywhere else. THAT was the provocation that preceded Pearl Harbor. That was how FDR started WW-II.
Morison notes some other tragic facts about July 26th 1941. At that time as for many years previously, polls showed the US people heavily opposed to any US entry to WW-II, by majorities as large as 85%. But right after July 26th, polls simultaneously showed strong popular support for the embargo Roosevelt had just imposed! The only way to explain both polls is to say that the people of this country at that time were unable to see what was perfectly obvious to Morison; they were unable logically to connect cause and effect. Apparently the thought that this aggressive act would provoke retaliation - plain as pie to FDR and to that historian - apparently never made it through to popular consciousness. Yes, FDR fooled John Q Citizen; but John Q allowed himself to be fooled, by culpably failing to think straight. Alas, that grave error, so widespread 56 years ago, is still around. If a Pol says something with enough solemnity, the voters will still believe him, absurd and/or mendacious though it usually is.
However provocative, FDR's oil embargo was at least done in the open; anyone with a brain in gear could see where it would lead. But what he did in November and early December 1941 was done in the dark, and was more evil yet.
On November 27th he sent the Japanese Government a secret ultimatum; a final demand that it cease its war on the Asian mainland. Nobody here was told; yet nothing could more surely provoke a hostile response. And during the following week, the cryptographers in his Naval Intelligence, who had cracked the Japanese diplomatic code, brought him within hours a series of 14 messages to the Japanese Embassy, ordering the progressive destruction of documents and codes, to culminate in a visit to Secretary of State Cordell Hull at 1.00 pm Eastern Time on December 7th to declare war. All this was known by FDR, by breakfast time in Washington on December 7th; and 8.00 am there is 2.00 am in Pearl Harbor. Yet, he did nothing and told nobody, all morning. By that awesome inaction, he proved for all time that he was the biggest warmonger of the 20th Century. Yet still his memory is praised, by Dems and Reps alike.