BOOK REVIEW: 'Operation Snow': Forget Everything You Think You Know About Pearl Harbor: This Is the Real Story

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen

BOOK REVIEW: 'Operation Snow': Forget Everything You Think You Know About Pearl Harbor: This Is the Real Story
“History is always written by the winners. When two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated, and the winner writes the history books --- books which glorify their own cause and disparage the conquered foe. As Napoleon once said, 'What is history, but a fable agreed upon?” ― Dan Brown, "The Da Vinci Code"

“History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.” ― Winston Churchill, who did just that with many books

I love quotes about history almost as much as I love reading history and, to the above quotes, I'll add one by George Santayana that applies to John Koster's brilliant "Operation Snow: How a Soviet Mole in FDR's White House Triggered Pearl Harbor" (Regnery History, 350 pages, cast of characters, index, bibliography, photos, $27.95) "History is always written wrong, and so always needs to be rewritten."

Forget everything you know -- or think you know -- about the "surprise" attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 that wasn't all that surprising to the top leaders in Washington. Koster provides documentation enough for me to modify my views about Pearl Harbor from my reading of Gordon W. Prange's three books about the attack, not to mention Walter Lord's two books --"Day of Infamy" and "Incredible Victory" and John Toland's two books.

Koster writes that Prange -- considered by many to be the definitive historian writing about Pearl Harbor -- "blandly dismissed the plausible warnings by the Yugoslav-German double agent Dusko Popov and the Korean patriot Kilsoo Haan of an attack on Pearl Harbor. "The latter even got the date right....Both Popov and Haan were threatened with retribution if they went public with news of their attempts to warn the government."
John Koster
John Koster

In "Operation Snow" -- drawing on the latest intelligence, including newly translated documents -- Koster writes about Harry Dexter White, a Ph.D. economist and assistant treasury secretary who was the Soviet agent of influence and a key figure in Operation Snow. Those with long memories or a knowledge of the often criticized congressional "witch hunts" during the Truman administration may remember the testimony of White at the House Un-American Activities Committee on Aug. 13, 1948. White requested the hearing to clear his name in the wake of allegations by Whittaker Chambers and Elizabeth Bentley that he was a Communist. One of the people questioning him was a little known congressman from California named Richard M. Nixon.

Koster describes how White, a far more intelligent man than his boss, Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr. and Morgenthau's boss, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, manipulated both men to promote policies that provoked war with Japan. In his undergraduate years at Harvard, Franklin Roosevelt was considered such a lightweight that, as Koster writes: "The girls at the Seven Sisters colleges, which were courted by Ivy League men, used his initials --FDR-- as an abbreviation for "feather duster" and thought of him as a light-weight, though he was a good football player and a marvel on the dance floor."

"Operation Snow" was devised by the Russians to divert the Japanese into fighting the Americans rather than the Russians. After the Germans attacked Russia on June 22, 1941, Stalin wanted to keep the Japanese from attacking Far East Russia and he used his best spies to convince the Japanese to attack the Americans. In a phone interview from his home in New Jersey, Koster told me that the Soviets figured they'd have divert enough military resources from the fight against the Germans that they'd probably lose the war. After June 22, 1941, the Soviets wanted the Allies to open a second, European front against the Nazis, but they didn't want a second front on their weak Pacific underbelly.


I was pleased to see that Koster gives credit where credit is due (on Pages 161-163 ) with his set-the-record-straight account of one of the most disgraceful episodes in American history, the rounding up of 112,000 Japanese-Americans, confiscating their property and sending them to concentration camps. Koster writes that in the aftermath of the "sneak attack" on Pearl Harbor, racists -- particularly virulent in California, Oregon and Washington state -- called for internment of all Japanese-Americans, which resulted in FDR's Executive Order 9102, which Sen. Robert Taft called the "sloppiest criminal law he had heard of" and which "relocated" men, women and children to isolated camps in the West.


Koster says that three days after Pearl Harbor Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr. asked FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover what he thought about rounding up all the Japanese-Americans on the West Coast. "Hoover was appalled," Koster writes, "and bluntly told Morgenthau that Attorney General Francis Biddle would not approve any 'dragnet or roundup procedure.'" Hoover turned out to be wrong, as Biddle, who did oppose the "relocation" went along with FDR's plan. It was a decision that Biddle regretted to his dying day.


Koster writes that Hoover, using intelligence from loyal Japanese American and Korean sources, had already identified the disloyal ones and within three weeks of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the FBI -- along with the Bureau of Naval Intelligence and the Bureau of Army Intelligence -- had arrested 2,192 Japanese within the continental U.S. and another 879 in Hawaii.

In Operation Snow Koster reveals:

> The previously neglected (and untranslated) sources that expose the Soviet conspiracy

> How Harry Dexter White got away with one of the most devastating acts of treason in American history

> How Japan and the United States were manipulated by Russian agents and propaganda

> How Harry Dexter White continued to act as a Soviet agent into the postwar era, until exposure in August 1948 prompted a disguised suicide.

> First-hand accounts from Vitali Pavlov, the KGB agent responsible for recruiting White

"Operation Snow" is necessary reading for anyone interested in Pearl Harbor -- if they want the true picture of the events leading up to the Dec. 7, 1941 attack that could have been prevented -- or at least defended against robustly enough to defeat the Japanese and save the world from the horrors that ensued. Koster's "Operation Snow" is history at its best and most readable.

About the Author

John Koster, a former reporter for the Bergen Record in Hackensack, N.J., writes frequently on American history. He is the author of "The Road to Wounded Knee", which won the Sigma Delta Chi award for distinguished public service, and "Custer Survivor", and has written for many historical publications, including Military History, American Heritage, and American History. Koster, a U.S. Army veteran, is fluent in half a dozen languages, and lives in New Jersey with his wife Shizuko Obo, an award-winning children’s author.