The thing to keep in mind with the Pearl Harbor was allowed to happen conspiracy theory - which is directly related - is that it only really looks good now.
That's not to say that the White House might not have expected some kind of attack from Japan — possibly against U.S. bases in the Philippines. Roosevelt had been tightening the screws on Tokyo to hinder the Japanese conquest of China, "instituting a full embargo on exports to Japan, freezing Japanese assets in U.S. banks and sending supplies into China along the Burma Road," according to the State Department.
Citino says Roosevelt believed those economic restrictions could get Japan to reduce its ambitions in Asia.
"Sanctions are better than war — if you have time to let them apply, and if there's somebody sensible on the other side." But Roosevelt "was wrong in that assessment," Citino says, and the Japanese were mistaken in thinking they could remove the threat from the U.S. Navy to their operations in the Western Pacific.
The U.S. didn't think the Japanese would retaliate militarily. And the use of then-new naval weapons such as aircraft carriers was still being explored. No one had sailed a fleet of carriers 4,000 miles across an ocean to raid an enemy's fleet while it sat at anchor.
For their part, the Japanese did not think the U.S. would have the stomach to rebuild its Navy and then launch a bloody fight, island by island, across the Pacific.
These kinds of bad assumptions and poor intelligence start wars, Citino says — an understanding that seems so obvious today even as the conspiracy theories outlive the eyewitnesses to the battle.
In 1941, the world's navies still had the expectations that battleships were the decisive naval weapon. The Japanese did, that's what the Yamato class was for. The Germans did, that's why they neglected their U-boats. Yes, there was Taranto but hey, obscure stuff involving the Italians. The British did, hence the debacle at Java Sea.
Allowing most of your Pacific fleet battleships to be sunk to start a war would have been a massive gamble to any navy at the time. Nor was the situation of the US Navy's carrier fleet all that enviable against the Japanese carriers and better aircrafts. Midway's victory was far from guaranteed and until then the USN was the underdog.
Also, minus Hitler's helpfulness in declaring war on the US - he did not even bother to get the Japanese to declare war on the USSR - a war with Japan would not automatically have led to the US entering the war against Germany.