The Truth About Pearl Harbor
by John T. Flynn
This is an attempt to examine the evidence bearing on the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in order to establish responsibility for that disaster.
It is not a brief for Admiral Kimmel or General Short, both of whom are unknown to the author. Nor have I had any communication with either. It frequently happens that what is looked upon as a profound secret lies open to the eye of any student who has the patience to examine with care the newspapers, the public reports and the testimonies of interested persons which appear in books and magazines. Bits of information meaningless in themselves when brought together serve to make a complete picture. This is all I have done. I have read the newspapers day by day since before the Atlantic meeting of Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Churchill. I have read with care the official reports of Japanese-American relations published in three large volumes by the government. I have studied the Report of the Roberts Commission. I have read numerous magazine articles and books such as Ambassador Grew’s Ten Years in Japan, Col. Allison Ind’s Bataan, the Judgment Seat and many others. In this material is to be found all the evidence necessary to make clear to the reader why Pearl Harbor and the Philippines were so helpless when the Japanese appeared over them on Dec. 7 and 8, 1941, and who was responsible for it.
John T. Flynn New York City October 17, 1944
The Truth About Pearl Harbor
On December 7, 1941, Japan struck our base and fleet in Pearl Harbor. Her planes knocked the American Pacific Fleet, for all practical purposes, out of the war. Within 24 hours the Japanese struck at the Philippines, Wake, Midway, Guam and Malay. Having knocked us out of the, war in the Pacific for the time being in a single day, the way was open to the Japanese to push their victories across the whole Southwest Pacific until within six months they had conquered the Dutch and British East Indies, Indo-China and Malay – perhaps the richest empire of resources in the world. Without any single exception in our history, Pearl Harbor was the most disastrous defeat ever suffered by American arms. Practically all that has happened in the last two years in the Pacific, the great loss of life, the immense destruction of material, the grevious blow to our prestige in the Orient and the costly exertions which lie before us, are traceable to that humiliating defeat in Pearl Harbor.
Who was responsible for it? Someone in high authority, holding the commission of the American people in a critical hour, mishandled that trust upon a scale never before matched in all our 165 years of national life.
The President of the United States has caused a finger to be pointed at two men as the culprits – Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, Commander of the Pacific Fleet, and General Walter C. Short, commanding the Army in Hawaii. They were relieved of their commands and ordered to remain silent pending court martial. Then Washington proceeded to create the impression that it would be harmful to the national safety to even discuss the subject during the war. Behind this artfully created silence, the American people have been deprived of the opportunity to determine the real responsibility for the crime – for crime it was that was committed against the nation in that fateful episode.
For a long time the actual damage done to our naval and military equipment in Pearl Harbor was hidden from the people on the pretense that we could not afford to inform the enemy of the damage done. Under the pressure of public opinion that concealment was broken down and the full story of the losses was made known. Now the war in Europe draws to a close. Public opinion once again presses for the facts about the official chiefly responsible for Pearl Harbor and the Philippine disasters. The people are entitled to know the name of the culprit whose appalling negligence, ineptitude and ignorance has been hidden these last two years. Here I propose to examine this question.
Before Pearl Harbor the country was divided on the issue of entering the war. I do not intend to revive that discussion now, for it is irrelevant. Once this country declared war there was but one objective held essential by all Americans – to win it.
In examining this subject, therefore, I propose to proceed upon the assumption that those who all-out aid to our European allies and to China were right. I do not intend to question the propriety of giving destroyers, of lend-lease, convoying arms or repealing the Neutrality Act. I shall, rather, assuming all these steps were proper, look into the conduct of the war in the Pacific to determine only one question: Who was responsible for the humiliating defeat at Pearl Harbor and the long, agonizing destruction of our Army in the Philippines and the immense exertions and losses required to recover the vast empire of Pacific islands which fell to the Japanese as a result?
The President has managed to plant in the public mind the following propositions:
- That on December 7, the United States, being at peace, the Japanese made a sneak attack – stabbing us in the back.
- That at that very moment the United States was earnestly striving for peace.
- That in ample time, when peace hopes faded, the State Department warned the War and Navy Departments and these in turn warned the Commanders in Pearl Harbor that the Japanese might attack that base.
- That these commanders ignored the warnings, failed to take the proper measures of alert or defense and thus exposed the Pacific Fleet to destruction.
Based on these propositions, a Commission headed by Justice Owen J. Roberts, after a brief investigation at Pearl Harbor, held Admiral Kimmel and General Short responsible for the defeat. But the War and Navy Departments have since refused resolutely to bring these two men to trial. Why? Danger of revealing important defense information to the enemy cannot be claimed now. Is it not rather for the purpose of withholding from the American people information essential to the defense of the men who are the real culprits? Let us examine all the facts to determine where the lies.
I . When Did America Go to War?
The first proposition is that on December 7, 1941, this country was at peace. Being at peace our guard was down. Out of a clear sky Japan, without warning, struck us at Pearl Harbor – stabbed us in the back.
Before Pearl Harbor there had been much debate about whether we were at war and whether or not we should go to war. But surely no man, now looking honestly at the picture of those days, will say we were at peace. We had of course declared war on no one and no one had declared war on us. But the day of declared war is somewhat in the past. But let us see what we were actually doing in the two years preceding Pearl Harbor.
When Germany invaded Poland, and Britain and France declared war on Germany, our sympathy went out with equal fullness to Poland, France and Britain. We began by selling arms to Britain and France, which we had a right to do. We refused under our Neutrality Law, however, to deliver these arms to them. While we thus aided them greatly no one could call that war. Then came the fall of France in May, 1940. At this point the President made available to the British 500,000 Enfield rifles which were the property of the American Army, some planes and some 75’s, together with a great deal of ammunition. By this time the question of how far we should go to aid the allies became a national issue. The country approved aid and ever-increasing aid, but opposed a shooting war.
Late in 1940 the President proposed to give the British, hard-pressed in the Atlantic, fifty American destroyers. This was getting close to an act of war, though this construction on our act was denied.
In February, 1941, the President announced that Britain could no longer pay for all the arms she needed. He proposed that our government purchase guns and tanks and planes and munitions from American manufacturers, pay for them and lend them to Britain, China and other countries to use against the Germans. This was not a declaration of war. But to say it was not making war on Germany is to juggle words. It is possible to say that the country was doing the right thing in this action, but it is not possible to say it was not war.
The President next decided on a step which put us finally into actual war against Germany. Britain had occupied Iceland – a few hundred miles off the shores of England – in the summer of 1940. In July, 1941, the President decided to join Britain in the occupation of Iceland. Before this the President had established a naval patrol. That is, American destroyers and planes were sent out into the Atlantic into combat zones to hunt submarines and report the presence of these submarines to the British, who would then send destroyers or planes to drop depth bombs on them. To say we were not at war with Germany when our Navy was acting as a scout for the British Navy is to close our eyes to the truth. But when we reinforced the British army in Iceland and proceeded to use Iceland as a base for this naval patrol in the very heart of the European combat waters we were in the war beyond all dispute. Mr. Churchill hailed the occupation of Iceland as “a new cooperation between the British and American armed forces.” Cooperation in what? In the war against Germany. Charles Hurd, in the New York Times, wrote Nov. 9, 1941: “The establishment of a naval base in Iceland marked a change by which American international policy stepped from one of passive aid to Great Britain and her allies into active participation in the Battle of the Atlantic.” Against whom was the battle of the Atlantic being fought? Against Germany. If we were “actively participating” in that battle we were actively participating in a war against Germany. The New York Times, defending these acts, said: Nazis made war on us in the Atlantic. We are making war on them in return.”
I do not raise the question whether the President should or should not have done this. Certainly many of our very best citizens urged him to do it and approved what he did. I merely say that as we were making war on Germany, however justified, we are bound to recognize the fact and concede it as a fact.
The occupation of Iceland had immediate repercussions. The President decided to convoy British vessels sailing into Iceland. He knew this meant war. Secretary of the Navy Knox had said to a Senate Committee long before that “convoys mean shooting and shooting means war.” Obviously if an American warship convoyed a British vessel carrying war material to England or Iceland and a German submarine came near, the American warship would shoot. That is precisely what it would be there for. A British warship would shoot and make no explanation of the act, because Britain was openly and admittedly at war with Germany. But when an American warship shot at a German submarine that also was war. The President, however, couldn’t admit it because Congress had not declared war and he naturally could not admit what he was doing or concede its significance. In fact he denied it. When a newspaper writer reported that the Navy was convoying British ships, the President publicly called him “a liar.” When the President said that, he knew of course that the Navy was convoying ships and that the reporter was telling the truth. The truth came out later, only last year, when the Navy by Order No. 190, directed the issuing of awards of ribbons to men in the Navy, Marine, and Coast Guard who had been in “actual combat” with German submarines “before December 7, 1941.” Moreover on April 29, 1944, W. A. Crumley, famous naval reporter of the London Express, writing of the death of Secretary Frank Knox, said: “The full extent of our debt to Colonel Knox has not yet been disclosed but it can be said that American warships’ were assisting Atlantic convoys as early as March, 1941, eight months before Pearl Harbor.”
The inevitable result of this, of course, was that several American ships, including naval vessels, were torpedoed or sunk. One of these was the Greer. On September 11, 1941, the President announced:
The U. S. Destroyer Greer, proceeding in full daylight toward Iceland had reached a point southeast of Greenland. She was carrying American mail to Iceland. She was flying the American flag. Her identity as an American ship was unmistakeable. She was then and there attacked by a submarine. Germany admits it was a submarine.
Now the public assumed from this statement that this destroyer was proceeding on a peaceful mission, bringing mail to American soldiers in Iceland when she was deliberately attacked by a submarine. The truth came out a little later in a letter from the Navy to the Senate Naval Affairs Committee. The Greer was going to Iceland to American soldiers billetted there with the British army. A British patrol plane found a submarine ten miles from the Greer. The Greer put on speed and pursued the sub. The submarine fled. The Greer crowded it, broadcasting its position to the British Navy. A British plane appeared and dropped four depth bombs on the sub, while the Greer continued to crowd it for three hours and 28 minutes, before the submarine turned and fired at the Greer. The Greer then attacked with its guns. This was war. Charles Hurd, Times correspondent, called attention to the fact on November 9 that the Greer was not the only such incident. There was also the case of the Kearny and the Reuben James. He wrote that information had come belatedly that “in all three cases, the destroyers were hunting the submarines – the Greer to report where one lay and the other destroyers in an actual effort to destroy them.” W. Averill Harriman, the President’s personal agent in London, said November 23: “The U. S. Navy is shooting Germans – German submarines and aircraft at sea.”
The President’s difficulty arose from fact that he was waging a foreign war while at the same time assuring the people that he was not, would not take them into war. But when men like Herbert Agar, editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal, an ardent New Dealer and a leader in one of the war committees, caustically reproached the President for making these pretenses when in fact the Lend-Lease Bill was an act “to enable him to conduct an undeclared war on Germany.”
It must be conceded that the President dared not admit that he was making war because the country was still registering its opposition to war in all the polls. Yet we were in fact at war and it was not until long after Pearl Harbor that the people began to hear and realize the truth. We had been at war – shooting war – for many months before Pearl Harbor. Mr. Arthur Sulzberger, publisher of the New York Times, devoted to the President’s war policy, said in a speech last year: “I am not one of those who believed that we entered the war because we were attacked at Pearl Harbor, but that we were attacked at Pearl Harbor because we were already in the war.” Indeed in Washington today the man who would say in informed circles that we did not enter the war until Pearl Harbor would be roundly laughed at.
The assumption, therefore, that on December 7 this country was in a state of peace and was therefore in a condition where it could plead surprise at an attack is utterly without foundation.
II. The Managed Crisis
But what of Japan? The President, addressing the Congress the day after Pearl Harbor, said, referring to Japan: The United States was at peace with that nation, and at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.” The veil has not yet been wholly lifted from the diplomatic and military prologue to the Japanese-American war. But enough is now known to make the picture reasonably clear.
Japan attacked China July 7, 1937. Up to January, 1940, this government refrained from any hostile intrusion into that war. The State Department had properly protested against Japan’s aggression. But it did nothing to aid China. On the contrary it pursued a policy of aid to Japan. Under our Neutrality Law, when war began between Japan and China, it became the duty of the President to proclaim a state of war and stop all shipments of munitions to either country. The President, however, refused to do this. He was gravely criticized for violating the law. He has suggested that he did not proclaim our neutrality because it would then have been impossible for us to send any aid to China. Actually we were giving far more aid to Japan than to China. In 1939 we sent China goods to the value of $55,600,000 while we exported to Japan goods valued at $232,000,000. We did practically the same in 1940. We sold Japan the immense quantities of iron and scrap and oil and other materials with which she carried on the war in China and prepared herself for war with us. The government sent its sympathy to China and its scrap iron to Japan. It was not until China and Japan became inextricably entangled in the European war that our government manifested its dynamic interest in China’s “democracy.”
In 1940, after the fall of France, the United States began to move ever more deeply into the European war. The interests of Britain in Asia brought China and Japan within the orbit of the Anglo-German struggle. Japan saw the United States looming as an immediate enemy through her interest in Europe. By the autumn of 1940, Japan became interested in one overmastering objective. She wanted to keep the United States out of the war in Asia. It looked then as if Britain might be defeated, thus cutting her vast Asiatic empire adrift. The fall of France had weakened France’s hold upon her important colony of Indo-China. If the United States were to end trade with Japan, Japan would have to go to the Dutch East Indies for oil and other essential materials. If the Dutch joined in the embargo, Japan would have to seize the Indies and this would mean war with Britain, and probably, the United States. Therefore in September, 1940, Japan entered the Rome-Berlin-Tokio Axis.
Through this alliance she got: (1). An agreement from Germany to declare war on the United States if Japan and the United States went to war. (2). She induced Germany to exert pressure upon Vichy to allow Japan to enter Indo-China whenever she found it necessary to attack the Indies. (3). She hoped to get a non-aggression pact with Russia, which she did. Germany was winning the war and the bargain looked good to Japan and militarists who then ruled her affairs. Actually this fatal program sealed Japan’s doom. The circumstances by which this came about are scarcely realized by the American people. They are almost unbelievable. I would not dare to describe them if they were not attested beyond cavil by the official documents recently made public for all to read. Here are the facts.
On December 14, 1940, after Japan had gotten an agreement from Vichy to enter Indo-China, Ambassador Joseph C. Grew in Tokio wrote a long letter to President Roosevelt. Being an old Groton and Harvard man he felt privileged to write him over the head of the Secretary of State. He addressed him as “Dear Frank.” In a letter of great clarity and tact he outlined the picture of affairs in the East. He told the President frankly that after eight years “diplomacy has been defeated by trends and forces utterly beyond its control,” and that “our work has been swept away as by a typhoon, with little or nothing remaining to show for it.” No Japanese leader, he said, could reverse the expansionist policy and hope to survive. The Germans are working overtime to push Japan into war with us. “It therefore appears that sooner or later, unless we are prepared, with General Hugh Johnson, to withdraw bag and baggage from the entire sphere of Greater East Asia, including the South Seas (which God forbid), we are bound eventually to come to a head-on collision with Japan.” The meaning of all this he summed up as follows: “It seems to me to be increasingly clear that we are bound to have a showdown with Japan some day, and: the principal question at issue is whether it is to our advantage to have that showdown sooner or to have it later.”
What he is telling the President is that war with Japan is inevitable and the only question to be decided is one of time. Shall it be NOW or LATER. The Ambassador decided that it should be now. This meant, he concluded, taking positive and vigorous action against Japan to halt her. But we cannot afford to take measures “short of war,” he said, because Japan will detect it and that will be futile. But if we convince them that “we mean to fight if compelled to do so” then perhaps our effective to avert war. Here, as clear as man can make it, the American Ambassador is advising the President personally on taking a course against Japan which he believes will result in war because it is better to fight Japan now than later, while there is a chance that a show of vigor force a change of Japanese policy.
To that letter the President made a fateful and historic answer, an answer which the people of the United States knew nothing about. He began his letter: “Dear Joe: I find in decided agreement with your conclusions.” But Roosevelt went much further than Grew. The Ambassador had suggested that perhaps the interests of England might dictate that we avoid war with Japan now because it might handicap Britain. Roosevelt brushed that aside. He was much more impressed with the fear that an attack by Japan on the East Indies and Malay might deprive England of supplies needed against Germany. He was clear that Japan must be kept within bounds. He felt we could not lay down hard and fast plans but he left no doubt that he adopted fully Mr. Grew’s “war now” policy. See Ten Years in Japan by Joseph C. Grew (1944), page 359 et seq.
From that moment – January 21, 1941 – when the President wrote that letter the die was cast. The President had decided, with Grew, that war with Japan was inevitable, that we must pick the time and that the time was NOW subject to the exigencies of the whole world situation; that we must proceed with vigorous measures against Japan and that we must not fool ourselves with the expectation of moving “short of war.”
This decision seemed to quicken the whole tempo of the President’s war plans. A few weeks later he asked Congress to pass the Lend-Lease bill. Having decided on war with Japan all of the President’s acts after that become easily understandable.
This government began at once to increase its pressure on Japan. Japan seemed to perceive this. She now had to make up her mind either to appease Mr. Roosevelt or face war. War with America would mean that she would be cut off from the supplies of scrap iron, oil and other materials she had been getting from us to fight China. She must look for these materials elsewhere – in the Dutch East Indies. In July, therefore, Japan took complete military control of Indo-China. President Roosevelt immediately retaliated by freezing all Japanese assets – $130,000,000 of them – in the United States and thus ending trade with Japan. Describing this, Walter Lippmann said:
This was a declaration of economic war. Along with other economic and military measures taken at the time by Australia, the Netherlands, and Great Britain, it was what the Japanese called it: “an anti-Japanese encirclement policy.”
The preceding month – June – an American political adviser was by Chiang Kai-shek. Americans were sent to reorganize the traffic on the Burma Road. Most serious of all, General Chennault, of the United States Army, took to China a number of American Army aviators who were allowed to resign from the United States Army to volunteer with the Chinese army – American pilots fighting Japan disguised as Chinese soldiers. The President was actually sending American reinforcements into China, as he sent reinforcements to the British in Iceland. After the freezing order an American military mission under Brigadler-General McGruder was sent to China.
In August, immediately following all this, Roosevelt and Churchill met in the Atlantic at the conference from which emerged the Atlantic Charter. But the conference was not called to frame a charter. Its chief object was to discuss the coming war against Japan. What happened there has been revealed in a White House-inspired volume called “How War Came” by Ernest Lindley and Forrest Davis. Churchill wished to meet the issue head-on. He asked the President, as the British, Dutch, Australians had repeatedly besought this government before, “to join in an ultimative declaration to Japan, an admitted provocation of war.” Other powers in the Pacific had been urging that the Allies establish a deadline in the Pacific serving notice upon Japan that so far and no farther should she go. The Army and Navy wanted more time to prepare. The President asked Churchill – wouldn’t we be better off in three months? Churchill agreed reluctantly. “Leave it to me,” said the President, “I think I can baby them along for three months.” But Churchill thought an ultimatum would force Japan to halt. But Roosevelt had other plans.
When Churchill left the Atlantic Conference he felt he had completely won his point. In a speech in Parliament January 28, 1942, he said: “It has been the policy of the Cabinet at all costs to avoid embroilment with Japan until we were sure the United States would also be engaged. . . . On the other hand the probability, since the Atlantic Conference at which I discussed these matters with President Roosevelt, that the United States, even if not herself attacked, would come into the war in the Far East and thus make the final victory assured, seemed to allay some of the anxieties and that expectation has not been falsified by events.
But something else had happened in the world. Hitler declared war on the Soviet Union and invaded Russia. This was a blow of the first magnitude to Tokio. Matsuoka, the Foreign Minister responsible for Tokyo’s entry into the Axis, found himself in disgrace. The cabinet of Prime Minister Konoye was dissolved to get rid of Matsuoka and those who had supported him. The advantages which Tokio had sought from the Axis alliance were now lost. Germany, as a partner in Asia, engaged in the vast enterprise of defeating Russia was enormously reduced in value. The defeat of Britain and the dissolution of her Asiatic empire now became more visionary. And with America practically committed to the war in an alliance with Britain and Russia, Japan’s whole strategic structure fell about her ears. Japan’s supplies of steel, iron, oil, chemicals and a whole catalogue of essential materials were cut off. Her foreign trade was ruined. Ambassador Grew wrote that Japan faced bankruptcy.
The American policy of vigorous action which had so little chance of avoiding war, now, due to the folly of Hitler in attacking Russia, became suddenly almost successful. On September 6, another incident then hidden from the American people and revealed only recently, occurred – as important as Roosevelt’s decision in January to make war.
The Japanese Prime Minister Konoye on that day invited the American Ambassador Grew to dinner at the house of a friend. There, with a frankness which astonished the American Ambassador, he revealed the plight of his country and his ministry. The whole story is told in the State Department publication entitled “War and Peace,” containing all the documents covering the negotiations between the United States and Japan, and in Ambassador Grew’s “Ten Years in Japan.” They are too voluminous to include here but they are open to the student who wishes to check on this account. Out of that conversation and several subsequent ones between Konoye’s secretary and the counsellor of the American Embassy, the following situation grew.
The Japanese cabinet had decided that, in the presence of its mounting difficulties, it must find some means of liquidating the China Affair. The moderate Army leaders wished to get out of China. The Prime Minister wanted to work out some plan by which Japan could do this without loss of face. The government could not make an outright surrender or retreat because it would be torn to pieces and the military extremists would come into power with every hope of peace gone. Konoye begged the American Ambassador to recommend to the President that he, Mr. Roosevelt, and the Japanese Premier meet in the Pacific at Hawaii, as Roosevelt and Churchill had done in the Atlantic. There, Konoye promised Grew, he was prepared to give to Mr. Roosevelt assurances of such far-reaching character that they were certain to be accepted. Japan had just made peace overtures to China. They seemed satisfactory save for one clause which provided that all those Japanese forces would retire from China which had been sent in since 1937, reverting to the status quo as of that time, except some troops to garrison certain strategic points in order to maintain order to suppress Communism. With the exception of this clause the proposals seemed feasible to Ambassador Grew. But the Prime Minister’s secretary, Ushiba, assured him that even on that point satisfactory assurances would be given. He pleaded also that the existence of the Konoye Cabinet was bound up in the success of such a conference of Roosevelt and Konoye and that if Konoye went to Hawaii he would not dare return without an agreement, however drastic. But that if the President refused to meet him the Konoye Cabinet would fall and peace in the Pacific would be impossible.
Konoye himself declared to Grew that he was determined to bring about a rehabilitation of American-Japanese relations no matter what the cost. Here was a great crack in the black wall in Asia. Grew was profoundly impressed. He felt that circumstances had made the American policy finally successful. He therefore wrote a long letter to the State Department urging the acceptance of Konoye’s offer. In Washington, Nomura also pressed the plan. The official reports printed by Mr. Grew and his own diary reveal the Japanese authorities, with their hats in their hands, pathetically pleading for this opportunity to get out of the mess they had made without war and with the loss of almost everything they supposed they had gained by the ill-fated China Incident. The Japanese Premier kept a warship ready and held it for instant departure whenever the word should come from Roosevelt. He, his associates, his secretary, kept pressing for an answer, pointing out that if this failed, the Konoye cabinet would fall and that the hope of peace would never return. Grew added his importunities. But in Washington Mr. Hull continued to evade an answer. On October 16, the Konoye Cabinet fell.
Even at this point the fat was not wholly in the fire. Ambassador Grew records in his diary an account of the fall of Konoye. The Emperor summoned a conference of the Privy Council and the leaders of the armed forces. He asked if they were prepared to pursue a policy that would guarantee peace with the United States. The army and navy conferees present remained silent. Whereupon Hirohito “ordered the armed forces to obey his wishes.” It was for this reason that Tojo was chosen Prime Minister, because, being a general in active service in the Army, he was in a position to control, and he was committed to the success of the conversation Washington. Even after Tojo’s appointment Mr. Grew reported that it was the current belief among Japanese leaders that the question of stationing armed forces at certain strategic points in China could be gotten over. At this moment Germany, displeased with the Konoye cabinet, was far from satisfied with the Tojo cabinet. She resented the negotiations going on in Washington as an unfriendly act to herself.
Why did the President refuse to do anything toward even testing the possibilities of peace in the Konoye proposal? In view of the fact that the United States and Great Britain were in a pathetic state of unpreparedness, why, when an offer, strongly urged by the American Ambassador, was made by Konoye, was it allowed to drag along unanswered? The President might have made this last attempt to avoid war, even though the attempt failed. But he did not and we are bound to ask, why not?
The negotiations with Nomura in Washington were rapidly getting nowhere when Kurusu was dispatched to Washington to support Nomura. Nobody knew better than the Japanese the desperate game which lay ahead of them. No one knew better than they that any hope of success must come almost entirely from the success of one desperate throw of the dice. They were anxious to find a way to crawl out of the meshes of the evil net which they had woven around themselves before, they made that daring effort.
But by this time the negotiations were being shaped by the President and he had made up his mind to force the issue – to get from Japan a complete and abject surrender or to make war on her. The abject surrender be wanted was not humanly possible, when we take account, as we must, of the character of the Japanese. Ambassador Grew seemed filled with apprehension that the government would miscalculate on this subject. Obviously he feared that the President had made two mistakes: one, that the China war and our embargo had hopelessly weakened the Japanese and, second, that they would not fight if we put on the pressure. He wrote to the State Department the following ominous statement on November 3:
The primary point to be decided apparently involves the question whether war with Japan is justified by American national objectives, policies, and needs in the case of failure of the first line of national defense, namely, diplomacy, since it would be possible only on the basis of such a decision for the Roosevelt administration to follow a course which would be divested as much as possible of elements of uncertainty, speculation and opinion. The Ambassador does not doubt that such a decision, irrevocable as it might: well prove to be, has been debated fully and adopted, for the sands are running fast.
This somewhat obscure paragraph, breathing the spirit of diplomatic circumlocution, means simply stated that: Our first means of avoiding war is diplomacy. If that fails, the President must decide whether or not American objectives justify war, and the Ambassador believes that the government has made the irrevocable, the fateful decision that war on Japan is justified by American national objectives. But he goes on to add that his “purpose is only to ensure against the United States becoming involved in war with Japan because of any possible misconception of Japan’s capacity to rush headlong into a suicidal struggle with the United States.” He warned that the idea “that war would be probably averted though there might be some risk of war, by progressively imposing drastic economic measures, is an uncertain and dangerous hypothesis upon which to considered United States policy and measures.”
But the President rejected this counsel. It is unnecessary to follow the last scenes of the negotiations in Washington. It is clear that Japan was confronted with the alternative of making peace with us or going to war against the Dutch and the British and probably bringing us in, or of finding a formula for a settlement of the China Affair satisfactory to us. She offered a formula which would leave her a few shreds of her tattered garments of honor and prestige and on this formula she was willing to yield if the United States would resume shipments to her. On our part, we refused to make any specific demands on her until finally, on November 26, 1941, Mr. Hull handed to Nomura and Kurusu the last document to pass between these ill-fated negotiators before the attack. It was an ultimatum – an absolute and unequivocal ultimatum. It demanded withdrawal of all Japanese forces from Indo-China, the withdrawal of all military forces from China, the outright recognition of the Chungking government, the renunciation of all extra-territorial rights in China and Japan’s renunciation of her treaty of alliance with the Axis powers.
THIS WAS AN ULTIMATUM. The Japanese so considered it. Mr. Hull considered it such as he advised the Army and Navy on delivering it that negotiations were ended. The British Ambassador Halifax considered it such and said on hearing of it the matter now passed into the hands of the Army and Navy.
Here let me say this: A supporter of Mr. Roosevelt can make a defense of his course. He might say Mr. Roosevelt was right in supposing that sooner or later the United States would have to fight Japan; and that he was right in concluding that it would be unwise to let Japan get away with any illusion that she had not lost in China or that she had not been forced to her knees by America. If he did, it would be only a question of time when Japan would renew her program of aggression in Asia whenever the situation seemed favorable. The time to crush her and to make her see irrevocably the folly of such a course in the future and to discredit the military party for a generation, if not forever, was NOW. Now, when Japan has no allies who can aid her, when Germany is in a death struggle with Russia, when Japan is weakened by five years of war in China and by our embargoes and when the situation in Asia is such that we can count on full partnership of Britain in a Pacific war. This, then, is the time to force Japan to complete surrender, and if she refuses, to accept the consequences of an immediate attack by her on the Indies. Now I say a supporter of Mr. Roosevelt can make this argument with some show of reason. But he cannot say that Mr. Roosevelt had not decided on an all-out war. He cannot say that Mr. Roosevelt was seeking a formula for peace in the Pacific when he delivered to Japan an ultimatum which neither he nor his Ambassador nor Mr. Hull believed would be accepted. Mr. Roosevelt cannot claim he was stabbed in the back, without asking us to believe that after giving an ultimatum to a prospective enemy he turned his back to provide a target for the blow. He cannot plead surprise as an excuse for not being fully on guard against a war which he entered with his eyes wide open.
The simple fact is that after Mr. Hull handed the Japanese Ambassador his ultimatum of November 26, that episode was ended. Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Hull sat back and waited for Japan to attack. Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Hull believed they had just carried off a masterpiece of diplomacy. Mr. Roosevelt believed we were ready for that war. Mr. Knox announced
“The Navy is ready.” About three weeks before Pearl Harbor a distinguished Senator called on him to ask, in view of the withdrawal of so many warships from the Pacific to the Atlantic, whether or not Mr. Knox could assure him that the Navy had sufficient strength to tackle Japan. Mr. Knox assured him that all was well, that the Navy would clean up the Japanese Navy in a few weeks, that the only thing he feared was that it would go off and hide so that we could not get at it and, if that happened, it would take a little longer. Senator Pepper, looked upon as a White House spokesman, had said in the Senate in May:
If we will just modify the law which now prohibits the recruiting of American aviators in the United States for service with the Chinese Army, and let Chiang Kai-shek . . . have the advantage of some gallant American boys at the controls of some first-class American bombing planes, fifty of them, in my opinion, can make a shambles out of Tokio.
This represented the attitude in the administration. The strange notion that the job was one for a few planes and a few swift blows by our Navy permeated the thinking of the administration. In the midst of the negotiations which ended so disastrously, the same Senator Pepper told reporters that he would “Draw a line and warn them (the Japs) that if they cross it there will be shooting” (N. Y. Times, October 19, 1941).
The President did not have any notion that he was stepping into so terrible a war. He had assured Americans that he would not take American boys into a foreign war. He therefore wished the attack to come from Japan. As long ago as June, 1941, Alsop and Kintner, White House-favored columnists, wrote:
In the past week, he (the President) has been repeatedly urged to order immediate action. He has been warned that to delay has been to court disaster. He has been able to act, for all the preparations for meeting the German’s threat in the battle of the Atlantic have at last been completed. Yet he has not acted because he hopes to drive the Germans to shoot first. . . .
The problem was mentioned in this space in a recent discussion of the Atlantic patrol, in which it was pointed out that the President and the men around him privately hope the patrol will produce an incident. No man can doubt the German high command will do everything possible to avoid shooting first.
The writers explained that the President felt himself checked by his many promises to stay out of war. “He does not feel he can openly violate them. But he can get around them the ‘smart way.’” This, they explain, is to try to provoke the Germans to shoot at us. Then the President can start “shooting back.” He was following the same plan with Japan.
The President had now steered the negotiations with Japan to such a point where he would get his incident. The Army and Navy had a plan which was to be put into execution the moment Japan attacked – but not before. Of course, it was never supposed that Japan would attack as she did. After the ultimatum was handed to Kurusu, which was to force Japan into an overt act, Mr. Roosevelt went to Warm Springs for a holiday. The news of Japanese naval and troop movements later on compelled him to return. But from this moment on, the White House and the State Department were spots of intense expectancy for the blow on Malay or Siam or Singapore or the Dutch East Indies or perhaps Guam or better still the Philippines, which would be the consummation of the great game of diplomacy of Messrs. Roosevelt and Hull. They sat around and waited for the great “surprise.” It is certainly not too much to say that the surprise they waited for surprised them very much.
All this is well known here and abroad. Only recently Oliver Lyttleton, British Minister of Production, addressing a gathering of Americans in London, said: “Japan was provoked into attacking America at Pearl Harbor. It is a travesty on history ever to say that America was forced into the war.” Mr. Hull protested against this and Mr. Lyttleton was compelled to make a lame retraction. But that is what he said. And, of course, he spoke the truth.
Here again the President’s supporters weaken and complicate his case by denying the obvious truth. Those among them who are more honest say frankly that, of course Mr. Roosevelt wanted the Japanese to strike first. That was an intelligent stroke. That would have the effect of uniting all Americans and in fact it did. He would have been a fool to deprive himself of the moral effect of this maneuver. But, having done it, it is now impossible to escape its inevitable consequences. He wanted to provoke Japan to attack. But he utterly and pitifully misunderstood the variety of attacks to which he exposed the country. He certainly never looked for an attack which would kill 3,000 Americans and knock the American Navy and Army out of the war in a day, and force us to the long and terrible march back over the innumerable island stepping stones of the Pacific and at the loss of so many men and so much material and prestige.
III. The Warnings That Went to Hawaii
We have now seen that the President in Washington was conducting a war against Germany, though no declaration of war had been made and that he had, as Mr. Lippmann put it, declared “economic war on Japan” while American Army fliers disguised in Chinese uniforms were bombing Japanese troops and American ships were ferrying armaments to the Chinese armies. These were skirmishes preceding the grand scale attack.
We have seen that the President had decided on all-out war with Japan but that he was maneuvering Japan into a position to attack first and that he succeeded in this. That attack came on December 7 at Pearl Harbor, the Philippines, Guam, Malay and other points. We have seen that the President went before the American people and Congress and declared that we had been “surprised” and that Japan had struck while we were engaged in an effort to produce peace in the Pacific. The appalling disaster the government blamed upon Admiral Kimmel and General Short, in command at Pearl Harbor, on the theory that they were not on guard against an attack about which they had received ample warning.
First of all it must be understood that as soon as the astounding nature of the defeat was known there was a very general hustling by everyone in authority from the President down to provide themselves with appropriate alibis. One of the first to come up with one was Mr. Hull. The Roberts Report declared that for months Mr. Hull repeatedly discussed the American-Japanese negotiations with the Secretaries of War and Navy and the Council of War at which the Army Chief of Staff and the Naval Chief of Operations were present. He insists that he constantly kept the Secretary of the Navy informed of the progress of the negotiations. Then on November 24 Mr. Hull reported to them that “a surprise aggressive movement in any direction by the Japanese was a possibility.”
Now, of course, this is supposed to completely relieve Mr. Hull of all responsibility. The negotiations had been going on for many months. They had a way of leaping into the papers and then dying out. In the last half of November the arrival of Kurusu gave them a new and sensational turn.
His warning is supposed to reveal in Mr. Hull a profound insight into the course of things to come. What Mr. Hull told the Army and Navy chiefs we can only surmise. It was understood by the Army and Navy that the negotiations had been initiated by Japan, not by us. The Japanese envoys had been trying to persuade Roosevelt to end the embargo against Japan so that she could once again buy supplies here. The discussion turned, in a very leisurely manner and in very vague terms, around the conditions on which this might be done. But Mr. Hull never until the last gave to the Japanese any specific conditions. Around the last half of November it was generally understood in Army and Navy circles that the negotiations would probably “break down.” “Breaking down” meant to everyone, including the high command that Japan would fail to get any concessions from us. What would she do then? That seemed clear enough. She would seize the Dutch East Indies for essential materials. She had occupied Indo-China for that purpose as a base from which to move on the Dutch East Indies. The general assumption, then, was that when negotiations broke down, Japan would then go first into Thailand and then to the Dutch East Indies. Such an attack would mean war with Britain and perhaps the United States. It would not be a direct attack on them, but only on the Dutch. If Japan hit at Thailand and then attacked the Dutch Indies, Britain and the United States could then choose the time and the manner and the spot at which they would strike. For this purpose Malay and Singapore for the British and the Philippines for the United States were bases of the supremest importance. Japan might take one of two courses. She might go into Thailand and against the Dutch East Indies directly hoping on a faint chance that the United States and Britain would stay out of the war. Or she might assume that they would come in and attempt to knock them out of their two great bases at the outset. This meant that Japan might begin with an attack on Singapore or Northern Malay or on the Philippines. This is what ending the negotiations meant.
What the Army did not know until the last minute, if at all, was that we had not merely refused to yield to Japan’s plea for a resumption of relations, but that the President by November 24 had decided TO ISSUE AN ULTIMATUM to Japan, to lay down imperious conditions to her – conditions which meant peace or war. He did not tell her merely that we would not do business with her; he told her to get out of China, out of Indo-China and to repudiate her Axis treaties. This was fighting talk. It was an ultimatum, is now recognized as such, and was recognized then as such both by the Japanese and by the President. This changed the whole picture. Now we have been informed that Mr. Hull told the War Council on November 24 that negotiations were about to break down. He knew he was going to issue an ultimatum in two days – November 26. It was perhaps already written. But did he tell the Chief of Staff of the Army and the Chief of Naval Operations – General Marshall and Admiral Stark – that what he was about to hand the Japanese was an ultimatum? Or did he tell them merely that negotiations were about to suffer a break? In either case it would mean war. But in the former case it would mean war instantly with the United States directly as the chief target. What did Hull tell the Army chiefs? And what did they tell him? They knew, they must have known, that the United States was pathetically unprepared then for war in the East. They knew that if Japan attacked us directly that Germany and Italy would immediately declare war on us under the terms of the Rome-Berlin-Tokio pact. They knew they could not get any reinforcements from the Atlantic into the Pacific in time to be of avail. Did they tell, the President through Mr. Hull that we were unprepared? Did they protest? Certainly we are entitled to have the facts on that.
In any case Mr. Hull’s warning about a surprise attack was not the result of any special information he had but was based entirely on the general understanding of the Japanese method of making war. The Army and Navy chiefs knew that as well as he. What the Army and Navy would have liked to have known was when the attack would come and where. Of course Mr. Hull did not know any more about that than the man in the moon and his surmise would be valueless. His warning was merely – Be careful! Look out for the Japs! They are a treacherous lot. We are about to break off negotiations. They may not reply or wait. They may strike without notice and anywhere. Any newspaper man could have told the Army chiefs as much, had they needed telling. The problem they had to guess at was: When and where will the Japs move. Mr. Hull knew nothing on this score – not as much as they did. And, as we now know, when he or anyone else in the Administration talked about an attack coming “anywhere” they meant anywhere in Asia – Malay, Thailand, Singapore itself, the Dutch East Indies, maybe the Philippines or even Guam – anywhere – anywhere in the Pacific except Hawaii.
It is very doubtful that Mr. Hull admitted to the Army and Navy chiefs that what he was delivering to the Japanese was an ultimatum. This would be in keeping with two of the crowning defects of the State Department under Mr. Roosevelt – its inveterate secrecy and its passion for refusing to look words in the face. Mr. Hull is perhaps the only man of position in Washington who still thinks the war started with Pearl Harbor. It is quite probable that he would still indignantly deny that his last document to the Japanese envoys was an ultimatum. The pretense of not issuing an ultimatum was part of Mr. Roosevelt’s political strategy. He must not, at any price, be caught in the posture of beginning the shooting. Therefore he must not be found in the position of delivering an ultimatum. The whole purpose of this event was to leave in the mind of the people the picture of Mr. Roosevelt earnestly striving to promote peace in the Pacific, offering the Japanese an olive branch, and receiving in return a stab in the back – the back which Mr. Roosevelt turned to the enemy at the very moment when that enemy had been literally dared to use its knife. Hence the information about the ultimatum, even if given to the Secretary of War and Navy, was withheld from the people. Mr. Roosevelt, who had authorized it, went off on a vacation to Warm Springs, as if he had not the slightest intention of adding to the turmoil of the world.
Whatever the Secretaries of the War and Navy knew, what, we must ask, in all fairness, did they communicate to Admiral Kimmel and General Short in Hawaii? What were Admiral Kimmel and General Short told about the nature of the crisis? What were they told about the possibility of attack on Hawaii? What were they told to do and what did they do that was in violation of their orders? Let us see.
A. Warnings on the Crisis
The contents of the warnings given to Kimmel and Short are all outlined in the report of the Roberts Commission. According to that Report, on October 16 the War and Navy Departments advised Kimmel and Short that changes had taken place in the Japanese Cabinet – the fall of Konoye – and that there was a possibility of war between Japan and Russia, and, possibly, Britain and the United States. Now of course Kimmel and Short didn’t need to be “advised” of the fall of the Konoye Cabinet. It was in all the papers for everybody to read.
November 24, 1941, the Chief of Naval Operations wired Kimmel, expressing doubt of a favorable outcome of the negotiations in Washington. The Army Chief of Staff concurred in the dispatch. This followed Hull’s announcement of this fact to the cabinet members just before he issued his ultimatum.
November 27, the Army Chief of Staff informed the Commanding General at Hawaii “that the negotiations with Japan seemed to be ended with little likelihood of their resumption.” The same day the Intelligence Department sent a similar message to Short’s Intelligence Officer. Not a word about the United States having issued an ultimatum bringing the issue directly down to war between the United States and Japan, rather than just between Japan and Thailand or Japan, Thailand and the Dutch and British. “Ending of negotiations” might mean that the United States had failed to find means of dissuading Japan from further movements in China and Indo-China. This might mean a movement against Malay or Thailand or, perhaps, the Indies. No one in our armed forces in authority believed Japan wanted war with us. They did count on a Japanese attack on the Indies and our military and naval people believed that if Japan made such a move we would sooner or later enter the war. Never once was Kimmel given the information that Mr. Hull had told the Japanese in effect to crawl back into their own island or face war. That, in the involved language of diplomacy, is what he told them.
B. Warnings on Points of Attack
I have said that immediately after Pearl Harbor all the Washington authorities got busy with their alibis. Mr. Hull was the first. Mr. Knox was next. He made it known that on January 21, 1941, he had written a letter to the Secretary of War saying that “If war eventuates with Japan it is believed easily possible that hostilities would be initiated by a surprise attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor.” He said the danger warranted speedy action to increase the joint readiness of the Army arid Navy to resist such an attack, that the Navy was restudying the situation and that the defenses were satisfactory against every form of attack save air bombing and air torpedo attack. This is handed out as evidence of great vigilance and perspicacity on the part of Mr. Knox. This was nearly a year before Pearl Harbor. Actually this letter was written as a result of a letter from Ambassador Grew to the State Department just before. Mr. Grew wrote “there was a lot of talk around town (in Tokio) to the effect that the Japanese, in case of a break with the United States, are planning to go all-out in a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.” The State Department of course passed this town gossip along to Knox promptly wrote to Stimson as if he, Knox, were in possession of some very secret information. Think what Mr. Knox was asking the American people to believe, that before January 21 the possibility of an attack on Pearl Harbor was not considered serious enough to provide the necessary defenses and that the Navy did not become alarmed about this until a report of street rumors about town in Tokio suddenly made the Navy aware of the danger.
Now let us follow just what the Army and Navy passed on to Kimmel and Short as to the kind of attack that was coming. One very important thing must be kept in mind – and the American reader is apt to overlook it. Hawaii, while far out in the Pacific, was not in a position to get its own information about the coming attack. Pearl Harbor is 3600 miles from Japan and 4000 and more miles from some of the points where the Japanese were preparing the attack. The Army and Navy of course did scouting, reconnaisance and secret intelligence work in the Far East. But this was the duty not of Kimmel and Short, but of officers stationed in the Far East. We had a naval unit there – the Asiatic Navy, as distinguished from the Pacific Navy, which was in Hawaii. The Navy and War Departments in Washington were supposed to collect from every source information as to the possible movements of Japanese naval and aircraft and army units and form their opinions as to what the Japanese were up to. Kimmel and Short had no means of doing this. They depended entirely on bulletins from Washington where all the intelligence material was gathered and communicated to Hawaii, Guam, the Philippines, Europe and other places. There seems to be a notion that Kimmel and Short were supposed to have in action a naval and air and military intelligence service that would keep them advised of what the Japanese were doing. This is wholly false. There is also the notion that the various warnings were directed specifically to them. Similar warnings were going out to all parts of the world.
The duties of these two men are clearly defined in the Roberts Report. The defense of Hawaii was the responsibility of the Army. The Army was charged with defense against sabotage and all internal subversive activities. The Report says: “The responsibility of the Army included the installation and the operation of an aircraft warning system for the detection of water-born craft at a distance from the coast.” The Army was supposed to “conduct an in-shore airplane patrol, covering the circumference of the island of Oahu to a distance of about twenty miles.” The Navy was to “conduct distant air reconnaisance radiating from Oahu to a distance of from seven to eight hundred miles.” The duty of keeping an eye on the activities of the Japanese fleet and Japanese troop movements beyond that was the responsibility of Far Eastern units and intelligence services, which would report to Washington, which in turn would keep Kimmel and Short informed of hostile preparations that had to begin thousands of miles away from Hawaii.
Now what information was being sent to the Admiral and General at Hawaii from Washington as to the possible intentions of the Japanese in the Pacific?
November 24, the Navy advised Admiral Kimmel of the possibility of a “surprise aggressive movement in any direction by the Japanese.” This was after getting Hull’s notice that negotiations were probably at an end. But the message contained a very important modification. It warned that “a surprise aggressive movement in any direction by the Japanese, including an attack on the Philippines or Guam, was a possibility.”
November 27, the Army notified General Short that Japanese action was unpredictable, that hostilities on the part of Japan were momentarily expected.”
November 27 (same day), the Chief of Naval Operations wired Kimmel that the “dispatch was to be considered a war warning; that negotiations were ended; that Japan was expected to make an aggressive move within the next few days; that an amphibious expedition against the Philippines, Thailand or the Kraw Peninsula or possibly Borneo was indicated by the number and equipment of Japanese troops and the organization of the naval task forces.” All these indicated possible attacks were against points thousands of miles from Hawaii.
November 30, the Chief of Naval Operations wired to the Commander-in-Chief of the Asiatic Fleet – in the Far East, at least 3600 miles from Hawaii – that Japan was about to launch an attack on the Kraw Isthmus, and directing the Chief of the Asiatic Fleet to do certain scouting but to avoid the appearance of attacking, and a copy of this dispatch was sent to Kimmel at Hawaii.
December 1: On this day the Division of Naval Intelligence issued a “general bulletin entitled “Japanese Naval Situation,” saying:
Deployment of Naval forces to the Southward has indicated clearly that extensive preparations are under way for hostilities. At the same time troop transports and freighters are pouring continuously down from Japan and Northern China coast ports headed South for French Indo-China and Formosan ports.
Present movements to the South appear to be carried out by small individual units, but the organization of an extensive task force, now definitely indicated, will probably take sharper form in the next few days. To date this task force under the command of the Commander-in-Chief, second fleet, appears to be subdivided into two major task forces, one concentrating off the Southeast Asiatic Coast, the other in the mandates.
Each constitutes a strong striking force of heavy and light cruisers, units of the combined air force, destroyers and submarine squadrons. Although one division of battleships also may be assigned, the major capital ship strength remains in home waters, as well as the greatest portion of the carriers.
Here was unmistakable evidence that the only Japanese movement which the Naval and Army intelligence service had observed was directed at the Southeast Asiatic coast 3500 miles from Hawaii and perhaps at some point in the mandates – the Marshall or Caroline Islands, which were not far from Guam, but thousands of miles from Pearl Harbor.
Thus we see in all these warnings to Kimmel and Short the Army and Navy mentioned almost every possible important point in the Far Pacific as within the area of the expected “aggressive surprise attack in any direction,” but never once told Kimmel or Short of any movement against Hawaii or indicated any expectation of an attack on Hawaii.
The simple truth is – and it is abundantly clear from a variety of sources – that neither the Army nor Navy high commands, nor the President nor any responsible authority in Washington had the slightest notion that there would be an attack of any kind, save internal sabotage, on Hawaii. A New York Times dispatch on the fall of the Konoye cabinet observed that if Japan struck it would be at Siberia and that as far as the Allies and Japan were concerned it would not be an open war. The general impression in Washington was that Japan would strike into Thailand or at some point other than American territory and that when this happened the United States would put into effect in its own way its strategy. What that would be has not been disclosed. Bertram D. Hulen of the New York Times, on November 16, reported:
The signs point to a war of blockade and attrition. It is even considered doubtful that Japan will attempt to seize the Philippines. For one thing she is too busy in China. Moreover the real prize is the Netherlands East Indies, but even they are far removed from Japan and a campaign against them would require an extended campaign by the Japanese Navy.
Editorial writers in early December speculated on what the United States would do if Japan struck – break relations, arm merchantmen in the Pacific, increase her help to China or set up a blockade. The utter failure of the government to anticipate with any approach to accuracy the course affairs would take is evident from this dispatch from Washington in the Times as late as December 5. Having reported that “the government is clearly preparing for the worst,” its idea of the “worst” is discernible from the remainder of the dispatch:
If the Japanese should strike from Indo-China, they would presumably not only terminate the diplomatic effort, but would pose for the United States, Great Britain, Australia and the Netherlands what move to adopt. It is believed that the first move might be in the nature of increasing economic measures against Japan, possibly some further blockade measures.
On December 4, Arthur Krock, a very discriminating and reliable chronicler of events in Washington and enjoying very friendly relations with Mr. Hull, reported the following conversation with a “high administration official”:
Q: How would you state the prospect now?
A: It is conceivable that the Japanese will move aggressively at any time.
Q: In what direction?
A: South and West through Indo-China, possibly to the Indies and Burma.
Q: Won’t they need a million men for such an enterprise?
A: I fear that with 250,000 they can overrun Indo-China and Burma.
A week or so earlier an unnamed official was reported as saying: “War is expected, but war aimed only obliquely at us in Southeastern Asia, in Siam or Malaya and not directed toward the heart of our power in the Pacific.” This “unnamed official” was later identified as Sumner Welles, the Under-Secretary of State and much closer to the White House than even Mr. Hull at that time. The same notions were nursed in Singapore and Australia. A dispatch to the Times from Singapore December 5, said:
The Japanese’ next move is likely to be in Thailand, well-informed sources here believe. An attack on Malay or the Philippines is not ruled out entirely, but recent activities in Indo-China are thought to point more in the direction of Thailand than anywhere else. Competent observers here maintain that logic is against Japanese attack on British, Netherlands or American territory though they do not contend such an attack is entirely improbable.
And from Melbourne on December 7, the day of Pearl Harbor, came a dispatch saying the official view is that Japan is just feeling around to see how far she can go without provoking war with Britain, the Netherlands, the United States and Australia.
To sum it all up, the wise men in Washington felt that Japan was going to attack somewhere, that she was probably going to attack Thailand from Indo-China and possibly the Netherlands Indies. They felt there was an outside chance that she might attack Malay, The State Department thought she might attack Malay, Thailand or even the Philippines. But that there would be an attack of any kind on Hawaii did not enter their heads.
Of this there cannot be the slightest doubt. All of the messages sent to Kimmel and Short were sent by high administration chiefs in Washington who were convinced that there was not the slightest danger of an attack on Pearl Harbor. Their messages necessarily carried that conviction to Kimmel and Short themselves. The messages sent were for the purpose of advising these men, commanders of an important outpost in the Pacific, that war was imminent, but “war aimed only obliquely at the United States through Indo-China and the Dutch East Indies and possibly Malay” and if at the United States at all, then at the Philippines. They were the warnings sent to every commander everywhere in the world – that war was in the offing and to be on their guard. Against what? We will see what Washington had in mind in a moment. But here we must observe that there cannot be the slightest doubt that, from the President down, an attack on Hawaii was not considered a remote possibility.
The best evidence of this is the authentic and semi-official account of how the news of the Pearl Harbor attack came to the White House. The story is told by Ernest K. Lindley, a White House pipeline columnist, and Forrest Davis in their book “How War Came.”
On Sunday, December 7, the President was in his study eating his dinner from a tray. He had worked hard all week. On Sunday he secluded himself to play with his stamp collection. “The President,” they report, might have been anyone of a million Americans putting in a loafing Sunday afternoon with a crony and a hobby.” The crony was Harry Hopkins. Of course the war situation was tense. The overnight cables had reported a large movement of Japanese transports to the Gulf of Siam. But the President felt the Emperor would restrain the war party. “In any case,” say the authors, “there had been no warning.” That is, as late as Sunday, December 7, the day of Pearl Harbor, the President felt there had been no warning of an imminent attack save the approach of transports toward the Gulf of Siam, at least 4,000 miles from Pearl Harbor.
“The White House, therefore, was, like the country, at peace,” the authors tell us. The President’s staff was scattered. But most incredible of all: “A do-not-disturb sign had been confidently placed on the President’s switchboard.” The President had literally isolated himself, leaving orders that he was not to be disturbed, that his telephone was not to be rung. At 1:45 Secretary Knox, who had just received the news of the attack, attempted to reach the President by phone. He had difficulty inducing the operator to call the President. When Knox got to the President, he told him: “Mr. President, it looks like the Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor. . . .” The President’s answer, as Lindley and Davis describe it, was a startled: “NO!” They record that the President expected war, but not that week-end. He never supposed the attack when it came would be at “the heart of United States sea-power. If war did come, he assumed, along with 132 million other Americans, it would break first in Siam, the East Indies or the Malay Peninsula.” The statement is extraordinarily revealing. The President thought the war would come in the Far East 4,000 miles from Pearl Harbor and 132 million other Americans thought the same thing. If they did it was because the President and his subordinates had led them to believe that. And among the 132 million other Americans who got that impression or rather definite advice were Admiral Kimmel and General Short and that advice they got from the President and his subordinates.
The sum of all this is that the President and his Army and Navy secretaries completely miscalculated the problem which faced them. They went wrong on the time and on the place and misled everybody connected with them, including their Commanders in Hawaii. They went wrong on the violence of the attack and its character. And they went wrong utterly on the strength of the Japanese Navy and Army. They were wrong – from beginning to the end. And having gone wrong, having given an ultimatum to Japan which precipitated the attack before they were ready to meet it, they went to work immediately to shoulder the blame upon men who, after being indicted, were silenced, while the President, his columnists, his stooges, his Cabinet chiefs went to work to alibi themselves and load upon these two helpless officers the odium of their guilt.
Not only did the President and his advisers go wrong on all this, but they were directly responsible for the arrangements in Pearl Harbor which made it literally impossible for Kimmel or Short to properly defend their positions. In other words, both Kimmel and Short, in practically all that they did, obeyed to the letter the orders from Washington. This we shall now see.
C. Did Kimmel and Short Disobey Orders?
We have seen what Washington told Kimmel and Short about the nature of the crisis and what Washington looked for as to the time and place of attack. Let us now see what Kimmel and Short did about all this, and whether or not they obeyed any orders or neglected anything that Washington expected them to do which might have averted the disaster.
Early in 1941 Kimmel and Short made a survey of the situation with reference to the defense of Pearl Harbor and made a plan of defense. This plan, the Roberts Report held to be adequate had it been put into execution. Under this plan General Short was responsible for the defense of the Island and for reconnaisance on the island of Oahu and for patrolling the coast to a distance of twenty miles from the shore. If planes penetrated an area twenty miles from the shore it was his duty to detect them. Of course a plane arriving at a point twenty miles from the shore of the island would be over Pearl Harbor in ten minutes, so that Short could not be held responsible on this score. Admiral Kimmel was not responsible for the defense of the island from attack save that, if the fleet were present, it would aid with its equipment to whatever extent necessary. But Admiral Kimmel was responsible for distance reconnaisance covering an area around the island of seven or eight hundred miles.
In the event of danger the plans called for three types of readiness, known as Alert No.1, Alert No.2 and Alert No. 3.
Alert No.1 is “an alert against sabotage and uprising within the islands with no threat from without.”
Alert No.2 is “applicable to a condition more serious than condition No.1. Security against attacks from hostile subsurface, surface and aircraft, in addition to defense against acts of sabotage and uprising is provided.”
Alert No. 3 “requires occupation of all field positions by all units, prepared for maximum defense of Oahu and the Army installations on outlying islands.”
When Short received his first warning of coming danger, November 24, he put into effect Alert No.1 “against sabotage and uprising within the island with no threat from without.” Since all the messages, as we have already seen, related to possible movements against places in Asia from three to four thousand miles away from Hawaii, General Short considered that the emergency called for Alert No.1. Hawaii had a very large Japanese population and the possibility of sabotage against American installations in the event of war with Japan even on some distant scene was a serious one. General Short notified his superiors in Washington that he had put into effect Alert No. 1.
On November 27 Admiral Kimmel got a message from the Navy warning him, as well as commanders at other bases, to take appropriate measures against sabotage. This was shown to General Short. The same day, General Short, who had been ordered to report what measures he was taking, wired Washington describing everything he had done, including the ordering of Alert No.1. He specifically stated that he had “alerted his command against sabotage” and that he was maintaining liaison with the Navy. He got no reply to this, and at the Roberts Commission hearing he testified that he considered the failure of his superiors in Washington to order a change as an approval of what he was doing. They understood thoroughly what that was. While the Army did not specifically reply to his report on his disposition, General Short the next day (November 28) got a message from the Adjutant General in Washington warning that the situation was critical and requiring him to take “at once every precaution against subversive activities, within the scope of the Army’s responsibility; that all necessary measures be taken to protect military establishments, property and equipment, against sabotage, against propaganda affecting army personnel and against all espionage.” This was precisely what he was doing. The following day, November 29, General Short replied to the foregoing message outlining at length and in detail all the measures taken to prevent sabotage of military property and installations, etc. No reply to this was sent from Washington and the General testified that he believed this series of messages indicated clearly to him that he was doing precisely what his superiors wanted.
Referring to all this, the Roberts Report says: These messages from Washington – warnings about attacks on Siam, the Kraw Peninsula, Malay and perhaps Guam or the Philippines, along with the orders to alert against sabotage and the failure to reply to or criticize the measures adopted by Short and fully reported to Washington “did not create in the minds of the responsible officers in the Hawaii area apprehension as to probable imminence of air raids. On the contrary they only served to emphasize in their minds the danger from sabotage and surprise submarine attack. The necessity for taking a state-of-war readiness which would have been required to avert or meet an air raid attack was not considered.”
From all this the following is perfectly clear:
1. – That while General Short and Admiral Kimmel believed there was no possibility of an air or any other kind of attack on Pearl Harbor, that belief was created in their minds by the advices they received from their superiors in Washington, who believed precisely the same thing. For some strange reason the Roberts Report holds that Kimmel and Short “did not properly evaluate the seriousness of the situation.” If that is true of them, was it not equally true of their superiors from whom they received all their information and who were equally certain that there would be no attack on Hawaii? The responsibility begins in Washington, which was the source of all the information Kimmel and Short got.
2. – General Short ordered Alert No. 1 which set in motion a variety of precautions against sabotage, internal propaganda and damage to military and government installations on the island of Oahu. He did this 13 days before Pearl Harbor. Twice he wired to his superiors a. complete and detailed report of what he was doing. At no time in those 13 days did they reply ordering anything more serious. On the contrary, all of the dispatches to him and to Admiral Kimmel directed them to take precautions against sabotage and internal disorders and never once against external attack.
The Roberts Report practically sustains this opinion. Paragraph 16 of its Conclusions, referring to the alleged failure of Kimmel and Short to confer with respect to the meaning of the warnings received, said that this resulted “largely from a sense of security due to the opinion prevalent in diplomatic, military and naval circles and in the public press that any immediate attack by Japan by would be in the Far East.”
However, the Roberts Report added this sentence: “The existence of such a view, however prevalent, did not relieve the commanders of the responsibility for the security of the Pacific fleet and our most important outpost.”
This brings us to the most important feature of the whole situation. The question arises: Even though Kimmel and Short did not expect an attack, why did they not, in view of the imminence of war, take the necessary measures to meet it upon the assumption that they might be wrong in their estimate of the situation? The answer to that helps us to fix finally the true responsibility for the whole tragic episode.
The President expected an attack, but he believed it would be on Thailand or Malay or possibly the Philippines, thousands of miles away from Hawaii. That is the way he had played his cards. He wanted an overt act by Japan. This was necessary to him for political reasons. He had pledged to the people of the United States that he would not take them into a foreign war. He was at the moment head over heels in a foreign war, but would not admit it to the people. An attack somewhere in Asia, on Guam or the Philippines, would change the situation. That would be an attack on the United States. Japan would be making war on us and we, of course, would have to make war on Japan. In all that happened, he warned continually that nothing must be done that could by any stretch of the imagination be construed as an overt or aggressive or hostile act by us.
Besides this, the Army and Navy necessarily had a plan in the event that war should actually come. That plan was based on the assumption that the attack would begin in the Far East and so far as we were concerned, on the Philippines or Guam. The position of our planes, our troops and of our ships at that moment was in accordance with the plans in Washington.
The battle fleet was in Pearl Harbor. The question has been asked why Kimmel did not move the battle fleet. No order can be found anywhere to move the battle fleet out of Pearl Harbor. That was because the position of the fleet there was in accordance with the plans of the Washington government.
None of this is a matter of surmise. Fortunately the records make it all perfectly clear. These messages imposed upon General Short and Admiral Kimmel repeated injunctions to do nothing, to make no move that could possibly be construed as the beginning of a hostile action. On November 24 a message was sent advising of a possible attack on the Philippines or Guam and that message, according to the Roberts Report “enjoined secrecy to prevent complication of the tense existing situation.” On November 27 General Short was informed of the possible end of negotiations in Washington and the added “that in the event hostilities could not be avoided the United States desired that this nation should not commit the first avert act.” So keen was Washington about this that the message directed him “even prior to hostile action, to undertake such reconnaisance and other measures as he deemed necessary, but to carry them out in such a way as not to alarm the civil population or disclose his intent; he was directed to restrict the information in the message to the minimum of essential officers and to report to the Chief of Staff the measures taken.” Short communicated this message to Kimmel. Whatever Short did and whatever Kimmel did they were to do in such a way that not even their own officers, save the inner circle, would have any suspicion that they were preparing for hostile operations
On November 29 Short got another message warning him to take measures against sabotage and espionage and destruction of government property. Appended to that message were a few brief sentences which have been the subject of a great deal of curiosity and comment in military and naval circles, The precise words are not given in the Roberts Report for some undisclosed reason. The Report summarizes it this way: “The message (to Short) disclaimed ordering any illegal measures (meaning war-like measures) and warned that protective measures should be confined to those essential to security so as to avoid unnecessary publicity and alarm.” It is generally believed that these many directions about caution and secrecy originated from the civil authorities in Washington, either the President or the Secretary of State.
Here is the key to the whole behavior of the military rand naval authorities in Hawaii. The President had been maneuvering for an overt act by Japan for many months. He now felt he had played his hand with skill and that it (the overt act) was about to come. If it struck Malay, then the question would arise whether he should seek a declaration of war or limit himself to tightening sanctions and to blockading the Far Eastern ports with the American and British navies. If the Philippines or Guam were hit it meant the Japanese navy would be out at sea and the American and British navies would then engage it. But under no circumstances should there be any move by the American navy or air force or Army anywhere that could be construed as a provocative act or the first stage in an aggressive move by the United States. The political significance of this was essential to the President. And thus he and he alone, upon political considerations, was responsible for holding the military and naval proceedings in Hawaii and in the Philippines to such precautions as they could carry out with secrecy and without exciting any publicity or alarm.
Will anyone suppose that the huge naval force assembled in Pearl Harbor could have been set in motion and moved away without exciting “publicity or alarm?” Kimmel and Short were told even in their reconnaisance to be careful, to be prudent, to be secret. And that is why Alert No.1 was instituted and that is why Washington approved Alert No. I. That is why, had General Short gone further than Alert No.1, he would have exceeded his orders from Washington and would undoubtedly have been reprimanded. And that is why, had Admiral Kimmel taken his naval force outside of Pearl Harbor, he would probably have been court-martialed for violating the orders of the government.
All that was done was done in complete compliance with the arrangements of the Washington government and of the President. One I think would search the annals of our military and naval history for an instance where two reputable American officers, obeying the orders of their President and coming upon disaster as a result, have been singled out by that President to bear the guilt of his own blundering.
There are a number of minor complaints against Kimmel and Short, such as that they did not operate the patrols and reconnaisance required by their plan, that they did not confer, that there had been a great deal of drinking in Pearl Harbor the night before, that men were not at their posts, that Short did not operate adequately the warning system, that the submarine net was not down.
The charge that these men did not confer, repeated recently by Senator Truman, is a shameful repetition of a story which the Roberts Report itself disclaims. The men held innumerable conferences and exchanged with each other the several warnings which they received from their respective departments, The Report has declared also that the Army and Navy each had on duty a force of officers and men completely sufficient to service the No.1 Alert and that they were fit for duty. The failure to operate the warning system I shall deal with in the next brief section.
IV. The Defenseless Pacific
We must now face a very obvious and a very ugly fact. It is that President had made up his mind that NOW was the time for the showdown with Japan, and that he led the country into that showdown incredibly unprepared. What is even worse, he did not realize how pathetically unprepared we were and believed that he would wipe Japan out in a short war. He miscalculated on his diplomacy and he miscalculated on practically every aspect and feature of the military and naval problems.
We must keep in mind the fact that this Pacific war not just a question of Pearl Harbor, but of the Philippines as well. The Philippine Islands certainly had no lack of warning. The attack there did not come until many hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The disaster there was just as great and far more tragic.
Let us look at the facts. The Roberts Report had to admit: “It is true that we have found that due to the enormous demand on the nation’s capacity to produce munitions and war supplies there was a deficiency in the provision of material for the Hawaii area.” In another paragraph the Report says: “It was recognized that prior to furnishing the full war-strength garrison, insufficient” forces were available to maintain all the defense on a war footing for extended periods of time.” The President had been pressing deeper and deeper into the war since June, 1940. Yet here, a year and a half later, Hawaii had not yet been adequately provided with means of defense. The Roberts Report records that General Short “made numerous recommendations to the War and Navy Departments for additional forces, equipment and funds which were deemed necessary to ensure the defense of the Hawaii coastal frontier under any eventuality.”
These requests were ignored. A certain bias in the Roberts Report is revealed when it gratuitously undertakes to pass on a matter it did not investigate, namely that these requests were not complied with because “there was a deficiency in the nation’s capacity to produce,” because of the “enormous demand on it.” The nation produced plenty to defend Hawaii and, perhaps, the Philippines, but the supplies were shipped elsewhere.
Take the case of the Hawaiian signal system, failure to operate which is charged against Short. Installation of a permanent aircraft warning system was the responsibility of the Army. That system was not completed by the time of the attack and the fact is mentioned in the Report as if this were the fault of Short. Actually Short had for a long time, as the Report says, appealing for equipment and a permanent aircraft warning system was one of the things he demanded and which he did not get in time to install. It was still incomplete when the Japanese struck. Had it been in place the approach of the Japanese would have been known at least an hour or perhaps an hour and a half sooner. What good that would have done is problematical but it might have saved many a ship and many a thousand lives. Instead there was a temporary system rigged up which an officer was learning to operate. This man, because of his inexperience, did not know how properly to evaluate the signals he got.
It is difficult to believe now that the President, his Secretaries of War and Navy could believe that they were adequately prepared for war in the Pacific. But they clearly did. The President himself was so well pleased with the situation that, after giving an ultimatum, he could go off on a vacation to Warm Springs, and when the blow seemed imminent, could isolate himself in his study with his telephone cut off while he fiddled around with his stamp collection.
The impression had gone out from the Administration that Japan was near to bankruptcy and woefully weakened. Even so astute and cautious an observer as Hanson Baldwin, reflecting the impressions given out in Washington, was impressed by the reports of the great strength of the. British establishments at Singapore, Hong Kong and the Dutch Indies and he was amazed a few weeks later when he learned the “Allied weakness in the Western Pacific” which he set down to “lack of adequate air-power and sea-power.” On October 19, 1941, Arthur Krock wrote in the Times that “The official attitude is that with the British this country is in sufficient strength in the Pacific to make any Japanese thrust too expensive for that nation to bear.”
On November 19 – weeks before Pearl Harbor, he wrote:
The long accepted thesis that the United States could not defend the Philippines has been abandoned. The old axiom was that in the event of a Far Eastern War we must retire to Hawaii. Now with our British fleet ally and our aircraft the situation has changed. An attacking fleet in the Philippines would be the target of a large and powerful group of the best fighting planes. If American commanders decide to defend by attacking, there are enough bombing planes and sufficient strength to drop bombs on Japan, land in Siberia, refuel and repeat the enterprise in a return trip to Manila.
This makes melancholy reading now. Later, on November 28, the New York Times reported that “If events come to a military showdown, the United States is prepared, having taken precautionary measures in the Far East defenses in recent months,” This was merely echoing Secretary Knox who proclaimed loudly – and the boast appeared in the Sunday morning papers of December 7 – that the Navy was ready. He told a United States Senator that in the event of war the United States Navy would wipe out the Japanese Navy in a few weeks.
On November 24, Mr. Hull conveyed to the Army and Navy chiefs – the Chief of Staff and the Chief of Naval Operations – that negotiations with Japan were at the breaking point and that they must expect war. Nowhere the answer of the Chief of Staff or the Chief of Naval Operations to Mr. Hull been reported. What did these gentlemen say? It is pretty well known that these high-flown ideas of our preparedness to meet a Japanese attack were held by the President and his cabinet warriors and his Palace Guard. The Army and the Navy officially did not hold this view. What General Marshall and Admiral Stark told the President and the Secretary of State ought to be inquired into and established to determine whether or not they shared the foolish sense of security held by the President. We know that General Arnold has said that “Dec. 7 found the Army with plans but no planes.”
It is unnecessary to discuss at any length the utter unpreparedness the Philippines. Captain Charles Darvell, arriving in the Philippines a few months before the attack, told the officials there: “You will understand, I am sure, if I say it is my belief that a sudden determined enemy attack would reduce the effectiveness of our present air force practically to zero.” That is what happened. Colonel Allison Ind, in his book “Bataan, the Judgment Seat” has eloquently recorded the “pathetic nature” of the military and naval force of the Philippine Islands. He spoke of “our pathetic little force against the armed might of Japan.” He describes how the commanding officers were imploring Washington for equipment, planes, guns, supplies. He tells how planes arrived which were useless because they lacked essential parts. He describes how one place – Kota Baaru – had machine gun emplacements but no machine guns and how the literally defenseless soldiers there set up improvised searchlights and converted what they had of nothing. There never was anything approaching an adequate supply of Signal Corps equipment. He wrote:
Two things made us mad. (1) How much money has been appropriated and how much we’ll have in 1943 (when none of us will be around to hear it) and what men and equipment we’re sending to every country under the sun but this one; (2) a roaring imbecile of a congressman telling the world we should bomb Tokio off the map. With what, brother? $10,000 banknotes?
Frazier Hunt, in “Macarthur and the War Against Japan,” says:
The adequate defense of this Inland Sea (in the Philippines) was one of the vital parts of the whole defense plan. But it took proper equipment, big guns, trained forces, supplies, planes, boats – and plenty of money – to put it into being. All these were automatically shut off from MacArthur when the great decision was made to throw the full weight of America into the European war.
That decision incredibly enough was made after the President had decided to force the issue in the Pacific. MacArthur had 60,000 natives in the Philippine army, 12,000 Philippine Scouts and 18,000 American regulars. They were armed with antiquated World War I weapons and completely lacked the units and equipment of a modern army.
When General Brereton was criticized for his handling of the planes in the Philippines, General MacArthur said: “General Brereton had only a token force which, excluding trainers and hopelessly obsolete planes, comprised but 30 bombers and 72 fighters.”
The airplane equipment of the Philippines was so pitfully small as to defy belief. There were 5 pursuit squadrons with 90 P-40s in commission. Colonel Ind informs us there were 14 P-26s, obsolete and 8 A-27s, but only two would fly off the ground. At Clark Field there were 35 P-17s and 11 B-18s poorly gunned and with very little armor. Colonel Ind says: “We had no dive bombers. At best we had a few old A-27s which might be used for this purpose. But repairs and replacements had been practically impossible to obtain ever since April. Every so often it was necessary to decommission one in order to secure the necessary replacement for the others. However, we had anxiously traced the reported progress of a vessel upon which 50 of the A-24 type suitable for strafing and dive-bombing were en route. It would be a race to see which would arrive first – the A-24s or the Japanese. The Japanese won. Just a few days off its course this vessel, with its all-important and vitally needed cargo was directed by radio orders to Australia. Perhaps it was just as well, although we were unaware of it then; for these imperatively required aircraft arrived in Australia without a single solenoid included in the shipment for firing the guns.”
On November 29, 1941, the New York Times in a special dispatch from Manila read as follows:
Should war strike the Philippines now, it would find the civilian population unprepared and unprotected and thousands might be killed for lack of air-raid shelters; President Manuel Quezon told students of the University of the Philippines in an address last night broadcast to the nation.
He said: “We are just beginning to practice blackouts. We are just starting to show our people how to evacuate crowded places.”
If there had been war two months ago there would have been starvation. If there should be war now we might find ourselves without fuel and without gasoline.
Quezon blamed this on American imperialists and on the Civil Liberties Union. He said that the Civil Liberties Union criticized his assumption of emergency power by legislative action and that President Roosevelt sent word by wireless not to use those powers lest democracy be imperilled. Quezon said:
If war breaks out here our people will die unprotected from bombs. Those men who have stopped me from doing what I should have done ought to be hanged from lamp-posts.
This is of a piece with what happened in Hawaii. In the Summer of 1941 there were more than 200 consular agents attached to the Japanese Embassy in Honolulu. Kimmel’s intelligence officer suggested that these agents be arrested for failing to register as agents of a foreign principal under the statute. General Short objected to this until they had been given notice and an opportunity to register. For this the Roberts Report criticizes him, but no one can doubt that Short was acting under the same kind of orders as Quezon.
To cap this incredible record of blundering, the President literally opened the doors to the attacks on the Philippines and Hawaii by sending half of the Pacific fleet out of the Pacific into the Atlantic. In pursuance of his policy in Europe he joined Britain in the occupation of Iceland and began to convoy British and Canadian and later American ships with United States naval vessels. The task of supplying the army in Iceland, along with the convoys, imposed a heavy tax upon our naval facilities and just about the time when he had definitely made up his mind that we would have war in the Pacific he took away half of the fleet.
Captain W. D. Paulson, retired and called back to active duty, is the author of a book entitled “The Armed Forces in the Pacific.” He said that fleet was our stronger, more aggressive and better trained than the Japanese. But, he wrote, “until the two-ocean navy is completed and the navy should concentrate in one fleet and keep it in one ocean. At their present strength the and Pacific Fleets would need to be brought together before undertaking a major campaign in either ocean.” He urged keeping the American navy at full strength in one ocean. He said that to divide fleet and attempt to unite them after hostilities would be pure folly Japan as a potential enemy, for she took full advantage of a similar mistake by Russia in 1904.
Now with war looming as a practical certainty the Pacific and “a major campaign” facing us in that ocean, the President not only ignored the importance of uniting the Atlantic and Pacific fleets but actually took half of the Pacific fleet out of the Pacific Ocean and sent it to the Atlantic. Having done that, he proceeded to “baby” Japan for three months and sent her an ultimatum which meant war, and war at once. And then he went off on a vacation.
Thus we see that every shred of the thesis upon which Kimmel and Short have been indicted and damned without a hearing or a trial or even the right to make a statement is swept away. The assumption that we were at peace, everybody knows now to be false. The assumption that we were seeking to establish peace in the Pacific, offering Japan everything she could wish in the midst of which efforts we suffered a “surprise” attack – a stab in the back – is a pure invention and everybody knows it. The assumption that Kimmel and Short were adequately warned of a surprise attack on Hawaii is shown to be completely false, since none of the men who warned them, from the President down, believed there would be such an attack. And finally, the assumption that our misfortunes in the Pacific were the result of Kimmel’s and Short’s failure to obey orders is equally a fraud since they not only did not disobey orders but complied explicitly with the requirements of the government in Washington and were bound hand and foot from any effective action by the precautions imposed on them by the President himself in pursuance of his political policy. Finally, the true source of all the disasters in the Pacific – the crippling of the Fleet at Pearl Harbor, the loss of 3,000 men in a morning, the shocking disaster in the Philippines and the long, agonized sufferings of our defenseless army on Bataan and Corregidor with the subsequent conquests of the whole Southwest Pacific by the Japanese – are to be traced to the blundering diplomacy and the equally blundering military policy of the President in the East. And not the least disgraceful feature of this episode is the manner in which two high commanding officers of the United States army and navy have been crucified in order to shield the guilt of the President.
The Final Secret of Pearl Harbor
In October, 1944, I published an account of the Pearl Harbor episode under the title of THE TRUTH ABOUT PEARL HARBOR. There I brought together such material as could be proved at that time. Now that the war is over it is possible to add many darkly hidden facts which can be fully substantiated. The record of this episode was suppressed by President Roosevelt. Many men, however, were witnesses to these events. They have written books, magazine and newspaper articles and letters. Official reports now published contain other segments of the story. A fraction found here, another there, patiently put together, create for us a mosaic which affords us now a complete picture of the scene.
I know, of course, there are those who defend the present order in this country who will object that it is wrong to rake up these old embers now that two of the chief actors – Roosevelt and Knox – are dead. My reply is that they prevented the discussion of them while they lived. I must add also that if they are dead, so are the more than 3000 men who perished in Pearl Harbor on that tragic day. And, if Roosevelt and Knox are dead, Kimmel and Short still live and still suffer under the weight of odium loaded on them by the late President; are still silenced by his orders which deprive them of the right to speak up in their own defense; and are still entitled in a country which loves justice to their day in court. The publication of the watered reports of the Army and Navy Boards render this revised pamphlet necessary.
I must repeat here what I said as preface to the former account which I offered of this case, namely that I did not get or seek information from Admiral Kimmel or General Short or their counsel. I meticulously avoided them in order not to add this embarrassment to the injustices which they have already endured. The facts reported here, however, are beyond dispute. If Congress desires the proofs it can obtain them without any difficulty whatever. The American people are entitled to those proofs.
John T. Flynn New York City September, 1945
The Final Secret of Pearl Harbor
On Wednesday, August 29, 1945, President Truman gave out the reports of the Army and Navy Boards directed by Congress to investigate the responsibility for the great disaster of December 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor. These Boards had filed their reports nine months ago. Under the pretext that issuance of them would disclose important military secrets President Roosevelt suppressed them. But President Truman has not by any means given out the whole story. Portions of it are still suppressed. He says they will never be given out. And that is the simple truth. They will never be given out by this government until Congress compels the government to release all the information which it is hiding from the people and which it hopes to hide from history.
The Roberts Report – which was also doctored before being released – blamed Admiral Kimmel and General Short for the defeat. Now the two Army and Navy reports expand the guilt to cover General Marshall, Admiral Stark and former Secretary of State Hull. Marshall and Stark were the Army and Navy chiefs in December, 1941. All the top commanders have now been blamed, plus various lesser commanders. But the greatest commander of all is left out – the COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF. In the 130,000 words of these findings and comments the name of Franklin D. Roosevelt stands out in almost monumental conspicuousness by its absence. The Army and Navy chiefs, the former Secretary of State and Congress have been blamed and the President of the United States has added to the culprits the l30,000,000 people of the United States. The only person not blamed is Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was running the whole show.
However, in spite of all the suppressions, the story of Pearl Harbor is known. And here I propose to tell it. Put in plain terms the tragedy of Pearl Harbor was the dark fruit of three incredible blunders. First in importance was the manner in which the crisis was managed. The second blunder was the bottling of the fleet in Pearl Harbor. The third was the stripping of the defenses of Pearl Harbor. It was Roosevelt who personally managed the whole crisis. It was Roosevelt who bottled the fleet in Pearl Harbor. It was Roosevelt who stripped the base of its defenses. First then, let us look at the crisis as it developed in Washington. Let us see it now in the light of the facts which this government has hidden and which I will now reveal publicly for the first time.
We shall have to look at two battlefields. One was the Pacific, where Kimmel and Short brooded week after week over their deplorable condition, begging for more weapons, fighting against the inroads made on what they had and living almost completely in the dark as to what was happening in that vast, mysterious Pacific world in which they found themselves. We shall look upon that battlefield later.
THE JAPANESE MILITARISTS DECIDE ON WAR WITH THE UNITED STATES
Roosevelt Maneuvers for a Crisis
There was another battlefield. It was mostly in the private apartment of Secretary of State Hull to which the Japanese Ambassador Nomura paid many calls between April and December of 1941. Japan’s ruthless policy of conquest had brought her into deep water. The United States, Britain and the Dutch East Indies had cut off all trade with her. Without the iron, oil, cotton, rubber and other critical materials from these sources she could not continue the war in China. The situation became desperate. One party – the militarists – was for seizing the Dutch East Indies which would solve the supply problem. But that would mean war with England and – almost certainly – with the United States. The Counsellor of the American Embassy in Tokio had so informed the Japanese Foreign Office. Nevertheless the extremists were for the desperate try. The other party – the moderates, led by the Japanese Premier Konoye – was for making the best terms possible with the United States and getting out of the China affair as best they could. Admiral Nomura was sent to the United States as Ambassador to see what could be done. From April to the end he sat with Cordell Hull, a few times with the President. They argued endlessly. Then on November 16 he was joined by Ambassador Kurusu to assist in the delicate crisis.
There is no space here to follow these conferences. If you will read the official reports of them you will see that as the situation in Japan became more and more desperate, the existing government was willing to make more and more concessions. But the War Party became more and more pressing at home for war. It was a race between the Moderates to get an agreement in Washington and the Warrior Agitators to produce a crisis in Japan. You will see also that President Roosevelt was not going to make any agreement that the Japanese could accept. The talks got nowhere.
Then on October 14 the Moderates lost in Japan. The War-mongers won. The Konoye ministry fell and General Tojo became premier. The President knew that would happen and he knew there could be only one result – a Japanese attack on the Dutch Indies. But there was also the possibility – even probability – that Japan would attempt to deal with England first – would try to reduce Singapore and perhaps attack us in the Philippines. He knew, as he steadfastly refused to hasten the negotiations, that he was producing a situation that could end only with an attack by Japan. Why did he want Japan to attack?
By skillful maneuvers and impossible promises he had brought the country far toward war. From benevolent neutrality, selling to the Allies for cash, he had moved to “Aid-short-of-war”; then to the “Aid-at-the-risk-of war” frame of mind. By October the once “Aid-short-of-war” group was publishing full-page ads demanding an immediate declaration of war. Senator Pepper, a White House spokesman, said the President had drawn a line and that when Japan moved over it he would start shooting. The President was ready for the final act – the act of open war. Two influences restrained him. His generals and admirals told him we were not ready. Most important was the promise he had made to the American people – solemnly given and repeated – not to send their sons into foreign war unless attacked. He did not mind violating that pledge. He merely feared the political effect of the violation. Alsop and Kintner, White House columnist pets, had written a short time before that “He (Roosevelt) does not feel he can openly violate them (his pledges). But he can get around them the smart way.” They explained this meant getting the Germans to shoot first. Then he could shoot back. But it was now clear to him that the Germans were not going to shoot first. But now the Japanese were about to do so. If they could be provoked to attack, his problem would, be solved. He would then be in the war safely – not only against Japan but “all the way,” as he triumphantly announced in his speech to Congress after the attack.
In Japan the war makers were in a desperate hurry. In the United States, Roosevelt, for some reason, became impatient of delay. So much so that he actually considered sometime before November 14 an invasion of China which would have put us at war with Japan. He proposed it to the Army and Navy staffs. They dissuaded him because we were not ready. So he waited a little longer – babying the Japanese along, but making it plain that they would get no agreement, save by abject surrender – terms he knew no Japanese government would dare accept. He did not nave long to wait. By November 14 the sands were running fast, as Grew had warned. Something had happened which put the play irrevocably in Roosevelt’s hands. This is the event or series of events which have remained locked up in the keeping of the very Inner Circle of the White House. When you read of these you will know why the White House has concealed the truth from the world.
THE BREAKING OF THE JAPANESE CODE SEALS THEIR DOOM
A Gift from the Gods
The hour of Fate had arrived in Tokio. But the bedevilled ministers seemed terrified at the appalling folly they were being driven to commit by the violent opinion-makers of Japan. The Japanese High Command began to move their war machine into position. Their plans were made. They had to have the great Dutch islands. That meant they had to paralyze Britain. But that in turn meant they must, if possible, strike a crushing blow at the United States before she could throw her weight from into the struggle. The blow was obvious. This country’s naval strength – all the battleships which were the core of her Pacific sea power – were tied up at Pearl Harbor. Some madman had done that surely, they must have thought. But there were the great ships like ducks on a pond waiting for the hunter. Everything depended on the United States leaving the rich target there for the Jap hunters. It was a giant gamble. But a safe one, as we will see, because in the White House sat a President who was satisfied that he knew it all. He had a plan too. And he had made sure, as we shall see, that those battleships and their auxiliary ships would remain quite still and immobilized in the great shooting gallery. But while the Japanese prepared for this gamble, frightened at the peril of waking the still awkward and stupidly led giant America into action they sent the astute Kurusu to Washington to join Nomura in a last effort to get a settlement. Kurusu arrived in Washington on November 16. But by that time the die was cast.
But now a gift from the gods had been put into Roosevelt’s hands. The British government had broken one Japanese code. It proceeded to hand over to the State Department the messages between Tokio and various foreign representatives which it intercepted. Roosevelt now could know what the Japs were saying among themselves. November 4, Roosevelt knew the Japs would yield no more as he had an intercepted dispatch from Tokio saying: “International situation makes any further compromise in this matter impossible.” On November 5 an intercepted Tokio dispatch to Washington said: “Signing of any U. S.-Japanese agreement must be completed by November 25.” And the Ambassadors were urged by the government to “save Japanese-U. S. relations from chaos.” November 6 another intercepted dispatch notified Nomura that Kurusu was coming and that this was the “Last hope of the negotiations.” Therefore on November 6, Roosevelt knew that the Japanese were playing their last card; that they would make no further concession and he knew also the very date they had set for action – November 25.
Kurusu seemed to realize quickly enough that he was bucking his head against a stone wall. Troubled by the onrushing deadline he must have appealed to Tokio for more time. Nomura also appealed to the Japanese government. He said in an intercepted dispatch that he “doubted the wisdom of aggressive action.” Then on November 22 came a dispatch intercepted by the British saying the deadline had been changed to November 29. But it added: “This time we mean business. Deadline absolutely cannot be changed. After that things will automatically begin to happen.”
What was going to happen? All this information was in the hands of Hull and Roosevelt. Nothing that could happen could surprise them – save undoubtedly the point of the first assault.
Roosevelt Turns the Screw
After being dissuaded from the Chinese invasion project, and seeing the posture of affairs in Japan, the President decided to bring matters to a head. He did not know where the Japanese would launch their attack. It might be on Singapore or some Dutch or British island. In that case he had committed himself – though no one knew it – to join the British in the war on Japan. But that was not an ideal arrangement. His opponents could still insist the United States was not attacked. He was apprehensive about the political implications. He had just won a battle to junk the Neutrality Act. But it was tremendous battle and he won by a very narrow majority. The enemies of a war declaration were powerful. What was needed was an outright attack on an American possession. Roosevelt decided, therefore, to issue an ultimatum to the Japanese of such a character that America could not possibly he excluded from the coming assault. He had been discussing it since mid-November.
Then on November 26, Secretary Hull did issue an ultimatum to the Japanese. Now he denies it was an ultimatum. But he cannot escape this charge. Nor can the President escape the fact that when it was proposed, General Marshall and Admiral Stark said: “For God’s sake, don’t send it. We are not ready.” Here is what happened.
November 25, Knox, Stimson, Hull, Marshall and Stark met and went to the President’s office. Hull showed a plan for a three-months’ truce to be given the Japanese. Stimson said he thought it was so drastic the Japanese would reject it. But apparently the group approved it. Hull said he didn’t know whether he would offer it “or kick the whole thing over.” The next day Hull handed to the Japanese a very different plan – the ten-point plan. It demanded that the Japanese (l) get out of China, (2) get out of Indo-China and (3) repudiate their treaty with the Axis. The Japanese rightly took this as an ultimatum. And Hull too so regarded it then. On that day – November 26 – Stimson telephoned Hull. Stimson wrote in his diary: “He (Hull) told me he had broken the whole thing off. As he put it: ‘I have washed my hands of it and it is in the hands of you and Knox, the Army and Navy.’” The next day he told the British Ambassador the same thing. General Marshall and Admiral Stark prepared a joint memorandum to the President urging him not to send an ultimatum because we were not prepared. An attempt is made to get rid of this fact by saying it did not reach the President until the 28th, after he had confirmed the ultimatum to the Japanese Ambassador. The Administration sponsors are asking you to believe that the President, who was supposed to know so much, didn’t know this fact – that Marshall and Stark knew it but had never told him before. Of course they had warned him when he talked about an invasion of China around November 14. They met with him constantly. The lack of readiness was widely known. Are we supposed to believe that the irreplaceable Commander-in-Chief alone was ignorant of this fact? When Hull handed that ultimatum to the Japanese he and Roosevelt knew it was all over. They sat down then and waited for “things to happen.”
The Fog at Pearl Harbor
What of our two Commanders at Pearl Harbor, inadequately prepared, and in the dark? It is important to remember that Pearl Harbor was 3,500 miles from the points at which the Japanese were preparing their blow. The reconnaissance of the government on these preparations was not in the hands of Short or Kimmel. Other agencies were responsible for that. These agencies reported to Washington. Kimmel and Short had to depend on Washington entirely for their information about the international negotiations and the physical preparation of the Japanese for an attack.
They were not getting information. Here is an example. As far back as July 26, Kimmel wrote Stark asking to be informed of the plans of the government if the Japanese attack the Maritime Provinces and England declares war on her. July 31, Stark wrote another naval officer making an amazing confession. He – Chief of Naval Operations, charged with the plans for eventual war – wrote that he could not get an answer to Kimmel’s question, that when he advances it to Roosevelt all he gets is a “smile or ‘Betty, please don’t ask me that.’” As late as October, Kimmel has not yet been able to get an answer to his question. There is no answer until November 14, when the fuse is already lighted. Then Admiral Stark wrote him saying: “Just what we will do in the Far East REMAINS TO BE SEEN.” He was never informed what the U. S. would do in case of war between Japan and Britain in the Pacific. On November 25, after Stark knew an ultimatum would be sent, that the war was only a few days off, he notified Kimmel that the possibility Kimmel had been worrying about was now about to happen, that the Japanese were about to advance in Indo-China, Thailand and the Burma Road most likely. But as to what we will do, he writes a sentence almost beyond belief, unparalleled in the annals of grand strategy: “l WILL BE DAMNED IF I KNOW WHAT THE UNITED STATES WILL DO – ANYTHING OR NOTHING.”
The President knew without delay the Japanese reaction to his ultimatum. On November 28 a coded Japanese message intercepted by the British said that “negotiations are ruptured,” that the United States proposals are humiliating but that Nomura and Kurusu are not to give the impression that negotiations are off. On November 30, an intercepted code message from Tokio to the Japanese Ambassador in Berlin directs him to notify the German government that U. S.-Japanese relations are ruptured and that war may break with a clash. May come quicker than anyone dreams with the ANGLO-SAXON POWERS. And the following day a British intelligence report came that the Japanese carriers had left the home waters.
What were Kimmel and Short told about all this? Literally nothing. Marshall was not in Washington, he left on the 27th to watch army maneuvers in North Carolina. Stimson, acting as Chief of Staff, sent Short a brief message. He called it a war warning. He said negotiations with Japan had ended – thus adopting the interpretation of Hull’s note as an ultimatum which would be rejected. But he did not say we had given Japan an ultimatum. He said an aggressive move was expected in a few days. He warned “the United States desires Japan to commit the first overt act.” He said: “Prior to hostile action you are directed to undertake such reconnaissance and other measures as you deem necessary, but these measures should be carried out so as not to alarm the civil population or disclose intent. Report measures taken.” The whole message was cryptic and inadequate. But this was the fault of Stimson, not Marshall. Next day, Short, who was told to report what he was doing, sent a long message describing in detail the measures he had taken. The Army-Navy plan for defense of Hawaii called for three different types of action – called Alerts. Alert No. 1 was preparation against internal sabotage. Alert No. 2 was mobilization against external attack. Alert No. 3 was a signal for battle positions, when attack begins. Short put into effect Alert No. 1 – against sabotage and internal disorder. He had been warned several times about this. He had been warned that all Japanese movements indicated an attack thousands of miles from Pearl Harbor. During the next ten days, though he reported his course, he received no word from Washington ordering a different one.
Why the alert against sabotage, instead of against external air or submarine attack? The reader must have this very clearly in mind. Hawaii had 160,000 Japanese living there. It swarmed with Japanese spies. While the General Staff felt certain the attack would come at least 3,000 miles from Hawaii, they were profoundly frightened lest an internal movement of suicide Japanese patriots would destroy planes and essential installations, crippling the base. Protection against sabotage called for a very different arrangement than from external attack. Short, and all his officers, were certain that is what the High Command indicated and he felt they knew more of the whole Pacific situation than he did. Kimmel, too, was warned not to do anything that would excite the civil population. Whatever he did must be done secretly. Both were warned not even to let their own officers in on these facts save where essential. And they were told “hostilities would begin soon” – but against the Kra Peninsula, Guam, Singapore, Malay.
What was Kimmel doing? It is forgotten that Kimmel’s fleet was not there to protect Pearl Harbor. The Harbor was there merely as a fuel and supply base for it. That fleet had a task assigned to it in case of war. The protection of the base would be the duty of the army and the base naval installations. We do not know what the task assigned to Kimmel was. But it is certain that had the Japanese overlooked Pearl Harbor and struck at the Philippines or Singapore alone, Kimmel and his fleet would have been off to sea instantly. Kimmel was preparing for the war task assigned to him, not merely for the protection of Pearl Harbor. We must also bear in mind that after November 27, General Short never received another message giving him any information about the international situation, That is difficult to believe, but it is true. And, we must ask, why was Short told to alert against sabotage while MacArthur in the Philippines was told to alert all out against instant attack?
Roosevelt, the Commander-in-Chief, who was now assured of the attack which would bring him safely into the war, went off to Warm Springs to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday.
The Night Before Pearl Harbor
We now come to the night before Pearl Harbor in Washington. The President had returned from Warm Springs because of the crisis. The Japanese envoys had held during the week several meaningless sessions with the State Department. But the formal answer of the Japanese government to the ultimatum had not come. But Roosevelt knew what it would be. The stage is all set for the attack on British or, better still, British and American territory in the Pacific. The scenery is beautifully arranged. The President is widely advertised as seeking peace. That night at nine o’clock he sends a dramatic message to Hirohito appealing for peace. He knows this to be as futile as the breeze around the White House grounds. The Japanese navy is putting to sea; Japanese troops are pouring southward. The intercepted codes, of which the public knows nothing, have told the full story.
Luck now played again into Roosevelt’s hands. Our Army Intelligence Service broke the Japanese code and learned what they were saying among themselves. On that fateful battle eve it got possession of a document of extraordinary importance. You will recall that the next day – Sunday – the Japanese asked for an appointment at 1 P.M. with Hull. They arrived a little late – when the bombs were falling on Hawaii – and presented a note breaking off relations with us. The incident has been presented to us in shockingly false colors. We were told how the President was in his study on Sunday for a day of rest, confident nothing would happen after his appeal the night before to Hirohito not to precipitate war. He was chatting with Harry Hopkins and fiddling with his stamp collection, while Mrs. Roosevelt entertained in another quarter one of her innumerable groups of uplifters. Then – all of a sudden – out of a clear sky, came news of the attack on Pearl Harbor. It’s a goodly picture, but utterly fraudulent. That is not the way things happened. The preceding night – Saturday – the government had got hold of the text of that very document which the Japanese would present the next day. It went to Mr. Roosevelt at 10 P.M. Hull. Knox and Stimson had it. They knew now what was to happen. Hull telephoned Knox and Stimson to meet him next morning for a conference at 10.
Consider the situation that night. The President and his three aged and slow-moving cabinet members knew everything – all save the hour and point of attack. Far out in the Pacific the blow would fall. What, in the name of simple common sense, would men of ordinary intelligence do? They knew at that very moment the Japanese ships and planes and subs and troops, under cover of darkness, were moving to their appointed targets. They knew that out in that vast Pacific were two commanders, wretchedly equipped, depending solely on them for information. Would you not suppose the very first act would be to notify General Marshall and Admiral Stark and then, instantly, Admiral Kimmel and General Short? Would you not think that if Marshall and Stark were not in their offices, they were to be hunted through the town, roused from their slumbers to give them this tremendous news? No. The old gentlemen called a conference among themselves for the next day and went home for the slumbers so essential in their advanced years. The President had the news at 10 P.M. He, too, did nothing. Worse than this, a naval aide was told not to give Admiral Stark his copy of the Japanese note until next morning. Why? I think Congress ought to ask for some explanation of this.
December the Seventh, 1941
The next morning – Sunday – Admiral Stark, because of the tense situation, went to his office. There he found the now completed copy of the Japanese note. “My God!” he cried, “This means war. I must get word to Kimmel at once.” For some reason that word did not go at all. Another Japanese code message arrived and was decoded. By 8:20 A.M. the text was in hand. It gave the hour at which the envoys were to present their note to Secretary Hull. The hour was 1 P.M. Washington time. Just as it was decoded another message was intercepted. It advised the twelve Japanese consuls in the United States that Japan was breaking with this country. All were hurried to Knox, Stimson and the President. They were in the hands of Hull’s conference at 11 A.M. The bombs would not fall on Pearl Harbor for another two and three-quarters hours.
Lieut. Com. Kramer gave a memorandum to Secretary Knox of transcendent importance. The memorandum pointed out that 1 P.M. Washington time was sunrise over Honolulu and dark night at Manila. Sunrise would be the moment for air attack. As a surprise attack was indicated, the hour of presenting the dispatch indicated an air attack on Pearl Harbor. In other words, we faced an air attack on Pearl Harbor in a little over two hours.
Can we believe that, thus warned, the High Command in Washington, on the edge of such a precipice, would not with whatever speed science had yet devised get this tremendous news and its implication to the Commanders in Hawaii? Instead the three aging secretaries sat down to a conference. General Marshall did not get the news until 11:25 A.M. He then sent a warning message to General Short. There was yet an hour and three-quarters before the explosion. The most precious hour and three-quarters the War Department had ever lived through. Time to get many of the ships in motion. Time to get every available man mobilized. Time to get every available plane off the ground. General Marshall had a scrambler phone which would reach Short instantly. He had also the Navy’s powerful shortwave transmitter. Instead of using these he sent the message to General Short by commercial radio at or near 12:18 P.M. Washington time. That would be 6:48 A.M. Honolulu time. It reached Honolulu at 7:33 A.M. The Japanese planes were at that moment winging to their kill. The message was sent through the streets as the bombs were falling. Thus delayed it reached Army Intelligence office at 11:45 A.M. to be decoded. It was delivered to General Short at 2:58 P.M., hours after the great base had been destroyed. Why did not General Marshall use the government’s short-wave apparatus? Why did he not use his scrambler phone which would have put this information in the hands of General Short from two and a half to an hour and a half before the attack? His explanation to the Roberts Commission was that he was afraid it might be intercepted. What difference? If intercepted the Japs would merely know what they knew already. But Short would have known it also.
THE PLOT TO RUIN THE COMMANDERS
The Losses Were Small
While the American public was still stunned by the news of the Pearl Harbor attack, three ideas were promptly fed to the people by the government. One was that the damage was slight. The second was that Kimmel and Short were responsible. The third was that the President was taken completely by surprise. Naval Secretary Knox, after a quick visit to Hawaii, returned and told us we had lost one battleship, the Arizona, three destroyers, a mine layer and an old target ship. Some others were damaged. But the balance of the fleet, he said, including battleships, carriers, heavy and light cruisers, destroyers and submarines were at sea seeking contact with the enemy. Newspapers praised his frankness and the President for making good on his promise of “full information.” But this statement was a carefully phrased falsehood. The Secretary juggled with the word “lost.” Few ships, indeed, were permanently lost beyond ultimate salvage. But they were lost utterly so far as having any striking power against the enemy was concerned.
The majestic Pacific Fleet had been put out of action as an effective sea weapon. We had eight battleships in Pearl Harbor. The Arizona was blown up. The Nevada, with a hole in her side, was settled in the mud. The California lay on her side. The West Virginia, torpedoed six times, rested on the bottom. The Pennsylvania and Maryland were badly bombed. The Oklahoma sank on her side in the shallow water. Three cruisers were badly bombed. Three destroyers were sunk. A large drydock was destroyed. The Utah and the Ogalala were sunk. The Army and Navy had had nearly 5000 casualties. They lost 197 planes. In time nearly all of these vessels were reclaimed. A few were out in a month. But generally the damage had not been repaired until the Japanese had completed the conquest of the Philippines, Malay and Singapore and much of the rich Indies of the British and Dutch and stood at the gateway to Australia. Why had Knox lied? To deceive the Japanese? Hide from them the extent of our losses? The Japanese knew them only too well He lied to deceive the American people who had been led to believe the Japanese would be a pushover and who, had they known the full extent of the losses, would have been more clamorous for the heads of the guilty.
The Attack on Kimmel and Short
Not only was it necessary to conceal the losses. It was necessary to find a scapegoat. Somebody had committed a blunder of historic dimensions. Was it the commanders? Or was it the High Command in Washington? Or was it an even more eminent personage? Of course there had to be an investigation. It was important, therefore, that the investigation be controlled. Congress was clamoring for a congressional inquiry. The Administration blocked that. The President and Knox, along with the Commanders were, pending inquiry, equally suspect. But the President named Knox to do the investigating. Meantime the mud began to fly at Kimmel and Short. Congressman Dingell, New Deal stalwart, let fly in the House. Knowing nothing of the facts he demanded that Kimmel and Short be court-martialled. New Deal newspapers took up the cry. Stories were told of how most of the sailors and marines were ashore after a Saturday night drunk, how all the officers even, were sleeping off the fatigue of late Saturday night parties, how Short and Kimmel themselves were at late parties and of how the two commanders, divided by professional jealousies, seldom spoke to each other and conferred but little about the defense of the island.
In five days Knox was back with the inevitable “report.” Of course Knox pointed no accusing finger either at himself or the President. He said: “The United States services were not on alert against the surprise attack. The fact calls for a full investigation which will be initiated immediately by the President.”
All indignant outcry broke out against the smeared officers in Congress. Then came the “investigation.” The President named a five-man commission. Four were officers who could be depended on not to blame the War and Naval Secretaries or the President. But Justice Roberts was a Republican. This was a master stroke. What the public overlooked was that Roberts had been one of the most clamorous among those screaming for an open declaration of war. He had doffed his robes, taken to the platform in his frantic apprehensions and demanded that we immediately unite with Great Britain in a single nation. The Pearl Harbor incident had given him what he had been yelling for – America’s entrance into the war. On the war issue he was one of the President’s most impressive allies. Now he had his wish. He could be depended on not to cast any stain upon it in its infancy.
His commission went to Pearl Harbor and investigated. But it was specifically enjoined from investigating the other segments of the story in Washington. Certain essential documents were deliberately concealed from it. It came up with the expected indictment – putting the blame on Kimmel and Short and calling for their court-martial. That fixed the black spot on the Commanders. They were relieved of their posts. They were forbidden to make any statement or enter into any discussion of their innocence. And it was then announced there would be no court-martial. The black spot was fastened on the two helpless victims to stay. The White House took over the management of the whole affair. Army and Naval officials, when asked for statements, said: “The White House is doing the talking.” And it did none. It wanted to forget the case. It said: “Let’s get on with the war.”
From time to time voices rose in Congress to ask some degree of justice for the accused men. Finally Congress, by resolution, ordered the Army and Navy to make formal inquiry of the indicted officers. Boards were named in each Service and the inquiries were made. The Boards reported to their Army and Navy Secretaries in November, 1944. The reports were suppressed by the President on the pretense that military safety required it. Now nine months later President Truman, without knowing enough of the whole intrigue, has given out the reports when it is realized that an angry Congress is about to demand them. The reports have been subjected to alterations and deletions. Kimmel and Short are again smeared and with them Hull, Marshall and Stark. The reports still withhold the gravest facts – those revealed here. And Kimmel and Short, thus dishonored, are still denied a court martial and even a chance to speak up in their defense.
The Surprise Attack
The next bead in the bracelet of defense of the Administration has been that the Army and Navy and the President himself were taken completely by surprise. While they look upon this as a defense for themselves, they apparently do not think it a defense for Kimmel and Short. The theory, endlessly repeated by radio and press, is that we were at peace, that we were actually negotiating for a peaceful settlement and that the President was waiting in complete security for the Japanese answer to his last proposal for peace when, out of a clear sky, the bombs began to fall on Pearl Harbor.
Here is the government’s whole case. Our government, while trying to induce Japan to enter upon a peaceful settlement, was taken by carefully studied surprise. But, notwithstanding the surprise, that Government had adequately warned Kimmel and Short of the attack which it did not expect; the Admiral and General did not put their commands on the alert required, and as a consequence the great naval base was exposed to the full fury of the Japanese treachery.
THE FICTION OF PEACE BEFORE PEARL HARBOR
There is a story of profound importance yet to be told about the state of peace so far as America was concerned before Pearl Harbor. Certainly we had not declared war. But we had sent an army across the sea to Iceland to join the British army there; we had been sending arms, ammunition and destroyers and planes as a gift to Britain and France and China. We had been with our warships hunting down German submarines for British planes and even bombing them. On November 23, W. Averill Harriman, the President’s agent in London, said: “The United States Navy is shooting the Germans – German submarines and aircraft at sea.” And on September 20, 1941, a dispatch from Hyde Park reported that “More than half of the United States Navy is forced to remain in the Pacific at a time when the United States is operating against German and Italian submarines and air raiders in the Atlantic.” In the Pacific we had cut off all shipments and trade of essential materials with Japan and frozen and seized here $130,000.000 of her funds, which Walter Lippmann called “a declaration of economic warfare.” We had sent an American military mission to China and an American economic adviser to Chiang Kai-shek. We had sent General Chennault with a large number of American army fliers to China to fight with Chiang’s army. At the Atlantic Charter meeting Churchill had urged Roosevelt to send an ultimatum to Japan at once. He replied saying: “Let me baby her along for another three months.”
Mr. Grew, our Ambassador to Tokio, had advised Roosevelt in December, 1940, that the hope of peace had vanished in the East and that it was no longer a question of whether we would have war with Japan but WHEN. The United States must decide whether it should be later or now. And he, Grew, was for NOW. To this on January 21, 1941, Roosevelt replied that he completely agreed Mr. Grew. And a few weeks later Admiral Stark notified Admiral Kimmel that “war with Japan is no longer a question of whether but of when.”
There is no room here to discuss these interesting features of what is now a section of history. I do not wish to enter into any consideration here of whether the warlike acts of the President listed above were wise or not. Certainly he was supported in them by large and important groups. I recall them now merely to supply certain features of the international scenery in which the events I am describing took place.
THE BATTLEFIELD AND WHAT AMERICA HAD ON IT
The Actors in the Drama
The Commander of all our military forces was General George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff. The Commander of the Navy was Admiral Harold R. Stark, Chief of Naval Operations. Both, of course, were subject to the President who had by now got into the habit of referring to himself as the Commander-in-Chief. This was not a mere peccadillo. He was already performing directly that function, issuing orders to Stark which the Secretary of the Navy knew nothing of and issuing orders to Marshall without consulting the Secretary of War. His intrusions into operations of the Navy were more frequent because, while Roosevelt had, under the influence of flatterers who surrounded him, come to think of himself as a master of diplomacy, an expert in political economy, an adept in political manipulation, a wizard in public finance, a profound student of foreign affairs and a military strategist of large dimensions, he regarded himself as little less than a genius in naval organization and direction. This obsession led to the habit of secrecy to avoid the annoyance of hostile advice upon projects he wished to manage.
Thus in June, when he directed the transfer of naval vessels from the Pacific to the Atlantic, the Secretary of the Navy heard about it first from the Secretary of War. Later, when Hull was asked what had happened to the proposals submitted by the Japanese Premier directly to the President, he said: “I am wondering myself.” We have seen that the Chief of Naval Operations could not find out what our plans for the Pacific war were and an American Admiral first learned of certain plans of our government in his theatre from a British admiral. We have seen this headstrong man, surrounded by subservient and obsequious courtiers like Harry Hopkins, Henry Wallace, Sam Rosenman and others, playing secretly the devious game of diplomacy with the Japs and running, often behind the backs of his admirals and generals, segments of a rapidly developing war in two vast oceans.
The point upon which all the forces we have been examining were converging was the small island of Oahu and, in particular, its great naval base near Honolulu – Pearl Harbor. It was supposed to be one of the strongest in the world. The commander of the military establishment in Hawaii was General Walter C. Short. The Pacific Fleet was based at Pearl Harbor and it was under the command of Admiral Husband E. Kimmel. Responsibility for the defense of the island was in the hands of General Short. Admiral Kimmel was expected to give whatever assistance was required from the Navy. But Admiral Kimmel’s area of operations extended over the whole Pacific. Further to the West was the Asiatic Fleet based in the Philippines and under the command of Admiral Thomas C. Hart.
Why was the Fleet in Pearl Harbor?
Here we must note a fact of great importance. The Pacific Fleet had always been based on our West Coast. Pearl Harbor was a supply and repair base in event of operations in the mid-Pacific. It was Roosevelt who forced the change of bringing the Fleet into Pearl Harbor. In 1940, Admiral Richardson was made Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet. He was one of the Navy’s foremost figures. Since his earliest days, after leaving Annapolis, he had made the study of Japanese warfare his life work. He was beyond question the Navy’s outstanding authority upon Pacific naval warfare and Japanese strategy. He was the logical man for the post. As the war clouds darkened over the Pacific he was in the spot for which his whole professional life had been a training. Richardson was ordered to berth the Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor. This he refused to do – an act no one but a very distinguished officer could risk. He was ordered a second time and again refused. It was Richardson’s belief – and indeed generally supported by the Navy – that the Fleet should never be berthed inside Pearl Harbor where it would be a mark for attack. This was particularly true in such troubled times when the airways of the East were hot with rumors of approaching conflict. What is more Richardson held the belief that Pearl Harbor was the logical first point of attack for the Japanese High Command, wedded as it was to the theory of undeclared and surprise warfare. But Richardson was overruled by Roosevelt, the amateur admiral. Whether Richardson was relieved of his command or resigned in protest I do not know. Certainly he departed from it.
At this point, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel was placed in command. What his views were on the berthing of the Fleet in Pearl Harbor I do not know. But in time he came to look upon the Harbor as extremely vulnerable. He arrived at the conclusion that the Fleet should not be held in Pearl Harbor, that it was a mistake to keep it there for political rather than naval reasons and that the longer it was kept there for political reasons the more difficult it would be to withdraw it without creating further international political repercussions. His advice on this was disregarded, as was Richardson’s. He soon learned that neither he nor the Navy Command was running the United States Navy. This was another terrible blunder responsible for the tragedy at Pearl Harbor.
Our Battle Strength in Pearl Harbor
In November, 1941, just before the battle, the United States had in its Navy 216 major surface combat ships. The Pacific had always been the home of the greater portion of these vessels. But as the menace grew in Asia where the President looked upon war as certain, he began transferring war vessels to the Atlantic. By June there were 114 major surface combat vessels in the Atlantic and only 102 in the Pacific. Moreover by this time the President had given away 50 destroyers to the British and these were desperately needed by Kimmel as the crisis neared. While some of our pulp-paper generals and statesmen were telling the people that Japan was a pushover, the United States, Britain and the Dutch combined had in the Pacific 152 major combat vessels against Japan’s 180 – perhaps more. The advantage of surprise lay with her and the battlefield was thousands of miles closer to her shores than to ours. I should add that nearly 40 of the vessels we had were laid up for repairs.
Much of the trained personnel had been taken away for service in the Atlantic, leaving the Pacific Fleet manned heavily by raw recruits. These required constant training. Admiral Kimmel wrote to the Navy begging to be kept informed of the international situation so that he could know when to convert from training to service routines.
Despite all this, while the President was ordering Kimmel to “keep ships popping up here and there to worry the Japanese” and Stark was instructing him to make plans for bombing inflammable targets in Japan, the President in May transferred from the Pacific to the Atlantic three battleships, six cruisers, 18 destroyers, six transports with all the trained marines on the West Coast. The Commanders in the Pacific protested without avail. Then in June the President ordered the transfer of three more battleships, four more cruisers, and two squadrons of destroyers to the Atlantic. The naval defenses of the Pacific were being stripped by the President. Stark protested in vain. Then Kimmel went directly to the President and succeeded in dissuading him from this last raid upon his Fleet.
By this time the President’s chief adviser on such matters – where he wanted advice – was Harry Hopkins, whose carefully taken policy was always to please the President. On one occasion a distinguished admiral had to go to Mr. Hopkins’ bedroom where Hopkins, reclining in his pajamas, gave him a curt “no” to his appeal not to take away any further vessels from his area. Next Admiral King demanded the transfer of more ships from the Pacific to his Atlantic command. Knox was agreeable. It was prevented by Stark’s resistance.
The islands’ inadequacy in planes was deplorable. The Navy was responsible for long-distance reconnaissance. This meant observations 800 miles all around from Oahu. To do this properly Kimmel would need not less than 180 patrol planes. Kimmel had only 80 or 90 long-distance patrol planes. He had a couple of squadrons of marine planes. He had two carriers – a third was up for repairs.
The Army was much worse off. If the Navy were called away the Army would have to take over long-distance reconnaissance. It should have had 180 B-17 s for long-distance patrol. It had six. It had had 12 but was forced to dismantle six to keep the other six supplied with parts for flying. It should have had at least 200 fighter planes. It had few old P-36’s not suitable for combat, ten A-20’s good for 600 miles flight (300 miles out and back) and a bunch of old B-18’s which could not be used against an enemy without inviting suicide.
Less than ten days before Pearl Harbor, the Army and Navy proposed to ship 50 planes from Hawaii to Wake and Midway and a similar movement of marines and Army personnel. It would have depleted the Army’s already pitiful fighter strength by 40 per cent. General Short continually begged for more planes, more men, more detection equipment. Instead of getting reinforcement in the imminent peril of war, the two men had to fight continually to hold what they had. Kimmel too had protested frequently. He advised against “backing into war. If we have decided on war it would be better to take direct defensive action.”
The stripping of the naval and airplane and military defenses of Hawaii – particularly of the naval defenses – was another great cause of the disaster at Pearl Harbor. And this was done by the amateur Commander-in-Chief over the advice and protests of his military and naval advisers and of Admiral Kimmel and General Short.
This pathetic tragedy of blunders may be summed up as follows:
1. By January l, 1941, Roosevelt had decided to go to war with Japan.
2. But he had solemnly pledged the people he would not take their sons to foreign wars unless attacked. Hence he dared not attack and so decided to provoke the Japanese to do so.
3. He kept all this a secret from the Army and Navy.
4. He felt the moment to provoke the attack had come by November. He ended negotiations abruptly November 26 by handing the Japanese an ultimatum which he knew they dared not comply with.
5. Immediately he knew his ruse would succeed, that the Japanese looked upon relations as ended and were preparing for the assault. He knew this from the intercepted messages.
6. He was certain the attack would be against British territory, at Singapore perhaps, and perhaps on the Philippines or Guam. If on the Philippines or Guam he would have his desired attack. But if only British territory were attacked could he safely start shooting? He decided he could and committed himself to the British government. But he never revealed this to his naval chief.
7. He did not order Short to change his alert and he did not order Kimmel to take his fleet out of Pearl Harbor, out where it could defend itself, because he wanted to create the appearance of being completely at peace and surprised when the Japs started shooting. Hence he ordered Kimmel and Short not to do any thing to cause alarm or suspicion. He was completely sure the Japs would not strike at Pearl Harbor.
8. Thus he completely miscalculated. He disregarded the advice of men who always held that Pearl Harbor would be first attacked. He disregarded the warning implicit in the hour chosen for attack and called to Knox’s attention. He disregarded the advice of his chiefs that we were unprepared.
9. When the attack came he was appalled and frightened. He dared not give the facts to the country. To save himself he maneuvered to lay the blame upon Kimmel and Short. To prevent them from proving their innocence he refused them a trial. When the case was investigated by two naval and army boards, he suppressed the reports. He threatened prosecution to any man who would tell the truth.
Now, if there is a shred of decency left in the American people they will demand that Congress open the whole ugly business to the light of day.
A hardbound reprint of John T. Flynn’s The Truth about Pearl Harbor and The Final Secret of Pearl Harbor, with a foreword by Laurence M. Vance and images of eight World War II Pearl Harbor propaganda posters, is available here.
December 7, 2009
Laurence M. Vance [send him mail] writes from Pensacola, FL. He is the author of Christianity and War and Other Essays Against the Warfare State and The Revolution that Wasn’t. His newest book is Rethinking the Good War. Visit his website.
Copyright © 2009 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.