Pearl Harbor (Redux)
by James Perloff
Hawaii was surprised - Washington was not
December 7, 1986 marks the 45th anniversary (2001 will be the 60th anniversary) of Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the event that propelled America into World War II. Japanese warplanes, launched at dawn that day from a carrier force, sank or heavily damaged 18 naval vessels (including eight battleships), destroyed 188 planes, and left over 2,000 dead.
As anti-aircraft gunners fought desperately to defend the harbor, Husband E. Kimmel, Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet, grimly watched from his shore headquarters. Suddenly, a spent Japanese bullet came through the window and deflected off the glasses case in his breast pocket. "It would have been merciful had it killed me," he told a subordinate. In self-demotion, he removed the four-star boards from his shoulders.
Like his Army counterpart in Hawaii, Lieutenant General Walter C. Short, Kimmel was soon relieved of command and held liable. The wrath of the American people for these two was exceeded only by its wrath for Tokyo. Indeed, to this day, most believe it was negligence by Kimmel and Short that made the Pearl Harbor disaster possible.
But evidence -- produced by time, haunted consciences, and determined investigators -- has disproven the prevailing account. It shows that Washington not only knew of the Pearl Harbor strike in advance, but, desiring an incident that would yield indisputable grounds for entering the war, kept the information from our Hawaiian commanders. Pearl Harbor was really two tragedies: one on bold public display, the other veiled behind intrigue and injustice.
Of the studies demonstrating that Washington did know, two merit particular acknowledgment. One is The Final Secret of Pearl Harbor by Rear Admiral Robert O. Theobald (Old Greenwich, Connecticut: Devin-Adair, 1954), a pioneer in unearthing the facts. The other is Infamy: Pearl Harbor and Its Aftermath by Pulitzer Prize-winner John Toland (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1982). It uses recently declassified documents and testimonies from around the globe to achieve the most thorough analysis available. Both volumes contributed significantly to this article.
Setting the Stage
The first step to understanding Pearl Harbor is to appreciate that, in 1941, the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt was taking measures that helped draw us toward war. While no one can deny or excuse Japan's belligerence in those days, it is also true that our government provoked that country in various ways. These included:
freezing her assets in America;
closing the Panama Canal to her shipping;
progressively halting vital exports to Japan until finally we joined Britain in an all-out embargo;
sending a hostile note to the Japanese ambassador implying military threats if Tokyo did not alter its Pacific policies; and
on November 26th -- just 11 days before Pearl -- delivering an ultimatum that demanded, as prerequisites to resumed trade, that Japan withdraw all her troops from both China and Indochina, and in effect abrogate her Tripartite Treaty with Germany and Italy.
As Frank Beatty, then an aide to the U.S. Navy Secretary, later wrote: I can say that prior to December 7 , it was evident even to me ... that we were pushing Japan into a corner .... The conditions we imposed upon Japan -- to get out of China, for example -- were so severe that we knew that nation could not accept. We did not want her to accept them." Oliver Lyttelton, British Minister of Production, put it more bluntly in 1944: "Japan was provoked into attacking America at Pearl Harbor. It is a travesty of history to say that America was forced into war."
Many have stated that FDR sought war with Japan as a means of entering the weightier European conflict "by the back door." His Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, expressed this outlook in October 1941 when he wrote: "For a long time I have believed that our best entrance into the war would be by way of Japan." Indeed, the President offered provocations to Germany as well: freezing its assets; occupying Iceland with U.S. troops; sending 50 old destroyers to Great Britain; and having U-boats depth-charged. But if this was bait, the Germans didn't bite. America's arrival had shifted the course of World War I against them, and they didn't relish a repetition. However, FDR knew that, if war broke out between Japan and the U.S., Germany's agreements with Tokyo mandated that she declare war on us.
Many people are aware that tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans in this country spent the war in confinement camps. But few know that, under Roosevelt's instructions, the Census Bureau had already produced a complete list of their names and addresses before Pearl Harbor. Before that critical day, the President had also ordered plans drawn up for the mobilization of 10 million troops.
His intentions were nearly exposed in 1940, when Tyler Kent, a code clerk at the U.S. embassy in London, discovered secret dispatches sent between Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. These revealed that FDR -- despite ongoing campaign promises to the contrary -- was determined to engage America in the war. Kent smuggled some of the documents out of the embassy, hoping to alert the American public -- but was caught. With U.S. government approval, he was tried in a secret British court and was confined to a British prison until the war's end. (In this country, through his mother's efforts to free him, he briefly became a cause célèbre during the election year of 1944.)
But the existence of Anglo-American prewar commitments was by and large confirmed by Churchill himself. Before the House of Commons, the Prime Minister recalled how hopes had been lifted by "The probability since the Atlantic Conference [August, 1941], at which I discussed these matters with Mr. Roosevelt, that the United States, even if not herself attacked, would come into the war in the Far East, and thus make final victory sure...."
The First Shot
But entering the war without blatant justification would be difficult. Isolationist sentiment was running high among the American people, who had no taste for shipping their sons to foreign battlefields. After meeting with the President on October 16, 1941, Secretary of War Henry Stimson wrote in his diary: "We face the delicate question of the diplomatic fencing to be done so as to be sure Japan is put into the wrong and makes the first bad move -- overt move." On November 25th -- one day before the "ultimatum" was delivered to Tokyo's ambassadors -- FDR conferred with Stimson and other advisors. The War Secretary's diary records for that day: "The question was how we should maneuver them [the Japanese] into the position of firing the first shot...."
Historically, "incidents" have always been exploited -- if not outright encouraged -- to generate declarations of war:
For over three months in 1861, the Union refused to yield Fort Sumter, even though its tiny garrison of soldiers could not hope to defend it. Southern batteries finally fired the proverbial first shot on April 12th; on April 13th, without a single casualty, the fort surrendered; on April 14th, Lincoln drafted his proclamation seeking troops for war.
In 1898, the U.S. battleship Maine blew up in Havana Harbor. Although the explosion has never been satisfactorily explained, "Remember the Maine" became the rallying cry that spurred us into the Spanish-American War.
In 1915, a German submarine torpedoed the British passenger ship Lusitania, and 128 Americans perished. In the United States, the incident was used to fan anti-German sentiment and to beat war drums. What the American public did not know was that the Germans sunk the Lusitania because it had in its hold six million rounds of ammunition bound for England. Subsequent official inquiries suppressed this fact, and Woodrow Wilson even ordered the ship's manifest to be sealed and placed in U.S. Treasury archives.
It is instructive to note that when the ship went down, Franklin D. Roosevelt was Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and Winston Churchill was head of the British Admiralty. Before the incident, Churchill had ordered a study to determine the political impact if an ocean liner were sunk with Americans on board. According to Commander Joseph Kenworthy, then in British Naval Intelligence, "The Lusitania was sent at considerably reduced speed into an area where a U-boat was known to be waiting and with her escorts withdrawn." Some 25 years later, FDR and Churchill would again be principals during the engineering of an Anglo-American war effort. See Colin Simpson's book, The Lusitania (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1972).
In 1964, an alleged attack by North Vietnamese torpedo boats on U.S. destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin was used by President Lyndon Johnson to secure authority from Congress to escalate the Vietnam War. The incident was long steeped in suspicion and controversy.
Thus Pearl Harbor lies in a broad context of "Look what they've done to us" scenarios.
Sleight of Hand with "Magic"
An important element in foreknowledge of Pearl Harbor was our government's success in cracking Japan's most secret code, known as "Purple." Tokyo used it in communicating to its embassies and consulates, including those in Washington and Honolulu. The code was so complex that it was enciphered and deciphered by machine. A talented group of American cryptanalysts broke the code in 1940 and even devised facsimiles of the Japanese machine. These, utilized by the intelligence sections of both the War and Navy Departments, swiftly revealed Tokyo's secret diplomatic messages. The deciphered texts were nicknamed "Magic."
Copies of Magic were always promptly delivered in locked pouches to President Roosevelt, and the Secretaries of State, War, and Navy. They also went to Army Chief of Staff General George Marshall, and the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Harold Stark.
Although a Purple decoding machine was sent to our military in the Philippines, and three were even allotted to Britain, none was sent to Pearl Harbor. Intercepts of ciphered messages radioed between Tokyo and its Honolulu consulate had to be sent to Washington for decrypting. Thus Kimmel and Short, the Hawaiian commanders, were at the mercy of Washington for feedback. A request for their own decoding machine was rebuffed on the grounds that diplomatic traffic was not of sufficient interest to soldiers.
How untrue that was! Spies were highly active in Hawaii, which had a large Japanese population. On October 9, 1941, the War Department decoded a Tokyo-to-Honolulu dispatch instructing the Consul General to divide Pearl Harbor into five specified areas and to report the exact locations of the American ships therein.
There is nothing unusual about spies watching ship movements -- but reporting the precise whereabouts of ships in dock can only have one implication. General Charles Willoughby, who was Douglas MacArthur's chief of intelligence, later wrote that the "reports were on a grid system of the inner harbor with coordinate locations of American men of war ... coordinate grid is the classical method for pinpoint target designation; our battleships had suddenly become targets."
Obviously, this was information vital to Kimmel and Short -- but Washington did not relay it. In November, Tokyo requested that the ship-in-harbor reports be increased in frequency. All told, from August through November sixty-eight intercepts concerning Pearl Harbor shipping were translated by Washington. Yet our Hawaiian commanders were not informed of a single one, or of any Magic intercept during that period!
When international relations are at a critical stage, a field commander needs to know. It is a rule of the Navy that, at such a time, the fleet puts to sea. Magic gave every indication of an impending crisis. The following messages were decoded by Washington, all within a day of their original transmission.
November 5th: Tokyo notified its Washington ambassadors that November 25th was the deadline for an agreement with the U.S.
November 11th: They were warned, "The situation is nearing a climax, and the time is getting short."
November 16th: The deadline was pushed up to November 29th. "The deadline absolutely cannot be changed," the dispatch said. "After that, things are automatically going to happen."
November 28th (the U.S. ultimatum had now been received): The ambassadors were told a rupture in negotiations was "inevitable," but that the leaders in Japan "do not wish you to give the impression that negotiations are broken off."
November 30th: Tokyo ordered its Berlin embassy to inform the Germans that "the breaking out of war may come quicker than anyone dreams."
December 1st: The deadline was again moved ahead. "[T]o prevent the United States from becoming unduly suspicious, we have been advising the press and others that ... the negotiations are continuing."
December 1st-2nd: Japanese embassies in non-Axis nations around the world were directed to dispose of their secret documents and all but one copy of their codes. (This was for a reason not hard to fathom -- when war breaks out, the diplomatic offices of a hostile state lose their immunity and are normally overtaken. One copy of code was retained so that final instructions could be received, after which the last code copy would be destroyed.)
"East Wind, Rain"
An additional cause for alarm was receipt of the so-called "winds" message. A November 18th intercept indicated that, if a break in U.S. relations were forthcoming, Tokyo would issue a special radio warning. This would not be in the Purple code, as it was intended to reach consulates and lesser agencies of Japan not equipped with the code or one of its machines. The message, to be repeated three times during a weather report, was "Higashi no kaze ame," meaning "East wind, rain." "East wind" signified the United States; "rain," signified a diplomatic split -- in effect, war.
The prospect of this message was deemed so significant that U.S. radio monitors were on constant watch for it, and the Navy Department typed it up on special reminder cards. On December 4th, "Higashi no kaze ame" was indeed broadcast and picked up by Washington intelligence.
Despite all of this, Hawaii was not warned. It did not require a genius to diagnose the situation. On three different occasions since 1894, the Japanese had made surprise attacks coinciding with breaks in diplomatic relations. This history was not lost on President Roosevelt. Secretary Stimson, describing FDR's White House conference of November 25th, noted: "The President said the Japanese were notorious for making an attack without warning and stated that we might be attacked, say next Monday, for example." Nor was it lost on Washington's senior military officers, all of whom were War College graduates.
Given that history, Japan's keen interest in the locations of ships at Pearl Harbor, its instructions that the Washington ambassadors maintain only the appearance of continuing relations, and the various dispatches foreshadowing war, what excuse could exist for not putting Hawaii on alert?
Decoded intercepts represented only a fraction of Washington's tips on the attack. 1941 also witnessed the following:
On January 27th, our ambassador to Japan, Joseph Grew, sent this message to Washington:
The Peruvian Minister has informed a member of my staff that he has heard from many sources, including a Japanese source, that in the event of trouble breaking out between the United States and Japan, the Japanese intended to make a surprise attack against Pearl Harbor with all their strength....
This added credence to a memorandum issued earlier that month by the Navy's war plans division, which stated that, if "war eventuates with Japan, it is believed easily possible that hostilities would be preceded by a surprise attack upon the Pacific Fleet in the naval base of Pearl Harbor."
Congressman Martin Dies furnished an additional warning. He would later write:
Early in 1941 the Dies Committee came into possession of a strategic map which gave clear proof of the intentions of the Japanese to make an assault on Pearl Harbor. The strategic map was prepared by the Japanese Imperial Military Intelligence Department. As soon as I received that document I telephoned Secretary of State Cordell Hull and told him what I had. Secretary Hull directed me not to let anyone know about the map and stated that he would call me as soon as he talked to President Roosevelt. In about an hour he telephoned to say that he had talked to Roosevelt and they agreed that it would be very serious if any information concerning this map reached the news services ... I told him it was a grave responsibility for our Committee to withhold such vital information from the public. The Secretary assured me that he and Roosevelt considered it essential to national defense.
Dusko Popov was a Yugoslav who worked as a double agent for both Germany and Britain. His true allegiance was to the Allies. In the summer of 1941, the Nazis ordered Popov to go to Hawaii and make a detailed study of Pearl Harbor and its nearby airfields. The agent deduced that the mission betokened a surprise attack by the Japanese. In August, he made a full report of this to the FBI in New York. J. Edgar Hoover later recalled bitterly that he had provided warnings to FDR about Pearl Harbor -- but that Roosevelt told him not to pass the information any further and to just leave it in his (the President's) hands.
Kilsoo Haan, of the Sino-Korean People's League, received definite word from the Korean underground that the Japanese were planning to assault Hawaii "before Christmas." In November, after getting nowhere with the State Department, Haan convinced Iowa Senator Guy Gillette of his claim's merit. Gillette briefed the President, who laconically thanked him and said it would be looked into.
In Java, in early December, the Dutch Army succeeded in decoding a dispatch from Tokyo to its Bangkok embassy, forecasting attacks on four sites including Hawaii. The Dutch passed the information on to Brigadier General Elliot Thorpe, the U.S. military observer. Thorpe was sufficiently disturbed by the data that he sent Washington a total of four warnings. The last went to General Marshall's intelligence chief; Thorpe was acknowledged and ordered to send no further messages concerning the matter. The Dutch also had their Washington military attaché, Colonel Weijerman, personally warn General Marshall.
In the meantime, at the 12th Naval District's Intelligence Office in San Francisco, Lieutenant Ellsworth Hosner and his assistant were trying to locate a missing Japanese carrier force -- it was known to have departed from Japanese waters, but its whereabouts had been unknown since late November. On December 2nd, after comparing radio reports from wire services and commercial ships in the Pacific, the pair concluded that unusual signals emanating from west of Hawaii designated the carrier force. They so advised their Chief of Intelligence, Captain Richard McCollough (a personal friend of the President), and continued to track it.
On that same day, Captain Johan Ranneft, the Dutch naval attaché in Washington, visited the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI). Ranneft, who was later awarded the Legion of Merit for his service to the United States, was inquiring about conditions in the Pacific. An American officer pointed to a map on the wall and said, "This is the Japanese Task Force proceeding East." It was a spot midway between Japan and Hawaii. On December 6th, Ranneft returned and asked where the carriers were. He was shown a position on the map about 300-400 miles northwest of Pearl Harbor. Ranneft wrote of this: "I ask what is the meaning of these carriers at this location: whereupon I receive the answer that it is probably in connection with Japanese reports of eventual American action ... I myself do not think about it because I believe that everyone in Honolulu is 100 percent on the alert, just like everyone here at O.N.I."
For Washington's Eyes Only
But our commanders in Hawaii were not on alert. None of the above warnings was ever transmitted to them, with the exception of Ambassador Grew's January dispatch, a copy of which reached Admiral Kimmel on February 1st. However, even this carried a disclaimer that read: "The Divison of Naval Intelligence places no credence in these rumors. Furthermore, based on known data regarding the present disposition and employment of Japanese naval and army forces, no move against Pearl Harbor appears imminent or planned for in the foreseeable future." No revision of this view was ever sent to Hawaii during 1941. And the disclaimer diametrically contradicted the Navy's own memorandum, written just days earlier, saying such an attack was "easily possible."
Keeping a lid on this extensive evidence was not without challenge. Naturally, there were conscientious men in our military who sought to warn Kimmel and Short. But such communications required clearance from the top.
In October, when Magic revealed that the Japanese in Hawaii were plotting Pearl Harbor's ships on an obvious bombing grid, two Navy officers -- Captain Alan Kirk, Chief of ONI, and Captain H. D. Bode, head of foreign intelligence -- urged that Admiral Kimmel be notified. But Rear Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner, their senior, refused. In a few days, the two men were dismissed from intelligence and assigned other duties. When the "winds" message was received in December, no less than three junior officers in the Navy and War Departments drafted alerts for Pearl Harbor. But each was censored!
It was inevitable, of course, that investigations someday would be made to determine responsibility for Pearl Harbor. Washington seemed to take that into account artfully by sending an ambiguous "war warning" to Admiral Kimmel (and a similar one to General Short) on November 27th. This has been used for years by Washington apologists to allege the commanders should have been ready for the Japanese.
Indeed, the message began conspicuously: "This dispatch is to be considered a war warning." But it went on to state, "The number and equipment of Japanese troops and the organizations of naval task forces indicates an amphibious expedition against either the Philippines, Thai, or Kra Peninsula, or possibly Borneo." None of these areas was closer than 5,000 miles to Hawaii! No threat to Pearl Harbor was even hinted at. It ended with the words: "Continental districts, Guam, Samoa take measures against sabotage." Short followed through with sabotage precautions, bunching his planes together (which hinders saboteurs but makes ideal targets for bombers), and Kimmel stepped up air surveillance and sub searches. Both men reported the measures taken to their superiors in Washington. If their response to the "war warning" was inadequate, Washington was mum.
Prelude to Attack
Complementing the information freeze were steps that made our ships an attractive target. Kimmel's predecessor as Pacific Fleet commander was Admiral J. O. Richardson. Richardson flew to Washington in 1940 to protest FDR's decision to permanently base the fleet in Hawaii. The admiral had sound reasons: Pearl Harbor was vulnerable to attack; it could not be effectively rigged with nets and baffles to defend against torpedo planes; and in Hawaii it would be hard to supply and train crews for his undermanned vessels. He wanted the fleet to maintain its normal basing on the West Coast. Roosevelt was adamant, and the argument became heated. Shortly thereafter, Richardson was dismissed from his command. Admiral Kimmel, who relieved him, also informed the President of Pearl Harbor's deficiencies; but he accepted placement there, trusting that Washington would keep him posted on any intelligence pointing to attack.
In March 1941, FDR considerably weakened the fleet by authorizing the transfer of an aircraft carrier, three battleships, four cruisers, and 18 destroyers to the Atlantic. The vulnerability of Pearl Harbor was further increased less than two weeks before the air raid, when an order originating with General Marshall requested that Kimmel ship about half of the Army's pursuit planes to Wake and Midway Islands.
The Hawaiian commanders have traditionally been censured for failing to detect the approaching Japanese carriers. What goes unsaid is that Washington denied them the means to do so. An army marching overland toward a target is usually spotted. But Hawaii is in the middle of the ocean. The approaches to it are limitless and uninhabited. During the week before December 7th, naval aircraft searched more than two million square miles of the Pacific -- but never saw the Japanese force. This is because Kimmel and Short had only enough planes to survey one-third of the 360-degree arc around them, and intelligence had advised (incorrectly) that they should have concentrated on the Southwest.
Radar was insufficient. Many of the reconnaissance craft were old or lacking in spare parts. The commanders' repeated requests to Washington for additional patrol planes were turned down. A promise made that spring to send them 180 B-17 bombers was not fulfilled. Rear Admiral Edward T. Layton, who served then at Pearl Harbor, summed it up incisively in his book "And I Was There": "There was never any hint in any intelligence received by the local command of any Japanese threat to Hawaii. Our air defenses were stripped on orders from the army chief himself. Of the twelve B-17's on the island, only six could be kept in the air by cannibalizing the others for spare parts."
Day of Double Infamy
And so it stood as the Japanese prepared to strike. Using the Purple code, Tokyo sent a formal statement to its Washington ambassadors. It was to be conveyed to the American Secretary of State on Sunday, December 7th. The statement terminated relations and was tantamount to a declaration of war. On December 6th, the War and Navy departments had already decrypted the first 13 parts of this 14-part message. Although the final passage officially severing ties had not yet come through, the fiery wording made its meaning obvious. Later that day, when President Roosevelt received his copy of the intercept, he was heard to say to his advisor, Harry Hopkins, "This means war."
During subsequent Pearl Harbor investigations, both General Marshall, Army Chief of Staff, and Admiral Stark, Chief of Naval Operations, denied any recollection of where they had been on the evening of December 6th. But James G. Stahlman, a close friend of Navy Secretary Knox, said Knox told him FDR convened a high-level meeting at the White House that evening. Knox, Marshall, Stark, and War Secretary Stimson attended. Indeed, with the nation on the threshold of war, such a conference only made sense. That same evening, the Navy Department received a request from Stimson for a list of all the ships in the Pacific and their whereabouts.
On the morning of December 7th, the final portion of Japan's lengthy message to the U.S. government was decoded. Tokyo added two special directives to its ambassadors. The first directive, which the message called "very important," was to deliver the statement at 1 PM. The second directive ordered that the last copy of code, and the machine that went with it, be destroyed. The gravity of this was immediately recognized in the Navy Department: Japan had a long history of synchronizing attacks with breaks in relations; Sunday was an abnormal day to deliver diplomatic messages -- but the best one for trying to catch U.S. armed forces at low vigilance; and 1 PM in Washington was shortly after dawn in Hawaii!
Admiral Stark arrived at his office at 9:25 AM. He was shown the message and the important delivery time. One junior officer pointed out the possibility of an attack on Hawaii; another urged that Kimmel be notified. But Stark refused; he did nothing all morning. Years later, he would tell the press that his conscience was clear concerning Pearl Harbor because all his actions had been dictated by a "higher authority." As Chief of Naval Operations, Stark had only one higher authority: President Roosevelt.
In the War Department, where the 14-part statement had also been decoded, the situation was comparable. Colonel Rufus Bratton, head of the Army's Far Eastern section, discerned the significance of the message. But the chief of intelligence told him nothing could be done until Marshall arrived. Bratton attempted to reach Marshall at his home -- but was told the general was out horseback riding. The "horseback ride" turned out to be a long one. Marshall didn't come to his office until 11:25 AM -- an extremely late hour in such critical times. He perused the Japanese message and was shown the delivery time. Every officer in Marshall's office agreed these indicated an attack in the Pacific at about 1 PM EST. The general now assented -- Hawaii should be alerted. But time was running out!
Marshall had only to pick up the phone on his desk to reach Pearl Harbor on the trans-Pacific line. Had he done so, the attack would not have been averted, but at least our men would have been at their battle stations. Instead, the general wrote a dispatch. It was encoded. Then it went to the Washington office of Western Union. From there it was relayed to San Francisco. From San Francisco it was transmitted via RCA commercial radio to Honolulu. General Short received it six hours after the attack. Two hours later it reached Kimmel. One can imagine their exasperation on reading it.
Despite all the evidence accrued through Magic and other sources during the previous months, Marshall had never warned Hawaii. To historians -- ignorant of that classified evidence -- it would appear that the general had tried to save Pearl Harbor, "but alas, too late." Similarly, on the evening of December 6th, FDR sent a plea for peace to Emperor Hirohito. At that late hour, it could not conceivably have forestalled the attack -- but posterity would think that he, too, had made "a valiant, last effort."
The truth about Pearl Harbor had very nearly been revealed a week earlier. The perfidy had become too much for Secretary of State Cordell Hull. On November 29th, on a park bench, he met with Joseph Leib, a freelance newspaper writer. Leib had formerly held several posts in the Roosevelt Administration; Hull knew him and felt he was one newsman he could trust. The Secretary of State handed him a copy of some of the Tokyo intercepts concerning Pearl Harbor. He said the Japanese were planning to strike the base and that FDR planned to let it happen. Hull made Leib pledge to keep his name out of it -- but hoped he could blow the story sky high in the newspapers.
Leib ran to the office of his friend Lyle Wilson, the Washington bureau chief of United Press. While keeping his pledge to Hull, he told him the details and showed him the intercepts. Wilson replied that the whole story was ludicrous and refused to run it. Through connections, Leib managed to get a hurried version of the story onto UP's foreign cable, but only one newspaper carried any part of it.
After Pearl Harbor, Lyle Wilson called Leib to his office. He handed him a copy of FDR's just-released "day of infamy" speech. And the two men wept.
TNA / December 8, 1986 (p. 32)
Staging a Show
The secret of Pearl Harbor had been successfully preserved before the fact -- but what about afterward? People around the nation -- including some vocal congressmen -- were demanding to know why America had been caught off guard.
The President said he would appoint a commission to investigate the entire affair. He consulted with the Navy and Army secretaries as to whom its members should be. Owen Roberts, a Supreme Court justice, was selected to head the commission. Roberts, a pro-British internationalist, was friendly with Roosevelt. Also appointed to the group were: Major General Frank McCoy, a close friend of Marshall's for 30 years; Brigadier General Joseph McNarney, who was on Marshall's staff and was chosen on his recommendation; retired Rear Admiral Joseph Reeves, to whom FDR had given a job in lend-lease; and Admiral William Standley, a former fleet commander. Only the last seemed to have no obvious fraternity with the Washington set.
The commission conducted only two to three days of hearings in Washington. Admiral Standley, who arrived late, was startled by the chummy atmosphere of the inquiry. Admiral Stark and General Marshall were asked no difficult or embarrassing questions. Furthermore, all testimony taken was unsworn and unrecorded -- an irregularity that, at Admiral Standley's urging, was corrected.
The commission then flew to Hawaii, where it remained for 19 days. When Admiral Kimmel was summoned to testify, he brought a fellow officer to act as his counsel. Justice Roberts disallowed this on the grounds that the investigation was not a trial, and the admiral not a defendant. Because Kimmel and Short were not formally "on trial," they were also denied all the traditional rights of defendants: the right to ask questions and to cross-examine witnesses. Kimmel was also shocked to discover that the proceeding's stenographers -- one a teenager, the other with almost no court experience -- omitted much of his testimony and left other parts badly garbled. Permission to correct the errors -- other than adding footnotes to the end of the commission's report -- was refused.
The Roberts Commission laid the blame for Pearl Harbor on the Hawaiian commanders: They had underestimated the import of the November 27th warning; they had not taken sufficient defensive or surveillance actions; they. were guilty of "dereliction of duty." On the other hand, it said, Stark and Marshall had discharged their duties in exemplary fashion. Incredibly, the section of the commission's report that declared this was first submitted to Stark and Marshall for revisions and approval. Admiral Standley dissented with the findings but did not write a minority opinion after being told that doing so might jeopardize the war effort by lowering the nation's confidence in its leaders. Standley would later call Roberts' handling of the investigation "as crooked as a snake."
Roberts brought a final copy of the report to FDR. The President read it, was delighted, and tossed it to one of his secretaries, saying, "Give that in full to the papers for their Sunday editions."
America's outrage now fell on Kimmel and Short. They were traitors, it was said; they should be shot! The two were inundated with hate mail and death threats. The press, with its ageless capacity to manufacture villains, stretched the commission's slurs. Even the wives of the two commanders were subject to vicious canards.
There was a great outcry for courtmartials. That, of course, was not desired by the Roosevelt Administration -- in an orthodox courtroom, a sharp defense attorney might start digging into Washington's secrets. They contemplated simply retiring Kimmel and Short -- but to a gallows-hungry public, that, ironically, would look like they were covering for them. So the issue was sidestepped by again invoking the security of the war effort. It was announced that court-martials would be held -- but postponed "until such time as the public interest and safety would permit."
Sufficient delay would also cause the three-year statute of limitations that applied in such cases to elapse. But that was the last thing Kimmel and Short wanted; court-martial was the only way they could clear themselves. Thus, on their own initiative, they waived the statute of limitations.
Their Day in Court
In 1944, the Allies were clearly on the road to victory, and national security would no longer wash as a legitimate barrier to trials. An act of Congress mandated the court-martials. At last, the former Hawaiian commanders would have their day in court.
In August, the Naval Court of Inquiry opened. A source inside the Navy Department had already tipped Kimmel and his attorneys about the scores of Magic intercepts kept from the admiral in 1941. One of the attorneys, a former Navy captain, managed to get at the Department's files, and authenticated the existence of many. Obtaining their release was another matter. Obstruction after obstruction appeared -- until Kimmel tried a ploy. Walking out of the courtroom, he bellowed to his lawyer that they would have to announce to the press that important evidence was being withheld.
By the next day, the requested intercepts had been delivered -- 43 in all. The admirals on the Court of Inquiry listened to them being read with looks of horror and disbelief. Two of the admirals flung their pencils down. More than 2,000 died at Pearl Harbor because those messages had been held back. Navy Department officers gave additional testimony. After nearly three months, the inquiry finished. The verdict of the Roberts Commission was overturned. Admiral Kimmel was exonerated on all charges. Admiral Stark -- who had gone so far as to reject the pleas of his juniors to notify Hawaii on the morning of the attack -- was severely censured.
News of the intercepts leaked to the Army Pearl Harbor Board, which convened at the same time. The Board secured copies of Magic from War Department files. The Board's conclusions still expressed modest criticism of General Short, but found overwhelming guilt in General Marshall and his Chief of War Plans, General Gerow. Its report ended with this statement: "Up to the morning of December 7, 1941, everything that the Japanese were planning to do was known to the United States except [Tokyo's final diplomatic message] the very hour and minute when bombs were falling on Pearl Harbor."
Criticism of the President was, incidentally, forbidden to the two proceedings as beyond their jurisdiction. But FDR held ultimate responsibility for Pearl Harbor, and the warnings he had received -- some of which have only recently come to light -- far exceeded anything they might have dreamed.
Naturally, the reports of the two inquiries wrought dismay in the administration and Pentagon. But a solution was swiftly concocted. It was announced that, in the interest of national security, the court-martial results would not be made public until the end of the war. (This would give Washington time to conduct "new" investigations.) Navy Secretary Knox told the press that the Naval Court of Inquiry had marked its conclusions "secret," and therefore nothing could be published. A stunned Admiral Orin Murfin, who had presided over the Court, protested to the Secretary. It was true that the breaking of Japan's diplomatic code was not for public knowledge -- but, he pointed out, the Court had only marked part of its determinations secret. Charles Rugg, Kimmel's attorney, sent a telegram to Knox demanding to know how the verdict of "innocent" granted the admiral could be deemed classified information. Nevertheless, the reports were suppressed.
More Staged Shows
Washington now explained that it would conduct additional inquiries to supplement the two court-martials. Henry Stimson picked Lieutenant Colonel Henry Clausen -- known to disagree with the Army Board's findings -- to carry out the War Department's investigation. The Navy Secretary appointed Admiral W. Kent Hewitt. Hewitt's role, however, was largely titular; most of the operation was carried out by counsel John Sonnett, a special assistant to the Navy Secretary.
The game rules were reminiscent of those of the Roberts Commission. Kimmel and his attorneys were refused permission to attend the Hewitt Inquiry, which operated under this directive:
Except that the testimony you take should be taken under oath so as to be on equal status in this respect with the testimony previously taken, you will conduct your examination in an informal manner and without regard to legal or formal requirements.
Not surprisingly, witnesses who had testified against Washington during the court-martials now began reversing themselves. Colonel Rufus Bratton had informed the Army Pearl Harbor Board that on December 6, 1941, he had delivered the first 13 parts of Japan's terminative message to General Marshall via his secretary, and to General Gerow. Now in Germany, Bratton was tracked down by Clausen, who handed him affidavits from Marshall, his secretary, and Gerow, denying the deliveries were ever made. Bratton recanted.
Other officers, their memories similarly "refreshed," retracted their statements about having received the "winds" message -- now, it seemed, the message never existed!
All of these individuals faced a dilemma. They were career military men. They knew that telling the truth now would not only pit their word against the likes of the Army Chief of Staff; it would also end all hope of promotion.
But one man would not bend -- Captain Laurance Safford, known as the father of naval cryptography. Safford had overseen that branch of naval intelligence for many years. He personally invented some 20 cryptographic devices, including the most advanced ones used by our armed forces. For his work, he was ultimately awarded the Legion of Merit.
Safford, who had testified before the Naval Inquiry that he had seen the "winds" message, was confronted by Sonnett. Safford wrote of this meeting: "His purpose seemed to be to refute testimony (before earlier investigations) that was unfavorable to anyone in Washington, to beguile 'hostile' witnesses into changing their stories...." In a memorandum he wrote immediately after the encounter, Safford recorded some of Sonnett's verbal prods, such as: "It is very doubtful that there ever was a Winds Execute [message]"; "It is no reflection on your veracity to change your testimony"; "It is no reflection on your mentality to have your memory play you tricks -- after such a long period." Safford realized a colossal cover-up was taking place, but was not surprised. He had already discovered that all copies of the "winds" message in Navy files, along with other important memos relating to Pearl Harbor, had been destroyed. Stories circulated of a similar information purge in the War Department.
The Clausen and Hewitt inquiries pleased Washington. Armed with fresh sophistries, the administration now made public highly revamped versions of the court-martial findings. The dual Army/Navy announcement came on August 29, 1945 -- the very day American troops arrived in Japan, when a rejoicing public was apt to care little about the origins of Pearl Harbor. The War Secretary's report shifted the burden of blame back onto Short, while saying of General Marshall that "throughout this matter he acted with his usual great skill, energy and efficiency." It admitted that the Army Board had criticized Marshall, but said this was completely unjustified. The Navy Secretary's statement again imputed guilt to Admiral Kimmel, while asserting that Washington had not been negligent in keeping him informed. It did acknowledge that Admiral Stark had failed to exercise "superior judgement."
Consequently, the American people never really understood what the courtmartials had determined. Of course, anyone who wanted to find out for himself could do so when the government released the official record of the hearings connected with Pearl Harbor -- if he didn't mind wading through 40 volumes!
Congress Enters the Act
Only one obstacle now remained to burying the facts about Pearl Harbor. Congress had long made noises about conducting its own investigation; with the war over, it was sure to do so.
To nip any threat in the bud, the administration sent a bill to both the House and Senate that would forbid disclosure of coded materials. It was promptly passed by the Senate, whose members had never heard of Magic and had no idea that the bill would hamstring the forthcoming investigation.
Admiral Kimmel happened to read about the bill in the papers. He and his attorneys notified the press and members of Congress about the measure's implications. As a result, the House voted it down, and the Senate rescinded it.
Capitol Hill's probe into Pearl Harbor began in November 1945, when the Joint Congressional Committee assembled. It was composed of 10 senators and congressmen: six Democrats and four Republicans. A split along party lines quickly emerged. The Democrats knew that, even though Roosevelt had recently died, a scandal concerning Pearl Harbor could devastate them at the ballot box. This was not lost on the Republicans. It was also evident that, so long as all six Democrats maintained unswerving party loyalty, a majority decision favoring the administration was inevitable.
The Democrats used their edge to jockey things their way. The counsel chosen for the committee was a Democrat who had previously served with Henry Stimson; his assistant was a former New Dealer now working for the law firm of Dean Acheson, the Undersecretary of State. A majority vote determined what evidence the committee would review. Several witnesses Kimmel wanted introduced were never called.
Coercion prevented others from testifying. Major Warren J. Clear, who had warned the War Department in early 1941 that the Japanese were planning to attack a series of islands including Hawaii, was ordered not to appear before the committee.
So was Chief Warrant Officer Ralph T. Briggs, the man who had originally intercepted the "winds" message at a United States monitoring station. He was summoned before his commanding officer, who forbade him to testify. "Perhaps someday you'll understand the reason for this," he was told. Briggs had a blind wife to support. He did not come forward as a witness.
The treatment of Lieutenant Commander Alwin Kramer was cruder. Kramer, who had been in charge of the Navy Department's Translation Section at the time of Pearl Harbor, and had once testified to having seen the "winds" message, was thrown into a psychiatric ward at Bethesda Naval Hospital. Representative Frank Keefe, one of the committee Republicans, learned of this and raised hell. Kramer was told that his testimony had better change or he'd be in the ward for the rest of his life. The officer went before the committee, but gave a confusing narrative that essentially denied the existence of the "winds" message.
Captain Laurance Safford, however, remained fearless in his revelations against Washington. A campaign to "nail" him was soon evidenced among the committee Democrats. One of them, Congressman John Murphy, a former assistant DA, put him through a wringer of cross-examination. Safford's personal mail was read aloud before the committee in an effort to humiliate him. Artful polemics made the captain -- the most eminent man in naval cryptography -- look forgetful on one hand, vindictive toward his superiors on the other.
Safford was accused of being the only one to believe there ever was a "winds" message. In point of fact, no less than seven officers had acknowledged seeing it before some of them had their memories "helped."
Perhaps the browbeating of Safford helped inspire Colonel Otis Sadtler of the Signal Corps. Sadtler was one of those who, during the Clausen investigation, had recanted his testimony that the message was received. Now he came forward and corroborated Safford. (Any doubts about the "winds" affair have since been dispelled. As John Toland reports, both of the Japanese assistant naval attachés posted at the Washington embassy in 1941 have verified that the message was transmitted on December 4th, exactly as Safford said.)
The Congressional investigation battled on for over six months. In the end, all six Democrats held to the party. A majority decision was handed down on Pearl Harbor that assigned most of the blame to the Hawaiian commanders, some of the blame to the War and Navy departments, and no blame at all to Roosevelt and his civilian administration.
That was the last official inquiry into Japan's surprise attack. The lie that Kimmel and Short were at fault for the disaster was perpetuated, and Washington's secrets were sealed.
Schools of Thought
Of all the questions Pearl Harbor raises, the cardinal one is "Why?" Why did the Roosevelt Administration refrain from warning the base? Washington apologists have long said there was nothing deliberate -- that it was just a succession of coincidences, blunders, and oversights. That position, however, can no longer hold up under the weight of evidence available today. Men do not become heads of state, cabinet members, or military chiefs by dint of gross incompetence and stupidity. And that is what it would have required, given the plentiful warnings Washington received and its limitless opportunities to alert Pearl Harbor.
A second school of thought concedes that Roosevelt knew about the attack, but rationalizes that he permitted it so we would have the "excuse" we needed to enter the war and stop Hitler. According to this school, the President and his men were not fools; they were instead shrewd strategists endeavoring to save the world. Pearl Harbor, this view holds, was a pawn sacrificed to capture a king -- a master stroke.
Nevertheless, this explanation is flawed. If the Administration was acting from concern for their fellow man, why didn't they at least send an eleventh-hour warning to Hawaii and save some lives? It is hard to reconcile the charred bodies of Americans floating in Pearl Harbor as tokens of anyone's nobility. Those seeking the truth may do well to explore two factors commonly overlooked by Pearl Harbor historians: the global designs of the non-Communist Council on Foreign Relations and of the Communist Soviet Union.
The CFR Connection
The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) has long had a predominant role in American policy-making. In the New York Times magazine for November 21, 1971, Anthony Lukas called Henry Stimson, Secretary of War at the time of Pearl Harbor, the "quintessential member" of the CFR. The Assistant Secretary of War was John McCloy, a CFR man who became the Council's chairman from 1953 to 1970. Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles was also a member, as were many other important figures in the Roosevelt Administration.
The CFR is heavily linked to the international banking establishment, which has traditionally tried to buy influence on governments by financing their debts. Since its inception in 1921, the foremost goal of the CFR has been to create a global government -- that is to say, the dissolution of all national boundaries culminating in a one-world government.
The United Nations, which is not a global government but is the formal framework for one, began as a CFR research project. This has caused some analysts to question if the UN was a natural outgrowth of the war, or if the U.S. was secretly pushed toward war for the purpose of eradicating the barriers of U.S. "isolationism" and erecting a new internationalist alliance. When viewed in the light of this broader context, the key question surrounding Pearl Harbor becomes: Was our Pacific fleet sacrificed for the purpose of maneuvering us into world war, followed by a new world order? (It is notable that the CFR was founded as an outgrowth of the failure of Washington insiders to maneuver the U.S. into the League of Nations following World War I. World War II gave the insiders a second opportunity, and this time they succeeded!)
The CFR has long been accused of accommodating Communism. Indeed, its goal of a world government is shared by Marxists. This calls to mind the Soviet factor in Pearl Harbor's background.
-- And the Soviet Connection
Benjamin Gitlow, former General Secretary of the American Communist Party, and twice its candidate for Vice President, wrote in his book I Confess:
As far back as 1927 when I was in Moscow, the attitude toward the United States in the event of war was discussed. Privately, it was the opinion of all the Russian leaders to whom I spoke that the rivalry between the United States and Japan must actually break out into a war between these two.
The Soviets knew that Japan, tough and militaristic, was the main barrier to their spreading Communism in the Far East. But if they felt a war between the United States and Japan was desirable in the 1920s, it was vital to them in 1941. For in June of that year, the Nazis had invaded the Soviet Union and were methodically decimating its forces. If Japan joined its Axis partner by attacking from the East, the Communists would be caught in a vise.
The day after the German offensive began, Harold Ickes urged Roosevelt to embargo oil to Japan. A month later we had ended all trade with that nation. By then, the Japanese had already abandoned thoughts of invading the Soviet Union, but it was surely clear to them that only by moving their armies south would they be able to replenish the embargoed resources.
Japan's move south enabled Stalin to free his Siberian forces to fight the Germans, and the tide of the conflict began to turn. Japan was emasculated in its war with America, exactly as the Soviets wanted, and Communism engulfed much of Asia.
Certainly there was no shortage of Soviet sympathizers in the administration of Roosevelt, who had himself recognized the Soviet Union in his first year in office. Harry Hopkins, the President's closest advisor, oversaw Lend-Lease, which transferred $11 billion in aid to the USSR. After the war, two congressional hearings examined evidence that he had also shipped the Soviets nuclear materiel as well as purloined blueprints for the atomic bomb. Hopkins didn't face charges only because he was dead, and the case has long been forgotten by most of the American public.
Then there is the matter of General Marshall's whereabouts on the morning of December 7th, 1941. He always testified that he had been on a protracted horseback ride. But Pearl Harbor investigators overlooked Arthur Upham Pope's book Maxim Litvinoff, a 1943 biography of the Soviet ambassador to the U.S. Litvinoff first arrived in Washington on the morning of December 7th, 1941 -- and, according to Pope, was met at the airport by General Marshall. If this is true, why did Marshall conceal it? And why was Litvinoff's visit so perfectly timed to coincide with the outbreak of war that would ally the United States with the Soviet Union?
Some catastrophic U.S. policy decisions occurred around the end of the war. At Yalta, FDR made the agreements that gave the Soviets Eastern Europe and a foothold in China. In 1945, Marshall went on a special mission to China. The weapons embargo and untimely truces he laid on the Nationalist government were pivotal to the Communist seizure of that nation -- which in turn signed a death warrant for 60 million Chinese who were killed by their own leaders, and set the stage for the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
A Final Judgment
These monumental actions by Roosevelt and Marshall have always been dismissed by Washington apologists as unfortunate mistakes. However, if we accept the school of thought that sees these men as "master strategists" who schemed Pearl Harbor to defeat Hitler, how is it that they suddenly became world class bunglers when shaping post-war policy? Does this return us to the "explanation" that not warning Hawaii was just unintentional error?
On the contrary, Pearl Harbor illuminates the possibility that the results of Yalta and the Marshall Mission were not unintentional. If there is a lesson Pearl Harbor should teach us, it is to look at history beyond the reality created by headlines and Hollywood. The stock market crash, the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the loss of allies to Marxism, and other failures of the American past have long been attributed to chance or blunder. But it was FDR himself who once said: "In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way."
Pearl Harbor was no isolated episode. As many Vietnam veterans will attest, it wasn't the only time soldiers have felt betrayed by their civilian government. Regardless of what motives underlay the Pearl Harbor story, it must now take its place among history's scandals. Watergate shrivels in comparison. Some will always maintain FDR's innocence in the matter, saying his critics have revised history to indulge their paranoia. But only the lies have been revised. The true revisors of history are those who incinerate files and sway witnesses!
According to one officer's account, when General Marshall ordered the Pearl Harbor affair hushed up shortly after the attack, he said, "Gentlemen, this goes to the grave with us." But some believe that the grave is not a safe repository. As Admiral Kimmel said, the perpetrators of the Pearl Harbor betrayal "must answer on the Day of Judgement like any other criminal." There is one judge who will never be compromised.
James Perloff is a freelance writer and a contributing editor to THE NEW AMERICAN.