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  Nostalgia ain't what it used to be

Tuesday, 25 September, 2018
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Pearl Harbor

Date: 07 December, 2003

By: Chief

Image day which shall be remembered for various reasons by various people all over the globe. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) called it a "day of infamy." British Prime Minister Winston Churchill on that fateful night slept "the sleep of the saved and the thankful."

The attack on Pearl Harbor changed not only the course of individual lives for generations, it changed the course of our country and, indeed, the entire world. I really do not think that anybody would argue with that statement.

America was now in the war. There was also little, if any, doubt that Congress would the following day (December 8th), grant the president's request and declare war on the entire axis alliance — Japan, Italy and Germany. Congress, as it was figured, did not disappoint. They approved a declaration of war that FDR had asked for (for an mp3 download of Roosevelt's speech, click here). And with a vengeance we were off to war.

A brutal necessity

I also do not think that most people would argue that we as a country needed to 'get into', pardon the phrase, World War II. It was, unfortunately, necessary. Take a look sometime at a 1940 era map of Europe. Hitler owned, or at the very leased occupied with few exceptions, most of it. Hitler's Gestapo was exceptionally brutal with the citizens of the lands Germany now occupied. Additionally, priceless pieces of art were removed from the various countries and to this very day most have never been recovered. No one knows where they went (but somebody knows where they are). Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, the U.S. lost, with the sole exception of Britain, our most important trading partners. Economically this was devastating to our country as we had not recovered from the depression. If Hitler could control the Atlantic Ocean he, by default, controlled or owned us as well. That situation could not be. It makes one shudder just merely thinking about it.

Further, in the Pacific side of the world Japan's imperial ambitions were growing as well. They were already in a shooting war with China and had numerous other countries in mind for takeover.

That would be very bad news for the U.S. because, simply put, if Japan held the Pacific and Germany the Atlantic — the sea lines of communications — we were screwed. While at that time we had the raw materials we needed, who would we trade them with? How would we get our goods to an overseas market? Lastly, what about imported goods or raw materials? If you think oil is expensive now, can you imagine what the price per barrel might have been had Japan and Germany controlled the two major oceans of the world.

However, prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor the majority of our citizens did not want to get involved in "Europe's war." World War I was still fresh in the minds of many of our citizens. Indeed, Charles Lindbergh, the man who had made the very first transatlantic crossing by air in 1927 (at the ripe old age of 25) in his single engine airplane the Spirit of St. Louis, was one of the leading proponents of isolationism. (As an aside, once the attack hit the news stands and radio Lindbergh was one of the first people to join the military.) The Congress, politicians that they are, was not in anyway going to declare war on anybody. It just was not in the cards. We would remain out of the war.

That is not to say we would remain neutral as specified under the Neutrality Act of 1939. The Congress did pass a bill, HR-1776 (of all the numbers, puh-lease), also known as the Lend-Lease act of March, 1941. This bill which was bitterly contested yet passed, albeit by a relatively small margin, provided billions of dollars of critical war material to those countries - notably Britain, Soviet Russia and the Free French Forces, who were actively fighting the axis alliance. For us, it was as close to being actually in the war as we could be without getting our hands dirty.

FDR along with Churchill knew that Europe, given enough time, would be irretrievably lost if Hitler's submarine force could, in effect, close down the Atlantic. If Hitler could do that Lend-Lease would mean nothing and Hitler would eventually 'win', if you will.

Germany, Italy and Japan did help us out in a weird sort of way. On September 27th, 1940, representatives of each government met in Berlin and signed the "Tripartite Pact." Article three is the mutual defense article and is quoted here:

"Germany, Italy and Japan agree to co-operate in their efforts on aforesaid lines. They further undertake to assist one another with all political, economic and military means when one of the three contracting powers is attacked by a power at present not involved in the European war or in the Chinese-Japanese conflict."

Therefore, if the U.S. was attacked by one of those powers it was the same as being attacked by all three. Hence, if Japan did attack us we could, and we subsequently did, declare war on all three countries. At least that is how our government viewed the treaty.

But to get our hands dirty, to get into the fighting, Congress would have to declare war and to get Congress to do that — which was necessary — some overt act of war would have to be committed upon the sovereignty of the United States. And it would have to be a real barn burner as well. Something to utterly infuriate the American population.

A recommendation is passed along

On October 7th, 1940, a naval officer by the name of Arthur H. McCollum drafted a memorandum to his superior, Captain Knox, both of whom worked in the Office of Naval Intelligence. Contained in this memo is an outline of the current state of world affairs, the U.S. political situation and a recommendation of what could be done to really piss off the Japanese government and possibly maneuver the Japanese government into committing the overt act of war which our government needed in order to inflame the American citizenry and Congress and, as such, get the needed declaration of war against the axis powers.

Paragraphs 9 and 10 of the memo are quoted in toto for your edification:

"9. It is not believed that in the present state of political opinion the United States government is capable of declaring war against Japan without more ado; and it is barely possible that vigorous action on our part might lead the Japanese to modify their attitude. Therefore, the following course of action is suggested:

"A. Make an arrangement with Britain for the use of British bases in the Pacific, particularly Singapore.

"B. Make an arrangement with Holland for the use of base facilities and acquisition of supplies in the Dutch East Indies.

"C. Give all possible aid to the Chinese government of Chiang-Kai-Shek.

"D. Send a division of long range heavy cruisers to the Orient, Philippines, or Singapore.

"E. Send two divisions of submarines to the Orient.

"F. Keep the main strength of the U.S. fleet now in the Pacific in the vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands.

"G. Insist that the Dutch refuse to grant Japanese demands for undue economic concessions, particularly oil.

"H. Completely embargo all U.S. trade with Japan, in collaboration with a similar embargo imposed by the British Empire.

"10. If by these means Japan could be led to commit an overt act of war, so much the better. At all events we must be fully prepared to accept the threat of war."

In his comment on McCollum's memo, Captain Knox's last paragraph is telling:

"However, I concur in your courses of action we must be ready on both sides and probably strong enough to care for both."

How do you like them apples matey? It is akin to throwing rocks at a tied up dog just to try to piss him off. Be forewarned that the rope holding the dog may at some point break and the dog just might seek revenge. Additionally, and if for no other reason, the memos themselves (courtesy of the National Archives) do make for interesting reading.

It is also worthy of note that in late 1940 our naval intelligence personnel figured that war with the axis powers was inevitable and were hard at work on methods to bring that inevitability about. Were McCollum's recommendations put into play? Recommendations lettered A, C, F and H apparently were, though whether or not it was McCollum's memo that did the trick is another question (that has yet to be answered). On the other hand, who had the authority to implement the recommendations that were subsequently put into action? Interesting ... no?

I must admit that having officers of our military trying to come up with ways to get Japan to shoot first at us, in other words, devising a plan which would fan the flames of the Japanese government enough to make them start a full fledged shooting war against us is not what I had in mind an officer would attempt to do. Unless, of course, they were ordered to do so. If they were ordered to do what they did who, pray tell, issued the order? It certainly was not the American people as the people had already spoken and the answer was a resounding no. No war. Our military officers and civilian officials alike should respect the will of the citizenry and their decision. Whether right or wrong. The citizen is the boss. Period.

Along comes Pearl Harbor

History is replete with reports and stories of how the Japanese Navy sneaked up on us that heinous day, a Sunday no less, and blew hell fire out of our Navy and Army. While it was a surprise to most of the world's population, including ours and our military leaders stationed in Hawaii, Admiral Kimmel and Lt. General Short, it may not have come as a surprise to a few high level people, military and civilian, in Washington, DC. It could be plausible.

Whether or not Roosevelt actually or factually knew about the Japanese government deciding to send their fleet off to Pearl Harbor to thoroughly trounce ours is a matter of pure speculation. What is known is that (a) we had broken the Japanese code, both diplomatic and military and (b) the Japanese Navy was heading our way with the specific intent of muddying up the waters of Pearl Harbor by sinking our fleet in it.

When did we break the Japanese cypher systems? The British claim sometime around mid 1939 (Daily Telegraph (British newspaper) & Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) claims after Pearl Harbor but before the battle of Midway in 1942). How does that grab you? Secondly, when did our government know — as in really know — that Japan's naval might was on its way toward Pearl? Between November 17 to November 25 radio intercept operators intercepted a total of eighty-three messages from Admiral Yamamoto to his commanders at sea. A part of the November 25 message reads as follows:

"The task force, keeping its movements strictly secret and maintaining close guard against submarines and aircraft, shall advance into Hawaiian waters, and upon the very opening of hostilities shall attack the main force of the United States fleet in Hawaii and deal it a mortal blow. . ." (Robert Stinnett, Author of Day of Deceit).

The attack which would subsequently change the course of the world, in more ways than one, was imminent.

Somebody in our war department had that information. More than likely so did someone at the White House. Our commanders at Pearl Harbor did not. Further, previous messages to our commanders in Hawaii from the war department ordered both the Army and Navy to maintain a defensive posture — staying close to or actually in-port at Pearl and nearby bases. This concept has only one outcome, let the enemy shoot first. That way it does not look like we started anything. They did.

By the time the battle, lopsided as it was, was over a total of 2403 men, women, and children were killed and 1178 were wounded. America was pissed and Roosevelt was assured of his declaration of war request, which he delivered the very next day to a joint session of Congress, being passed.

Everybody should know that over the next four years we whipped the Germans, the Italians and the Japanese asses. And whipped them a-good-one. Easy it was not, but it was, in fact and deed, accomplished. However the price tag to get us into the fight was without question staggering.

Since it is fairly well settled that some officials of our government did indeed know the Japanese were coming and not by a means most reasonable people would consider to be diplomatic, the one big question is the 'why' question. Why weren't those messages that Washington had in their hot little hands forwarded to Kimmel and Short? After all, Kimmel and Short were the ones who could make the most and fastest use of them. There was plenty of time for those messages to have been delivered and for Kimmel and Short to make good use of the information and remaining time. Of that there is no doubt.

Consider that our forces in Hawaii were ordered to remain in a defensive position — passive, if you will. However, if Kimmel and Short had the messages that the Japanese Navy was in route both commanders could have — while still obeying their orders — insured that our military defenses were heightened. All the hatches battened down on all ships. Full water tight integrity set throughout the ships in port. Anti-aircraft guns manned and ready at all times. All liberty and leave canceled until further notice. Ships crews on a wartime footing. Aircraft fueled up and fully armed with flight crews ready to go on a moment's notice. Reconnaissance aircraft in the air out to, oh 150 - 200 miles. Had that happened we might have turned the Pearl Harbor disaster into a victory. The Japanese Navy was on its way to ambush us and we could have been laying in wait to ambush them. Fill the sky with lead at the first sign of the bad guy and shoot down anything with a red meat ball painted on it in a 'friendly sort of way'. It is possible that had we been victorious at Pearl the war itself might, just might, have been shortened. Fewer American lives lost. That would have been, as the Brits would say, 'jolly good'.

However, that was not the outcome.

How could it have happened

As to the 'why', it could have been something as simple as an oversight of the intelligence gathering folks who do not like to share their information with non-intel types. We see that happening all the time. The FBI does not share with the CIA and vice versa. Hell the NSA does not share with anybody. It could conceivably have been just that. It could also have been that getting the message properly released by those who had the authority to release those kinds of messages simply rejected the release figuring Kimmel and Short somehow would already know about the impending attack. It also could have been that nobody actually believed what was happening. That the Imperial Japanese Navy coming to attack us in Hawaii was false intelligence from the get go. We just don't know.

There is also the possibility that the failure to send those messages to our commanders in Hawaii was deliberate. Circumstantially it makes sense. Most of the pieces fit that slimy puzzle. Who would do such a thing is a question that we will probably never know the answer to — if —, and this is mighty 'iffy', it actually happened. It is at best plausible.

There are many reasons, or should I say excuses, why Kimmel and Short were left out of the communication and intelligence loop. And in my opinion, none of those reasons are worth a tinker's damn. It was, at the very minimum, gross negligence — pure and simple. Besides, excuses are like assholes ... everybody has one and they all stink.

Guilt by location or the scapegoats

But, whatever happened to Admiral Kimmel and Lt. General Short? Both were relieved of their commands, reduced in grade and quietly allowed to retire. They were held responsible for the Pearl Harbor disaster. Both officers, though mostly it was Kimmel, spent the rest of their lives trying to clear their names and reputations. They were left hung out to dry by our government. That is an outrage.

Courts of inquiry

On June 15, 1944, an investigation conducted by Admiral T. C. Hart at the direction of the Secretary of the Navy produced evidence, subsequently confirmed, that essential intelligence concerning Japanese intentions and war plans was available in Washington but was not shared with Admiral Kimmel (Senate Joint Resolution 55, 105th Congress, second session).

Furthermore, on October 19, 1944 a Naval Court of Inquiry exonerated Admiral Kimmel on the grounds that his military decisions and the disposition of his forces at the time of the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor were proper 'by virtue of the information that Admiral Kimmel had at hand which indicated neither the probability nor the imminence of an air attack on Pearl Harbor'. Further this same court of inquiry criticized the higher command for not sharing with Admiral Kimmel 'during the very critical period of 26 November to 7 December 1941, important information ... regarding the Japanese situation' and concluded that the Japanese attack and its outcome was attributable to no serious fault on the part of anyone in the naval service (Senate Joint Resolution 55, 105th Congress, second session).

Pertaining to Lt. General Short, on October 20, 1944, the Army Pearl Harbor Board of Investigation determined that Lieutenant General Short had not been kept 'fully advised of the growing tenseness of the Japanese situation which indicated an increasing necessity for better preparation for war'; detailed information and intelligence about Japanese intentions and war plans were available in 'abundance' but were not shared with the General Short's Hawaii command. General Short was not provided 'on the evening of December 6th and the early morning of December 7th, the critical information indicating an almost immediate break with Japan, though there was ample time to have accomplished this' (Senate Joint Resolution 55, 105th Congress, second session).

Partial redemption

The wrongs committed against both Kimmel and Short were not corrected until Bill Klinton (I can't believe he actually did something good) signed the defense authorization act of 2000. Said bill contained the Congressional findings that both Kimmel and Short were denied crucial military intelligence. As such neither officer was derelict in his duties.

However neither Klinton nor any subsequent president has chosen to reinstate Kimmel or Short to their former, pre-Pearl Harbor, ranks.

The sad fact is that a cloud continues to hang over the island of Oahu. It would be ever so nice if someday the power of the light of the truth were to shine eternally — eliminating all doubt — on a place named Pearl Harbor.

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