The Holocaust Historiography Project

A Note From The Editor

Pearl Harbor: The Latest Wave

Keith Stimely

The latest furious round of publication and ensuing controversy about Pearl Harbor erupted at the end of 1981, and has not simmered down yet. The opening shot was the release in November that year of Gordon W. Prange’s massive At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor. Prange had been working on the book for more than thirty years; his first missed deadline for publication by McGraw-Hill was in 1951, and thereafter he continued to periodically promise completion of the manuscript and never came through, all the while adding more to it and using up advances. It finally got to the point where McGraw-Hill decided to cut its losses and refuse any further communication with the indefatigable, eccentric author. But two of Prange’s former students, Donald Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon, took up the task of reducing and shaping Prange’s thousands of manuscript pages and notes into publishable form, the result of which was At Dawn We Slept. Prange had died in May 1980. The book was promoted by McGraw-Hill as the definitive work on the subject, full of new information. Without question it did contain more in the way of details from Japanese sources about the military genesis, planning, execution, and follow-up of the attack than any other work, details gleaned in interviews conducted by Prange in the late '40s and early '50s while he was serving in Japan as Chief of the Historical Section under General MacArthur, and which were indeed “new"-back then. The book’s strength and value was as a military history of the Japanese side; when it ventured afield into painting the diplomatic and intelligence pictures, assigning responsibility and blame on the American side, its inadequacies were apparent. Prange’s collaborators Goldstein and Dillon were determined to produce an account that would not only stand up as a general history, but in fact deal the final, crippling blow to the revisionists interlopers. They added an appendix called “Revisionists Revisited,” a precis of chapters 139-43 in the fourth volume of Prange’s original manuscript, in which they attempted a refutation of all revisionist theories and evidences, and concluded that “in a thorough search of more than 30 years, including all publications released up to May 1, 1981, we have not discovered one document or one word of sworn testimony that substantiates the revisionist position on Roosevelt and Pearl Harbor.” (Emphasis added.) It was clear that the book was meant to supplant Roberta Wohlstetter’s Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision (1962) as the fundamental Establishment, pro-Roosevelt account, which would constitute the final word on Pearl Harbor and effectively end revisionism on the subject for all time.

It was not to be. No sooner had At Dawn We Slept appeared than it became clear just how much recent important evidence Goldstein and Dillon in fact ignored. Their statement that they had searched through all publications released up to May 1, 1981, was simply not the truth — as later admitted by Goldstein, who explained that he and Dillon had relied for this statement on the assurances of another historian, Ronald Lewin, that none of the voluminous National Archives Records Service (NARS) and other data released in 1980-81 supported a revisionist view. Even if Lewin was right, which he wasn’t, it was a reflection of Goldstein and Dillons' level of scholarly integrity that they would make a sweeping assertion of up-to-date accuracy and comprehensiveness on a claim of personal familiarity which was false.

Much of the NARS and other recent data did indeed support a revisionist position, and was used as such by John Costello, a British historian whose book The Pacific War appeared almost simultaneously with Prange's, starting a debate which soon drowned out the premature huzzas for Prange uttered by some overeager reviewers not familiar enough with the evidential record to even have an intelligent opinion on the matter. In two chapters at the end of his general history of the Pacific-theater war, Costello discussed the new evidence which, he claimed, indicated that: eleven days before Pearl Harbor FDR had received a “positive war warning” from Churchill that the Japanese would strike against America at the end of the first week in December — a warning which caused the President to do an abrupt about-face on plans for a time-buying modus vivendi with Japan and which resulted in Secretary of State Hull’s deliberately provocative ultimatum of 26 November 1941 which guaranteed war; the United States had intercepted, between 2 and 4 December, the “Winds Execute” message which meant an imminent diplomatic break and thus war, this message had been passed on to the higher authorities in Washington, and its receipt had been covered up by Washington after the Pearl Harbor attack. The new evidence for the receipt of “Winds” was National Archives document SRH-051: “Interview with Mr. Ralph T. Briggs,” conducted by the Naval Security Group and declassified by the National Security Agency on 11 March 1980. Briggs said in this interview that he was the one who had intercepted the crucial message, while on duty as chief watch supervisor at the Naval Communication Station at Cheltenham, Maryland. Briggs further stated that he was ordered by his superior officer in 1946 not to testify about the matter to the joint Congressional Committee and to cease any contact with Captain Laurance Safford (then waging a lonely and career-destroying battle to convince investigators that a “Winds Execute” had been picked up), and that all copies he had made of the message intercept were missing from the files. Briggs’s sensational interview, buttressing a key point in the revisionist position, was published in the Fall 1980 issue of the Newsletter of the American Committee on the History of the Second World War. It is therefore interesting to note the use that Goldstein and Dillon, of “thorough search of … all publications released up to May 1, 1981” fame, made of it: none. Briggs appeared nowhere in At Dawn We Slept.

He did appear in another book, published in early 1982: Ronald Lewin’s The American Magic: Codes, Ciphers and the Defeat of Japan. In this Establishment brief Lewin spent several pages discussing the “Winds Execute” business in an attempt to discredit it. His tactic was to cast doubt on the accuracy of Briggs’s recollection and thus on the receipt of the execute, but then to say that, well, even if the execute came in and was passed on, it didn’t really mean much, didn’t tell anyone anything not already known, and at any rate would have only added to the confusion among the intelligence-gatherers, what with all these other messages coming in creating so much apparently unconnected intelligence “noise” … and so forth. (Revisionists have come to refer to this Establishment tactic in dealing with uncomfortable evidence as “pulling a Wohlstetter.")

But, as was the case with the Prange book vs. Costello's, hardly had Lewin’s work appeared than an answering blow with yet more — much more — new evidence came from the revisionist side: John Toland’s Infamy: Pearl Harbor and its Aftermath. This book was remarkable in many ways, not least in that its author 1) had for many years been recognized as a certifiably Establishment, “safe” historian not known to hold any brief for the revisionist position (and who had indeed, in two earlier books on aspects of the Pacific war, presented only orthodox opinions on Pearl Harbor), and 2) went further even than some of the “old-line” revisionists had been willing to go, in stating that FDR not only welcomed the war and thought that an attack somewhere was likely, but knew that the attack was coming at Pearl Harbor. Toland wrote: “Was it possible to imagine a President who remarked, 'This means war,' after reading the [thirteen-part December 6th] message, not instantly summoning to the White House his Army and Navy commanders as well as his Secretaries of War and Navy? One of [Secretary of the Navy] Knox’s close friends, James G. StahIman, wrote Admiral Kemp Tolley in 1973 that Knox told him that he, Stimson, Marshall, Stark and Harry Hopkins had spent most of the night of December 6 at the White House with the President: All were waiting for what they knew was coming: an attack on Pearl Harbor… The comedy of errors on the sixth and seventh appears incredible. It only makes sense if it was a charade, and Roosevelt and the inner circle had known about the attack.”

Unlike Prange’s book, Toland’s was not a military history, full of “I was there” anecdotes from gunners' mates and mess stewards second-class, and the like. It was a searching attempt to find and fix responsibility at the levels that counted. Essentially it consisted of a history of the nine official Pearl Harbor investigations, concluding with Toland’s own “tenth investigation.” In building his case for FDR’s perfidity and both a pre- and post-attack conspiracy and cover-up, Toland utilized and claimed vindication of much of the evidence other revisionists had used over the years. But his “tenth investigation” included much that was new with him. Two key points backing his contention that “Washington knew” were that the Dutch army in Java had passed on to the United States intercepted Japanese messages predicting the attack, and that a Dutch naval attache in Washington received information at the Office of Naval Intelligence indicating that the Americans knew a Japanese carrier task force was steaming toward Hawaii. Further: an American steamship had picked up the Japanese task force’s radio traffic and reported it to the FBI, and, independently, a seaman in the intelligence office of the 12th Naval District headquarters in San Francisco had intercepted the Japanese radio traffic and used it to plot accurately the location of the task force as it headed eastward toward Hawaii- providing this information to his superiors which, he was told by one, was passed on to the White House. Toland referred to this man, who had requested anonymity, as “Seaman Z.”

There was much more in Toland’s account, including intriguing references to important information possessed by an “Admiral V” — but these were his essential new points of evidence.

The critical response as a whole to Toland’s blockbuster book was anything but equivocal. Reactions tended to be either very strongly pro or very strongly anti. The attack on his new evidence was led by scholars David Kahn and Captain Roger Pinneau, who sought to poke holes into each piece. They stressed that there was no hard evidence that Washington had in fact received the report from the Dutch in Java, that Toland totally misinterpreted the diary entries of the Dutch naval attache in Washington, and that, as regards the supposed evidence of interception and tracking of the Japanese task force’s radio traffic, that task force was in fact under orders to maintain strict radio silence — a fact indeed confirmed by the record and by the surviving Japanese themselves. Another historian who joined in attacking Toland on these grounds was John Costello, the “mild” revisionist who had in his own book stopped short of claiming that FDR knew where the Japanese were going to strike.

Toland counter-attacked in a new “Postscript” for the paperback edition of his book, released in February 1983. He did not back down from the claim of the radio traffic intercepts, but pointed out that despite undoubted orders for radio silence, that silence must have been broken at some points, and he presented evidence for why this was so. Neither did he back down from the claim that the information of these intercepts, and other information about the task force, was passed on to Washington; if there remains no documentary proof of receipt, there is a good reason for that which should be familiar to all students of Pearl Harbor’s aftermath. Toland’s purpose in writing the “Postscript” was not, however, mainly to reply to his critics, but to present yet more new evidence which had come in to him since the first edition of the book was published. Among this was material relating to J. Edgar Hoover’s foreknowledge of the Pearl Harbor attack (knowledge which was, according to Toland’s source, quoting Hoover, passed on to FDR), a question which has intrigued scholars for some time. Indeed, independently of Toland, the matter was revived in a major way in December 1982 in the form of an article in the American Historical Review based on newly declassified documents.

In December 1983 the National Security Agency declassified and released the text of a 16,000-word interview, conducted by the Naval Security group, in which Toland’s “Seaman Z- was revealed as Robert D. Ogg, a retired businessman. In the interview conducted in May, and later approved in transcript by the subject, Ogg maintained the accuracy of what he had earlier told Toland: that he had picked up the Japanese task force’s radio signals, had plotted its location, and had been told by his superior that the information was passed on to the White House. When asked about the Japanese insistence that their force had been under radio silence, Ogg replied: “I feel there is no possible question that they did not maintain radio silence, but I don’t believe they used it [radio communication] in any great activity.”

Ogg’s relenquishment of anonymity, and the release of his interview. statements, breathed new life into the Toland debate. But there was more in December 1983 which was to open up a whole new angle in Pearl Harbor revisionism, further fanning the flames of contention. Joseph Leib, a former New Deal bureaucrat and retired newspaper correspondent, wrote an article which appeared in Hustler magazine, “Pearl Harbor: The Story the Rest of the Media Won’t Tell,” in which he claimed that his friend, Secretary of State Hull, had confided to him on 29 November 1941 that J. Edgar Hoover and FDR knew that the Japanese were going to attack Pearl Harbor withing a few days, and that the President, over Hull’s strident objections, was going to let this happen as a way to get the country into war. Hull’s dilemma was that he could not reveal this openly to the press, since the White House would simply denounce him, and no one would believe him. He turned over to Lieb a document containing a transcript of Japanese radio intercepts which supposedly detailed the Pearl Harbor plan, making the reporter promise never to reveal the source. Leib rushed the story, minus the identification of Hull, to the United Press bureau, which refused to run it since it was so incredulous. But Leib did manage to persuade UP’s cable editor, Harry Frantz, to transmit it on the foreign cable. Although the story managed somehow to get garbled in transmission, it did create a front-page banner headline in the Sunday, 30 November, Honolulu Advertiser: JAPANESE MAY STRIKE OVER WEEKEND! Thus Leib, writing in 1983, has finally cleared up the mystery of the origins of that headline, which has always been a particularly curious part of the Pearl Harbor puzzle. He promises to release more information about his knowledge in other forums.

Leib’s story was not the capstone to the recent revisionist wave. Percy L. Greaves, Jr., who had been research chief for the Republican minority in the joint Congressional Investigation, and contributed a masterly chapter on “The Pearl Harbor Investigations” to the fundamental revisionist work Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace (1953), announced the completion and forthcoming publication of his own book, provisionally entitled The Real Infamy of Pearl Harbor. It is a work long-awaited by revisionists, who recognize in Greaves the man who probably knows more about the Pearl Harbor record than any other alive, having been in on the investigation from virtually the start and devoted some 40 years to the subject. His is a voice of authority which will have to be contended with, and which promises to raise a new storm of controversy over an issue that just won’t die.

* * * * *

All of which brings us down to the late Winter of 1983-84 and this issue of The JHR, entirely devoted to Pearl Harbor. Represented here are some of the fruits of Mr. Greaves’s new work, in the form of four chapters which he has granted us permission to pre-publish: “Marshall Comes on Stage,” “Marshall Before the joint Congressional Committee,” “Admission of MAGIC Demolishes FDR’s Claim of Surprise,” and “What We Knew.” These chapters contain extensive extracts from the testimony presented before the congressional investigators; precise citations from that record and other sources are dispensed with here, but will of course appear in the complete published book. The chapters are preceded by three of Mr. Greaves’s most trenchant essays from years past, quite deserving of re-circulation. These begin with “Was Pearl Harbor Unavoidable?,” which appeared originally in the Chicago Sunday Tribune Magazine of 7 December 1947. This explores the missed chances in 1939 for the United States to cooperate with and encourage the Japanese peace party; that Washington was not interested in such a course meant that Japan, in opposing Stalin’s appetites in Asia, was left with nowhere else to turn for support than the Axis powers, and it explains a crucial part of the background to the later tragedy of war. Next appears “The Mystery of Pearl Harbor,” taken from an original article published in National Review of 12 December 1966. (Yes: William F. Buckley, Jr., was once unafraid to publish revisionist material.) This article has been noteworthy in revisionist lore as containing a devastating rebuttal of the book which was, before Prange's, the anti-revisionists' principal bulwark, Roberta Wohlstetter’s Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision — a work all too often cited by the innocent, even to this day, as “authoritative.” Greaves notes that there were more than 100 factual errors in Wohlstetter, including one fundamental error of assumption which fatally undermines her entire thesis. He also goes after FDR’s personal, hand-picked, paid, beranked and bemedalled court historian, the late Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison. Finally, we have a unique inside-look at the joint Congressional Committee investigation in Greaves’s “Senator Homer Ferguson and the Pearl Harbor Congressional Investigation,” a valuable memoir written in 1948 and published here for the first time.

In two of the chapters from his book pre-published in this issue, Mr. Greaves presents an extended look at Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall’s crucial testimony before the congressional committee. It was on the stand there that Marshall had his famous attack of “amnesia,” explaining that he could not for the life of him remember his whereabouts on the night of 6-7 December, the most important few hours of his life. The mystery of his whereabouts and activities, not only on that night but late into the next morning as well (with precious intelligence on hand at the War Department indicating war and an attack somewhere in the Pacific at one p.m. Washington time, and precious hours slipping away until the fatal hour — which was sunrise over Pearl Harbor on a lazy Sunday morning, the best possible time for a surprise attack on the best possible target, the Pacific Fleet moored peacefully at anchorage), is one of the key elements in the whole Pearl Harbor saga. Any conspiracy by Washington to withhold vital information from the Hawaiian commanders, especially in these late hours, would have had to involve the Army’s Chief of Staff. If FDR had something up his sleeve, Marshall was in on it. And anything Marshall was up to would have to have been with the approval of his Commander-in-Chief, the President. With FDR no longer alive in 1945-46 to answer questions (a situation which would very likely have been impossible in any case, given Democrat-imposed political realities), it was up to investigators to focus on Marshall, and prominent others, attempting to find out what had gone on at the very top by finding out what had gone on just-below-the-top. The whereabouts of Marshall on that crucial night and morning thus might not only be considered a “key element” of the puzzle, but perhaps even the key. Was Marshall in fact-as revisionists have suspected all along-at the White House part of that night, huddled with FDR, conveniently and deliberately out of the reach of War Department underlings who, knowing what was coming, would have pressed for the warning to Hawaii’s General Short that had to come with Marshall’s authority? Clear evidence of this would be the equivalent of the “smoking gun” tape recording that did a later president in, in a similar tale of conspiracy at the highest levels of government.

Greaves having provided us here with the best description and analysis yet of just what Marshall said (and couldn’t, or wouldn’t, say) before the congressional investigators, we follow with James J. Martin’s pointed tour de force,Where Was General Marshall?” — the most comprehensive piece of research yet accomplished on this question, which reviews all the evidence and theories ever generated, and leaves the reader at the point where he cannot but draw conclusions which are devastating indeed to the “official” version of events. The essay was completed in 1981 and has been published heretofore only in a limited edition in Canada, directed mainly to Japanese there. We are pleased now to put it in general circulation in the United States and throughout the world. This publication event is especially felicitous in view of the recent interest in Marshall generated by hagiographer Leonard Mosley, whose Marshall: Hero For Our Times constitutes the latest whitewash effort, and by the announcement of yet another major biography of Marshall currently being prepared by a professor at the University of Southern California.

With the combination herein of new and highly significant revisionist material from Mr. Greaves and Dr. Martin, The JHR makes its contribution to a process which has been at work, slowly but inexorably, for four decades, and is ever-hastening: the dismantling of the cherished Establishment myth of Rooseveltian innocence on the road to war with Japan and at the gate to war which was Pearl Harbor. That myth has been, and continues to be, bitterly defended by those who for whatever emotional or practical reasons have a stake in it, and who have more than once taken it upon themselves to blithely announce that revisionism on the subject is “dead” — as if the mere announcement itself were the bullet. But revisionism in fact maintains a vibrant existence, bounding along; the old questions will not go away, some answers are found, some new questions are raised. And significant converts gained. Nothing demonstrates better than the remarkable wave of interest, revelation, and contention of the last few years the utter persistent quality of Pearl Harbor revisionism.

There has long existed a sly musing in revisionist circles that the Roosevelt defenders, in view of their long record of fantastic performances in the realms of obfuscation, double-talk, whitewash, tortuous justification, suppression, sleight-of-hand, ad hominemism, etc., would, in order for their minds to be finally changed, require the revisionists to prove their viewpoint with nothing less than clear evidence not only that FDR welcomed and knew about the Japanese attack in advance, but that he had actually flown the lead Japanese plane! The musing is meant facetiously, of course. And so is this:

Considering the evidentiary progress of the last few years, revisionists might well say: “No, we can’t show you FDR making his dive-bombing run. But, by God, that fellow suited up on the flight deck with the Scotch terrier better get rid of his cigarette holder before he starts a fire!”