Pearl Harbor: Fifty Years of ControversyCharles Lutton
At 7:49 a.m. on Sunday, December 7, 1941, 183 Japanese dive- and torpedo-bombers, accompanied by Zero escorts, launched the first of two attacks against the American base at Pearl Harbor. A second wave of 168 Japanese aircraft arrived at 9 a.m. Eighteen operational warships, including four battleships, were sunk or heavily damaged; 188 aircraft were destroyed. 2,403 Americans were killed, among them 68 civilians, and 1178 were wounded.
Although the Japanese achieved local surprise, their success was less than complete. The Pacific Fleet’s three aircraft carriers were not in port. Nine heavy cruisers, all but three light cruisers, and virtually all of the destroyers remained afloat. None of the fleet’s submarines was lost. And the commander of the Japanese task force, Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, refused to authorize a third strike that could have led to the destruction of Pearl Harbor’s naval dockyards and oil storage tanks, the loss of which would have neutralized Hawaii as a forward base for counter-offensives against Japanese moves toward the Philippines, Malaya, and the Dutch East Indies.
The attack solved President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s most pressing problem: how to overcome the American public’s opposition to involvement in the war that had been going on in Europe for the previous sixteen months (on the eve of Pearl Harbor, polls indicated that 80 per cent of the people did not want the United States to enter the war as an active participant). Roosevelt received overwhelming support when he asked Congress for a declaration of war against Japan. The grass-roots America First movement quietly disbanded. On December 11th, Germany and Italy declared war against the United States. American resolve to “defeat the dictators” was near unanimous.
If the public united behind Roosevelt and Churchill in the war effort, almost from the first there were serious questions raised about the attack that had brought America into the world conflict. Who was accountable for the disaster? Was it avoidable? Why had the Japanese attacked? Had there been any American provocation? And why had Pearl Harbor’s able Navy and Army commanders, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel and General Walter Short, been caught off guard? Why were they quickly retired under unusual circumstances?
To head off congressional and public criticism, Roosevelt hastily appointed a special commission to investigate the attack. Chaired by Associate Supreme Court Justice Owen J. Roberts, a leading supporter of the pro-interventionist Committee to Aid America by Aiding the Allies, the President had no fear that the commission would do anything to compromise the spirit of unity that now prevailed. Justice Roberts completed his report on Friday, January 23, 1942. The Administration released it to the public in time for the Sunday newspapers. Key members of the Washington political and military establishment were absolved of any blame. The fault, they said, lay with Admiral Kimmel and General Short.
First Revisionist Critiques
But not all were convinced. In September 1944, John T. Flynn launched Pearl Harbor revisionism when he published a forty-six page booklet entitled The Truth about Pearl Harbor. Flynn argued that Roosevelt and his cronies had been plotting war against Japan at least since January 1941. The Administration continued needlessly to provoke the Japanese government throughout the rest of the year, and on November 26, 1941, delivered a diplomatic ultimatum that no government could possibly accept. Flynn also suggested that Kimmel and Short were given the wrong instructions from Washington headquarters, thus aborting the taking of effective measures at the base.
In early 1945, a thirty-year-old historian, William L. Neumann, published a brochure, The Genesis of Pearl Harbor. He reviewed the diplomatic background to the outbreak of the war and pointed out how the Roosevelt Administration had launched an economic war against Japan in the summer and fall of 1941. Neumann concluded that both sides were responsible, but that Washington could not have been surprised by the attack at Pearl Harbor, given FDR’s diplomatic activities in the months and days preceding December 7th.
Army and Navy Reports Released
After VJ-Day, President Harry Truman permitted the release of the Army and Navy special investigations of the Pearl Harbor attack. The Navy Court of Inquiry, headed by Admiral Orin G. Murfin, met from July 24-September 27, 1944. They concluded that Admiral Harold R. Stark, the Chief of Naval Operations, had failed to provide Admiral Kimmel all of the information possessed in Washington, thereby denying the Hawaii command a more complete picture of the situation. Kimmel was exonerated. His plans were judged “sound,” but were dependent on “advance knowledge that an attack was to be expected.” And given his limited military resources, Kimmel had conducted long-range aerial reconnaissance appropriate to the intelligence he had been given and the number of aircraft available.
Lt. General George Grunert chaired the Army Pearl Harbor Board, which met from July 20-October 20, 1944. Evidence from 151 witnesses was collected in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Hawaii. While the Board was critical of General Short, for the first time attention was directed toward General George Marshall and the War Department. Marshall was censured for failing to keep Short fully apprised of the deteriorating state of U.S.-Japanese relations; of failing to correct Short’s “sabotage alert” preparations at Pearl Harbor (U.S. aircraft were bunched wing-tip to wing-tip on December 7th, because Washington had told Short to guard against sabotage. Had he been alerted to a possible air attack, the planes would have been scattered and sheltered in revetments to guard against bomb blast); of failing to send critical information to short on the evening of December 6th and the morning of December 7th; of failing to determine if the state of readiness at Pearl Harbor was commensurate with the potential threats to the base’s security. General Leonard Gerow, the Chief of the Army’s War Plans Division, was also reproved, He had failed, the Board concluded, to keep the Hawaiian command inform ed about Japanese moves that were known in Washington; of failing to make the November 27th warning clear and concise; and of failing to see that joint Army-Navy plans were properly effected.
Needless to say, Secretary of War Henry Stimson and Navy Secretary James Forrestal were alarmed that blame for the success of the Japanese attack had been shifted from the local commanders to their superiors in Washington. To supplement the report of the Army Pearl Harbor Board, Major Henry Clausen was selected to head a one-man investigation. But no public report was issued. Forrestal had Admiral W. Kent Hewitt continues to investigate Pearl Harbor. No separate report was issued, but on August 29, 1945, Forrestal announced that, on the basis of Hewitt’s inquiries, “Admiral Husband E. Kimmel and Admiral Harold R. Stark, particularly during the period 27 November to 7 December, 1941, failed to demonstrate the superior judgment necessary to exercising command commensurate with their rank and assigned duties.”
The Army and Navy Reports provided fresh ammunition to the redoubtable John T. Flynn, who, in September 1945, issued a fifteen-page report entitled The Final Secret of Pearl Harbor. Flynn’s findings were not limited to review by a small circle of interested friends, but were given wide circulation thanks to the Chicago Tribune, which highlighted his work. Flynn concluded that Franklin Roosevelt was to blame for diplomatic mismanagement; for keeping the Pacific fleet stationed at the insecure Pearl Harbor base; and for stripping Pearl Harbor of needed defensive equipment.
Reviewing the diplomatic prelude to the attack, Flynn explained that FDR undermined the position of Japanese moderates and so orchestrated events that General Tojo and the “War Agitators” took power in Tokyo. Despite provocations, it became clear that Germany was not going to declare war against the United States. It was at this point, said Flynn, that Roosevelt turned the screws on the Japanese.
Flynn went on to note the “Gift from the Gods” that the cracking of the Japanese diplomatic codes represented. Flynn was under the impression that the British had first broken the Japanese code and supplied Washington with copies of messages between Tokyo and foreign representatives. He underscored the significance of the fact that Washington was aware that Japan had given its diplomats a November 25th deadline to reach an understanding with the U.S.
In a section, “The Fog at Pearl Harbor,” Flynn emphasized that the commanders at Pearl Harbor were told “literally nothing” about the intercepted Japanese messages and the rapidly deteriorating state of affairs. Short was ordered to guard against sabotage and internal disorder from the large Japanese population in Hawaii, and warned that Japanese military operations could be expected soon, but against such targets as the Kra Peninsula, Guam, Singapore, and Malay. And Flynn re-emphasized a point that is still too often obscured in discussions of the attack, namely, “that Kimmel’s fleet was not there to protect Pearl Harbor. The harbor was there merely as a fuel and supply base for it. The fleet had a task assigned to it in case of war. The protection of the base would be the duty of the Army and the base naval installa tions.”
In his discussion of “The Night Before Pearl Harbor” Flynn charged that the story given the public about Roosevelt being surprised by the attack on Pearl Harbor was “utterly fraudulent.” Based on the intercepted messages, FDR knew that hostilities were soon to commence. What “warnings” were finally sent to Hawaii were deliberately delivered by the slowest possible means as a face-saving measure.
Flynn went on to show how blame for the disaster was cleverly shifted from Washington to the Hawaiian commanders, Kimmel and Short. He further discussed how the fleet had come to be based at Pearl Harbor over the objections of Kimmel’s predecessor, Admiral Richardson, who was con vinced that any ships berthed there would be an easy target. [*]
In his summary of the tragedy, Flynn reiterated his view that Roosevelt had decided to go to war with Japan, despite his public pledges to the American people not to make their sons fight in foreign wars, and that he had promised the British to fight long before December 7th. When the attack came at Pearl Harbor, the “amateur Commander-in-Chief” tried to place the blame on Kimmel and Short. “Now,” he concluded, “if there is a shred of decency left in the American people, they will de mand that Congress open the whole ugly business to the light of day. [**]
The Congressional Hearings
A concurrent resolution of Congress brought into being the Joint Congressional Committee on the Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack. The Administration hoped that the Committee, which had a majority of Democrats, would satisfy public curiosity while safeguarding the standing of the political party in power. Senator Alben Barkley (D-Kentucky) served as chairman. The five other Democrats included Senator Walter F. George (Georgia), Senator Scott Lucas (Illinois), Rep. J. Bayard Clark (North Carolina), Rep. John W. Murphy (Pennsylvania), and Rep. Jere Cooper (Tennessee), who was Vice Chairman. The Democrats selected the legal staff.
Four Republicans were on the Committee: Senator Owen Brewster (Maine), Senator Homer Ferguson (Michigan), Rep. Bertrand Gearhart (California), and Rep. Frank B. Keefe (Wisconsin). The Republican Minority were not provided with their own staff. However, John T. Flynn raised funds from private sources to permit Percy Greaves, a former associate research director for the Republican National Committee, to assist the Republican members of the Joint Congressional Committee. Without Greaves’s able work, much of the Pearl Harbor story would have remained hidden from the public.
The Committee sat from November 15, 1945 to May 31, 1946. The Democratic majority managed to steer the hearings in such a manner as to deflect as much criticism as they could from the late President Roosevelt. Thanks to the persistence of Senator Ferguson, aided by Greaves, “inconvenient” testimony was extracted from a number of the witnesses, and evidence that contradicted the Roberts Commission Report was placed on the record. The evidence, exhibits, hearings, and concluding report came to some forty volumes.
The “Majority Report” concluded that Japan’s brilliantly planned attack had been entirely unprovoked and there was no evidence that the Roosevelt cabinet had maneuvered Japan into launching a first strike in order to force Congress into declaring war. Indeed, the Democrats asserted that Roosevelt, Hull, and Stimson had done everything they could possibly do to avoid war with Japan. The disaster at Pearl Harbor was due to the failure of the local commanders to take adequate measures to detect a possible attack and maintain proper readiness to meet likely threats. The report did suggest that the War Department should have notified Gen. Short that his “sabotage alert” measures were not enough. In addition, Army and Navy intelligence should have realized the significance of Japanese efforts to keep abreast of the location of U.S. war ships berthed at Pearl Harbor (the “Bomb Plot” messages that military intelligence had decoded). Finally, during the forty eight hours prior to the attack, the War and Navy Departments should have kept on a higher state of alert and notified Pearl Harbor about the impending diplomatic break that the Japanese had scheduled to take effect from 1 p.m. Washington time on December 7th.
A “Minority Report” was issued under the signatures of Senators Brewster and Ferguson. They listed some twenty “conclusions of Fact and Responsibility.” President Roosevelt was held “responsible for the failure to enforce continuous, efficient, and appropriate cooperation among the Secretary of War, the Secretary of the Navy, the Chief of Staff (General Marshall), and the Chief of Naval Operations (Admiral Stark) in evaluating information and dispatching clear and positive orders to the Hawaiian commanders as events indicated the growing imminence of war.” Roosevelt was especially at fault, between Saturday night December 6th, and Sunday morning, the 7th, for failing “to take that quick and instant executive action which was required by the occasion.”
Rep. Frank Keefe submitted his own “Additional Views” after having, with Republican Rep. Gearhart (who was in a tough re-election campaign) signed the “Majority Report.” Keefe admitted that the “concept of an 'incident' as a factor which would unify public opinion behind an all-out war effort either in the Atlantic or Pacific had influenced the thinking of officials in Washington for a long time.” As early as October 1940, Roosevelt had considered blockading Japan. Keefe also found it significant that just days before the attack on Pearl Harbor Roosevelt personally ordered the Navy to dispatch three small vessels from the Philippines into the path of Japanese warships then steaming towards Southeast Asia. The Congressman felt that this singular action was intended to provoke an “overt” Japanese attack on American ships that could serve as the incident needed to bring the United States officially into the war.
George Morgenstern Enters the Fray
The Congressional Hearings, memoirs of diplomats and military officers, and other inquiries provided enough evidence to allow a serious student of the attack to obtain a fairly clear picture of what had happened. George Morgenstern, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Chicago who had served as a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps during the war, combed through the available material and wrote what remains today perhaps the best account of the episode, Pearl Harbor: The Story of the Secret War, published in 1947 by the Devin-Adair Company.
Morgenstern, who was by then working as an editorial-page editor for the Chicago Tribune, rattled the defenders of Roosevelt’s innocence. Subject to severe attack by some, or simply given the silent treatment, Morgenstern’s scholarship won plaudits from others who were not partisans of the Democratic political establishment. The venerable Charles A. Beard stated that his book would long remain “a permanent contribution to the quest for an understanding of the tragedy of Pearl Harbor.” A former commander-in-chief of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet, Admiral H.E. Yarnell, said that the author “is to be congratulated on marshalling the available facts of this tragedy in such a manner as to make it clear to every reader where the responsibility lies.” Georgetown University historian Charles Callan Tansill felt that Morgenstern “discloses with great ability the lessons of secret diplomacy and national betrayal.”
Morgenstern opened his book with a description of the Japanese attack, and noted that a 1932 U.S. Navy exercise showed that Pearl Harbor was open to air attack by carrier based planes. An entire chapter was devoted to the question of why the fleet came to be home-based at Pearl Harbor from May 1940. The author cited the testimony of the former commander of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral J.O. Richardson, who, in October 1940, protested Roosevelt’s decision to move the fleet from the protected waters of the American west coast to the vulnerable base at Hawaii. Richardson was relieved of his command four months after his meeting with FDR and was replaced by Rear Admiral Kimmel.
“For years before Pearl Harbor Mr. Roosevelt had talked of peace. For months he had schemed for war. His deeds belied his words,” the author asserted in his chapter dealing with the “Back Door To War.” Herein he listed the chain of events, from Roosevelt’s October 1937 “quarantine the aggressors” speech to his arming of the British at the expense of the U.S. armed forces and the “undeclared war” he waged in the Atlantic. Morgenstern demonstrated that the United States had no great economic or political interests with China, which was at war with Japan. Indeed, while China accounted for less than 3 percent of U.S. foreign trade, Japan was America’s third best customer. If Japan was a “threat” to any interests, it was those of Britain, France, and the Netherlands, holders of vast Asian colonies.
The diplomatic prelude to the attack was reviewed. In “The Last of the Japanese Moderates,” Morgenstern emphasized that “diplomacy failed because diplomacy was not employed to avert war, but to make certain its coming.” Citing U.S. Ambassador to Japan Joseph C. Grew, the author revealed how Premier Konoye’s sincere peace proposals were spurned by Roosevelt, leading to Konoye’s replacement by General Tojo, who pledged to do whatever was necessary to break the economic stranglehold America had inflicted since the summer of 1941.
The Joint Congressional Hearings brought out the extent to which American cryptographers managed to read secret Japanese diplomatic messages. This “MAGIC,” as it was called, enabled Washington to know what the Japanese had in mind and, most importantly, what their timetable was for on-going diplomatic efforts, the failure of which would inevitably lead to military action. By November 14, 1941, Roosevelt knew that war would come if negotiations collapsed; on November 19th Tokyo warned that a complete breakdown was near and, in a special message to its Washington embassy, issued the now famous “Winds” instruction, which provided that:
In case of emergency (danger of cutting off our diplomatic relations), and the cutting off of international communications, the following warning will be added in the middle of the daily Japanese language short wave news broadcast:
- In case of Japan-U.S. relations endangered: Higashi no kaze ame (east wind, rain).
- Japan-U.S.S.R. relations: Kita no kaze kumori (north wind, cloudy).
- Japan-British relations: Nishi no kaze hare (west wind, clear).
On November 22, Tokyo informed its special envoys to the United States, Kichisaburo Nomura and Saburo Kurusu, that if an agreement was not reached with the U.S., British, and Dutch by November 29th, “the deadline absolutely cannot be changed. After that things are automatically going to happen.”
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…the part played in bringing about the result of December 7 by its campaign of economic warfare, its secret diplomacy, its covert military alliances, the submission of demands which Japan found “humiliating,” and its own complete abandonment of neutrality in favor of nondeclared war…
When it became apparent, a few days after Pearl Harbor, that the manifest failures which contributed to the crushing defeat at Oahu could not be blamed solely on the Japanese, Roosevelt and his associates in the civilian government and high command in vented some new villains to divert the guilt from themselves. For the defeat at Pearl Harbor the blame — all of the blame, not part of it — was apportioned between Adm. Kimmel and Gen. Short.
Later, as the war drew to an end and new doubts were raised, President Truman shifted blame from Washington to the American people as a whole. Said Truman, “The country was not ready for preparedness … I think the country is as much to blame as any individual in this final situation that developed in Pearl Harbor.” But it was not the American people who had waged economic warfare against Japan. And it was not the public that had shipped weapons to Britain and Russia at the expense of the U.S. armed forces.
Morgenstern rejected Truman’s arrogant charge and instead directed the blame precisely where the evidence indicated that it lay:
The United States was neither informed nor alerted when Roosevelt and the men whose intentions coincided with his (because their fortunes rode with him) were warping the nation into war in 1941. The motives of these men are to this day obscure. They are never more obscure in the light of the default of all promises concerning the objectives of World War II… All of these men must answer for much. With absolute knowledge of war, they refused to communicate that knowledge, clearly, unequivocally, and in time, to the men in the field upon whom the blow would fall. the silence in Washington can yield to no other explanation than a desire to do nothing that would deter or forestall the attack which would produce the overt act so long and so fervently sought. when the price of silence proved to be 2,326 lives, it was necessary to add two more victims to the list — Adm. Kimmel and Gen. Short … they failed — with calculation — to keep the United States out of war and to avoid a clash with Japan … the “warnings” they sent to Hawaii failed — and were so phrased and so handled as to insure failure.
Pearl Harbor was the first action of the acknowledge war, and the last battle of a secret war upon which the administra tion had long since embarked. the secret war was waged against nations which the leadership of this country has chosen as enemies months before they became formal enemies by a declaration of war. It was waged also, by psychological means, by propaganda, and deception, against the American people, who were thought by their leaders to be laggard in embracing war. The people were told that acts which were equivalent to war were intended to keep the nation out of war. Constitutional processes existed only to be circumvented, until finally the war-making power of Congress was reduced to the act of ratifying an accomplished fact.
It is encouraging to report that George Morgenstern’s classic account of the Pearl Harbor tragedy is at long last being reprinted (by the IHR). Despite the passage of time, and the disclosure of new evidence, Morgenstern’s basic thesis remains unshaken.
A Growing Debate
The Revisionist case was firmly grounded in evidence made available during the Congressional Hearings and in other post war disclosures. this did not silence the defenders of Roosevelt and the “New World Order” that had been forged at Teheran, Yalta, Potsdam, and San Francisco. Far from it. A stream of books defending, “explaining” and excusing Roosevelt and his chief aides rolled off the presses to the accolades of the Establishment press. Representative examples of this literature were The Road to Pearl Harbor, by Herbert Feis (Princeton University Press, 1950); Roosevelt: From Munich to Pearl Harbor by Basil Rauch (Creative Age Press, 1950); and the The Challenge to Isolation (Harper and Brothers, 1952) and The Undeclared War (Harper and Brothers, 1953), both by William L. Langer and S. Everett Gleason.
If George Morgenstern’s Pearl Harbor remained the best answer to the Establishment’s version of the attack, other writers were taking a closer look at the New Deal and placing the Japanese attack on Hawaii within the context of American foreign and domestic policies during the Roosevelt Era. Of especial note are studies by Charles A. Beard, President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War, 1941: A Study in appearances and Realities (Yale University Press, 1948); William Chamberlin, America’s Second Crusade (Henry Regnery, 1950); Frederick R. Sanborn, Design for War: A Study of Secret Politics, 1937-1941 (Devin Adair, 1951); and Charles Callan Tansill, Back Door to War: The Roosevelt Foreign Policy, 1933-1941 (Henry Regnery, 1952). The volumes by Beard and Tansill were especially unwelcome among the defenders of Roosevelt’s policies, as Beard had been one of the pre-eminent historians of the first half of the twentieth century, while Tansill was a distinguished Georgetown University professor of American diplomatic history. All of the above-mentioned titles are still worth reading, not only from the historiographical standpoint, but for their factual disclosures and interpreta tions of events.
The Barnes Symposium
Harry Elmer Barnes (1889-1968) was a scholar of immense range who had been a path-finder in world War I revisionism. later a critic of New Deal policies, he wrote on diplomatic history and international relations and gave generous encouragement to others to explore various aspects of recent history. He saw this “quest for truth” as not a mere intellectual exercise, but as an endeavor that might help bring justice and peace to a troubled world.
In 1953, under Barnes' editorship, Perpetual War For Perpetual Peace (The Caxton Printers, Ltd.) appeared. Here Barnes assembled leading critics in a survey and appraisal of the development, course, and consequences of American foreign policy during Roosevelt’s presidency. He was confident that the views expressed in this volume could withstand whatever rejoinder Roosevelt’s defenders might deliver, observing:
There is no probability that later evidence will require any moderation of the indictment of our foreign policy since 1914, and, especially since 1933. If there were any still secret material which would brighten the record of the Roosevelt and Truman foreign polices, we may rest assured that their court historians and publicity agents would have revealed it to the public long ere this.
The symposium opened with an introduction to “Revisionism and the Historical Blackout,” wherein Professor Barnes explained how dissident views were suppressed by the very elements which claimed to defend the First Amendment to the Constitution. Had not the small firms Henry Regnery and Devin-Adair been willing to publish Revisionist books, it is doubtful whether Morgenstern, Sanborn, Tansill and others would have managed to get their most significant work in print. In his essay, “The United States and the Road to War in Europe,” Dr. Tansill discussed the European background of the origins of World War II, as well as Japanese- American relations up to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Frederick R. San born considered the origins of Roosevelt’s interventionism and the failure of his un-natural policies toward Hitler, in “Roosevelt Is Frustrated In Europe.” Professor William L. Neumann drew attention to “How American Policy Toward Japan Contributed to War in the Pacific.”
Two essays dealt with Pearl Harbor and its aftermath; “The Actual Road to Pearl Harbor,” by George Morgenstern, which summarized and updated the case he had made in his full length book, and “The Pearl Harbor Investigations,” by Percy L. Greaves, Jr. Greaves took a look at the nine Pearl Harbor in quiries and showed how blame has been redirected away from the real culprits. He revealed how General Marshall was forced to make a series of damaging admissions under sharp questioning by Senator Homer Ferguson, among them how the United States had secretly initiated military agreements with the British and Dutch, directed against the Japanese, and that the agreements had gone into effect before the Pearl Harbor attack. Nevertheless, the campaign to protect those who were responsible for the Pearl Harbor debacle continued. As he observed:
Those who have participated in this great conspiracy against the American people undoubtedly believe that the end justifies the means. They probably all join the editors of Life [magazine], who tell us in their Picture History of World War II that “In retrospect Pearl Harbor seemed clearly the best than that could have happened to the U.S.”
William Henry Chamberlin reminded us that none of the stated goals that the United Nations were supposed to be fighting for were realized by war’s end. In his essay, “The Bankruptcy of a Policy,” he argued that the Roosevelt foreign policy was a catastrophe, the dire consequences of which would endure for decades to come. The final essay chapter, by Professor George A. Lundberg, considered “American Foreign Policy in the Light of National Interest at Mid-Century.” Here he compared internationalism and interventionism with what had been our traditional policy of continentalism before our involvement in the First World War. Under the old policy, the United States had been safe and grew prosperous. The New Internationalism had made us less free, less safe, less secure.
Nearly forty years after they were first published, the articles in Perpetual War For Perpetual Peace have indeed withstood the test of time and are still well worth reading. No one since Barnes has attempted, in a single volume, to cover the history reviewed therein. Regrettably, it is unlikely that such a project could be undertaken today, as there are not enough scholars working on those topics to fill a large volume of essays.
The Admirals Speak up
Thanks to the Roosevelt apologists, including the biased Roberts Commission, Majority Report of the Joint Congressional Committee, and the pro-Administration books, it is no wonder that the public was confused about which branch of the service was responsible for the security of Pearl Harbor (a condition that continues even today). The various investigations established that it was the Army, not the Navy, that was charged with the defense of the Pacific Fleet when it was in port. Thus, the chain of command in 1941 went through the Army Chief of Staff, General Marshall, the his commander at Hawaii, Lt. Gen. Short. Admiral Kimmel was supposed to cooperate with the Army, which at that time also included the Air Force (which was, throughout World War II was actually the Army Air Force). Kimmel’s job was to take care of naval operations.
Over the decades that the debate over Pearl Harbor has raged, a number of observers have noted that, by and large, it has been Navy men who have taken an especial interest in seeking the truth about the attack. Gen. Short never published his own memoirs. Nor have men close to Marshall given an “inside” account of those fateful days.
Rear Admiral Robert A. Theobald was commander of the Pacific Fleet’s destroyers at the time of the attack and was at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Later he was commander of the Northern Pacific Force. At the time of his retirement from active duty he was Commandant of the First Naval District.
Theobald assisted Kimmel in his testimony before the Roberts Commission. After his retirement, he devoted years to studying the attack and its aftermath. The results of his research were first published in March 1954, when Devin Adair released The Final Secret of Pearl Harbor: The Washington Contribution to the Japanese Attack.
It was Admiral Theobald’s finding that from the fall of France, in June 1940, Roosevelt was convinced that the U.S. must fight on Britain’s side and that the primary objective remained the defeat of Germany. On September 27, 1940, Germany, Italy, and Japan entered into the Tripartite Pact, which provided that each would declare war on any third party that went to war against one of the three (this did not affect Germany and Japan’s relations with the U.S.S.R.). From this date, then, war with Japan meant war with Germany and Italy, and this came to play an increasingly important role in Roosevelt’s maneuvers.
In an effort to circumvent the American public’s reluctance to enter the war, Roosevelt took a number of steps that Theobald went into considerable detail explaining. In brief, they were:
- Introduced a massive arms buildup;
- Repeatedly provoked Germany through an undeclared naval war in the Atlantic;
- Applied increasing economic and diplomatic pressure on Japan, reaching a climax in late July, 1941, when the U.S., Britain, and the Netherlands froze Japanese assets. Japan lost 75 per cent of its foreign trade and 90 per cent of its oil supply;
- In August 1941 met with Churchill at Newfoundland, where FDR promised that any Japanese attack on British or Dutch possessions would bring the United States into the war;
- Had Secretary of State Hull delivered an insulting diplomatic ultimatum to the Japanese government on November 26, 1941, “which gave Japan no choice but sur render or war";
- He “retained a weak Pacific fleet in Hawaiian waters, despite contrary naval advice, where it served only one diplomatic purpose, an invitation to a Japanese surprise attack";
- “Furthered that surprise by causing the Hawaiian Commanders to be denied invaluable information from decoded Japanese dispatches concerning the rapid approach to the war and the strong probability that the attack would be directed at Pearl Harbor.”
Theobald, in his review of the MAGIC diplomatic decrypts that were available in Washington, emphasized that this vital material was not passed along, that there had been an “almost complete denial of information, during the three months preceding the Pearl Harbor attack.” Then he posed a series of questions that Roosevelt’s defenders have yet to answer satisfactorily: “Why was such irrefutable evidence of the coming attack so withheld? Why did Washington contribute so completely to the surprise feature of that attack?” Theobald reasoned, “There can be only one answer — because President Roosevelt wanted it that way!”
The Final Secret of Pearl Harbor also reviews the findings of the various post-attack investigations, including a point-by point refutation of the Majority Conclusion of the Joint Congressional Committee, which he dismissed as “the last act in the attempt to preserve the Pearl Harbor Secret.”
The American moves leading up to the Japanese attack are summarized in his final chapter, in which he re-emphasizes that:
… the recurrent fact of the true Pearl Harbor story has been the repeated withholding of information from Admiral Kimmel and General Short … The denial to the Hawaiian Commanders of all knowledge of Magic was vital to the plan for enticing Japan to deliver a surprise attack upon the Fleet … because as late as Saturday, December 6, Admiral Kimmel could have caused that attack to be canceled by taking his fleet to sea and disappearing beyond land- based human ken.
Evidence placed on the record indicated to Theobald that:
Everything that happened in Washington on Saturday and Sunday, December 6 and 7, supports the belief that President Roosevelt had directed that no message be sent to the Hawaiian Commanders before noon on Sunday, Washington time … Never before in recorded history had a field commander been denied information that his country would be at war in a matter of hours, and that everything pointed to a sur prise attack upon his forces shortly after sunrise.
Nevertheless, Theobald was forced to concede, Roosevelt’s strategy accomplished its purpose: a united people rallied behind the president’s war effort. The author left it up to his readers to ponder the ethics of that statecraft.
* * * * *
Contrary to the popular impression, Admiral Kimmel and General Short were never formally charged with errors of judgment or dereliction of duty. There was never a court martial proceeding. He and General Short were relieved of their commands and, in early 1942, placed on the Retired list. Neither was afforded an opportunity to defend himself against the criticism contained in the Roberts Commission Report.
However, during the 1944 Naval Court of Inquiry, Kimmel was permitted to retain legal counsel (Charles B. Rugg and Edward B. Hanify), to introduce testimony, and cross-examine witnesses. It was during the course of the Navy Inquiry that Kimmel learned about he MAGIC intercepts that had not been passed along to him and General Short. Thereafter, Kimmel tried to obtain as much information as he could in order to set the record straight. In December 1954, Henry Regnery Company of Chicago published Admiral Kimmel’s Story.
Kimmel did not merely restate the findings of Morgenstern and Theobald. He presented his readers with a fresh perspective on why the Pacific Fleet came to be based at Pearl Harbor at the insistence of Roosevelt, and how he and General Short had tried, for many months, to remedy the serious short comings of that facility. There were never enough aircraft available to conduct 360-degree searches on a regular basis; the base lacked radar sets and trained personnel, the entrance to the anchorage was so narrow that warships were forced to enter and exit in single file. Kimmel’s superiors repeatedly advised him that there was no danger of torpedo attack, because, they were confident, the harbor’s waters were too shallow and any airdropped “fish” would simply sink to the bottom (the Japanese solved this problem by affixing special fins to their torpedoes; U.S. Naval Ordnance did not think this was possi ble).
As this had been brought out during the Congressional Hearings, and gone into detail in the studies by Morgenstern, Greaves, Barnes, and Theobald, Kimmel and Short were kept in the dark about the worsening diplomatic situation with Japan and were denied all of the information contained in the MAGIC decrypts. Kimmel went on to reveal that he was in formed by the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Stark, that an attack against Pearl Harbor was not likely and was ordered to have his fleet ready to move against the Marshall Islands upon the outbreak of hostilities in the Pacific.
Immediately after the Pearl Harbor attack, angry citizens bombarded Kimmel with denunciations and even death threats. More than one politician publicly suggested that he should consider suicide. A sample of this vilification was in cluded in the ninth chapter of his book.
Admiral Kimmel’s Story makes for sobering reading, even to day. Reflecting on Kimmel’s account, it is likely that most readers will agree with Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey’s judgment that, “Admiral Kimmel and General Short [were] splendid officers who were thrown to the wolves as scapegoats for something over which they had no control. They had to work with what they were given, both in equipment and infor mation. They are our outstanding military martyrs.”
Stimson’s Embarrassing Diary Entry
On November 25, 1941, President Roosevelt met with Secretary of Sate Hull, Navy Secretary Frank Knox, Secretary of War Henry Stimson, General Marshall and Admiral Stark. Relations with the Japanese was the main topic discussed. FDR observed that the Japanese had launched surprise attacks at the outset of previous wars and that the U.S. might be under attack by the following Monday. Stimson was keeping a diary at this time and the defenders of Roosevelt’s innocence have long been frustrated over the following entry from his diary, dealing with the conference of the 25th:
The question was how we should maneuver them [the Japanese] into the position of firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves. It was a difficult pro-position.
After discussing the matter, Roosevelt and his closest advisers agreed that:
In spite of the risk involved, however, in letting the Japanese fire the first shot, we realized that in order to have the full support of the American people it was desirable to make sure that the Japanese were the ones to do this so that there should remain no doubt in anyone’s mind as to who were the aggressors.
Richard N. Current, a professor of history at the University of North Carolina, came up with an inventive explanation for this remarkable bit of evidence that was made public during the Joint Congressional Hearings. In Secretary Stimson: A Study in Statecraft (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1954), Dr. Current conceded that was no denying that Stimson, et al. were anticipating an attack. But he claimed not on United States, rather on Dutch or British, territory. Roosevelt’s challenge was how to make a Japanese attack on Dutch or British territory appear to be an attack on America. I leave it to the reader to consider whether or not this is a convincing exposition.
Wohlstetter and Morison
Two books which remain standards in the pro-Roosevelt literature appeared in 1963: Samuel Eliot Morison’s The Two Ocean War (Boston: Little, Brown) and Roberta Wohlstetter’s Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decisions (Stanford: Stanford University Press). Both were widely, and favorably, reviewed. Morison’s became a book club selection and best seller. Wohlstetter’s academic reputation as a specialist on intelligence analysis and strategic decision-making was secured with the acceptance of her book.
Morison was hired by the Roosevelt Administration to write the official History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. The passage of time did little to mellow his dedication to the cause of his war-time employer. Chapter 3 of The Two Ocean War dealt with Pearl Harbor. Here, the author claimed, that “Actually, the Administration and the heads of the armed forces were doing their best to prevent or postpone a war with Japan.” The various MAGIC messages that Washington failed to send word of to Hawaii simply got mixed up with other warnings of forthcoming Japanese moves against Siberia, Peru, and other unlikely places. Morison blamed Kimmel and Short for not taking proper action, and wen6 Oct 1999 22:22:18 GMT ETag: “201e5c90020bf1:66363” Content-Length: 21689 timeout
Admiral Morison joined the chorus in describing Mrs. Wohlstetter’s Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision, as “The best book by far on the question of why we were surprised at Pearl Harbor.” More recently, Captain Roger Pineau and John Costello (who should know better), have referred to her efforts as a “scholarly study.”
Wohlstetter was not interested in assigning blame for the disaster. Rather, it was her thesis that “The United States was not caught napping… We just expected wrong.” Pearl Harbor was “a failure of strategic analysis” and “a failure to anticipate effectively.” Yes, in retrospect, the record indicated that Washington might well have warned Kimmel and Short. But what we had here was a “national failure to anticipate” that the Japanese would actually attack Hawaii, instead of some other target. And no, there certainly wasn’t any “conspiracy” involving Roosevelt and his cronies.
Percy L. Greaves who, by common agreement, knew more about Pearl Harbor than any man living at the time, wrote a scathing critique of Wohlstetter’s book that should have led to its being quietly removed from library shelves and consigned to the recycling plants. “The Mystery of Pearl Harbor: 25 Years of Deception,” was included with essays by Harry Elmer Barnes and Vice Admiral Frank Betty in the December 12, 1966 issue of National Review magazine. Later reprinted in the special “Pearl Harbor: Revisionism Renewed” edition of The Journal of Historical Review (Volume Four, Number Four, Winter 1983-84), Greaves noted that a first reading of her book disclosed over one hundred factual errors, “not to mention child-like acceptance of Administration releases in preference to obscured realities.” One fundamental error of assumption undermined her entire argument. Treating the intelligence phase of the story, she never learned that there was a five-hour difference between Navy time and Washington, D.C. time. As Greaves remarked, “How valuable is a book on pre-attack intelligence that is five hours off on the timing of all Naval communications coming out of Washington? How dependable is a Naval historian who acclaims such a book the best on the sub ject? … One could go on and on for a hundred more blunders. The facts were just too much for Mrs. Wohlstetter.” It says volumes about the quality of the current generation of academic historians that Wohlstetter’s book continues to turn up on lists of “recommended” titles dealing with the Pearl Harbor catastrophe.
Further Contributions by Barnes
Harry Elmer Barnes continued to investigate the attack on Pearl Harbor long after the publication of Perpetual War For Perpetual Peace. He not only conducted his own research, but gave warm encouragement to others, both people who had some “inside” knowledge of the events, as well as unbiased scholars who were not afraid to pursue avenues of inquiry that might lead to findings that were unpopular with the political and historical establishments.
The twenty-fifth anniversary of Pearl Harbor was marked at the Chicago Tribune with a Special Pearl Harbor Supplement. George Morgenstern organized this undertaking with assis tance from Dr. Barnes. The highlight of the December 7, 1966 Chicago Tribune was an essay by Admiral Kimmel. Barnes contributed an insightful piece on General Marshall.
Commander Charles Hiles wrote the best article to yet be published concerning the “Bomb Plot” Messages. Tokyo requested specific information about the movement and location of major warships berthed at Pearl Harbor. On December 3, the Japanese consul in Honolulu, Nagao Kita, informed Tokyo that he had set up a system of codes confirming the movement of various American warships through the use of signals in windows at Lanikai Beach, which could be spotted by off-shore “fishing” boats and submarines. This vital information could then be passed on to the Japanese carrier task force. The signal system would operate through December 6th. The Kita messages to Tokyo were intercepted and decrypted by U.S. intelligence. Thus, Washington knew that Pearl Harbor was likely going to be attacked and by what date. None of this information was passed along to the U.S. Army and Navy commanders at Pearl Harbor.
Articles by the Tribune's veteran Washington Bureau Chief, Walter Trohan, and their aviation editor, Wayne Thomis, rounded out this issue.
The following year, on December 7, 1967, Morgenstern gave front-page coverage in the Tribune to the publication of a number of documents relating to Pearl Harbor, with commentary by Barnes. Although this information was well known to those who had kept up with the debate over the years, members of the public at large found much of the material that Barnes collected shocking, and revealing a chapter of history they were ignorant of.
Harry Elmer Barnes died on August 25, 1968 at the age of 79. Less than a week before he passed away, he had completed the final draft of Pearl Harbor After a Quarter of a Century, a 132-page summary of the entire controversy. This incisive study originally appeared in print as an entire issue of Left and Right: A Journal of Libertarian Thought (Volume IV, 1968). It has since been reprinted in its entirety by the Institute for Historical Review.
He observed that all of the careful research conducted by Revisionists had yet to alter the general public perception of this event:
Only a small fraction of the American people are any better acquainted with the realities of the responsibility for the attack than they were when President Roosevelt delivered his “Day of Infamy” oration on December 8, 1941. The legends and rhetoric of that day still dominate the American mind.
For the last time, Barnes outlined what he felt were the policies and events which had led to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Over the years, Barnes had revised a number of his own assumptions. One of these concerned Roosevelt’s December 1, 1941 order to Admiral Hart at Manila, ordering the immediate dispatch of three “small vessels” armed with a machine gun and deck cannon, each commanded by a U.S. Naval officer, and flying the American flag. The three little ships were directed to sail into the path of Japanese Navy convoys that Washington knew were then steaming southward. Had the American ships been attacked by the Japanese, Barnes was now confident that this would have saved Pearl Harbor. “There can be little doubt that the Cockleship plan of December 1st was designed to get the indispensable attack by a method which would precede the Pearl Harbor attack, avert the latter, and save the Pacific Fleet and American lives,” he wrote of this aspect of the mystery.
A part of the story that had hitherto been largely overlooked, even by many Revisionists, concerned the secret agreements Roosevelt had entered into with the British and Dutch and which led to America technically being at war with Japan four days before Pearl Harbor. As Barnes succinctly explained, in April 1941 the U.S., British, and Dutch agreed to take joint military action against Japan if the Japanese sent armed forces beyond the line 100 East and 10 North or 6 North and the Davao-Waigeo line, or threatened British or Dutch possessions in the southwest Pacific or independent countries in that region. The agreements were known as ABCD. Thereafter, Admiral Stark said that war with Japan was not a matter of if, but rather when and where. Roosevelt gave his approval to the attendant war plans in May and June. On December 3, 1941, the Dutch invoked the ABCD agree ment, after Japanese forces passed the line 100 East and 10 North, and were thought to be headed toward Dutch territory as well as the Kra Peninsula and Thailand. The U.S. military attache in Melbourne, Australia, Colonel Van S. Merle-Smith, was contacted by the Australians, British, and Dutch and informed that the Dutch were expecting the U.S. Navy to offer assistance. Merle-Smith relayed this information to his superiors by coded message. It should have reached Washington in the early evening of December 4.
Like a number of other students of the period, Barnes suspected that FDR had sought a “good war” to solve the serious economic problems that persisted throughout the New Deal. Whatever his motives, it was undeniable, he concluded, that:
The overwhelming responsibility for the war and the attack was, of course, Roosevelt’s deliberate refusal to settle the relations between the United States and Japan in a peaceful manner by honest diplomatic negotiations, to achieve which Japan made unusually impressive gestures and offered very reasonable terms that protected all legitimate vital American interests in the Far East.
Pearl Harbor After a Quarter of a Century remains a note worthy contribution to the literature on the topic. It is as good an introduction to the issues involved as is currently in print.
Additional Pieces of the Puzzle
In the October 1962 issue of the United States Naval Institute Proceedings, Rear Admiral Kemp Tolley gave his account of having been the commander of one of the “little ships” hastily ordered out of Manila to monitor the Japanese Navy in early December of 1941. Although the bare essentials of the incident had been revealed during the Joint Congressional Hearings, Tolley’s article sparked much comment. Additional research resulted in the publication of his book, The Cruise of the Lanikai: Incitement to War (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1973).
The Lanikai was a 67-ton two-masted auxiliary schooner engaged in inter-island traffic. Chartered for $1.00 by the U.S. Navy, it had a crew of five Filipino civilians, who could not speak English. Commander Harry Slocum informed a startled Lt. Tolley that “the President has personally ordered” him to set sail as soon as possible. The sailing ship was turned into a vessel of war by lashing to its deck an old 3-pounder gun left over from the Spanish-American War and two World-War I-vintage .30 caliber machine guns. The only radio available could receive messages but not transmit them. Nevertheless, he was ordered to sail for the coast of Indo-China and told to have someone work on the radio set while they were at sea.
In the event, neither the Lanikai, nor the other ships ordered out, the Isabel and the Molly Moore, were able to cross the paths of the Japanese. Only after the war did Tolley fully appreciate the role intended for the Lanikai — that of “live bait.”
Another book on this topic was Cover Up: The Politics of Pearl Harbor, 1941-1946 by Bruce Bartlett (New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House, 1978). The core of this volume was taken from his 1976 Georgetown University masters thesis in history, which explored what various interest groups hoped to gain from an inquiry into Pearl Harbor. It offers little to the student of the episode that cannot be found in other, and better, treatments. Its chief interest today is that it includes, as an appendix, a reproduction of John T. Flynn’s pathbreaking pamphlet, The Final Secret of Pearl Harbor, discussed earlier in this essay.
The Strange Case of Gordon Prange
Gordon W. Prange served as Chief of General Douglas MacArthur’s G-2 Historical Section in Japan from October 1946-July 1951. During that time he conducted numerous interrogations of Japanese military personnel. Upon completion of his stint in Asia, he returned to the United States, where he taught history at the University of Maryland until his death in May of 1980.
Prange obtained an advance (reputed to amount of $25,000) for a book on Pearl Harbor. For whatever reasons, he never turned in a completed manuscript, but kept on doing research for thirty-seven years. Upon his death, two former students of his, Donald Goldstein, an associate professor of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh, and Katherine V. Dillon, a former intelligence analyst, revised his 3500-page draft. Over the following eight years, four books attributed to Gordon Prange rolled off the presses and onto the “new releases” lists of the Book of the Month Club, History Book Club, and other distributors of “safe” popular history. To the surprise of McGraw-Hill, Goldstein and Dillon managed to turn Prange Enterprises, as the copyright holder was called, into a paying proposition.
The first book attributed to Prange was At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981). It is a military history of the attack as seen from the Japanese and American perspectives. It only touched on the larger issues of Japanese-American foreign relations, which have always served as the backdrop for Revisionist treatments of this topic. Prange had long felt that, “in the context of the time,” a war between the United States and Japan was “virtually inevitable.”
In truth, about the only genuinely “untold” aspect of this story was that Prange had failed to get his book ready in the early 1950s, when it would have been “new.” Shortly before At Dawn We Slept was at long last on its way to the printers, the Carter Administration released a mountain of previously classified U.S. naval records to the National Archives. Prange’s literary heirs did not have the time to sift through this massive volume of new material. However, this did not stop them from adding, as an appendix, an essay entitled, “Revisionists Revisited,” in which they made the astounding claim to have made a thorough search “including all publications released up to May 1, 1981.” While allowing that “the President made his mistakes in 1941, as did almost everyone else involved in Pearl Harbor,” they went on to make the mendacious assertion that, “we have not discovered one word of sworn testimony that substantiates the revisionist position on Roosevelt and Pearl Harbor.”
Among the many records that Prange, Goldstein, and Dillon did not consult was the remarkable testimony of former Chief Warrant Officer Ralph T. Briggs, who was working at the Cheltenham, Maryland intercept station in late 1941. Contrary to the defenders of Roosevelt and his coterie, who during the various investigations swore that there had been no “East Wind Rain” message received prior to the attack, Briggs confirmed that he had intercepted the “Winds” execute and had even located a Navy memoir buried in the records, indicating that he had read the message as early as December 2, 1941. During the later investigations, Captain Laurence Safford was the only person directly concerned with this matter who had the courage to testify that there had indeed been a “winds” message forwarded to Washington before the attack. It was Safford who first alerted Admiral Kimmel to the existence of these messages. During the Congressional Hearings, Briggs was ordered by his superiors not to testify and not to have anything further to do with Safford. Briggs’s damning evidence was released by the National Archives on March 11, 1980 as document SRH-051: “Interview with Mr. Ralph T. Briggs,” which was an official transcript of remarks made to the Naval Security Group. Long before At Dawn We Slept had gone to the printers, the Briggs testimony was freely available at the Military Reference Branch of the National Archives and copies immediately began to circulate among serious students of the affair. It was reprinted, in full, in the Fall 1980 issue of the Newsletter of the American Committee on the History of the Second World War, which is an affiliate of the American Historical Association.
Prange and Company also failed to exploit new documentation available from General Marshall’s declassified files, which suggested that Kimmel and Short had in truth been made scapegoats for Washington. Nor did they refer to other records found among the Army Chief of Staff reports, documenting General MacArthur’s blundering during the Philippine campaign.
Those wishing more details about the manifold shortcom ings of At Dawn We Slept should consult Percy L. Greaves, Jr., “Three Assessments of the Infamy of December 7, 1941,” The Journal of Historical Review (Volume Three, Number Three, Fall, 1982) and Rear Admiral Edwin T. Layton, Captain Roger Pineau, and John Costello, "And I Was There": Pearl Harbor and Midway — Breaking the Secrets (New York: William Morrow, 1985), pp. 495-511. As Greaves trenchantly observed in The JHR, “it would take another book of 800 pages to balance, correct and refute the one-sided presentation of the book’s selected 'facts' and deductions.” Pineau and Costello show in their own examination of this book:
Although widely praised for its apparently exhaustive research, Prange’s account did nothing to provide new understanding of what had really gone wrong in Washington. At Dawn We Slept merely served to reinforce the politically loaded thirty-five-year-old report produced by the (Democratic majority of) the congressional investigating committee.
At Dawn We Slept is still very much in print and has just been re-released in a Pearl Harbor “50th Anniversary Edition” available in hardcover from Viking for $35.00 and in paper back from Penguin for $16.95. For unwary students and the general public, this is the version of the story that is most com patible with the world view of our predominant political and historiographical regime.
John Costello’s Cautious Revisionism
John Costello, a former BBC producer turned historian, had co-authored two successful books, D-Day and The Battle of the Atlantic, before turning his attention to the Pacific campaigns. Costello’s manuscript was near completion when the National Archives received the vast collection of Navy files in 1980. He was able to incorporate some of the new material in The Pacific War (New York: Rawson Wade, 1981), which appeared almost simultaneously with At Dawn We Slept. His treatment reflects his basically pro-Churchill, British bias, and the first hardcover edition was marred by sloppy proofreading and careless editing. Still, it was a more honest effort than the Prange work and, in two final chapters, Costello considered some of the newly released material that, among other things, indicated that eleven days before Pearl Harbor Roosevelt received a “positive war warning” from Churchill that the Japanese would attack the United States at the end of the first week of December. He also referred to John T. Briggs’s important disclosures. Wrote Costello about the war:
There is every indication that a month before the attack on Pearl Harbor, it was the United States that had decided to bring about the rupture of discussions and was about to prepare for the worst. There is now evidence for believing that President Roosevelt was not only expecting war but possibly knew exact ly when it would break out.
According to a confidential British Foreign Office report “the President and Mr. Hull were … fully conscious of what they were doing"… Whether such an accommodation [the modus vivendi] would have worked out in practice is less important than the fact that it was the United States which decided to abandon the modus vivendi … thereby making a Pacific War inevitable … In the light of subsequent events, this decision proved to have been one of the most momentous in American history.
The Evolution of John Toland
John Toland has been one of the most commercially suc cessful writers of popular history over the past thirty years. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for But Not in Shame (1961), he said that the Pacific war was caused by an unprovoked act of Japanese aggression. His 1970 book, The Rising Sun, reported that Pearl Harbor had been the consequence of both American and Japanese miscalculations and mistakes. However, Toland continued to explore the question of how America and Japan came to go to war. His revised view of these events was published in 1982 and created an immediate sensation. Infamy: Pearl Harbor and Its Aftermath (New York: Doubleday) witnessed Toland’s conversion to the Revisionist position. It was now beyond question, wrote Toland, that Roosevelt and his closest advisers, including Marshall and Stimson, knew about the impending attack on Pearl Harbor before December 7th, but had withheld this information from Kimmel and Short. After the Japanese delivered their “surprise” first-strike, the Roosevelt Administration launched a massive “cover up,” that involved the suppressing or destroying of evidence, perjury, and making the Army and Navy commanders at Hawaii scapegoats. These were conclusions that Morgenstern, Barnes, et al., had reached over thirty years earlier.
What distinguished Infamy was that Toland managed to uncover additional information which lent further weight to the Revisionist case. The focus of his book was the nine post attack investigations. This is by far the most readable account of the efforts made by various individuals, including Kimmel, Safford, Greaves and the Republican Minority on the Joint Congressional Committee, to overcome the official roadblocks and obtain the truth about what led to the attack on Pearl Har bor.
Toland went on to reveal that his own “tenth investigation” had uncovered evidence suggesting that the Dutch had passed on information to Washington about the forthcoming attack and that the Office of Naval Intelligence was also aware that a Japanese carrier task force was steaming toward Hawaii. The edition of Infamy one should consult is not the first hardcover printing, but rather the revised 1983 version, which includes an important Postscript incorporating material not available for the first printing. This recommended edition is currently in print: Infamy by John Toland (New York: Berkley Books, 397 pp., $5.50, ISBN: 0- 425-09040-X). This represents an important breakthrough for Revisionism, since Toland’s was the first Revisionist treatment of Pearl Harbor to be published by a major commercial house and the first to reach the New York Times bestseller list. Writing in the JHR, Percy L. Greaves described Infamy as “probably the best volume on the subject to date.”
Contributions by Martin and Greaves
For many years, this reviewer distributed copies to students of what he has long considered to be the best brief introduction to this question, James J. Martin’s essay, “Pearl Harbor: Antecedents, Background and Consequences.” First published as a chapter in his 1977 book, The Saga of Hog Island & Other Essays in Inconvenient History (Ralph Myles, Publisher, P.O. Box 1533, Colorado Springs, Colorado 80901), it was later included as a chapter in a volume directed especially toward a Japanese audience, Beyond Pearl Harbor: Essays on Some Historical Consequences of the Crisis in the Pacific in 1941 (Plowshare Press, RR 1, Little Current, Ontario POP 1KO, Canada, 1981). Within the confines of seventeen pages, Dr. Martin manages to explain why Pearl Harbor has continued to be an issue provoking controversy, reviews the most impor tant literature, and discusses what some of the results have been for the United States.
Beyond Pearl Harbor included a previously unpublished essay by Martin, “Where Was the General? Some New Views and Contributions Relative to the Ongoing Mystery of Pearl Harbor.” Marshall’s role in this affair has long been a question. As Chief of Staff, Marshall was responsible for reviewing the defense of Pearl Harbor. He had access to the MAGIC intercepts that were not passed along to General Short. He was at Roosevelt’s side through the critical months preceding the out break of the war. And he managed to disappear from the late afternoon of December 6th, when Washington started to receive decrypts of the Japanese diplomatic messages, informing its ambassadors that the break was coming with the United States until late on the morning of December 7th.
During the various investigations, Marshall claimed that “he couldn’t recall” where he was on that fateful date. Martin was able to incorporate the sensational John T. Briggs testimony in his discussion. [The best guess is that Marshall was hiding out at the White House.] “Where Was General Marshall?” was first made available to American readers when it was included in the special Pearl Harbor issue of The JHR (Volume four, Number Four, Winter 1983-84). At the time of his death in 1984, Percy L. Greaves, Jr. had long been at work on a book on Pearl Harbor. Tentatively titled, The Real Infamy of Pearl Harbor, it has never been published. Four chapters of his draft were published, with his permission, as part of The JHR Pearl Harbor special issue. Two of these chapters dealt with General Marshall and his efforts to obscure what Roosevelt and the rest of them knew about the attack. A chapter on the MAGIC intercepts explained why it was impossible to assert that Roosevelt was “surprised” by the outbreak of the war. This issue of the JHR also reprinted Greaves’s article, “Was Pearl Harbor Unavoidable?,” which showed how, over a period of years, the Roosevelt Administration missed opportunities to reach a peaceful settlement to Pacific questions plaguing Japanese-American relations. “The Mystery of Pearl Harbor,” was taken from National Review of December 12, 1966, and contains his critique of Roberta Wohlstetter’s Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision. The last essay by Greaves, “What We Knew,” reviews the information available in Washington by the time of the December 7th attack.
Admiral Layton’s Memoirs
On December 7, 1941, Edwin T. Layton was intelligence of ficer for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, an assignment he retained throughout the war. Like his superior, Admiral Kimmel, he was indeed surprised when the Japanese bombers hit the base. But he was not cashiered in the aftermath.
Following his retirement in 1962, Layton was encouraged by many people, in and out of the military, to write his own ac count of what had happened. Over the following years, Rear Admiral Layton collected material and wrote articles and reviews for the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings. The publication of At Dawn We Slept provoked him to complete the work he had begun almost twenty years earlier. He found the book riddled with misstatements and distortions of fact, and was outraged that Prange, Goldstein, and Dillon had blamed Kimmel and Short for the disaster, while absolving Washington.
At the time he suffered a fatal stroke in April 1984, Layton had largely completed the first draft of his manuscript, which recounted his version of events up to the Battle of Midway. Captain Roger Pineau, who had assisted Samuel Eliot Morison with his multi-volume History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, and John Costello both knew Layton, and were retained to complete his book, which appeared in 1985 as "And I Was There": Pearl Harbor and Midway- Breaking the Secrets" (New York: William Morrow, 596 pp., ISBN: 0-688-04883-8).
Naturally, the question arises as to just how much of this is really Layton and how much may have been “edited” by Pineau and Costello. As David Irving reminds us, the published versions of many “memoirs” often differ greatly from the original manuscripts. With that reservation in mind, this reviewer can report that Layton’s central thesis is that he and Kimmel were “short changed” of intelligence information by Washington. He confirms that Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner, Chief of the War Plans Division, failed to relay vital intelligence to Kimmel:
It should now be indisputable that the information that might have averted the disaster had been received by the Navy Department by 6 December 1941 — the bomb plot message, or even the eleventh-hour “lights code” message, could have alerted Pearl Harbor to the threat.
Layton thus reconfirms what Kimmel and Theobald wrote in their accounts. Other insights found in this volume include evidence that Stalin had very precise knowledge about when the Japanese were going to launch their strikes, and another report confirming that a council-of-war convened at the White House the night of December 6th.
Some Recent Scholarship
The war between Japan and the United States continues to be studied by academic historians. A book that includes eigh teen essays by American and Japanese scholers is Pearl Harbor Reexamined: Prologue to the Pacific War, edited by Hilary Conroy and Harry Wray (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 200 pp., 1990, $22.00, ISBN: 0-8248-1235-2). Japanese and American diplomacy leading up to the attack is reexamined here, with a number of the contributors disputing the still popular notion that “war was inevitable.”
The symposium opens with a review of Japanese-American relations from 1900 to 1940 by Harry Wray, a former history professor at Illinois State, now on the faculty of the University of Tsukuba, Japan. Akira Iriye then looks at U.S. policy toward Japan before World War II. He makes the case that the Japanese were very reluctant to make a drive to the south and were not necessarily antagonistic to the United States. The Roosevelt Administration, he argues, lost many opportunities to reach a peaceful resolution of outstanding issues. In his essay “Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the New Deal, and Japan,” Gary Dean Best, of the University of Hawaii, argues that FDR ignored the counsel of his more knowledgeable advisers, and followed his own notions, influenced by his “ancestral connections” to the China trade. Hull was a “mediocrity” who “knew nothing about foreign affairs.” Roosevelt sabotaged the World Economic Conference. The New Deal was a “war waged against business and banking in the United States … By 1938 almost every industrialized nation in the world was well ahead of the United States in recovering from the depression, some of them having surpassed their pre-depression economic levels.” Like Barnes and other earlier Revisionists, Prof. Best is convinced that:
The events of December 7, 1941, resulted in part from the at titudes and policies that began to direct the United States in 1933. A new President launched the United States on mistaken foreign and domestic policies that ended in the prolonging of the depression and in war, rather than in recovery and peace.
The late John K. Emmerson, a one-time U.S. Foreign Service officer assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo during Joseph Grew’s ambassadorship and later a senior scholar at Stanford, points out that Grew and others familiar with Japan were not listened to. The State Department’s favorite “expert,” Stanley Hornbeck, had little genuine knowledge; his “only experience is Asia had been a teaching stint in China.” It was Hornbeck who helped torpedo a proposed Pacific summit between Roosevelt and Prime Minister Konoye.
Ikei Masaru of Keio University and author of Gaisetsu Nihon Gaikoshi (A Survey of Japanese Diplomatic History), highlights “Examples of Mismanagement in U.S. Policy toward Japan before World War II.” He argues that a more cautious attitude on the part of Washington might have postponed or avoided war with Japan altogether. American hard-liners, such as Hornbeck, misread Japanese intentions and did not under stand the psychology of the officer corps, who would not accept submission, writes Hosoya Chihiro, vice-president of the International University of Japan.
Tsunoda Jun, former professor of history at Kokushin University and editor of the eight-volume Taiheiyo no senso e no michi (The Road to the Pacific War) considers the Hull-Nomura negotiations. He considers that “there was no significant issue that would have made a war between Japan and the United States inevitable.” Konoye’s bid to hold a summit meeting with Roosevelt was completely genuine and was worth attempting.
Not all of the contributors to this volume support Revisionist positions. Michael Barnhart, associate professor of Japanese history at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, contends that Hornbeck was a realist and the United States was better off for having followed his advice. Alvin D. Coox, chair of the Japanese Studies Institute at San Diego State University, writes on “Repulsing the Pearl Harbor Revisionists: The State of Present Literature on the Debacle.” He reveals his own lack of qualifications to make an informed judgment when he avers that “the late Professor Gordon W. Prange demolished the supposed deviltry of Roosevelt and company in his book, appropriately titled At Dawn We Slept. “
For many readers, Pearl Harbor Reexamined will be their first exposure to contemporary Japanese historical analysis. Three of the American contributors to this volume share the view that Roosevelt and Hull were not very interested in Japanese peace overtures. More books of the quality of this collection of essays would make a welcome addition to the literature of other hotly debated topics.
The Role of Winston Churchill
Students of the Second World War are well aware that Roosevelt and Churchill were working together long before the United States was officially at war against the Axis. The Tyler Kent affair has shed light on the secret communications the two engaged in, even before Churchill was Prime Minister. British wartime Cabinet papers released in January 1972 disclosed that at the August 1941 Newfoundland, Canada meeting, where the “Atlantic Charter” was announced, Roosevelt promised Churchill that the U.S. would enter the war by the end of the year.
Questions have persisted: Did Churchill know about the Japanese design against Pearl Harbor? Did he pass along what information he had to Roosevelt?
At the Ninth International Revisionist Conference, British historian David Irving dealt with these and related matters in his paper, “Churchill and U.S. Entry into World War II,” which was subsequently published in The JHR, Volume Nine, Number Three, Fall 1989, pp. 261-286. While working on the second volume of his wartime biography of Churchill, Irving reported that he discovered that all British intelligence files relating to Japan during the fall of 1941 have been removed from the archives and are closed to review by researchers. His fellow British historian, John Costello, was told by the British Ministry of Defence that it is “not in the national interest” to have these files made available to the public.
In his remarks, Irving pointed out that from September 1939 the British were able to read the Japanese fleet operational code, known as JN-25 (Japanese Navy). He went on to reveal that by mid-November of 1941, Churchill knew that the United States was soon to be attacked by the Japanese and that he “probably knew” that an attack would fall at Pearl Harbor. Said Irving, “I think Churchill deliberately allowed the attack on Pearl Harbor to go ahead in order to bring the Americans in. He did everything to avoid having the Pacific Fleet warned.”
This thesis has been developed by James Rusbridger and Eric Nave in their newly released book, Betrayal at Pearl Harbor: How Churchill Lured Roosevelt into WW II (New York: Summit Books, Simon & Schuster, 302 pp., photographs, in dex, 1991, $19.95. ISBN: 0-671-70805-8). Rusbridger, formerly with Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, has written on intelligence and military history since his retirement. While doing work on a book dealing with signals intelligence, he encountered Captain Eric Nave, “the father of British codebreak ing in the Far East.” The two then collaborated to produce this volume, which discloses that the British, and very likely the Americans, too, were indeed reading the Japanese Navy operational code well before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
By their account, the British certainly knew that the Japanese fleet was going to set sail on November 26, 1941. The most likely targets were the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies, Singapore, or Pearl Harbor. When the Japanese were not sighted in the south, this was, by process of elimination, a further indication that they were sending units towards Pearl Harbor. On December 2, five days before the attack on Hawaii, the British intercepted Admiral Yamamoto’s signal, “Climb Niitakayama 1208,” meaning that an attack would com mence on December 8, Tokyo time, which was December 7 in Hawaii.
They charge that Churchill must have known that Pearl Harbor was going to be attacked, but that he refused to pass his information to Roosevelt. Had FDR known about the impending Japanese first-strike, then “as a totally honorable President,” he would have warned Kimmel and Short at Pearl Harbor. They conclude their narrative:
Roosevelt was thus deceived by Churchill, who took a ghast ly gamble to bring America into the war in a manner that would sweep aside all opposition; and he was also badly served by his own divided and jealous subordinates. The combination of the two brought a reluctant ally into the war. Churchill’s gamble paid off even if, in the process, Britain lost an empire.
Anyone familiar with the Roosevelt record can see the flaw in their conclusion, even if they are correct that the JN-25 code had been broken by the early fall of 1939. The authors completely misread Roosevelt’s position. They make no mention of his commitments to the British and Dutch, and the dilemma he was placed in when the Dutch called on the U.S. to own up to its part of the bargain four days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. There is no reference to Roosevelt’s “live bait” ploy of sending three little ships out of manila on a “defensive information patrol” the week before Pearl Harbor. Greaves, and others, long ago argued that while FDR may not have welcomed the loss of life at Pearl Harbor, that after the failure of his “three little ships” gambit, and with the Dutch and British invoking their agreements that went into went effect after the Japanese crossed the imaginary line in Southeast Asia, the attack on Pearl Harbor solved Roosevelt’s most pressing problem.
Rusbridger and Nave have undoubtedly uncovered additional parts of the mystery. With the reservations I have out lined, their book is of interest to students of this episode.
Revisionism and Pearl Harbor
Over the past half-century, Pearl Harbor Revisionism has come of age. From the first writings of John T. Flynn, to George Morgenstern’s masterful study, to the work encouraged by Harry Elmer Barnes, the testimony of participants in the events, and the latest findings of “second-generation” historians who are not satisfied merely to retell the standard accounts, this endeavor to uncover the truth has not been marked by paranoid “conspiracy theories” or reactionary “Roosevelt baiting.” What Revisionists have accomplished is a sober re-appraisal of the origins of the Pacific War, and the making of a strong case for remembering December 7, 1941 as President Roosevelt’s “Day of Infamy.”
*As is the case today, the Pacific Fleet was based on the West coast of the United States [San Diego, San Francisco). FDR personally ordered it moved to the unprepared Pearl Harbor facility in 1940.
**Long out-of-print, John T. Flynn’s The Final Secret of Pearl Harbor can be found as an appendix in Cover Up: The Politics of Pearl Harbor, 1941-1946 by Bruce Bartlett [New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House, 1978).
Source: Reprinted from The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 11, no. 4, pp. 431-467.