When Hitler launched “Operation Barbarossa” against the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, Germany's
leaders justified the attack as a preemptive strike to forestall an imminent Soviet invasion of Germany and the rest of Europe. After the war, Germany's most prominent surviving military and political leaders were put to death at Nuremberg for, among other things, planning and waging “aggressive war” against the Soviet Union. The Nuremberg Tribunal rejected outright defendants' pleas that “Barbarossa” was a preventive attack.
In the decades since, historians, government officials, and standard reference works in the United States, Europe and the USSR accordingly have held that Hitler betrayed the trusting Soviet leaders to launch his treacherous surprise attack, motivated by greed for Russian and Ukrainian resources and “living space,” and as part of a mad drive to “conquer the world.”
In this well researched and powerfully argued study, a Russian-born specialist has presented abundant evidence that essentially affirms the German contention. Based primarily on a scrupulous analysis of the pertinent military and political literature, and the memoirs of prominent members of the Soviet military and Party elite, military analyst Suvorov has produced an important revisionist work that obliges a radical reevaluation of the long-accepted view of Second World War II history.
The author, whose real name is Vladimir Bogdanovich Rezun, was trained as a Soviet army officer in Kalinin and Kiev. Later, after staff level service and completing studies at the Diplomatic Military Academy in 1974, he served as a Soviet military intelligence (GRU) officer, working for four years in Geneva under diplomatic cover. He defected in 1978, and was granted diplomatic asylum in Britain.
His first work on this subject, Icebreaker, was initially published in Russian (in France) in 1988, followed by editions in other languages, including English. It caused a sensation in the military and intelligence community, especially in Europe, because it carefully documents the offensive nature of the massive Soviet military buildup on the German border in 1941. In “M Day” Suvorov adds substantially to evidence and arguments presented in Icebreaker.
In making his case, Suvorov stresses here the central importance to Stalin's planning of military strategist Boris Shaposhnikov, Marshal and Chief of the General Staff. His most important work, Mozg armii ("The Brain of the Army"), was for decades required reading for every Soviet officer. Stalin not only respected Shaposhnikov's military acumen, but, uncharacteristically, personally liked the man. He was the only man Stalin was ever known to address routinely in public by his first and patronymic names (Boris Mikhailovich), in Russia a personal form of address, less than formal but definitely respectful. Stalin addressed everyone else by his family name preceded by Comrade ("Comrade Zhdanov,” for example). Stalin's admiration was also shown by the fact that he always kept a copy of Shaposhnikov's Mozg armii on his desk.
Shaposhnikov's mobilization plan, faithfully implemented by Stalin, laid out a clear, logical, two-year program (August 1939-summer 1941) that would inexorably and purposefully culminate in war. According to Suvorov, Stalin announced his decision to implement this plan at a Politburo meeting on August 19, 1939, four days before the signing of the Soviet-German non-aggression pact. (It was also at this Politburo meeting, which came shortly after Stalin had concluded his draconian purges of military and political “unreliables,” that the Soviet leader ordered General Georgi Zhukov to attack, and defeat, in classic blitzkrieg fashion, the Japanese Sixth Army at Khalkhin-Gol, Mongolia.)
Thirteen days after Stalin's speech, German troops struck against Poland, and two days after that — September 3, 1939 — Britain and France declared war on Germany.
Once Stalin decided to embark on this process of mobilization, the regime radically retooled the nation's economy, directing the enormous physical and human resources of the Soviet Union for war. By its nature, this all-encompassing process could be pursued only to its logical conclusion — war. Simply stated, Stalin's 1939 decision to mobilize inevitably meant war.
In 1938 some 1,513,400 men were serving in the Red Army. This was about one percent of the Soviet population, which is generally considered the normal, economically sustainable, maximum ratio of men under arms to total population. As part of their two-year mobilization program, Stalin-Shaposhnikov more than doubled the number of men under arms — to more than five million.
During this period — August 1939 to June 1941 — Stalin raised 125 new infantry divisions, 30 new motorized divisions, and 61 tank and 79 air divisions — a total of 295 divisions organized in 16 armies. The Stalin-Shaposhnikov plan also called for mobilizing an additional six million men in the summer of 1941, to be distributed into still more infantry, tank, motorized and air divisions.
Between July 1939 and June 1941, Stalin increased the number of Soviet tank divisions from zero to 61, with dozens more in preparation. By June 1941, the “neutral” Soviet Union had assembled more tank divisions than all the other countries of the world put together — a mighty force that could be effectively employed only in offensive operations.
In June 1941 Hitler threw ten mechanized corps into battle, of which each, on average, had more than 340 light and medium tanks. By contrast, Stalin had 29 mechanized corps, each with 1,031 light, medium and heavy tanks. While it is true that not every Soviet corps was at full strength, a single Soviet mechanized corps was militarily stronger than two German corps put together.
When Hitler attacked Poland in September 1939, Germany had a total of six tank divisions. If this light tank force can be regarded as conclusive proof of Hitler's intention to launch a war of world (or at least European) conquest, what — asks Suvorov — can we conclude from Stalin's buildup of 61 tank divisions between late 1939 and mid-1941, and with further dozens in preparation?
In mid-1941, the Red Army was the only military force in the world with amphibious tanks. Stalin had 4,000 of these weapons of offensive war; Germany had none. By June 1941, the Soviets had increased the number of their paratroop corps from zero to five, and the number of their field artillery regiments from 144 to 341, in each case more than all the other armies of the world put together.
At the outbreak of war in September 1939, Germany had a fleet of 57 submarines, a fact that is sometimes cited as proof of Hitler's aggressive intentions. But at that same time, Suvorov points out, the Soviet Union already had more than 165 submarines. These submarines, he notes, were not inferior vessels, but rather of standard quality. By June 1941, the Soviet navy had more than 218 submarines in service, with another 91 under construction. Stalin commanded the world's largest submarine fleet, a force that was created for aggressive war.
As Suvorov points out, at the time of Hitler's 1939 strike against Poland, no one in Germany or western Europe regarded this as the outbreak of a “world war.” Even the declarations of war against Germany by Britain and France two days later — on September 3, 1939 — did not make this a “world war.” It was only much later, looking back, that Germany's Polish campaign came to be regarded as the start of the Second World War. Only in Moscow, writes Suvorov, was it understood right from the outset that a world war had begun.
Echoing the findings of such historians as A. J. P. Taylor and David Hoggan, Suvorov points out that Hitler neither wanted nor planned for a European-wide conflict in 1939. It was the British and French declarations of war against Germany that transformed a local conflict between Germany and Poland into a European-wide one.
Consequently, Hitler did not authorize the conversion of his nation's economy to a war footing. Soviet GRU chief Ivan Proskurov accurately informed Stalin that German industry was not geared to full-scale war. In fact, Germany did not begin in earnest to put its economy on war footing until early 1942, two years after the Soviet Union. But whereas Soviet military and arms production reached a crescendo in the summer of 1941, Germany's did not peak until 1944 — three years too late.
Suvorov presents overwhelming evidence to show that Stalin was preparing for a massive surprise attack against Germany, to be launched in the summer of 1941. (Suvorov believes the attack was set for July 6, 1941.) In preparation for this, the Soviets had deployed enormous forces right on the German frontier, including paratroops, together with airfields and large caches of weapons, ammunition, fuel and other supplies.
In April 1941 the Red Army ordered a massive deployment of artillery pieces and ammunition production to the frontier, and their storage there on the ground and in the open. This alone, writes Suvorov, proves Stalin's intention to attack, because this weaponry and ammunition had be used before the fall, when the annual rains would begin. Storing munitions in the open in 1941 meant that an attack had to come that same year. “Any other interpretation of this fact is not conceivable,” he writes.
Suvorov sums up:
By studying the archive records and the publicly available publications, I came to the conclusion that the transport [in 1941] to the frontier of millions of boots, munitions, and spare parts, and the deployment of millions of soldiers, and thousands of tanks and airplanes, could not have been a mistake, or a miscalculation, but rather that it must have been the result of a thoughtful policy …
This process had as its goal the preparation of industry, the transport system, agriculture, the state territory, the Soviet population, and the Red Army to carry out the war of “liberation” in central and western Europe.
In short, this process is called mobilization. It was a secret mobilization. The Soviet leadership prepared the Red Army and the entire country for the conquest of Germany and western Europe. The conquest of western Europe was the main reason that the Soviet Union unleashed the Second World War.
The final decision to start the war was taken by Stalin on August 19, 1939.
The Soviet attack plan, Suvorov explains, called for a strike on two major fronts: the first, west and northwest, into Germany proper, and the second, equally powerful, southwest into Romania to quickly seize the oil fields there.
Three main strategic echelons would carry out the invasion. The first echelon consisted of 16 invasion armies and several dozen corps and divisions for auxiliary thrusts, made up of professional Red Army men trained to smash through the German lines. The second strategic echelon, consisting of seven armies of inferior troops (including many Gulag prisoners), would secure and expand the breakthroughs of the first echelon. The third echelon, consisting of three armies made up mostly of NKVD troops, would secure the Soviet occupation. It would thwart any and all potential resistance by rounding up and killing Germany's social, political, and military elite — much as had already been done in the Baltic states and eastern Poland (as in the Katyn massacre).
As his main strike aircraft Stalin had settled on the “Ivanov” (one of Stalin's nicknames), later known as the Su-2, a highly effective attack bomber plane that was produced and deployed in large numbers. Stalin ordered construction of more than 100,000 Su-2s, as well as the training of 150,000 pilots. Weighing four tons, the Su-2 had a top speed of 486 km/h, a range of 1200 km, and a bomb load capacity of 400-600 kg. Similar, but superior to the German JU-87 “Stuka” dive bomber, it strikingly resembled the Japanese Nakajima B-5N2, which was the main warplane used in the attack on Pearl Harbor.
For decades establishment historians have held that Stalin naively trusted Hitler. This image of a trusting Stalin and a treacherous Hitler is widely and officially accepted in the United States and much of Europe. Suvorov mocks this view, and contends that, to the contrary, it was Hitler who fatally miscalculated Stalin's cunning, at least for some 15 months, by which time it was too late.
While Hitler succeeded in foiling Stalin's great invasion plan, the German leader fatally underestimated the magnitude and aggressiveness of the Soviet threat. Suvorov writes: “Hitler grasped that Stalin was preparing an invasion, but he failed properly to estimate the entire extent of Stalin's preparations … Hitler was unclear about just how great and how close the danger was.”
Historians, notes Suvorov, do not adequately explain why Hitler decided to attack the Soviet Union at a time when Britain was still not subdued, thus engaging Germany in a dangerous two-front war. They often simply refer to Hitler's lust for Lebensraum or “living space.” Actually, the Russian author writes, “Stalin gave Hitler no alternative way out. The secret [Soviet] mobilization was of such an enormous dimension that it would have been difficult to ignore.” Stalin's “secret mobilization had reached such an extent that it could no longer be disguised. For Hitler the only possibility left was a preventive strike. Hitler beat Stalin to it by two weeks.” In short, given the situation, the only responsible recourse for the German leadership was to launch a preemptive strike.
Stalin did not need Churchill, Roosevelt or ace Soviet spy Richard Sorge to warn him of a possible German attack. He had already made his own preparations to deal with Germany. But in readying his forces for offensive war, Stalin did nothing for the country's defense.
The Germans, writes Suvorov, enjoyed the temporary advantage of surprise because they were able to position and launch their strike forces just two weeks before the Red Army was scheduled to attack, catching it completely off balance. The surprise was all the greater because Stalin did not believe the Germans would dare open a second front in the East while still engaged against the British. Also contributing to the spectacular initial German successes was the daring and professionalism of the German soldier.
As Suvorov writes:
The [Soviet] defeat at the outbreak of the war [June-September 1941] was due to the fact that the German Wehrmacht launched its surprise attack at just the moment when the Soviet artillery was being moved to the border, and together with it the corresponding supplies of munitions. The artillery was not prepared to deal with a defensive war, and on June 22 was not able to go on the offensive.
Because Germany lacked the natural resources to sustain a protracted war, Hitler could prevail only by completely subduing Russia within four months — that is, before the onset of winter. In this he failed. During the summer and fall of 1941 Hitler shattered, but did not destroy the Soviet military machine. (As it was, the Germans were able to achieve stunning initial successes only by utilizing Soviet stores captured during those first few months.)
In “Operation Barbarossa,” Hitler threw 17 tank divisions against the Soviets. After three months of fighting, only about a quarter of his tanks were left, while Stalin's factories were turning out not only many more tanks, but of generally higher quality.
During the first four months of the “Barbarossa” attack, Axis forces destroyed perhaps 75 percent of Stalin's war-making ability, thereby eliminating the immediate military threat to Europe. Between July and November 1941, German forces seized or overran 303 gunpowder, munitions and grenade factories, which annually produced 85 percent of the country's entire Soviet munitions production.
But as Suvorov points out, this was not enough: “Hitler's attack could no longer save Germany. Stalin not only had more tanks, artillery pieces and airplanes, more soldiers and officers, but Stalin had also already put his industry on a war economy basis and could produce weapons in whatever quantities he desired.” On November 29, 1941, Reich Armaments Minister Fritz Todt informed Hitler that from an armaments and war economy point of view, Germany had already lost the war.
Stalin ultimately prevailed because a residual 25 percent of the giant Soviet war economy, including 15 percent of her munitions production — mostly from factories east of the Volga, in the Urals and in Siberia — remained intact. Thus, with just a fraction of her initial superpower strength, Stalin was still able to win the decisive battles of Stalingrad, Kursk, and Berlin, and defeat the mighty forces of Germany (and her Axis allies). Also contributing substantially to the Soviet victory was the entry into the war of the United States, the substantial American aid, and, of course, the legendary stoic toughness of the Russian soldier.
Even though Hitler struck the first blow, at the end of the war Stalin controlled Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and eastern Germany.
Noting that Hitler repeatedly postponed the launch date of “Operation Barbarossa,” Suvorov remarks:
Let us suppose that Hitler had postponed once more the attack against Stalin, and Stalin had struck the first blow on July 6, 1941 … Let us try to imagine what would have happened if Hitler had delayed his attack so that he became victim to the devastating assault prepared by Stalin. In this case Stalin would have had not just 15 percent of the production capacity of the Munitions Industry Commissariat, but 100 percent. In that case how would be Second World War have concluded?
In this situation, it is not unreasonable to suppose that by November-December 1941 Soviet forces would have reached the Atlantic, hoisting the red flag over Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, Rome and Stockholm.
Since the publication of “M Day,” Russian scholars have dug up additional evidence from the former Soviet archives that further confirms the Suvorov thesis and obliges a radical rewriting of Second World War history.
While it is likely that many records have been removed and destroyed, some revealing papers are being unearthed. One of the most important of these long-suppressed documents is the complete text of Stalin's secret speech of August 19, 1939. For decades leading Soviet figures denied that Stalin ever delivered this address, even insisting that no Politburo meeting was held on that date. Others have dismissed this speech as a forgery.
Russian historian T. S. Bushuyeva found a version of the text among the secret files of the USSR Special Archives, and published it, together with commentary, in the prominent Russian journal Novy Mir (No. 12, 1994). German writer Wolfgang Strauss reports on this, and other recent findings by Russian historians, in the April 1996 issue of the German monthly Nation und Europa. To this reviewer's knowledge, no American historian has yet taken public notice of the speech text.
It should be kept in mind that this address was delivered just as Soviet officials were negotiating with British and French representatives about a possible military alliance with Britain and France, and as German and Soviet officials were discussing a possible non-aggression pact between their countries. Four days after this speech, German Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop met with Stalin in the Kremlin to sign the Soviet-German non-aggression pact.
In this speech, Stalin declared:
The question of war or peace has entered a critical phase for us. If we conclude a mutual assistance pact with France and Great Britain, Germany will back off from Poland and seek a modus vivendi with the Western powers. War would be avoided, but down the road events could become dangerous for the USSR. If we accept Germany's proposal and conclude a nonaggression pact with her, she will of course invade Poland, and the intervention of France and England in that war would be unavoidable. Western Europe would be subjected to serious upheavals and disorder. Under those conditions, we would have a great opportunity to stay out of the conflict, and we could plan the opportune time for us to enter the war.
The experience of the last 20 years has shown that in peacetime the Communist movement is never strong enough to seize power. The dictatorship of such a party will only become possible as the result of a major war.
Our choice is clear. We must accept the German proposal and politely send the Anglo-French mission home. Our immediate advantage will be to take Poland to the gates of Warsaw, as well as Ukrainian Galicia …
Summing up, Wolfgang Strauss points out that Stalin strove for an all-European war, a war of exhaustion that would bring down Europe's states and system. Further, Stalin planned to enter the war on the ruins of “capitalist” Europe, and then dictate its Sovietization by military force. (The key term “Sovietizatsia” comes up repeatedly in his speech.)
While noting that this speech further confirms Stalin's aggressive intentions, the cautious Bushuyeva quotes Clausewitz to the effect that wars tend to assume their own directions and dimensions, regardless of what one side or the other might have planned or said.
In her Novy Mir article Bushuyeva writes of the pain that Russians must now endure in acknowledging that much of what they have believed for decades about the “Great Patriotic War” is wrong. She notes that of the young men born between the years 1922 and 1925, and who were sent to war by Stalin, only three out of a hundred survived the conflict. Writes Bushayeva: “The entire depth of the tragedy that befell our five-million-man army in June 1941 must be plumbed. The evil that the rulers of the Soviet Union had planned for others suddenly, by some inscrutable fate, struck our own country.”
It would be easy, Bushuyeva continues, to curse those who “are rewriting” history, and to continue to believe in the familiar contrived myths and symbols that appeal to our national pride — to the patriotism of the Russian people. “Yes, it would be possible to go on as before,” she writes, “if it were not for one peculiar circumstance. Man is so constituted that the truth, however painful, is more important in the final analysis than the spurious bliss of living in lies and ignorance.”
Suvorov likewise acknowledges that many Russians despise him for his revelations. He writes:
I have challenged the one sacred thing the Russian people still cling to — their memory of the “Great Patriotic War.” I have sacrificed everything dear to me to write these books. It would have been intolerable to have died without telling the people what I have uncovered. Curse the books! Curse me! But even as you curse me try to understand.
Following the publication of Stalin's speech in Novy Mir, historians at Novosibirsk University undertook a major revisionist study of the immediate prewar situation. The results of this scholarly seminar were published in April 1995. Russian historian I. V. Pavlova, stated bluntly in her seminar contribution that for decades Communist Party historians worked to bury the background, origins and development of the Second World War, including Stalin's August 1939 speech, under a mountain of lies.
Another of the participating scholars, V. L. Doroshenko, said that the new evidence shows that “Stalin provoked and unleashed the Second World War.” Suggesting that Stalin and his regime should have been on trial at Nuremberg, Doroshenko went on explain:
… Not just because Stalin helped Hitler but because it was in Stalin's own interests that the war begin. First, because of his general goal of seizing power in Europe, and, second, because of the immediate advantage of destroying Poland and taking over Galicia. But Stalin's most important motive was the war itself … The collapse of the European order would have made it possible for him to establish his dictatorship [over all of Europe].
To this end, Stalin wanted for the time being to stay out of the war, but only with the intention of entering it at the most favorable moment. In other words, the nonaggression pact freed Hitler's hands and encouraged Germany to unleash a war [in Poland]. As Stalin signed the Pact, he was already determined to break it. Right from the outset he did not intend to stay out of the conflict but, to the contrary, to enter the war directly at the most advantageous moment.
One must marvel at the courage shown by such Russian historians in their willingness to come to grips with this very emotion-laden chapter of history. They show much greater forthrightness and open-mindedness in confronting taboos of 20th century history than do their counterparts in western Europe and the United States.
But there are exceptions. In recent years, a few Western historians have likewise affirmed this drastically revisionist view of Second World War history. These include German historian Max Klüver in his 1986 book, Präventivschlag 1941 ("Preventive Strike"), and Austrian scholar Ernst Topitsch in Stalins Krieg, published in English in 1987 by St. Martin's Press as Stalin's War. American historian R. H. S. Stolfi echoes Suvorov's views in his 1991 book, Hitler's Panzers East: World War II Reinterpreted (reviewed in the Nov.-Dec. 1995 Journal), and German historian Dr. Joachim Hoffmann has added considerably to the discussion with his impressively researched 1995 study, Stalins Vernichtungskrieg 1941-1945 ("Stalin's War of Annihilation").
In the view of Wolfgang Strauss, the new revelations about Stalin's long-suppressed speech, and the treatment of this issue by younger Russian historians, constitute a victory for European revisionism and represent a major shift in historical research. Meanwhile, Suvorov and other historians continue to track down historical evidence. In addition to archival digging, Suvorov reports that, in response to Icebreaker and “M Day,” Soviet and German veterans of World War II have written to offer further evidence in support of his thesis. He bolsters his case in a third book, “The Last Republic,” recently published in Russian, and in a fourth, still unpublished volume on this subject.
Scapegoats: A Defense of Kimmel and Short at Pearl Harbor, by Edward L. Beach. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1995. Hardcover. 225 pages. Eleven photographs. Bibliographical references essay. Index.
Reviewed by John Weir (bio)
Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, inflicted one of the worst blows ever endured by American military forces. During the two-hour raid, Japanese warplanes sunk or seriously damaged 16 major US naval vessels, including six battleships, and killed 2,400 American servicemen. The next day, in an often-quoted address that reflected the national mood, President Franklin Roosevelt spoke of “a date which will live in infamy.”
Angry Americans wanted to know why their Pacific fleet was caught by surprise, and who was responsible for the woeful lack of preparedness. In the rush to fix blame, attention naturally turned to the two men who were responsible for Pearl Harbor base security: Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, the ranking US Navy commander in Hawaii, and his Army counterpart, Lt. General Walter C. Short.
Formal investigations found that Kimmel and Short had been seriously derelict in their duties, and responsible for the lack of preparedness. The two were stripped of their commands, and sent into the wilderness of an early retirement at lower rank.
Until his death in 1968, Kimmel worked hard to clear his name, an effort that others, including his son and grandson, have carried on to this day. For example, in October 1990, the officers and trustees of the US Naval Academy Alumni Association at Annapolis unanimously adopted a resolution calling on the Navy to posthumously restore Kimmel's rank as four-star Admiral. This rehabilitation effort also includes this book, written by retired US Navy Captain Edward Beach.
A scapegoat, the book of Leviticus tells us, is a goat upon whom the sins of the people are placed before being driven into the wilderness. In an interview shortly before his death, Kimmel said: “They made me the scapegoat. They wanted to get the United States into the war.” Asked just whom he meant by “they,” he named President Roosevelt, US Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall, and “others in the Washington high command.” Kimmel continued:
FDR was the architect of the whole business. He gave orders — and I can't prove this categorically — that no word about Japanese fleet movements was to be sent to Pearl Harbor except by Marshall, and then he told Marshall not to send anything.
Meanwhile, others have continued to defend the official line. In a much-discussed work published in 1992, Pearl Harbor: Final Judgement, Henry C. Clausen (with co-author Bruce Lee) acknowledged that Washington had ample warning of an imminent Japanese attack, but contends that the information passed on to Kimmel and Short should have sufficed to motivate them to take defensive measures. [Dr. James J. Martin reviewed this book in the Jan.-Feb. 1995 Journal.] “The debacle at Pearl Harbor was the result of Short's and Kimmel's being asleep at the switch,” concludes Clausen.
As its title indicates, Scapegoats was written with the goal of exonerating Kimmel and Short. Author Edward Beach tries to show why the Pearl Harbor naval base was unprepared for the Japanese attack, and who was to blame for the Pacific Fleet's lack of readiness. More specifically, Beach presents strong evidence to show that Kimmel and Short were unjustly blamed for the misdeeds of Roosevelt, Marshall and other higher-ups in the US military command.
Little of this book is really new. Most of the facts and arguments laid out here have already been presented, often more clearly and persuasively, in works — often cited by Beach — by earlier revisionist historians. (See, for example, Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, an outstanding anthology edited by Harry Elmer Barnes [softcover IHR edition available from the IHR for $11.75 postpaid].)
Indeed, Beach openly acknowledges his debt to such works as The Pacific War, by British historian John Costello, and Pearl Harbor: The Story of the Secret War, the still unsurpassed study by George Morgenstern. [A handsome IHR softcover edition, with a special introduction by James J. Martin, is available for $11.45 postpaid.]
Much of the ground covered by Beach has also been covered in issues of this Journal. These include the special Winter 1983-84 “Pearl Harbor” issue, which contains seven essays by Percy L. Greaves, Jr., chief of the minority research staff of the 1945-46 Congressional investigation of the Pearl Harbor attack, along with an essay by James J. Martin, “Where Was General Marshall?” Three of the most important books on this subject — Infamy: Pearl Harbor and Its Aftermath by John Toland, The Pacific War by John Costello, and At Dawn We Slept by Gordon W. Prange — are reviewed by Greaves in the Fall 1982 issue of this Journal. Charles Lutton provided a lucid, detailed overview of the debate in “Pearl Harbor: Fifty Years of Controversy,” in the Winter 1991-92 Journal. Also noteworthy is Roger Stolley's essay, “Pearl Harbor No Surprise,” in the Spring 1992 Journal.
As Beach explains in this book, Roosevelt decided in 1940 that American forces in the Philippines, and not at Pearl Harbor, were the most likely target of a possible Japanese attack. As a result, Washington neglected to supply the Hawaii base with the requisite new, long-range patrol aircraft and spare parts. This failure adequately to supply Pearl Harbor is a very important factor in considering the single most important accusation leveled against Kimmel and Short: that having been informed that north was the most likely direction of a possible Japanese attack, they nevertheless failed to set up a sustained air patrol to spot any approaching enemy strike force.
A detailed article in the December 1994 issue of the Proceedings of the US Naval Institute (cited by Beach) authoritatively exonerates Kimmel of this specific charge. Entitled “Reopen the Kimmel Case,” it is written by Dr. Michael Gannon, professor of history at the University of Florida. Gannon also points out that an effective reconnaissance patrol over a protracted period, with a complete, 360-degree surveillance sweep, would have required a fleet of 250 operational aircraft. But during the first week of December 1941, only 49 such patrol aircraft were available. Adequate crews, spare parts, and experienced aviation machinists were likewise not available. Although Kimmel had been promised delivery of 100 new PBY-5 Catalina aircraft for surveillance, these were never delivered, and Hawaii was left without the means to sustain an effective air patrol.
Washington's most egregious failure with regard to the forces in Hawaii was in neglecting to pass on vital intelligence information to Kimmel and Short. Because the Washington high command no longer gave the highest priority to Pearl Harbor as a possible Japanese target, and (according to Beach) because Washington feared compromising the source of its intelligence intercepts, known as “Magic,” Washington failed to supply the Hawaii commanders with the intelligence that would have sufficiently alerted them to the strong likelihood of an impending attack.
For some time prior to December 1941, US cryptographers had broken Japan's diplomatic code, and high-level administration officials were routinely reading all confidential communications between Tokyo and Japanese embassies in Washington and elsewhere. During the weeks prior to the Pearl Harbor attack, US officials decrypted several Japanese messages that indicated an imminent outbreak of war with the United States and Britain.
These included a secret message sent by Tokyo to the Japanese ambassador in Berlin on November 30, 1941. He was told to meet immediately with Hitler and Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop, and in confidence to inform them:
Say to them [Hitler and Ribbentrop] that lately England the United States have taken a provocative attitude, both of them. Say that they are planning to move military forces into various places in East Asia and that we will inevitably have to counter by also moving troops. Say very secretly to them that there is extreme danger that war may suddenly break out between the Anglo-Saxon nations and Japan through some clash of arms and add that the time of the breaking out of this war may come quicker than anyone dreams.
On the evening of December 3, the US Navy Department in Washington intercepted Tokyo's coded “winds execute” message, which informed its embassies that Japan would soon be at war against the United States and Britain.
By December 6th at the latest, US officials had enough information to indicate Pearl Harbor was the likely target of an impending Japanese attack. For one thing, Washington knew on the 6th that Japan's envoy in Washington was ordered to deliver his final message to US Secretary of State Hull at 1:00 p.m., Washington time — which coincided with dawn in Hawaii.
During a 1944 naval inquiry, Captain Laurance Safford, the leading cryptologist responsible for decoding intercepted Japanese messages, courageously testified on what he and his office knew:
On December 1, we had definite information from three independent sources that Japan was going to attack Britain and the United States …
On December 4, 1941, we received definite information from two more independent sources that Japan would attack the United States and Britain, but would maintain peace with Russia. At 9:00 p.m. (Washington time), December 6, 1941, we received positive information that Japan would declare war against the United States, at a time to be specified thereafter. This information was positive and unmistakable and was made available to Military [US Army] Intelligence at this same time. Finally at 10:15 a.m. (Washington time), December 7, 1941 [about 5:00 a.m. Hawaii time], we received positive information … that the Japanese declaration of war would be presented to the Secretary of State at 1:00 p.m. (Washington time) that date.
All decoded messages, Safford explained, were promptly passed on to the President and other key civilian and military personnel. Yet both Kimmel and Short were kept in the dark about the most pertinent of these messages. The responsibility for failing to pass along this critically important information to the Hawaii commanders, Beach writes, belonged to Admiral Harold Stack, General George Marshall, and Vice Admiral Richmond Turner.
As Beach points out, the real value of intelligence is measured only by its utility. Paralysis based on fear of losing a valuable source of information only makes the data derived therefrom worthless.
Beach and other historians believe that at a secret, late-night White House meeting on the evening before the Pearl Harbor attack, President Roosevelt was informed of the most recently intercepted Japanese communication. A Navy officer who was present later testified that upon reading it, Roosevelt exclaimed “This means war!” Beach contends that it was fear of exposing “Magic” that explains Roosevelt's failure to immediately alert Kimmel, Short and other appropriate officials, and even to deny that this late-night White House meeting ever took place.
Just one hour and seven minutes before Japanese bombs began falling on Pearl Harbor, an important telegram by General Marshall was dispatched to General Short in Hawaii. It read:
japanese are presenting at one pm eastern standard time today what amounts to an ultimatum also they are under orders to destroy their code machine immediately stop just what significance the hour set may have we do not know but be on alert accordingly stop inform naval authorities of this communication marshall
Marshall could have used a trans-Pacific telephone to make sure that Hawaii learned instantly of this momentous news, but this was not done. Instead, this message was sent by regular commercial radio telegraph, and was not received by Short and Kimmel until after the Japanese attack.
In his 1955 book, Admiral Kimmel's Story, Husband Kimmel summed up his view of the situation:
The deficiencies of Pearl Harbor as a fleet base were well known in the Navy Department. In an interview with Mr. Roosevelt in June 1941, in Washington, I outlined the weaknesses and concluded with the remark that the only answer was to have the fleet at sea if the Japs ever attacked.
I accepted the decision to base the fleet at Pearl Harbor in the firm belief that the Navy Department would supply me promptly with all pertinent information available and in particular with all information that indicated an attack on the fleet at Pearl Harbor.
… The Navy Department thus engaged in a course of conduct which definitely gave me the impression that intelligence from important intercepted Japanese messages ["Magic"] was being furnished to me. Under these circumstances a failure to send me important information of this character was not merely a withholding of intelligence. It amounted to an affirmative misrepresentation.
… Yet, in fact, the most vital information from the intercepted Japanese messages was withheld from me. This failure not only deprived me of essential facts. It misled me.
I was not supplied with any information of the intercepted messages showing that the Japanese government had divided Pearl Harbor into five areas and was seeking minute berthing information as to the berthing of ships of the fleet in those areas, which was vitally significant.
In a much discussed, and much criticized, 1982 study, Infamy: Pearl Harbor and Its Aftermath [softcover edition available from the IHR for $10.00 postpaid], historian John Toland laid out evidence for his thesis that President Roosevelt fully anticipated Japan's attack, and intentionally withheld this vital information from Kimmel and Short in the expectation that a devastating Japanese attack in Hawaii would bring the United States decisively and irrevocably into war. This is also the view that Kimmel himself came to hold. In a 1958 interview (published in the Winter 1991-92 Journal), he stated:
My belief is that General Short and I were not given the information available in Washington and were not informed of the impending attack because it was feared that action in Hawaii might deter the Japanese from making the attack. Our president had repeatedly assured the American people that the United States would not enter the war unless we were attacked. The Japanese attack on the fleet would put the United States in the war with the full support of the American public.
Oddly, Beach does not accept the view of the man he seeks to exonerate, and even dismisses Toland's thesis as “off the wall.”
Discussing the current state of the debate about Pearl Harbor and its background, Beach writes:
There is today a great need for historical reappraisal, even at the risk of being labeled a “revisionist.” This word is so often used as a pejorative that some historians have developed knee-jerk reactions whenever they hear it, and any suggestion of revisionist thinking causes those advocating a thoughtful approach to become defensive.
To be a “revisionist” these days means that one believes Roosevelt deliberately exposed our fleet at Pearl Harbor to “lure the Japanese to attack,” had full knowledge of the approach of the six-carrier task force across the north Pacific for that purpose, and refrained from alerting our forces in Hawaii in order that Japan's “first blow” would be so devastating that it would coalesce our entire national political spectrum into support for entry into the war. While this approximates the facts of what happened, there is no proof that it was intentional or deliberate on his part.
The author of these pages will admit to being what might be called a “second-class revisionist” in that he feels that Roosevelt was convinced by mid-1941 of the necessity of our entry into the war and did all he could to bring it about …
Perhaps reluctant to confront the issue of Roosevelt's role and responsibility, Beach keeps his book focused on the responsibility of Kimmel and Short for the Pearl Harbor debacle, and therefore does not dwell on the larger issue of Roosevelt's campaign to involve the United States in war with Japan and Germany. This is regrettable, because US policy toward Japan in the period before prior to Pearl Harbor attack must be considered in determining the culpability of these two commanders.
Prior to the Pearl Harbor attack, popular sentiment against American involvement in the European and Asian wars was so strong that Roosevelt resorted to deceit and outright lies in his campaign from mid-1939 to December 1941 to bring the US into war.
Against Japan, he applied increasingly severe pressure. In September 1940 Roosevelt imposed an embargo on all US exports of scrap iron and steel to the country. On July 26, 1941, he ordered a freeze on all Japanese assets in the United States, which ended trade between the two countries. This was a severe blow to Japan, which depended heavily on the US for its scrap steel, and oil and petroleum products. Roosevelt's order, which amounted to an economic declaration of war, threatened Japan's survival as a developed, industrialized nation.
Also in July 1941, the President secretly authorized devastating American bombing raids against Japanese cities. Roosevelt and his top military advisers approved a daring plan to use American pilots and American war planes, deceitfully flying under the Chinese flag, to bomb Japan's major cities. (See “Roosevelt's Secret Prewar Plan to Bomb Japan,” Winter 1991-92 Journal.)
On November 26, 1941, Secretary of State Hull handed the Japanese ambassador in Washington a ten-point memorandum that bluntly spelled out the US government's stern policy toward Japan. The core of this virtual ultimatum was a demand that Japan “withdraw all military, naval, air and police forces from China and from Indochina.”
It was this paper that convinced the Tokyo leadership that further discussions with the US were pointless, and that Japan now had no choice but resort to arms. With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the “back door to war,” Roosevelt attained the goal for which he had been striving so ardently for more than two years. (For an authoritative summary of Japan's view of the background to Pearl Harbor, see “Hideki Tojo's Prison Diary,” in the Spring 1992 Journal. See also A Time for War: Franklin Roosevelt and the Path to Pearl Harbor, by Robert Smith Thompson, reviewed by Joseph Bishop in the March-April 1996 Journal.)
Beach expresses approval of, or at least understanding for, Roosevelt's artful campaign to maneuver Japan into striking the first blow. At the same time, though, he derides the President for his failure to fully prepare for this conflict, thus leaving US forces in the Pacific unprepared. That is, Roosevelt was guilty of not letting his military hand know what his diplomatic hand was doing. If he worked for and anticipated war with Japan, he should simultaneously have fortified US forces in Hawaii and the Philippines to make them fully prepared for attack. This lack of consistency or coordination resulted in the unforgivable sacrifice of thousands of men in the initial Japanese onslaught. It is only within this context that one can fairly assess the guilt of Kimmel and Short, if any.
Beach makes an interesting comparison between the ignominious post-1941 fates of Kimmel and Short, and the celebrated post-1941 career of Douglas MacArthur, who commanded American forces in the Philippines in December 1941. Although Washington provided MacArthur with warnings of a possible Japanese attack that were at least as clear as those given the commanders in Hawaii, he was no better prepared for a Japanese assault. MacArthur's forces were devastated by Japanese raids much as those under the command of Kimmel and Short.
But instead of ignominy and early forced retirement, MacArthur — in contrast to Kimmel and Short — was promoted, and went on to an acclaimed wartime career that secured a legendary place in history. So blame was not only misdirected, it was also (as Beach points out) inconsistently assigned. A factor that may have contributed to protecting MacArthur's reputation, Beach notes parenthetically, is the fact that MacArthur, along with his boss, General Marshall, were both 32nd degree Freemasons.
In trying explain why Kimmel and Short still remain scapegoats, even after more than half a century, Beach writes:
Were the awesome personalities of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Gen. George C. Marshall not involved, it is my conviction that the events leading to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor would long since have been seen in their true light. The blame leveled, in the heat of that tragic day, upon our two unfortunate commanders there would no longer be part of the historical record.
But this assessment misses the mark. What's at stake here is much greater than these two “awesome personalities.” Roosevelt and Marshall are regarded as “awesome” above all because of the roles they played during World War II — the conflict by which America attained its superpower status. An important pillar of America's mythical self-image as a righteous superpower is the Pearl Harbor legend that the United States was minding its own business until the mad Japanese launched their unprovoked attack, dragging reluctant Americans into a terrible world war, and thereby obliging the United States to shoulder “international responsibilities” as world judge, philanthropist and policeman.
A broader understanding of the background to the Pearl Harbor attack, and especially President Roosevelt's secretive and unlawful efforts to provoke war, would go far toward shattering this popular legend — an issue that, regrettably, Beach does not adequately address. For as long as the myth of the United States as the reluctant geopolitical messiah endures, Americans will resist viewing this century's history with candor, and Kimmel and Short will remain scapegoats.
Daniel W. Michaels is a Columbia University graduate (Phi Beta Kappa, 1954), a Fulbright exchange student to Germany (1957), and recently retired from the US Department of Defense after 40 years of service.