A Moment in the SunEven after more than fifty years the question of who is to blame for the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, at 7:55 A.M. still lingers. Over half a century after the Japanese launched a successful surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii, documents, journals, and official reports related to the attack are only now being declassified. In the years since, President Roosevelt's possible participation in that surprise attack on Pearl Harbor is still in question. Did Roosevelt deliberately incite the Japanese to make an attack on the Hawaiian island and withhold information that would have prevented or even lessened the damage done by the Japanese attack? If President Roosevelt wanted to use the Japanese to enter the Second World War, he was not alone. One month before the bombing of Pearl Harbor Secretary of the interior Harold Ickes wrote in his diary "For a long time I have believed that our best entrance into the war would be by way of the Japanese."
The Roosevelt Conspiracy places a possible reason for Roosevelt masterminding the Pearl Harbor attack of his great concern for Europe. Europe was fighting a war with the supreme leader of Germany, Adolf Hitler, and the United States entering the war was inevitable. On March 19, 1941, Prime Minster Churchill begged for both economic assistance from the U.S. and for the U.S. military forces to join England in the fight against Germany . President Roosevelt knew that Americans wanted to stay out of the war, but they also wanted strongly to defeat Hitler and his allies. He wanted strongly to assist England in its fight against the Axis powers, and he wanted to gain time for American rearmament. He felt that he could restrain Japanese by means of diplomacy and naval deterrence. Roosevelt did not want a two front war, as neither the Army nor the Navy was prepared for the two sided conflict with Germany on one side and Japan on the other. Instead of declaring war with Germany and Japan it was his policy, not only to give aid to Britain in the form of armaments, but restrain the Japanese by a cautious embargo of war materials.
Before the Great War, Americans had enjoyed a policy of isolationism. Many Americans considered the Atlantic and Pacific oceans as a protective barrier against assault . The strong feelings that America should continue its policy of isolation thwarted Roosevelt in his early attempts to repeal arms embargoes laws4 . According to John Toland, the U.S. more or less invited that attack by projecting the image of a country too isolated and "Sleepy" to see what was going on in the world. During the 1930's the primary concern of most Americans was not the war in Europe but finding an end to the depression.
The attack on December 7, 1941, changed that isolationist feeling. The next day Congress with one dissenting vote declared war on Japan. three days later Germany and Italy, faithful to the tripartite pact, declared war on the United States. Roosevelt had his wish, America had entered the war.
In 1946 Senator Arthur Vandenburg of Michigan made the following statement about the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor "Pearl Harbor drove most of us to the conclusion that world peace is indivisible. We learned that the oceans are no longer moats around our ramparts. We learned that mass destruction is a progressive science which defies both time and space and reduces flesh and blood to cruel importance." Vandenburg was a leading isolationist until the attack on Pearl Harbor. Additionally, Homer Ferguson, Senator from Michigan, and Owen Brewster, Senator from Maine, both members of the Joint Congressional Committee came to the conclusion that authorities in Washington and the Commanders in Hawaii should have expected that the Japanese government would make a surprise attack in starting war with the United States8 . In meetings with Roosevelt, Churchill indicated that a declaration of war by either the US., U.K., the Dominions, the Netherlands and possibly the Soviet Union would restrain Japanese aggression.
To those that strongly believe in the Roosevelt Conspiracy, an important fact in the investigation of the attack was that the all important carriers (Lexington, Enterprise and Saratoga) were at sea, while the majority of the pacific fleet was at Pearl. Carriers would become the major fighting weapons of the war in the Pacific. If the attack was a real surprise, why were these carriers at Sea? During the investigation the Committee came to the conclusion that the carriers were not specially saved from destruction because no one had realized the potential of the carrier.
Roosevelt and his commanders should have known that the future balance of sea power in the Pacific would depend less on capital ships and more in the newer weapons particularly adapted to the long-range cut and run war on commerce. The important facts about the future of air power at sea were known, and available in the early twenties. Testifying before the House Naval Committee in February 1921 Brigadier General William Mitchell made the astounding assertion that bombing planes could sink or disable the strongest battle ships in existence. This was down right heresy to the pre-WW1 gunboat views. He based his arguments on the tactics that direct bomb hits could cause disruptive damage by breaking vacuum tubes, causing lights to go out, disrupting wireless communications. He stated that such directed hits could also jam turrets, cause fires, explode ammunition bays, and finally destroy the ship. In the summer of 1921, Billy Mitchell proved his theory in extended bombing tests that sank several old American and ex-German WW1 battle ships. Despite some confident views that the capital ships had ability to continue its dominance in the countries fleet, when the Washington conference met in 1921, there was not the slightest doubt that modern battle ships were vulnerable to air attack, and that command of the air gave command of the surface of the sea.
The real truth behind the carriers not being at the attack on Pearl was that carrier missions were fully under the control of the commander in Chief U.S. Pacific Fleet, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, who established the sailing dates and could have canceled the missions had he so desired. Even if Roosevelt had known, it was Kimmel who set the sailing dates. Unless there was a large conspiracy (which is doubtful), there was no way for Kimmel to know of the impeding attack.
In the attempt to find blame for the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor Congress drew two accusations. One was the failure to fortify Guam. It was argued that scout planes from Guam could have spotted the Japanese task force before its surprise attack. At Washington Naval Conference of 1922 the United States pledged itself not to increase forts on Guam. In the aftermath of the war Congress drew accusation that it refused to fortify Guam in order to prevent Pearl from having any warning. The real reason behind the failure to fortify Guam was that the Roosevelt Administration never asked for it. The Naval Expansion Act of May 17, 1938, created a review board for determining the need for addition bases. The fortification of Guam was to cost eighty million dollars. Roosevelt and the Bureau of the Budget sent Congress a bill that brought this figure down to five million. Representative E.E. Cox of Georgia informed the Naval Affairs committee that the fortification of Guam would be an important sub, naval, and air base. Here again the conspiracy theorists believe that Roosevelt engineered the Japanese attack because any Pacific advance would first have to crush Guam. The real reason for the refusal was that the build up on Guam might be taken as a threat. The real effect of the neglect of Guam was that it bolstered two of Japanese's beliefs, one was that isolation ruled America, and that Washington would back down rather than risk offending Tokyo. In reality it would have been virtually impossible for a scout based on Guam to have spotted Nagumo's task force on its cruise.
The second action for which Congress drew accusant was the wire tapping of suspected spies. In the summer of 1941 Congress was to passed a bill that would have allowed the eavesdropping of communication of suspected spies. The bill would have allowed the FBI and armed forces intelligence officers to wire tap the phones of suspected spies. Burton K. Wheeler, chairman of the Senate Interstate Commerce Committee pigeonholed the bill and it allowed it to die. The House of Representatives later defeated all other forms of similar legislation. In 1942 then Senator Truman told Congress that "the surprise attack on Hawaii was in no way due to the unwillingness of congress to pass a law authorizing wire tapping." The reality of the wire tapping in Honolulu was that it could not have revealed the Pearl Harbor attack because no conversation discussed Yamanmoto's plan.
The real controversy over Pearl Harbor centers on several Japanese messages and the breaking of the Japanese codes used to send those messages. MAGIC had broken most of the Japanese codes and General Marshall was very concerned that the Japanese would learn that the United States had broken their Purple code. The fact that America had broken the diplomatic codes was not difficult to hide, if one knew were to look. Thomas E. Dewy, the republican candidate for the Presidential election of 1944 learned that the United States had broken most of the Japanese codes prior to 1941. He planned to use the information to discredit Roosevelt, and accuse him of engineering the attack on Pearl Harbor. General Marshal convinced Dewy that general knowledge of the broken codes might prolong the war and persuaded him not to use the issue of breaking the Japanese codes in the campaign. While the public information of the broken codes would have discredited Roosevelt and assured him the election, Dewy, in the name of American lives, sacrificed the election for these patriotic reasons. American Intelligence was not the only country to have broken the Japanese codes. Conrad E.L. Helfrich of the Royal Netherlands Navy stated that the Dutch had broken the code and even stated that his country knew that the Japanese were going to strike Pearl Harbor.
The first of many messages surrounding the controversy of Pearl Harbor came October of 1941 when the Army Signal Intelligence Service decrypted several messages from Tokyo to Consul General Nagao Kita at the American consulate. The first message divided the waters of Pearl Harbor in to five areas and asked for the exact locations of Kimmel's warships and carriers.
Intelligence officers guessed Japan was forming a grid system for a bombing attack on Pearl. Three additional messages between Tokyo and Kita indicated unusual Japanese interest in Pearl Harbor. The first was for ensign Takeo Yoshikawa, a naval spy posing as one of Kita's assistants, to report all ship movements in Pearl Harbor twice a week. Next, Yoshikawa was to subject the fleet air bases on Oahu to special scrutiny. And, the third message, on November 8, 1941, requested information about the strategic points around Honolulu.
Of the Japanese messages decrypted, the two that had the greatest impact on Pearl Harbor conspiracy theories were the so- called "Winds" message and a 14 part message sent to the Japanese embassy. The "Winds" message was dispatched from the Foreign ministry to Nomura on Nov. 29.
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.
1. In case Japanese-U.S. relations in danger, HIGASHI NO KAZEAME [east wind, rain].
2. Japanese-U.S.S.R. relations, KITANOKAZE JUMORI [ north wind cloudy].
2. Japanese-British relations, NISHI NO KAZE HARE [west wind, clear].
This signal will be given in the middle and at the end as a weather forecast and each sentence will be repeated twice. When this is heard please destroy all code papers,. ect. This is a yet to be a completely secret arrangement. Forward as urgent intelligence
Tokyo promptly followed this up with an amplification.
When our diplomatic relations are becoming dangerous, we will add the following at the beginning and end of our general intelligence broadcasts
1. If it is Japanese-U.S. relations, HIGASHI.
2. Japanese-U.S.S.R. relations, KITA.
3. Japanese-British relations, NISHI.
The above will be repeated five times and include at the beginning and end.
The "Winds" message alerted Washington to that diplomatic relations with Japan were dangerous tense. However, was the "Winds" message was even real. Because of the discrepancies in testimony given about the "Winds" message, the inquiry was unable to determine if such a message was ever really received.
The most important message intercepted was a fourteen part message. When this series of messages were decrypted it was obvious that the Japanese were completely dissatisfied with the American-Japanese relations. That message was the Japanese reply to the latest American proposal that had been set forth during diplomatic negotiations, which were aimed at peacefully halting Japanese aggression in the Pacific. Tokyo sent the messages to its diplomats in Washington, asking them to keep information secret for the time being. As soon as Roosevelt read the first 13 parts he said to his adviser, Harry Hopkins, "This Means War" . That night the 13 parts of the vital Japanese message were delivered not only to Roosevelt but also to Admiral Wilkinson, both were slow to take action.
The fourteenth part of the messages would be the conclusion of what Japanese planned to do. This last part of the Japanese message was "It is impossible to reach agreement thorough further negotiations. Col. C.C. Dunsenbury had received all fourteen parts of the Japanese diplomatic message at midnight December 6, 1941. He did not immediately deliver these decryptions to General Marshall because he did not understand their importance and did not wish to disturb him at that late hour. He waited until morning before passing the message on to Marshall. His actions lost nine vital hours that could have been used to warn Pearl Harbor. Even If only Kimmel or Short had been informed of the contents of the fourteen part message American losses could have been reduced.
The real blame for Pearl Harbor cannot be placed upon any one individual or a single event. Several people are to blame for the surprise attack on December 7, 1941. There was no single scapegoat, from Roosevelt on down they all made mistakes.
The investigations, specifically the congressional investigation, held that the Army and Navy were responsible for the attack, that officers in both Hawaii and Washington were informed of the possibility of an air attack.
Roosevelt selected Admiral Husband Kimmel over the heads of men who outranked him and promoted him to the temporary rank of full admiral. This made him one of the few four-star admirals in the navy. Kimmel was known for his ability to get the best out of his subordinates. Kimmel's major contribution to the attack was the withholding vital information. Kimmel was an arrogant man who believed that he was the perfect man to handle any difficulties than might arise on Pearl. He was unwilling to share vital information with even his own command, information that he felt he had worked hard to acquire and was his to do with as he pleased. He withheld that Washington has sent him a war warning message when the Japanese started destroying their codes and code machines. It was Kimmel's job was to take care of long range reconnaissance for Oahu, while it was Lieutenant General Walter C. Short responsibility to protect Oahu against enemy air and sea attack.
Lt. Gen. Short is also to blame for the attack on Pearl. As commanding General of Hawaii he made several failures. Like Kimmel, he refused to share information. He did not alert his forces to the possibly of a surprise Japanese attack, and did not follow a Washington order to conduct Reconnaissance before the attack. As the commander of Hawaiian forces he never determined the Navy's state of readiness before the attack.
The committee reached seven conclusions about Short and Kimmel's failures.
(1) Failure to discharge their responsibility in light of warnings received from Washington or from other information they possessed, and in light of the principle of command by mutual cooperation
(2) Failure to integrate and coordinate their faculties for defense.
(3) Failure to communicate with each other and to exchange fully all intelligence.
(4) Failure to maintain effective reconnaissance (which included the failure to use radar)
(5) Failure to establish a state of readiness in the Army and Navy capable of meeting all possible attacks
(6) Failure to employ the faculties in their possession to properly repel a Japanese attack.
(7) Failure to appreciate the significance of intelligence and others information available to them.
Even the Chief of Staff, General Marshall, was accused of dereliction of duty. The investigations at the end of the war charged Marshall with a failure to keep Short fully informed as to the international situation and the probable outbreak of war, and to note Short's message that he was only preparing for sabotage without taking any action. He was also charged with a failure to alert Short on the evening of December 6 that almost certain break with Japanese was coming. His greatest failure was not investigating and determining the state of readiness of Short's command during an impending threat of war with Japan.
Lieutenant Colonel Kendall J. Fielder was assigned to the Hawaiian department of Army Intelligence. His only crime was being unqualified for the position he was assigned for. More concerned with social functions than Hawaiian military concerns he shunned responsibilities and failed to find out what was really going on with Pearl Harbor army and Navy commands.
Had they been good observers, these men might have noticed that in January and February of 1941 Japanese businesses were withdrawing money rather than depositing finances.
Even the War Department were faulted by the nine different investigations for failure to provide information to Kimmel and Short. Had the Navy Department provided Kimmel with a look at MAGIC and the messages from the Honolulu consulate reveling its reports on US warships in harbor, Knox and Stimson could have arrange for Kimmel and Short to return to the capital for important briefings. Kimmel did not have a "Purple" decryption machine which could have enabled his intelligence officers to read the series of disturbing messages being exchanged between Tokyo and Washington. Finally the war department was faulted for not alerting Short and Kimmel to prepare an adequate alert, and for not keeping them informed about the on going diplomatic negations between Japanese and America.
Roosevelt's only crime was that he failed to prompt effective action. He was guilty of negligence. After reading the thirteen parts of the fourteen part diplomatic message around midnight on December 6, 1941, he then elected to put every thing on hold until a meeting could be convened. the next morning at ten, that meeting never came51 . He should have called General Marshall that night, as Marshall would have alerted Kimmel to a possible attack. He failed to take promote and effective action to bring his subordinates together to achieve a decision about what shout be done. Roosevelt loved the Navy, he would never have allowed his precious ships and men to be sent to the bottom, That was not in his character.
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