Bombing Of Pearl Harbor
It was imperative that the president see the message right away because it revealed that the Japanese, under the heavy pressure of Western economic sanctions, were terminating relations with the United States. Roosevelt read the thirteen-part transmission, looked up and announced, “This means war.”
He then did a very strange thing for a president in his situation.
The Japanese secret declaration of war never reached the people who needed to hear it the most – Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, commander in chief of the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and the unit’s commanding general, Walter Short. Pearl Harbor, it was common military knowledge, was where the Japanese would strike. If they struck.
At dawn the next morning a Japanese squadron bombed Pearl Harbor and the surprise attack was just that, a complete surprise. At least to Kimmel and Short and the 4,575 American servicemen who died.
It may not have been such a surprise to Generals George C. Marshall and Leonard T. Gerow and Admirals Harold R. Stark and Richmond Kelly Turner. They were the military’s top brass in Washington and the only officers authorized to forward such sensitive intelligence to outlying commanders. But the decoded war declaration did not reach Kimmel and Short until the morning, with the attack well underway off in the Pacific.
Marshall and Stark, supreme commanders of the U.S. Army and Navy respectively, later testified that the message was not forwarded to Kimmel and Short because the Hawaiian commanders had received so many intercepted Japanese messages that another one would simply confuse them.
Internal army and navy inquiries in 1944 held Stark and Marshall derelict of duty for keeping the Hawaiian commanders in the dark. But the military buried those findings. As far as the public knew, the final truth was uncovered by the Roberts Commission, headed by Justice Owen Roberts of the Supreme Court, and convened eleven days after the attack. Like another investigative commission headed by a Supreme Court justice on a different topic more than twenty years later, the Roberts Commission appeared to have identified its culprits in advance and gerrymandered its inquiries to make the suspects appear guilty. The scapegoats were Kimmel and Short, who were both publicly crucified, forced to retire, and denied the open hearings they desired. One of the Roberts Commission panelists, Admiral William Standley, would call Roberts’s performance “crooked as a snake.”
There were eight investigations of Pearl Harbor altogether. The most spectacular was a joint House-Senate probe that reiterated the Roberts Commission findings. At those hearings, Marshall and Stark testified, incredibly, that they could not remember where they were the night the war declaration came in. But a close friend of Frank Knox, the secretary of the Navy, later revealed that Knox, Stark, and Marshall spent most of that night in the White House with Roosevelt awaiting the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the chance for America to join World War II.
A widespread coverup ensued. A few days after Pearl Harbor, reports historian John Toland, Marshall told his top officers, “Gentlemen, this goes to the grave with us.” General Short once considered Marshall his friend, only to learn that the chief of staff was the agent of his frame-up. Short once remarked that he pitied his former pal because Marshall was the only general who wouldn’t be able to write an autobiography.
There were multiple warnings of the Pearl Harbor attack concealed from the commanders at Pearl Harbor. The Winds Code was perhaps the most shocking. That was an earlier transmission, in a fake weather report broadcast on a Japanese short-wave station, of the words higashi no kaze ame. Which means, “east wind, rain.” The Americans already knew that this was the Japanese code for war with the United States. The response of top U.S. military officials? To deny that the “winds” message existed and to attempt to destroy all records of its reception. But it did exist. And it was received.
Completely apart from the cloak and dagger of cryptography, the Australian intelligence service, three days before the attack, spotted the Japanese fleet of aircraft carriers heading for Hawaii. A warning went to Washington where it was dismissed by Roosevelt as a politically motivated rumor circulated by Republicans.
A British double agent, Dusko Popov, who siphoned information from Germany, learned of the Japanese intentions and desperately tried to warn Washington, to no avail. And there were others.
Why would Roosevelt and the nation’s top military commanders sacrifice the U.S. Pacific Fleet, not to mention thousands of servicemen – an act that could justifiably be deemed treason? They had concluded long before Pearl Harbor that war against the Axis powers was a necessity. The American public would surely bring the public around.
“This was the president’s problem,” wrote Rear Admiral Robert A. Theobald who commanded Pearl Harbor’s destroyers, “and his solution was based upon the simple fact that, while it takes two to make a fight, either one may start it.”
“A Small group of men, revered and held to be most honorable by millions,” wrote Toland, “had convinced themselves that it was necessary to act dishonorably for the food of their nation – and incited the war that Japan had tried to avoid.