home > archive > 2001 > this article
Pearl Harbor Betrayed
Refuting dark charges
By Steven Martinovich
Anniversaries are always a good time to further or dismiss conspiracies and the 60th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor is no different. Michael Gannon's Pearl Harbor Betrayed is the latest book to claim that it delivers the real truth behind the Japanese attack. Like most efforts, what you get out depends on what you put in.
As Walter Lord pointed out in Day of Infamy, people "would argue bitterly about Pearl Harbor - they would even hurl dark charges of incompetence and conspiracy at one another" after the attack. Before long, critics charged that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was aware of the attack and allowed it to proceed in order to draw the United States into a Pacific war. Perhaps illustrating how groundless he believes the charges are, Gannon hardly addresses historians like Robert B. Stinnet - who's Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor supports those dark charges.
For those less prone to conspiracy, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, and to a lesser extent General Walter Short, are generally held to blame for a variety of sins including not being adequately prepared for an attack they should have known was a distinct possibility. In the aftermath of the attack, the Roberts Commission leveled the charge of dereliction at Kimmel and Short. Both men suffered the ignominy of being stripped of their respective commands after sterling careers serving their nation.
Gannon supports a different take as to where to lay the blame. His exhaustively researched account of the attack lays out a litany of errors committed by the Navy, the Army and Washington, D.C., a series of errors which ultimately allowed the Japanese to attack Pearl Harbor in complete surprise despite the fact that relations had degraded between the empire and the United States to the point that military action was all but certain. Turf battles, poor planning and even incompetence combined to leave the base open for attack.
Despite the fact that Kimmel and Short constantly asked for improvements to the base's defenses, the War Department refused on budgetary grounds and in the belief that Pearl Harbor was in no danger. Kimmel was even denied sufficient air assets to patrol around Oahu in case of attack. War warnings issued to Short never implicitly stated that the base was in any danger and Kimmel was refused vital intelligence which indicated an attack was coming for fear that the Japanese would discover that their Majestic code had been cracked.
Gannon argues that even if Kimmel had been aware of the attack, he didn't have the necessary assets to repel it. Despite that, the Japanese were amazed when anti-aircraft guns on board of the vessels they were bombing came to life within five minutes of the attack's beginning - a testament to Kimmel's fanatical regard for training - and the few pilots who managed to scramble their aircraft earned the admiration of Japanese pilots for the overwhelming odds they faced.
Gannon points out that it is the withholding of the intelligence which may have been the greatest impediment to Kimmel and Short. The intercepts collected by American intelligence clearly showed the volatility of the situation and the timing of the break-off of negotiations strongly suggested that a target in the east or the Pacific would be hit. By the time the government decided to warn Kimmel, it was too late: he received word that Japanese forces may attack him after the attack was over.
The blame, according to Gannon, lies at the feet of Admiral Harold Stark and General George Marshall for failing to inform Kimmel and Short of the deadline imposed by the Japanese during negotiations. Had a simple phone call been made by either of the men, the base would have had up to an hour and a half to prepare for a possible attack. Further validating Kimmel and Short, history proves that even with advance warning, it is difficult to defend against a carrier-based attack. The facts support the Gannon's contention that the two men on which the most blame fell were essentially in a no-win situation.
If Gannon's investigation has a weakness it is his failure to completely refute the charges made by historians like Stinnet. Although he ultimately exonerates Kimmel and Short, it is a necessary exercise to demolish Stinnet's contentions. It isn't enough to manage an aside every now and then explaining that FDR's interest lay in Europe and that he never explicitly stated that Pearl Harbor should be left open to attack to draw the United States into war.
That said, Gannon's efforts have provided an insightful and well-researched
defense of Kimmel and Short, necessary because too many people still believe
that they were two men who were unprepared for what should have been inevitable.
While Gannon is hardly the first to shift the blame from the two men onto
military intelligence, ground notably covered by Rear Admiral Edwin T.
Layton's And I Was There: Breaking the Secrets - Pearl Harbor and Midway,
he may have written the most definitive account of what happened ahead
of the attack. Those who believe in the dark charges that Lord referred
to may not be convinced by Gannon's remarkable effort, but it is only
because they may not want to see the light.
Listen to Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "Day of Infamy" speech here. 7:43/953KB (RealAudio format)
Other related articles: (open in a new window)
Get weekly updates about new issues of ESR!
© 1996-2013, Enter Stage Right and/or its creators. All rights reserved.
You've seen the banner,
now order the gear!
Visit ESR's anti-gun control gear web site for T-shirts, mugs and mousepads!