Truth about Pearl Harbor - John T. Flynn

The Defenseless Pacific

We must now face a very obvious and a very ugly fact. It is that the President had made up his mind that NOW was the time for the showdown with Japan, and that he led the country into that showdown incredibly unprepared. What is even worse, he did not realize how pathetically unprepared we were and believed that he would wipe Japan out in a short war. He miscalculated on his diplomacy and he miscalculated on practically every aspect and feature of the military and naval problems.

We must keep in mind the fact that this Pacific war was not just a question of Pearl Harbor, but of the Philippines as well. The Philippine Islands certainly had no lack of warning. The attack there did not come until many hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The disaster there was just as great and far more tragic.

Let us look at the facts. The Roberts Report had to admit:

"It is true that we have found that due to the enormous demand on the nation's capacity to produce munitions and war supplies, there was a deficiency in the provision of material for the Hawaii area."

In another paragraph the Report says:

"It was recognized that prior to furnishing the full war-strength garrison, insufficient forces were available to maintain all the defense on a war footing for extended periods of time."

The President had been pressing deeper and deeper into the war since June, 1940. Yet here, a year and a half later, Hawaii had not yet been adequately provided with means of defense. The Roberts Report records that General Short

". . . made numerous recommendations to the War and Navy Departments for additional forces, equipment and funds which were deemed necessary to ensure the defense of the Hawaii coastal frontier under any eventuality."

These requests were ignored. A certain bias in the Roberts Report is revealed when it gratuitously undertakes to pass on a matter it did not investigate, namely that these requests were not complied with because "there was a deficiency in the nation's capacity to produce," because of the "enormous demand on it." The nation produced plenty to defend Hawaii and, perhaps, the Philippines, but the supplies were shipped elsewhere.

Take the case of the Hawaiian signal system, failure to operate which is charged against Short. Installation of a permanent aircraft warning system was the responsibility of the Army. That system was not completed by the time of the attack and the fact is mentioned in the Report as if this were the fault of Short. Actually Short had for a long time, as the Report says, been appealing for equipment and a permanent aircraft warning system was one of the things he demanded and which he did not get in time to install. It was still incomplete when the Japanese struck. Had it been in place the approach of the Japanese would have been known at least an hour or perhaps an hour and a half sooner. What good that would have done is problematical but it might have saved many a ship and many a thousand lives. Instead there was a temporary system rigged up which an officer was learning to operate. This man, because of his inexperience, did not know how properly to evaluate the signals he got.

It is difficult to believe now that the President, his Secretaries of War and Navy could believe that they were adequately prepared for war in the Pacific. But they clearly did. The President himself was so well pleased with the situation that, after giving an ultimatum, he could go off on a vacation to Warm Springs, and when the blow seemed imminent, could isolate himself in his study with his telephone cut off while he fiddled around with his stamp collection.

The impression had gone out from the Administration that Japan was near to bankruptcy and woefully weakened. Even so astute and cautious an observer as Hanson Baldwin, reflecting the impressions given out in Washington, was impressed by the reports of the great strength of the British establishments at Singapore, Hong Kong and the Dutch Indies and he was amazed a few weeks later when he learned the "Allied weakness in the Western Pacific" which he set down to "lack of adequate air-power and sea-power." On October 10, 1941. Arthur Knock wrote in the Times that "The official attitude is that with the British this country is in sufficient strength in the Pacific to make any Japanese thrust too expensive for that nation to bear."

On November 19—three weeks before Pearl Harbor, he wrote:

"The long accepted thesis that the United States could not defend the Philippines has been abandoned. The old axiom was that in the event of a Far Eastern War we must retire to Hawaii. Now with our British fleet ally and our aircraft the situation has changed. An attacking fleet in the Philippines would be the target of a large and powerful group of the best fighting planes. If American commanders decide to defend by attacking, there are enough bombing planes and of sufficient strength to drop bombs on Japan, land in Siberia, refuel and repeat the enterprise in a return trip to Manila."

This makes melancholy reading now. Later, on November 2S, the New York Times reported that "If events come to a military showdown, the United States is prepared, having taken precautionary measures in the Far East defenses in recent months." This was merely echoing. Secretary Knox who proclaimed loudly—and the boast appeared in the Sunday morning papers of December 7—that the Navy was ready. He told a United States Senator that in the event of war the United States Navy would wipe out the Japanese Navy in a few weeks.

On November 24, Mr. Hull conveyed to the Army and Navy chiefs—the Chief of Staff and the Chief of Naval Operations—that negotiations with Japan were at the breaking point and that they must expect war. Nowhere has the answer of the Chief of Staff or the Chief of Naval Operation to Mr. Hull been reported. What did these gentlemen say? It is pretty well known that these high-flown ideas of our preparedness to meet a Japanese attack were held by the President and his cabinet warriors and his Palace Guard, The Army and the Navy officially did not hold this view. What General Marshall and Admiral Stark told the President and the Secretary of State ought to be inquired into and established to determine whether or not they shared the foolish sense of security held by the President. We know that General Arnold has said that "Dec. 7 found the Army with plans but no planes."

It is unnecessary to discuss at any length the utter unpreparedness of the Philippines. Captain Charles Darvell, arriving in the Philippines a few months before the attack, told the officials there:

"You will understand. I am sure, if I say it is my belief that a sudden determined enemy attack would reduce the effectiveness of our present air force practically to zero."

That is what happened. Colonel Allison Ind, in his book Bataan, the Judgment Seat, has eloquently recorded the "pathetic nature" of the military and naval force of the Philippine Islands. He spoke of "our pathetic little force against the armed might of Japan." He describes how the commanding officers were imploring Washington for equipment, planes, guns, supplies. He tells how planes arrived which were useless because they lacked essential parts. He describes how one place—Kota Baaru—had machine gun emplacements but no machine guns and how the literally defenseless soldiers there set up improvised searchlights and converted what they had out of nothing. There never was anything approaching an adequate supply of Signal Corps equipment. He wrote:

"Two things made us mad. (1) How much money has been appropriated and how much we'll have in 1943 (when none of us will be around to hear it) and what men and equipment we're sending to every country under the sun but this one; (2) a roaring imbecile of a congressman telling the world we should bomb Tokyo off the map. With what, brother? $10,000 banknotes.

Frazier Hunt, in MacArthur and the War Against Japan. says:

"The adequate defense of this Inland Sea (in the Philippines) was one of the vital parts of the whole defensive plan. But it took proper equipment, big guns, trained forces, supplies, planes, boats—and plenty of money—to put it into being. All these were automatically shut off from MacArthur when the great decision was made to throw the full weight of America into the European war."

That decision incredibly enough was made after the President had decided to force the issue in the Pacific. MacArthur had 60,000 natives in the Philippine army, 12,000 Philippine Scouts and 18,000 American regulars. They were armed with antiquated World War I weapons and completely lacked the units and equipment of a modern army.

When General Brereton was criticized for his handling of the planes in the Philippines, General MacArthur said: "General Brereton had only a token force which, excluding trainers and hopelessly obsolete planes, comprised but 30 bombers and 72 fighters."

The airplane equipment of the Philippines was so pitifully small as to defy belief. There were 5 pursuit squadrons with 90 P-40s in commission. Colonel Ind informs us there were 14 P-26s, obsolete and 8 A-27s, but only two would fly off the ground. At Clark Field there were 35 P-17s and 11 B-18s poorly gunned and with very little armor. Colonel Ind says:

"We had no dive bombers. At best we had a few old A-27s which might be used for this purpose. But repairs and replacements had been practically impossible to obtain ever since April. Every so often it was necessary to decommission one in order to secure the necessary replacement parts for the others. However, we had anxiously traced the reported progress of a vessel upon which 50 of the A-24 type suitable for strafing and dive-bombing were en route. It would be a race to see which would arrive first—the A-24s or the Japanese. The Japanese won. Just a few days off its course this vessel, with its all-important and vitally needed cargo was directed by radio orders to Australia. Perhaps it was just as well, although we were unaware of it then; for these imperatively required aircraft arrived in Australia without a single solenoid included in the shipment for firing the guns."

On November 29, 1941, the New York Times in a special dispatch from Manila read as follows:

"Should war strike the Philippines now, it would find the civilian population unprepared and unprotected and thousands might be killed for lack of air raid shelters; President Manuel Quezon told students of the University of the Philippines in an address last night broadcast to the nation.

"He said: We are just beginning to practice blackouts. We are just starting to show our people how to evacuate crowded places.

"If there had been war two months ago there would have been starvation. If there should be war now we might find ourselves without fuel and without gasoline."

Quezon blamed this on American imperialists and or the Civil Liberties Union. He said that the Civil Liberties Union criticized his assumption of emergency power by legislative action and that President Roosevelt sent word by wireless not to use those powers lest democracy he imperiled. Quezon said:

"If war breaks out here our people will die unprotected from bombs. Those men who have stopped me from doing what I should have done ought to be hanged from lamp-posts."

This is of a piece with what happened in Hawaii. In the Summer of 1941 there were more than 200 consular agents attached to the Japanese Embassy in Hololulu. Kimmel's intelligence officer suggested that these agents be arrested for failing to register as agents of a foreign principal under the statute. General Short objected to this until they had been given notice and an opportunity to register. For this the Roberts Report criticizes him, but no one can doubt that Short was acting under the same kind of order as Quezon.

To cap this incredible record of blundering, the President literally opened the doors to the attacks on the Philippines and Hawaii by sending half of the Pacific Fleet out of the Pacific into the Atlantic. In pursuance of his policy in Europe he joined Britain in the occupation of Iceland and began to convoy British and Canadian and later American ships with United States naval vessels. The task of supplying the army in Iceland, along with the convoys, imposed a heavy tax upon our naval facilities at just about the time when he had definitely made up his mind that we would have war in the Pacific he took away half of the fleet.

Captain W. D. Paulson, retired and called back to active duty, is the author of a book entitled The Armed Forces in the Pacific. He said that our fleet was stronger, more aggressive and better trained than the Japanese. But, he wrote,

"Until the two-ocean navy is completed the navy should concentrate in one fleet and keep it in one ocean. At their present strength the Atlantic and Pacific fleets would need to be brought together before undertaking a major campaign in either ocean."

He urged keeping the American navy at full strength in one ocean. He said that to divide the fleet and attempt to unite them after hostilities would be pure folly with Japan as a potential enemy, for she took full advantage of a similar mistake by Russia in 1904.

Now with war looming as a practical certainly in the Pacific and "a major campaign" facing us in that ocean, the President not only ignored the importance of uniting the Atlantic and Pacific fleets but actually took half of the Pacific fleet out of the Pacific Ocean and sent it to the Atlantic. Having done that, he proceeded to "baby" Japan for three months and then sent her an ultimatum which meant war, and war at once. And then he went off on a vacation.

Thus we see that every shred of the thesis upon which Kimmel and Short have been indicted and damned without a hearing or a trial or even the right to make a statement is swept away. The assumption that we were at peace, everybody knows now to be false. The assumption that we were seeking to establish peace in the Pacific, offering Japan everything she could wish in the midst of which efforts we suffered a "surprise" attack—a stab in the back—is a pure invention and everybody knows it. The assumptions that Kimmel and Short were adequately warned of a surprise attack on Hawaii is shown to be completely false, since none of the men who warned them, from the President down, believed there would be such an attack. And finally, the assumption that our misfortunes in the Pacific were the result of Kimmel's and Short's failure to obey orders is equally a fraud since they not only did not disobey orders but complied explicitly with the requirements of the government in Washington and were bound hand and foot from any effective action by the precautions imposed on them by the President himself in pursuance of his political policy.

Finally, the true source of all the disasters in the Pacific—the crippling of the fleet at Pearl Harbor, the loss of 3,000 men in a morning, the shocking disaster in the Philippines, and the long, agonized sufferings of our defenseless army on Bataan and Corregidor with the subsequent conquest of the whole Southwest Pacific by the Japanese—are to be traced to the blundering diplomacy and the equally blundering military policy of the President in the East. And not the least disgraceful feature of this episode is the manner in which two high commanding officers of the United States army and navy have been crucified in order to shield the guilt of the President.