Truth about Pearl Harbor - John T. Flynn

Warnings on Points of Attack.

I have said that immediately after Pearl Harbor all the Washington authorities got busy with their alibis. Mr. Hull was the first. Mr. Knox was next. He made it known that on January 21, 1941, he had written a letter to the Secretary of War saying that "If war eventuates with Japan it is believed easily possible that hostilities would be initiated by a surprise attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor." He said the danger warranted speedy action to increase the joint readiness of the Army and Navy to resist such an attack, that the Navy was restudying the situation and that the defenses were satisfactory against every form of attack save air bombing and air torpedo attack.

This is handed out as evidence of great vigilance and perspicacity on the part of Mr. Knox. This was nearly a year before Pearl Harbor. Actually this letter was written as a result of a letter from Ambassador Grew to the State Department just before. Mr. Grew wrote

"There was a lot of talk around town (in Tokyo) to the effect that the Japanese, in case of a break with the United States, are planning to go all out in a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor."

The State Department, of course, passed this town gossip along to Knox, who promptly wrote to Stimson as if he, Mr. Knox, were in possession of some very secret information. Think what Mr. Knox was asking the American people to believe, that before January 21 the possibility of an attack on Pearl Harbor Was not considered serious enough to provide the necessary defenses and that the Navy did not become alarmed about this until a report of street rumors about town in Tokyo suddenly made the Navy aware of the danger.

Now let us follow just what the Army and Navy passed on to Kimmel and Short as to the kind of attack that was coming. One very important thing must be kept in mind and the American reader is apt to overlook it. Hawaii, while far out in the Pacific, was not in a position to get its own information about the coming attack. Pearl Harbor is 3600 miles from Japan and 4000 and more miles from some of the points where the Japanese were preparing the attack. The Army and Navy, of course, did scouting, reconnaissance and secret intelligence work in the Far East. But this was the duty not of Kimmel and Short, but of officers stationed in the Far East. We had a naval unit there—the Asiatic Navy, as distinguished from the Pacific Navy, which was in Hawaii.

The Navy and War Departments in Washington were supposed to collect from every source, information as to the possible movements of Japanese naval and aircraft and army units and form their opinions as to what the Japanese were up to. Kimmel and Short had no means of doing this. They depended entirely on bulletins from Washington where all the intelligence material was gathered and communicated to Hawaii, Guam, the Philippines, Europe and other places. There seems to be a notion that Kimmel and Short were supposed to have in action a naval and military intelligence service that would keep them advised of what the Japanese were doing. This is wholly false. There is also the notion that the various warnings were directed specifically to them. Similar warnings were going out to all parts of the world.

The duties of these two men are clearly defined in the Roberts Report. The defense of Hawaii was the responsibility of the Army. The Army was charged with defense against sabotage and all internal subversive activities. The Report says: "The responsibility of the Army included the installation and the operation of an aircraft warning system for the detection of water-borne craft at a distance from the coast." The Army was supposed to "conduct an in-shore patrol covering the circumference of the island of Oahu to a distance of about 20 miles." The Navy was to "conduct distant air reconnaissance radiating from Oahu to a distance of from seven to eight hundred miles." The duty of keeping an eye on the activities of the Japanese fleet and Japanese troop movements beyond that was the responsibility of Far Eastern units and intelligence services, which would report to Washington, which, in turn, would keep Kimmel and Short informed of hostile preparations that had to begin thousands of miles away from Hawaii.

Now what information was being sent to the Admiral and General at Hawaii from Washington as to the possible intentions of the Japanese in the Pacific?

November 24: the Navy advised Admiral Kimmel of the possibility of a "surprise aggressive movement in any direction by the Japanese." This was after getting Hull's notice that negotiations were probably at an end. But the message contained a very important modification. It warned that "a surprise aggressive movement in any direction by the Japanese, including an attack on the Philippines or Guam was a possibility."

November 27: the Army notified General Short "that Japanese action was unpredictable, that hostilities on the part of Japan were momentarily expected."

November 27 (same day): the Chief of Naval Operations wired Kimmel that the "dispatch was to be considered a war warning; that negotiations were ended: that Japan was expected to make an aggressive move within the next few days; that an amphibious expedition against the Philippines, Thailand or the Kraw Peninsula or possibly Borneo was indicated by the number and equipment of Japanese troops and the organization of the naval task forces." All these indicated possible attacks were against points thousands of miles from Hawaii.

November 30: the Chief of Naval Operations wired to the Comrnander-in-Chief of the Asiatic Fleet—in the Far East, at least 3600 miles from Hawaii—that Japan was about to launch an attack on the Kraw Isthmus, and directing the Chief of the Asiatic Fleet to do certain scouting but to avoid the appearance of attacking, and a copy of this dispatch was sent to Kimmel at Hawaii.

December 1: On this day the Division of Naval Intelligence issued a general bulletin entitled "Japanese Naval Situation," saying:

"Deployment of Naval forces to the Southward has indicated clearly that extensive preparations are under way for hostilities. At the same time troop transports and freighters are pouring continuously down from Japan and Northern China coast ports headed South for French Indo-China and Formosan ports.

"Present movements to the South appear to be carried out by small individual units, but the organization of an extensive task force, now definitely indicated, will probably take sharper form in the next few days. To date this task force under the command of the Commander-in-Chief, second fleet, appears to be subdivided into two major task forces, one concentrating off the Southeast Asiatic Coast, the other in the mandates.

"Each constitutes a strong striking force of heavy and light cruisers, units of the combined air force, destroyers and submarine squadrons. Although one division of battleships also may be assigned, the major capital ship strength remains in home waters, as well as the greatest portion of the carriers."

Here was unmistakable evidence that the only Japanese movement which the Naval and Army intelligence service had observed was directed at the Southeast Asiatic coast 3500 miles from Hawaii and perhaps at some point in the mandates—the Marshall or Caroline Islands, which were not far from Guam, but thousands of miles from Pearl Harbor.

Thus we see in all these warnings to Kimmel and Short the Army and Navy mentioned almost every possible important point in the Far Pacific as within the area of the expected "aggressive surprise attack in any direction," but never once told Kimmel or Short of any movement against Hawaii or indicated any expectation of an attack on Hawaii.

The simple truth is and it is abundantly clear from a variety of sources—that neither the Army nor Navy high commands, nor the President, nor any responsible authority in Washington had the slightest notion that there would be an attack of any kind, save internal sabotage, on Hawaii. A New York Times dispatch on the fall of the Konoye cabinet observed that if Japan struck it would be at Siberia, and that as far as the Allies and Japan were concerned it would not be an open war. The general impression in Washington was that Japan would strike into Thailand or at some point other than American territory and that when this happened the United States would put into effect in its own territory its strategy. What would be has not been disclosed. Bertram D. Hulen of the New York Times, on November 16. reported:

"The signs point to a war of blockade and attrition. It is even considered doubtful that Japan will attempt to seize the Philippines. For one thing she is too busy in China. Moreover the real prize is the Netherlands East Indies, but even they are far removed from Japan and a campaign against them would require an extended campaign by the Japanese Navy."

Editorial writers in early December speculated on what the United States would do if Japan struck—break relations, arm merchantmen in the Pacific, increase her help to China or set up a blockade. The utter failure of the government to anticipate with any approach to accuracy the course affairs would take is evident from this dispatch from Washington in the Times as late as December 5. Having reported that "the government is clearly preparing for the worst," its idea of the "worst" is discernible from the remainder of the dispatch:

"If the Japanese should strike from Indo-China, they would presumably not only terminate the diplomatic effort, but would pose for the United States, Great Britain, Australia and the Netherlands what move to adopt. It is believed that the first move might be in the nature of increasing economic measures against Japan, possibly some further blockade measures."

On December 4, Arthur Krock, a very discriminating and reliable chronicler of events in Washington and enjoying very friendly relations with Mr. Hull, reported the following conversation with a "high administration official.":

Q: How would you state the prospect now?

A: It is conceivable that the Japanese will move aggressively at any time.

Q: In what direction?

A: South and West through Indo-China, possibly to the Indies and Burma.

Q: Won't they need a million men for such an enterprise?

A: I fear that with 250,000 they can over-run Indo-China and Burma.

A week or so earlier an unnamed official was reported as saying: "War is expected, but war aimed only obliquely at us in Southeastern Asia, in Siam, or Malaya, and not directed toward the heart of our power in the Pacific." This "unnamed official" was later identified as Sumner Welles, the Under-Secretary of State and much closer to the White House than even Mr. Hull at that time. The same notions were nursed in Singapore and Australia. A dispatch to the Times from Singapore, December 5, said:

"The Japanese' next move is likely to be in Thailand, well-informed sources here believe. An attack on Malay or the Philippines is not ruled out entirely, but recent activities in Indo-China are thought to point more in the direction of Thailand than anywhere else. Competent observers here maintain that logic is against Japanese attack on British, Netherlands or American territory though they do not con tend such an attack is entirely improbable."

And from Melbourne on December 7, the day of Pearl Harbor, came a dispatch saying the official view is that Japan is just feeling around to see how far she can go without provoking war with Britain, the Netherlands, the United States and Australia.

To sum it all up, the wise men in Washington felt that Japan was going to attack somewhere, that she was probably going to attack Thailand from Indo-China and possibly the Netherlands Indies. They felt there was an Outside chance that she might attack Malay. The State Department thought she might attack Malay, Thailand or even the Philippines, but that there would be an attack of any kind on Hawaii did not enter their heads.

Of this there cannot be the slightest doubt. All of the messages sent to Kimmel and Short were sent by high administration chiefs in Washington who were convinced that there was not the slightest danger of an attack on Pearl Harbor. Their messages necessarily carried that conviction to Kimmel and Short themselves. The messages sent were for the purpose of advising these men, commanders of an important outpost in the Pacific, that war was imminent, but "war aimed only obliquely at the United States through Indo-China and the Dutch East Indies and possibly Malay" and if at the United States at all, then at the Philippines. They were the warnings sent to every commander everywhere in the world—that war was in the offing and to be on their guard. Against what? We will see what Washington had in mind in a moment. But here we must observe that there cannot be the slightest doubt that, from the President down, an attack on Hawaii was not considered a remote possibility.

The best evidence of this is the authentic and semi-official account of how the news of the Pearl Harbor attack came to the White House. The story is told by Ernest K. Lindley, a White House pipeline columnist, and Forrest Davis in their book How War Came.

On Sunday, December 7, the President was in his study eating his dinner from a tray. He had worked hard all week. On Sunday he secluded himself to play with his stamp collection. "The President," they report, "might have been anyone of a million Americans putting in a loafing Sunday afternoon with a crony and a hobby." The crony was Harry Hopkins. Of course the war situation was tense. The overnight cables had reported a large movement of Japanese transports to the Gulf of Siam. But the President felt the Emperor would restrain the war party. "In any case," say the authors, "there had been no warning." That is, as late as Sunday. December 7, the day of Pearl Harbor, the President felt there had been no warning of an imminent attack save the approach of transports toward the Gulf of Siam, at least 4,000 miles from Pearl Harbor.

"The White House, therefore, was, like the country, at peace," the authors tell us. The President's staff was scattered. But most incredible of all: "A do-not-disturb sign, had been confidently place on the President's switch board." The President had literally isolated himself, leaving orders that he was not to be disturbed, that his telephone was not to be rung. At 1:45 Secretary Knox, who had just received the news of the attack, attempted to reach the President by phone. He had difficulty inducing the operator to call the President.

When he got to the President, he told him: "Mr. President, it looks like the Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor. . ." The President's answer, as Lindley and Davis describe it, was a startled: "No!" They record that the President expected war, but not that weekend. He never supposed the attack when it came would be:

". . . at the heart of United States sea-power. If war did come, he assumed, along with 132 million other Americans, it would break first in Siam, the East Indies or the Malay peninsula."

The statement is extraordinarily revealing. The President thought the war would come in the Far East 4,000 miles from Pearl Harbor and 132 million other Americans thought the same thing. If they did it was because the President and his subordinates had led them to believe that. And among the 132 million other Americans who got that impression or rather definite advice were Admiral Kimmel and General Short and that advice they got from the President and his subordinates.

The sum of all this is that President and his Army and Navy secretaries completely miscalculated the problem which faced them. They went wrong on the time and on the place and misled everybody connected with them, including their Commanders in Hawaii. They went wrong on the violence of the attack and its character. And they went wrong utterly on the strength of the Japanese Navy and Army. They were wrong—from beginning to the end. And having gone wrong, having given an ultimatum to Japan which precipitated the attack before they were ready to meet it, they went to work immediately to shoulder the blame upon men who, after being indicted, were silenced, while the President, his columnists, his stooges, his Cabinet chiefs went to work to alibi themselves and load upon these two helpless officers the odium of their guilt.

Not only did he President and his advisers go wrong on all this, but they were directly responsible for the arrangements in Pearl Harbor which made it literally impossible for Kimmel or Short to properly defend then positions. In other words, both Kimmel and Short, in practically all that they did, obeyed to the letter the orders from Washington. This we shall now see.