This week in 1941 a telegram was sent. Then, like now, senior officials escaped the responsibility for its effects.

Summary:  As part of our culture of irresponsibility, many Americans see blame and accountability as repugnant. Our ruling elites find belief this congenial.  Banks lose billions, wrecking the economy — but nobody is held accountable.   A war in Iraq based on lies, torture– but nobody is held accountable.  Gross violations of the Constitution, ditto.  Of course, they’ve always believed that they should be free of accountability.  Here we look back to see earlier examples of this dynamic at work.

Telegram from the Chief of Naval Operations to Admiral Kimmel (Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet), 27 November 1941. Red emphasis added.

 This dispatch is to be considered a war warning. Negotiations with Japan looking toward stabilization of conditions in the Pacific have ceased and an aggressive move by Japan is expected within the next few days. The number and equipment of Japanese troops and the organization of naval task forces indicate an amphibious expedition against either the Philippines or Kra Peninsula or possibly Borneo. Execute an appropriate defensive deployment preparatory to carrying out the tasks assigned in WPL 46.

Inform district and Army authorities. A similar warning is being sent by War Department. Spenavo inform British. Continental districts Guam Samoa directed take appropriate measures against sabotage.

This was one of a series of warnings — warnings of increasing severity — sent in the months before December 7.  Despite these General Short and Admiral Kimmel took few precautions, and so made possible a successful attack by the Japanese Navy.  Hawaii’s resources were, however, sufficient to mount a successful defense by January 7 — with scouts, patrols, and alert defenses.  Pearl Harbor could have been better defended on December 7 if Short and Kimmel had only tried.

How were they held accountable for the tragic results of that day?

  • On 17 December 1941 General Short was removed from command of Pearl Harbor.  He was reduced in rank from his temporary rank of Lieutenant General (3 stars) to his permanent rank of Major General (2 stars), since his temporary rank was contingent on his command.  He retired on 28 February 1942, and died in 1949.
  • Admiral Kimmel was relieved around 15 December 1941.  He was reduced in rank from Admiral (4 stars) to his permanent rank of Rear Admiral (2 stars), since his temporary rank was contingent on his command.  He retired on 1 March 1942.  From 1958 he received the retired pay of a three-star admiral, due to the Act of May 20, 1958 (72 Stat. 122, 130).  He died in 1968.
  • The Senate passed a resolution on 25 May 1999 exonerating Kimmel and Short (New York Times). The resolution stated they had performed their duties “competently and professionally” and that the Japanese attacks were “not a result of dereliction of duty.”

Looking at the facts about the attack on Pearl Harbor

The Pearl Harbor attack is among the most thoroughly investigated event in world history.  There is a mass of evidence, considered definitive until the modern revisionists attacked (part of the larger evidence to confuse our understanding of our past).  Among the best summaries is that of Edwin Dorn, Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness) submitted on 1 December 199. .  The conclusions of his team’s investigation:

1. Responsibility for the Pearl Harbor disaster should not fall solely on the shoulders of Admiral Kimmel and General Short; it should be broadly shared.

2. To say that responsibility is broadly shared is not to absolve Admiral Kimmel and General Short of accountability.

2a. Military command is unique. A commander has plenary responsibility for the welfare of the people under his or her command, and is directly accountable for everything the unit does or fails to do. When a ship runs aground, the captain is accountable whether or not he/she was on the bridge at the time. When a unit is attacked, it is the Commander and not the intelligence officer or the sentry who is accountable. Command at the three- and four-star level involves daunting responsibilities. …

2c. The intelligence available to Admiral Kimmel and General Short was sufficient to justify a higher level of vigilance than they chose to maintain. They knew that war was imminent, they knew that Japanese tactics featured surprise attacks, and Admiral Kimmel (though not General Short) knew that the US had lost track of Japan’s carriers. Further, they had the resources to maintain a higher level of vigilance.  …

2d. Different choices might not have discovered the carrier armada and might not have prevented the attack, but different choices — a different allocation of resources — could have reduced the magnitude of the disaster. …

3. The official treatment of Admiral Kimmel and General Short was substantively temperate and procedurally proper.

3b. In contrast to their treatment by some of the media, their official treatment was substantively temperate. They were relieved, they reverted to two-star rank, and under the laws in force at the time, their retirements were at the two-star Level. Although there was mention of court martial, no charges were brought. Indeed, official statements and investigations seemed purposely to avoid wording that would lead to court martial. For example, the Roberts Commission used the phrase “dereliction of duty” — a stinging rebuke, but at the time not a court martial offense. The Roberts Commission avoided other phrases, such as “culpable inefficiency” and neglect of duty”, that were court martial offenses. Later investigations such as the Joint Congressional Committee report eschewed “dereliction” in favor of “errors of judgment.” …

3d. I do not find major fault with the procedures used in the investigations. …

The Dorn Report dispelled one common error:

It has been asserted in several venues that Admiral Kimmel and General Short were “forced into retirement”. There is no evidence to support that claim. Rather, it appears that new assignments were not immediately forthcoming, and General Short {and Admiral Kimmel} initiated a chain of events that were accepted at face value, to the disappointment of both him and Admiral Kimmel.

This is another example of how our elites play the game.  Nixon retires without punishment.  Our bank regulators ride into the sunset with no punishment or even official criticism for their wholesale failures which almost wrecked the US economy.  Bush officials shred the Constitution and ride into the sunset.

Perhaps our leaders would try harder if they were held accountable for their efforts.

For more about the attack on Pearl Harbor

For additional context about the the November 27 message see this page on the excellent Pearl Harbor Attacked website.

For a general audience I recommend reading At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor (1981) by Gordon Prange.  Prange’s background was unparalleled for an investigation of Pearl Harbor:  Prof History U Maryland, officer in the US Navy 1942-1946, chief of General MacArthur’s 100-person historical staff in Japan.

The major investigations:

  1. The Knox Investigation, 9-14 December 1941 — Download the document.
  2. Report of the Roberts Commission, appointed by the President to investigate and report the facts about the Pearl Harbor attack, 18 December – 23 January 1941 — Download the document.
  3. The Hart Investigation, 12 February 12 – 15 June 1944 — Download the document.
  4. The Army Pearl Harbor Board, 20 July – 20 October 1944 — Download the document.
  5. The Navy Court of Inquiry, 24 July – 19 October 1944 — Download the document.
  6. The Clarke Investigation, 4 August 4 – 20 September 1944 — Download the document.
  7. The Clausen Investigation, 24 January – 12 September 1945 — Download the document.
  8. The Hewitt Inquiry, 14 May – 11 July 1945 — Download the document.
  9. Joint Committee on the investigation of the Pearl Harbor attack, 15 November 1945 – 23 May 1946

Other posts about history

For more insights from the past see the FM Reference Page History – economic, military and geopolitical.

  1. Was 9/11 the most effective single military operation in the history of the world?, 11 June 2008
  2. Another note from our past, helping us see our future, 16 September 2009 — From the past or future, who can tell?
  3. A history lesson recommended for the top of your reading pile, 17 September 2009 — How serial war became our way of life.
  4. How the Soviet Menace was over-hyped – and what we can learn from this, 13 October 2009
  5. Are islamic extremists like the anarchists?, 14 December 2009
  6. We have endemic terrorism – but few wars and epidemics. That’s good news!, 15 December 2009
  7. France gives us tips for the Afghanistan War, from their successful role in the American Revolution, 11 March 2010
  8. Conservatives oppose the new START treaty, as they opposed even the earlier version negotiated by Ronald Reagan, 24 July 2010
  9. Senator Jim Webb on the Vietnam Generation – Outstanding!, 25 July 2010

21 thoughts on “This week in 1941 a telegram was sent. Then, like now, senior officials escaped the responsibility for its effects.”

  1. Short and Kimmel were treated the way they were because to do otherwise would have required accountability for War Dept’s pet Douglas MacArthur.

    Mac was caught with his pants down in the Philippines to a much greater degree than were Short and Kimmel @ Pearl. Mac had a large force of Philippine and US soldiers under his direct command (+60,000) with a 4 year head start he failed to create prepared defenses or advanced positions, no radar, no air defense network (despite the success of RAF during 1940), no AAA, no communication networks, no pickets, just bases w/ B17 bombers lined up in neat rows to be bombed and strafed starting Dec 8!

    Pearl attack was the day before, Mr Mac.

    His US- and Philippine army were completely destroyed. Mac was America’s only Field Marshall: no Leeb or Kesselring was our Mac. Zero accountability: Mac was ‘rescued’ by patrol boat while his surviving troops were condemned to torturous Japanese prison camps or summary execution. Mac was immediately promoted, given a Congressional Medal of Honor to salve his bruised ego then command of another, even larger army!

    Fortunately for Mac the Navy beat the Japanese so his second army wasn’t destroyed. Credit where due: Mac did do a decent job as viceroy of Japan after its surrender, then again, so could have MacArthur’s wife.

    Mac’s time would come: he had a second army destroyed under his command in Korea, repeating the same mistakes as the Germans in 1941 in front of Moscow.. It is arguable that the Chinese, wary of a nuclear retaliation, let the American forces escape with their lives rather than annihilating them which they could have certainly done.

    What to expect from a commander who assaulted US servicemen against direct Presidential orders: Hoover’s during the Bonus march. Mac was a colossal fool, who never learned anything in his entire life.

    There were plenty of boobs on the US side during WWII: King, who refused to implement convoy system as CNO lost a million tons of shipping to Uboats; Stillwell who abused his command in Burma b/f being sacked; Simon Buckner who sent his command into destructive human wave attacks on Okinawa, Halsey who tried to outrun a super-typhoon, etc.

    Within government culture, accountability is a foreign concept. Only the Coast Guard and the FAA have a need as without it no customer would ever step onboard a ship or an airplane. The wasteful and incompetent military establishment is rewarded for failure after failure. Accountability? Who needs it?

    1. I agree with much of this. One trivia note: the Phillipines were across the International date line from Pearl Harbor. Although on different dates, the attacks were (from memory) roughly twelve hours apart. Not that excuses MacArthur!

  2. The best time to correct incompetent behavior is before the damage is done, after the attack these men were removed from positions of responsibility and could do no more harm. What purpose would be served by running them up the mast by their necks, you can’t correct the mistakes of the past. One could always claim deterrence but I’ve not seen the numbers to see how effective harsh punishment is in deterring others behavior in practice. I don’t like it, I’d prefer if incompetants who screw up this badly were taken out back behind the woodshed, and the people who promote them to positions of responsibility, but I’m not sure it would do any actual good.

    1. While harsh penalties may lead to some degree of deterrence, they also provide a wonderful incentive for the incompetent to conceal and camouflage their actions.

    2. I agree with this more than I agree with the OP. We could have done it Soviet style and made Short and Kimmel blow their own brains out. Not sure if it would have done any good.

  3. i do not understand the need to dig into one event here and there and pass judgment on people who took the reins in the first place, no small task. I do not criticize anyone here, or pretend to know what it is like to command thousands of men and millions of tons of equipment in life or death struggle. Even Rommel failed miserably in the end.

    Accountability is its own reward. If we sit her today and hold court of the lack of punishment of Short and Kimmel, we might as well call Steve Jobs a two time loser, one time winner, and dead…

    1. (1) “i do not understand the need to dig into one event here and there”

      We can learn from the past. Or we can repeat mistakes of the past.

      (2) “and pass judgment on people who took the reins in the first place”

      With authority comes responsibility — and accountability. cI have no idea what you are attempting to say. It sounds like you do not approve of any accountability for leaders, no matter how poorly they perform. I doubt the Republic would last long if many shared that view.

  4. Perhaps a review of the Borch-Martinez book would add to the conversation.

    Kimmel, Short, and Pearl Harbor, The Final Report Revealed, by Army attorney Fred Borch, and Park Ranger Daniel Martinez, purports to be revealing and final. It is neither, because it suffers the same shortcoming as the Dorn Report itself, which it annotates. While some of the historian promoters on the book’s dustcover, Messrs Goldstein, Love, Stillwell, and Polmar do have military experience—none of the authors has any operational military experience, nor do they defer to flag officers who held high command at sea, that do. In an apparent effort to offer some balance of opinion, a counterpoint paper by former COMSIXTHFLT (Commander Sixth Fleet), and D/CINCPAC (Deputy Commander in Chief Pacific) Vice Admiral David Richardson is added as an appendix, but it is ignored.

    The issue is this: Should Rear Admiral Kimmel and Major General Short, the commanders at Pearl Harbor during the attack, continue to be punitively excluded by the Navy and by the Army as the only flag and general officers, otherwise qualified, not to receive the benefit of the Officer Personnel Act of 1947–advancement to their highest temporary ranks held in World War II of admiral, and lieutenant general, respectively? The authors and dustcover promoters, except Mr. Stillwell (page 105), say yes. Giants of World War II, Nimitz, Halsey, Spruance, Kinkaid, and Burke say no. Admiral Richardson drives the point home in his counterpoint appendix. In fact, in writing, the United States Congress, the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, the Naval Academy Alumni Association, the Admiral Nimitz Foundation, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, six former Chiefs of Naval Operations, two former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, one former Director of Central Intelligence, thirty-three four-star admirals (seven already mentioned), and the official historian of naval operations in World War II say no.

    To the authors’ credit the false allegation that Admiral Kimmel’s “most grievous failure,” was that he knew of and ignored advice regarding the direction and extent to which he should have ordered long-range air reconnaissance prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor is not made, as it was so recklessly made by the book’s Foreword writer in 1981 in At Dawn We Slept, page 733, and again in 1986 in Pearl Harbor, The Verdict of History, page 441, in a chapter even titled, His [Admiral Kimmel’s] Most Grievous Failure (see “Reopen the Kimmel Case,” by Michael Gannon, Naval Institute of Proceedings, December 1994). Less credit is due the authors for styling At Dawn We Slept as, “acknowledged by professional historians as the best single-volume history of Pearl Harbor.” How can that be while still containing this most grievous error, which has never been acknowledged, let alone corrected, by its authors? Perhaps the most-dangerous-sector myth that Admiral Nimitz tried so hard to kill in 1942 is finally dead–notwithstanding an effort to resurrect it by another contributing dustcover historian, Mr. Polmar, in his latest book.

    The authors, page12, inaccurately list the date and the attendees at the April 27, 1995 Thurmond Hearing, page 12. I, and others are left out, but see Admiral Richardson’s appendix, page 124, for an accurate list and date (unfortunately, this appendix is not indexed). These errors are not of much moment until the authors state that, “Unfortunately for the Navy, [the General Counsel of the Navy] Steve Honigman had been too strident and combative in the meeting. Thurmond was now more convinced than ever that the Navy could not be fair.” Actually Honigman was worse than strident. As the chief gatherer of facts for the attending Secretary of the Navy and the Deputy Secretary of Defense he was wrong on a key fact as he read what he styled “the official position of the Navy today” to Chairman Thurmond and all assembled. With great certainty he argued against Kimmel stating that Kimmel had been allowed to call and to cross-examine witnesses before the Joint Congressional Committee, which is flat wrong as I pointed out to Mr. Honigman in turn. The fact of the matter is that only one of the ten tribunals that investigated the attack accorded Admiral Kimmel the opportunity to call and to cross-examine witnesses, the Naval Court of Inquiry. Neither the Dorn Report, nor the authors mentioned this fact, let alone gave it any weight. What did the Naval Court of Inquiry find? You will not find out in the Dorn Report, or from the authors’ annotations.

    1. They found that there was not a scintilla of evidence to support a charge of dereliction of duty against Admiral Kimmel;
    2. They found that Admiral Kimmel committed no errors of judgment;
    3. They approved of all of Admiral Kimmel’s force dispositions on the basis of information that he was given;
    4. The President of the Court, Admiral Murfin, opined that they thought Admiral Kimmel had done everything possible under the circumstances; and finally
    5. They severely criticized Admiral Kimmel’s only uniformed boss in the Navy, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Stark, for not keeping Kimmel properly informed.

    The authors state, page 43, that

    “the [Naval] Court. . . concluded that the evidence was insufficient to warrant court-martial of Admiral Kimmel. . . . However, the evidence strongly suggested ‘errors of judgment’.”

    I challenge the authors, the dustcover historians, or anyone else to cite an example of where the Naval Court of Inquiry suggested any error of judgment by Admiral Kimmel.

    The authors mention, page 4, that in 1988 then Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Trost declined to support Rear Admiral Kimmel’s advancement to four-star rank stating that “there is a vast difference between a degree of fault which does not warrant a punitive action and a level of performance which would warrant bestowal of a privilege,” page 38. The authors fail to mention that Admiral Trost’s 1988 opinion was prompted by flawed research from his Director of Naval History who relied on Mr. Goldstein’s previously described most grievous error. Nor do the authors mention that, six years later the Kimmel Family finally gained access to the Director of Naval History’s flawed memorandum, and Professor Michael Gannon pointed the errors out to Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Trost, who then honorably wrote to Secretary of the Navy John H. Dalton on October 4, 1994, withdrawing his memorandum to Secretary Webb, dated January 19, 1988, and asked that the case of Admiral Kimmel be reopened. “I believe such action is owed to the Admiral,” he wrote, “to his sons, and to the Navy. No mistake should be allowed to stand in this sensitive matter, and I personally disavow my unwitting support of one (see “Reopen the Kimmel Case,” page 56).” Today Admiral Trost supports Rear Admiral Kimmel’s advancement as does former Navy Secretary James Webb.

    The authors state, page 83, that, “it is important to remember that no adverse action of any kind was ever taken against Kimmel or Short.” But see the authors’ bracketed addition to General Brooks’ description on General Short’s relief in time of war, page 9, “General Brooks viewed this relief as ‘sufficient [adverse] action against him.'” The Dorn Report cover letter, with the authors’ apparent approval, page 118, stated that, “The official treatment of Admiral Kimmel and General Short was substantially temperate.” General Frank of the Army Pearl Harbor Board (APHB) said that, “General Short had received a soldier’s greatest punishment, relief from his command, and retirement in time of war (Pearl Harbor Story, by General Henry Russell {also of the APHB}, page 160).” Recall that similar and less public adverse action against the commanding officer of the USS Indianapolis resulted in his 1968 suicide.

    The authors report, pages 36 and 37, that, “There is little in the record to indicate why those decisions [not to advance Kimmel and Short] were reached. . . .Presumably decisions not to advance Admiral Kimmel and General Short were based on review of their performance at Pearl Harbor.” The authors point out that General Gerow was a member of a board that reviewed such matters. Whether or not General Gerow had a hand in reviewing advancement for Short is not revealed. Recall that the famous November 27th War Warning Message, which did not do the job either in the Philippines, or in Hawaii for whatever reason, was drafted by General Gerow, and should have given him sufficient reason to recuse himself from any advancement review consideration of Short.

    The authors take exception to the Dorn Report in only one instance, page 66. The Dorn Report said that, “Admiral Kimmel and General Short did not get tactical warning.” (Indeed, the Dorn Report goes so far as to argue that Admiral Kimmel was not entitled to tactical information from Washington, only strategic information, and that Admiral Kimmel committed error by relying on Washington for tactical information.) The authors say, “The Dorn Report is incorrect on this point,” because Admiral Kimmel received tactical warning when the USS Ward attacked a submarine at about 6:40 a.m. The authors fail to mention that the only reason the Ward attacked the submarine was because Kimmel countermanded CNO Stark’s standing order not to attack submarine contacts around Hawaii–see Admiral Kimmel’s Story, pages 74-77 for details (an excellent copy can be found at this link: ). Should Admiral Kimmel be criticized, or praised for firing the first shot?

    The Dorn Report mentioned that Admiral Kimmel had received a report on December 2, 1941 that the Japanese aircraft carriers could not be located. The authors infer much from this, page 54, but, like the Dorn Report, do not mention that that situation was normal. As the Memorandum for the Roberts Commission from Lieutenant Commander E. T. Layton, Fleet Intelligence Officer Pacific Fleet, dated January 5, 1942, 17PHA2486, clearly stated, the failure to identify Japanese carrier traffic, on and after December first when the call signs changed, was not an unusual condition. During the six months preceding Pearl Harbor, there existed a total of one hundred and thirty-four days–in twelve separate periods, each ranging from nine to twenty-two days–when the location of the Japanese carriers from radio traffic analysis was uncertain. That was 74% of the time.

    The vast majority of damage at Pearl Harbor was inflicted by air-dropped torpedoes in shallow water. The prevailing wisdom of the day was that ships in Pearl Harbor were immune from such shallow-water attack by air. The Dorn Report took Kimmel to task for not requesting torpedo nets, but neither the Dorn Report nor the authors made mention of Admiral King’s endorsement to the Naval Court of Inquiry, that “the decision not to install torpedo baffles appears to have been made by the Navy Department [in Washington, DC].” Furthermore no mention was made in the Dorn Report, or by the authors, that the Navy Department had a secret report in its files, dated July 15, 1941 from its London Naval attaché that the British had developed the capability to successfully air drop torpedoes in water as shallow as 24 feet. Obviously, this report would have radically changed Kimmel’s estimate of the prevailing wisdom, but it was not furnished to Kimmel, or to any of the ten investigations, and was not declassified until 1998.

    The authors discuss Henry Clausen’s book, Pearl Harbor, Final Judgement, in considerable detail without mentioning that General Marshall’s champion — not his critic — Clausen said, “Marshall. . . had caused perjured testimony to be presented to the [Army Pearl Harbor] Board. Marshall had ordered his subordinates to lie to the Army Board, and they had complied (35PHA101, and Pearl Harbor, Final Judgement, pages 193, 201).

    General Miles, head of Army intelligence, signed an affidavit admitting that he had lied to the APHB, and that Marshall had ordered it (35PHA102). General Gerow, the head of Army war plans also lied to the APHB.

    Marshall let stand testimony to the Roberts Commission by Admiral Ping Wilkinson, Director of the Office of Naval Intelligence, that, “Care was taken [in Washington] to see that these two officers [Admiral Hart in the Philippines, and Admiral Kimmel in Hawaii] were kept fully advised as to developments. [Admiral Hart and Admiral Kimmel] had available to them the same [MAGIC] information [as we did] here [in Washington]. Admiral Stark, Admiral Turner, General Gerow, and General Miles also acquiesced to Admiral Wilkinson’s false testimony. The silence of the authors, the dustcover historians, and the Dorn Report to admitted official perjury disappoints. Admiral Wilkinson killed himself in 1946 by accident or design.

    Mr. Polmar recently told an audience at the Naval History Center in Washington, DC that, “[Admiral Kimmel and General Short] were harassed. . .and that was wrong. They were treated poorly, no question of that. And for that I think the Navy, the Army, Congress, the Country owes them an apology.”

    In 1991 former CNO Arleigh Burke wrote to then Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney at Mr. Cheney’s urging and said that:

    “It is my judgment that you should approve this posthumous promotion [of Rear Admiral Kimmel to admiral] and recommend it to the President … not because of the importance to…the Kimmel family but because of the importance to the Navy as an institution.”

    Admiral Kimmel dedicated the remainder of his long life to bringing the facts about Pearl Harbor to the American public. He was remarkably successful, but clearly much still needs to be done.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to post such a lengthy defense. Your fidelity to your ancestor is commendable. This is one of the prime virtues of a Roman, but seldom seen today. The opposite, in fact, as media are filled with accounts of people blaming their parents and ancestors for all sorts of ills.

      But IMO you are missing the point. In any military situation the field commander never has all the information available back at headquarters. The senior officers themselves at HQ never have all the information, as so much gets lost in the machinery. That was true of 7 December 1941 as it was of 11 September 2001.

      To excuse an officer who ignores clear warnings on the grounds that he did not get ALL the information available would be excuse almost every senior officer. In fact, the flag officers club in fact does that, as almost any behavior — including that for which a junior officer would be immediated cashiered — find fellow generals and admirals rushing to his defense.

      It’s not that such matters are easy to evaluate, or that the appropriate responses are clear. Rather, I believe that today we have turned the dial too far away from accountability — and the Republic is suffering as a result. This trend has deep roots, and we see its manifestation even so far back as 1941.

      For more about the question of intel in 1941 — see this retrospective look at a what-might-have-been Special National Intelligence Estimate (SNIE) 10-41 “The Likelihood of Japanese Military Attack“, 4 December 1941 — This is a must-read for anyone interested in the collection and analysis of intelligence, about the most important NIE (more specifically, the most important NIE never made).

  5. FM,

    Thank you for your reference to the fictitious SNIE article. There is some good stuff in there. Indeed, it’s hard to understand your opinion in the face of it.

    Who said anything about getting “ALL the information”? Those are your words, not mine, and certainly not Admiral Kimmel’s. Kimmel in writing repeatedly asked for information that affected his disposition in the Pacific. He specifically asked for information that bore upon his problem of defense of the Fleet and the Base. He was repeatedly assured that he was getting it & he wasn’t.

    Admira Nimitz said it best:

    “[Secretary of the Navy] Frank Knox was wrong in blaming Kimmel … Admiral Kimmel had been given no information which would justify interrupting a very urgent training schedule.”
    —Nimitz, E. B. Potter, p.13; SEAPOWER, Nimitz/Potter, 1960, p.650

    Tom Kimmel

    PS–There is much more information about this on my website.

    1. (1) The SNIE article is fictious in a litteral sense, but more accurately described as counter-factual history — “what if” analysis designed to better understand actual events by speculating about specific but reasonable changes in what happened.

      (2) As for posting the SNIE article, the practice on the FM website is to show material on all sides of questions. Not just described one side as “truth.”

      (3) As for statements by Ninitz and other admirals, there is a long history of admirals defending the actions of their peers — irrespective of the evidence, to the detriment of the naval service and the nation. It’s the old boys club in action.

      That is a normal aspect of group dynamics, and does not diminish the skills or service of US admirals. But it is something that must be considered when looking at history. That is, we need also to look at the facts, and opinions of disinterested observers.

      (4) Thank you for your comments, and for posting the link to your website.

  6. General Shorts major failure was to put all aircraft close together to protect from sabotage.

    Macarthur had a radar unit never set up at clark field. The aircraft had actually been up for most of the morning waiting for aproval of an attack on japanese airbases at formosa. They were all on the ground for refueling as formosa had been under heavy fog and cloud cover.

    Kimmel had most of his tankers for refueling sent to east coast and was limited on naval movements accordingly for the slower old style battleships. plenty of seaplanes for scouting but too few trained crews.Fortunatly the carriers were out at sea including a reinforment for wake that got recalled.

    1. The problem is that you do the opposite things in the face of warnings of an air attack as opposed to sabotage. With air attack you spread out your troops, AA guns, aircraft, while with sabotage you concentrate them into a small areas so your infantry can defend them.

      When he received those sabotage warnings General Short sent a message back to Washington telling them he was prepared for sabotage attack. No one in Washington objected to this even though they should have known what that involved.

      Its interesting to note that the General in charge of US Army intelligence and one who had sent at least one sabotage warning General Miles was sent of on an inspection of South America when the first investigation of Pearl Harbor attack started (Clark Report). When he came back he was transferred to Boston where he ran a support unit for the rest of the war , then promoted and awarded a medal at the end of the war when he retired. You would think that the head of US Army intelligence would be a very busy man but they spared him ten days after Pearl Harbor to travel around South America just when the US public was getting over its shock of the surprise attack and were starting to demand answers.

      You don’t here much about General Miles because so much effort was put on throwing Short and Kimmel to the wolves

      1. DJF,

        “The problem is that you do the opposite things in the face of warnings of an air attack as opposed to sabotage.”

        I think that’s too binary. The likely scenario — from previous war games — was sabotage in support of an air attack. Also, in the rush in Washington the cables from Pearl Harbor weren’t processed carefully (as usual due to limits of their manual systems; there are many other examples of this during WWII). See “At Dawn we slept” for more info.

  7. My oldest friend has recently written a book which You can find here : Zen in War by Gábor Fabricius

    I can reccomend it as an entirely DIFFERENT narrative of Events around the US confrontation with ASIA .. foremost and far … with Japan .. The author agrees though with You ,that the General and Admiral discussed by You regarding the PEARL HARBOUR INCIDENT were fairly INNOCENT in what they were accused of .. and probably just were used as SCAPEGOATS in a POLITICAL GAME .

    The book is also a PRAISE to the heroic VALOUR of the japanese military who outnumbered and outgunned fought the last man … until some US ATOMIC BOMBS put an end to the carnage .

    The book is not very flattering for the US, but in the light of prevailing US Pacific aspirations in a changing world may be a narrative , the arguments of which , should be analyzed meticulously …

    1. “The author agrees though with You ,that the General and Admiral discussed by You regarding the PEARL HARBOUR INCIDENT were fairly INNOCENT in what they were accused of”

      Accused of what by whom? The government never accused them of anything, nor do I think guilty/innocent — which are terms of criminal law — are the appropriate terms describing the inadequate responses of Short and Kimmel to the war warnings they received.

      “and probably just were used as SCAPEGOATS in a POLITICAL GAME.”

      Any incident like Pearl Harbor will become politicized. That’s inevitable. I believe that it is incorrect to say that they were made scapegoats, as there were neither criminal charges made nor punishments inflicted. They were relieved of command, as was appropriate — and routine for commanders after far smaller events than December 7.

  8. In these sorts of issue it is often more instructive to study leaders who got it right.

    You can spend endless time picking apart those who got it wrong … the list is endless .

    But what about those who didn’t stuff up, who did succeed: Nimitz, Montgomery and my personal favourite:

    Dowding, I repeat Dowding. The man who created the whole British air defensive system, the man who sheparded the Spitfire and Hurricane through their development, plus radar and more importantly the command and control systems to use it properly (the system everyone in the developed World uses today). And then had the ‘pleasure’ of actually being in command when it all worked, with his superb tactical chief in charge .. the redoubtable Keith Park.

    Unlike Poland, USSR and the US the British airforce was not caught on the ground and destroyed. Instead it destroyed the Luftwaffe (forget the comic book history, it really never recovered from that).

    Yeh Kimmel and Macarthur stuffed up (Mac went on to to stuff up more in the future). They clearly were not up to the jobs.
    But instead of criticising them I prefer to think : “how would have Dowding or Monty (etc) have set that up’.

    We tend to study failure a bit too much, better to study success.

  9. FM,
    You ask, “Accused [Kimmel & Short] of what by whom? The government never accused them of anything. . .”

    The Roberts Commission, headed by a sitting United States Supreme Court Associate Justice, declared K&S solely blamable for the success of the Japanese attack, and guilty of dereliction of duty–a crime today, although not so in 1941. The Navy secretly drew up charges and specifications against Kimmel charging “neglect of duty,” but never brought the charges. Today the Navy Department uses the criminal term “dereliction” arguing against posthumous advancement for Kimmel.

    In 1941, the Washington High Command–Marshall, Stark, Gerow, Turner, Miles & Wilkinson– testified to Justice Roberts that K&S had the same information in Hawaii as they did in Washington. In 1944 Captain Laurance Safford made plain the preceding lie when he testified at the Hart Investigation. The High Command fell back on the position that they thought K&S had the same information in Hawaii as they did in Washington. When that response proved inadequate the High Command fell back on their final refuge testifying that even if K&S had the information it would have made no difference.

    Chief of Naval Operations Fleet Admiral King wrote that, “[The Roberts Commission] merely selected a scapegoat to satisfy the popular demand for fixing the responsibility for the Pearl Harbor debacle. Admiral Kimmel was not asked the important questions nor was he given the proper chance to speak for himself. In fact, he was sold down the river as a political expedient.”
    (Thomas Buell, Master of Seapower, Naval Institute Press, 1980, p.350)


    1. Thank you for the correction! My statement was sloppy, expressed too broadly. As you show, there were high government officals making accusations and assigning guilt. Nothing formal. But these statements are a in a sense worse in that they should follow formal conclusions of courts or equivalents — and are irresponsible when made without them.

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