NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Justice For Pearl Harbor Commanders

June 2, 1999

Last week, the Senate voted to restore the ranks of Admiral Husband E. Kimmel and General Walter C. Short, the two commanders at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. After the war they were demoted for failing to respond adequately to the Japanese air attack; however, they always maintained that they were scapegoats for higher ups.

Unquestionably, the Army and Navy were unprepared. Although Kimmel and Short knew war was a growing possibility, they had no special reason to expect an attack on December 7. If they had, our ships would have been sent to sea, and our fighter planes would have been dispersed.

The U.S. had broken Japan's top secret diplomatic code in 1940. Eventually, U.S. codebreakers were able to build duplicate machines and decipher Japanese diplomatic messages almost as fast as Japan's embassies. But Kimmel and Short weren't aware of this intelligence until after the war.

The decoded messages show that an attack was much more imminent than Kimmel and Short had been led to believe. In particular, a message intercepted on December 6 pointed to an attack at Pearl the next morning. General George Marshall, the Army chief of staff, sent a warning by commercial telegraph about an hour before the first bombs fell, but it was not received until after the attack.

Some say President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted to ensure a Japanese attack and America's entry into World War II. Indeed, he had taken actions to goad Japan, including embargoes on oil and steel scrap. Only a few months before the attack, he froze all Japanese assets in the U.S., effectively cutting off all trade. And just days before Pearl Harbor, he personally ordered three small Navy ships into the path of a Japanese naval task force in hopes of triggering an attack.

There was no excuse for laying all the blame on Kimmel and Short. The Senate was correct to right the injustice.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, senior fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis, June 2, 1999.


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