Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Pearl Harbor: Real Conspiracies and crank theories

There were real conspiracies surrounding the attack on Pearl harbor. Not the crank theories that blame those old devils FDR and Churchill with enabling the attack. Those are palpably ridiculous. What we have instead are the usual political and bureaucratic behavior after a disaster: shifting blame, finding scapegoats, covering up embarrassing information.

In 1941 that meant making it appear that everything would have been fine if Gen. Short and Adm. Kimmel had not dropped the ball.

J. Edgar Hoover, for instance, wanted the FBI to be an international spy agency as well as a national detective bureau and an internal security organ. It would look, bad, therefore, if it turned out that the FBI bore any responsibility or even appeared to be less than perfect.

As a master spy and defender of the Republic, Hoover was pretty close to an abject failure. He was without peer as a bureaucratic infighter and empire-builder.

So, with the feral cunning common to rats and ambitious bureaucrats, Hoover did his utmost to make certain Short and Kimmel took the hit. The White House was told (falsely) that Hawaii had received all the intelligence on Japan that was available in Washington. Congressmen and Senators were informed -- confidentially of course -- about the lack of cooperation between the Army and Navy in Hawaii (another fib). Leaks to compliant reporters made sure the public knew who was to blame (not the FBI or its director). Trusted FBI agents were placed at the center of the official investigations. (Hoover edited the drafts of their reports and findings).

Honesty took a back seat to appearances. Long before Fernando, John E. Hoover knew it was better to look good than be good.

If successful empires had a handbook Rule #1 would be “Focus on one threat at a time” and Rule #2 would be “Never fight a big war without allies.” Hoover understood this instinctively. In focusing on Short and Kimmel the FBI was working with some very powerful allies.

It suited the political leadership in Washington, particularly the President, to place all blame for the disaster on the heads of the commanders in Hawaii. That offered the public a pat explanation -- essentially that the officers on the spot had been caught unaware. Once they were replaced, the nation could get on with the war effort.
Paul Stillwell “Plenty of Blame to Go Around
Roosevelt ordered the fleet to Pearl Harbor over the objections of his senior Naval officers. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. James O. Richardson protested too vigorously; FDR relieved him of command and replaced him with Kimmell.

In pursuit of short-term deterrence, the fleet was placed in a vulnerable base that lacked sufficient infrastructure for training and maintenance.

In the summer of 1941 FDR adopted a hard-line against Japan. In doing so, he sided with old New Dealers like Harold Ickes and Henry Morgenthau and overruled his senior military leaders. This confrontational stance was at odds with the “Germany First” strategy FDR had previously adopted. The administration now risked an early war before the buildup of forces in the Pacific could be completed. Despite the increasing tensions in the Pacific, Pearl Harbor was denied vital armaments which went to higher priority recipients. Gen. Short asked for long-range patrol bombers; they were designated for the Philippines and China instead. He requested funds to build additional airfields so he could disperse his aircraft and make them less vulnerable to surprise attack. The War Department refused on the grounds that the risk of surprise air attacks was low. The same reason was given when anti-aircraft defenses in Hawaii were not allocated modern 20mm and 40mm guns. Fighter planes were transferred from Hawaii to Wake Island and Midway.

Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox went to Pearl Harbor immediately after the attack. He was initially sympathetic to the commanders in Hawaii. He was inclined to ascribe a large portion of the blame to the lack of resources rather than dereliction of duty. His final report written after he returned to Washington focused on the failings of Kimmel and Short. They had enough resources and information; they simply failed to use them intelligently and energetically.

That was the narrative that took hold in December 1941. It did not emerge by accident.

In Washington, immediately after the attack, President Roosevelt and the secretaries of War and the Navy were putting together an investigating team. Known as the Roberts Commission, it comprised two retired Navy admirals, two Army generals, and Supreme Court Justice Owen Roberts. It was, in essence, a kangaroo court, placing blame for the Pearl Harbor surprise squarely on the two major commanders, Admiral Kimmel and Army Lieutenant General Walter Short. In fact, the powers that be in Washington had been no more prescient than Kimmel in foreseeing an attack, and they had the advantage of the code intercepts that indicated war would begin soon.
Stillwell, “Plenty of Blame”
As usually happens, the narrative contained few out and out lies. It misinformed by omission. Critical facts were buried. For instance, decades would pass before the public learned that the FBI had a double-agent who had been tasked with obtaining detailed intelligence on Pearl Harbor and the methods the Royal navy employed in its raid on the Italian Fleet at Taranto. None of the eight official investigations even mention Dusko Popov.


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