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The Real Lessons of Pearl Harbor, Part 2

By       Message Alan Pyeatt     Permalink
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Roosevelt's attempt to provoke a Japanese attack proved effective.   In his essay, "Japanese-American Relations, 1921 - 1941; The Pacific Back Road to War" in Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, Charles Callan Tansill quotes Captain Oliver Lyttleton, the British Minister of Supplies, saying


America provoked Japan to such an extent that the Japanese were forced to attack Pearl Harbor.   It is a travesty on history to say that America was forced into war.

Or, as Admiral Theobald put it,


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Diplomatically, President Roosevelt's strategy of forcing Japan to war by unremitting and ever-increasing diplomatic-economic pressure, and by simultaneously holding our Fleet in Hawaii as an invitation to a surprise attack, was a complete success.

Prior to the Japanese attack, Roosevelt deliberately withheld information from Admiral Kimmel and General Short, which would have warned them that an attack was imminent.   In fact, both men were intentionally kept ignorant of events leading up to the attack, and then used as scapegoats afterward.   Roosevelt and his staff appear to have been concerned that Admiral Kimmel could have stopped the Japanese attack by merely sailing the fleet out of the harbor, if he knew it was imminent.   They may have also been concerned that the public would expect Roosevelt to resolve the conflict through diplomacy, if the attack were repulsed too easily.

Most of this information did not come to light until after the war, during the Joint Congressional Committee investigation held from November 15, 1945, to May 31, 1946.   Admiral Theobald (who served as an informal assistant to Admiral Kimmel during this investigation) described it and the previous Congressional investigations in The Final Secret of Pearl Harbor.  

Based on the information revealed in these investigations, Admiral Theobald outlined the intelligence that had been deliberately withheld from Admiral Kimmel and General Short.   Although a detailed description of this intelligence is beyond the scope of the present article, a few of the most important items will be mentioned.

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On January 27, 1941, Ambassador Joseph Grew in Tokyo sent the following message to the State Department:


The Peruvian minister has informed a member of my staff that he has heard from many sources, including a Japanese source, that in the event of trouble breaking out between the United States and Japan, the Japanese intended to make a surprise attack against Pearl Harbor with all their strength and employing all their equipment.   The Peruvian minister considers the rumors fantastic.   Nevertheless, he considered them of sufficient importance to convey the information to a member of my staff.

A message from Tokyo to the Japanese Consul General in Honolulu on September 24, 1941 (and decoded by the War Department on October 9), divided the harbor into 5 sub-areas and requested the Consul to secretly report on the American warships within each sub-area.   Subsequent reports from the Consul detailing American ship movements were also intercepted and decoded.   The message from Tokyo continued,


With regard to warships and aircraft carriers we would like to have you report on those at anchor (these are not so important), tied up at wharves, buoys, and in dock.   Designate types and classes briefly.   If possible, we would like to have you make mention of the fact when there are two or more vessels alongside the same wharf.

Regarding the secret Japanese reports of American ship movements, Admiral Theobald wrote,


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Not the slightest hint of all this was given to Admiral Kimmel or General Short.   Why was such irrefutable evidence of the coming attack so withheld?   Why did Washington contribute so completely to the surprise feature of that attack?   There can be only one answer - because President Roosevelt wanted it that way!

On October 18, the Japanese government arrested Dr. Richard Sorge, who led a Russian spy ring inside Japan.   The New York Daily News later reported that prior to his execution, Dr. Sorge confessed that he had told the Kremlin "that the Japs intended to attack Pearl Harbor within 60 days."   Japanese records showed that the Russian government provided this information to President Roosevelt, General Marshall, and Admiral Stark in exchange for intelligence regarding Germany's imminent attack on Russia.

On November 3, 1941, Ambassador Grew sent a message to the State Department emphasizing the need for an immediate resolution of the conflict with Japan to prevent war.   Between November 5 and November 24, several messages were sent from Tokyo to the Japanese Embassy in Washington (and decoded by the U.S. Navy Department) that emphasized the need to resolve the conflict before the "immovable" date of November 25.   The Japanese government subsequently changed this date to November 29.   Then on November 26, the Japanese Embassy in Washington sent two messages to Tokyo that reported their failure to conclude negotiations successfully, and described the terms of an expected American counter-proposal.   These messages were decoded on November 28.

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Alan Pyeatt is an award-winning Civil Engineer who lives in Monrovia, California. He also enjoys music, organic gardening, economics, and audio/video production.

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