The Charlotte News

Monday, October 20, 1941


Site Ed. Note: Incidentally, there is no Saturday, October 19, 2008. It was actually in the wee hours of Sunday when we posted yesterday's pieces and so... But, there's a reason, we insist, for that mistake as well. You'll have to figure out why.

"No Change" speaks again to the issue of whether the United States should enter the war presently against Japan before Japan attacked, the piece forecasting the inevitability of such an attack because of both Japan having been cut off from essential war materials and the intransigence of the United States with regard to maintaining its embargo unless and until Japan removed from China, a prospect thought unlikely to occur, leaving only one option for Japan, war to obtain the necessary raw materials out of the Dutch East Indies, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

The piece questions therefore the sincerity of the talks just initiated by Japan with the United States, talks which would continue through the morning of December 7.

Were the Japanese sincere in their diplomatic efforts to avoid open warfare with the United States or were they simply posing a distraction to await the proper time for the Tiger to strike with utmost stealth and surprise, reading the tea leaves within the United States State Department to determine whether there was foreknowledge of the plans for the attack while also transmitting in the bargain an innocent face to allay suspicions, as well to enable better understanding of likely United States retaliation and the form such retaliation might take? No one really knows whether Ambassador Nomura and sopecial envoy Kurusu of Japan were pawn duped by their own government, fully cognizant of its own intentions the while to strike, whether they truly represented a genuine effort by that government to avoid war, or whether the attack was, after the July 2 meeting of the high command in Japan, a fait accompli, with all on board as to that eventuality, and the act of duality by the Japanese envoys a well-orchestrated performance in the garb of Janus.

By October 11, plans had been firmly laid for a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7. Previously, as late as September 11-12, when Japanese naval exercises were held in preparation, the so-called "X-Day" was set for either November 16 or 23, also both Sundays, thought to be the day of the week most likely to afford maximum surprise, with only skeletal crews manning lookouts on Oahu.

At this time, in mid-October, the U.S. military high command had within it a general belief, persisting since mid-1940, that Japan might go to war on the United States, Britain, and the Dutch in the Pacific, and an awareness with that prospect that the Fleet in Pearl stood as deterrent and therefore would have to be eliminated before any such movement could proceed.

The President had also recognized this importance, indeed, more sensitively than had Admiral Richardson, Chief of the Navy: Roosevelt thought it key to maintain the Fleet at Pearl, not return all but a small detachment of ships to their ordinary home port of San Pedro, California, for just such deterrent effect, while Richardson had favored such a return in fall, 1940 as he thought better preparation of the Fleet to fight in the Pacific could be accomplished from the mainland port.

But also by this point in time, distracting from any prescience of an attack on Pearl, a significant portion of the military advice was centering instead on Russia and the prospect for Japan's entry of that theater of war instead. Japan's fleet was known still to be concentrated in and around Japan, enabling relatively easy embarkation for attack on Vladivostok. A large Japanese army was in Manchuria. The cabinet of Prince Konoye had resigned in September and Konoye himself was out by mid-October. The new cabinet was thought likely to be heavily nationalistic, puppets of both of the army and navy. On October 16, General Sherman Miles, assistant chief of Army intelligence, had stated in a memorandum to General George Marshall, Army Chief of Staff, that he believed the new cabinet would favor a move into Siberia were the Russians to show signs of losing the war with Germany on the European front.

General Miles had become aware just a week earlier, on October 9, of a message dispatched by the Japanese Foreign Ministry in Tokyo to the Japanese consulate in Hawaii, and intercepted by Army intelligence, which had indicated the Japanese navy's interest in specific ship anchorages in and around Pearl Harbor. Significantly, it was the first time American intelligence had become aware of such interest by the Japanese in the specifics of movement and placement of ships in the port. Theretofore, all interest had centered on movement of the entire Fleet. Miles, familiar with the Hawaiian Department sphere of operations, having served in it for some period of time, had dismissed the message as inconsequential, thinking it implied at worst a small submarine attack on the Harbor and likely not even that. He left it to the oversight of ONI. Although the message also was dispatched to Marshall directly and to Secretary of War Henry Stimson, there was no apparent significance attached to it.

ONI relayed the message to Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, (one of the other original Republican Rough Riders, that is Bull Mooses), and to the White House as well as to Admiral Harold Stark, Chief of Naval Operations. Again, little significance was attached to it, as no one then believing that the Japanese would be so bold as to launch an attack on the Fleet, it being thought that ultimately it would be a waste of time for the Japanese, that the Fleet was not mobile enough to interfere in fact with any intention they had to move south in the Pacific. The other line of thought at the time was that this message was merely an effort to determine the ease with which the Fleet might start maneuvers in the Pacific, monitoring by Japan for defensive purposes, in other words, to see if the United States might be planning an attack on Japan, or, possibly, in preparation for an offensive move south by Japan, but not for the purpose of an offensive attack on Pearl, thought simply too ill-advised in the end to be risked with the Fleet present there.

The message was never relayed to Admiral Husband Kimmel at Pearl Harbor because of concern that Japanese spies would then learn that ONI had broken their coding device known as "Magic" and thus a new form of cryptography would be adopted, necessitating the tedious process of deciphering it all over again, despoiling thereby the months of laborious effort to obtain essentially open understanding of Japanese communication lines between its foreign ministry and its spy contacts.

The President had favored the maintenance of the Fleet at Pearl as deterrent against the move south by the Japanese, against the advice of Richardson a year earlier. But now, perhaps softened by the advice of the military commanders, and a direct expression to him by Richardson in October, 1940 that there was a lack of confidence by the military in the civilian command in the Executive Branch, Roosevelt appeared to defer more to his military commanders than previously--possibly the fatal error.

Another bit of information which both ONI and Miles had ignored was that relayed through the U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Joseph Grew, who was informed by the Peruvian Ambassador to Japan in late January, 1941 that he had become aware of a rumor, as it turned out, provided by his Japanese cook, that a plan was afoot to launch a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, this coming, as it later became known after the war, just three weeks after the Japanese military had put forth such a contingency plan, though not one yet adopted by the high command. On that occasion, Miles had thought that such an attack was not only unlikely but that the method of transmission of the information was so suspect as to be unworthy of serious consideration.

Whether semi-deliberate or not, it is not the first or last time that military commanders, blinded by over-confidence and misjudgment of the enemy's strategy, blundered into getting the country into a shooting war, though in this instance the blunder was possibly the worst in the country's military history for its timing being chosen by the enemy with a crippling blow delivered to the country's immediate ability at retaliatory response.

But with that mistake borne in mind since by every military commander and every president, have we become overly sensitive to the point now of engaging even in pre-emptive warfare on the mere hint of military capability to strike an ally, without the slightest reality to the intelligence leading to that conclusion, as with the incursion into Iraq in 2003? The same, albeit evidencing a lesser degree of sensitiveness, might be asked with regard to the Gulf of Tonkin incidents in August, 1964, which led to the U.S. deployment of combat troops to Vietnam. Essentially, these actions were the result of lessons learned from Pearl Harbor; but were they the right lessons? Did Roosevelt's extreme patience not have it right? Or was his patience dictated only by the arrogance of bumble-headed military advisers? Is the tendency to react pre-emptively in the case of Iraq, or to a single attack on a U.S. ship, even if at the time thought to be two attacks on two separate ships in close succession, in the case of Vietnam, overly sensitive to the point of destroying morale at home and endangering confidence in United States stability abroad by instilling the perception of a trigger-happy country? Is the model of Pearl Harbor relied upon too closely, based on an essentially outmoded scenario, in a time when radar and sonar were relatively primitive, when neither satellites nor U-2's existed for reconnaissance from the skies, a particular scenario which was surrounded on the other side of the world by war as well, and which has become even more completely outmoded in any event by the advent of the nuclear age after World War II?

We ask again whether the better model to follow in the modern age is that set by the Kennedy Administration in dealing with the Cuban missile crisis: tough negotiations, involving ultimately the Security Council of the United Nations and any other multilateral organization with oversight in a particular region of the world, failing resolution in those diplomatic bodies, using a form of brinksmanship to the eye-to-eyeball limit, but not one cast initially so over the line as to quickly make a shooting war an inevitability rather than the object of avoidance, all accomplished without the surprise element accompanying Pearl Harbor.

And "Revolting" brings to mind the earlier mention of the hanging of Mary the elephant for its rampage out in Tennessee in 1916, stampeding three people to death. We're not sure. Perhaps the shooting and eventual machine-gunning of Teddy at the Central Prison yard over in Raleigh through the course of nearly an hour for crushing four cars and a truck at the State Fair after, so said his trainer, he became thirsty, was less humane. The result, however, is pretty much the same.

Speaking of which, Miss Sally Rand appears on the page today, how uncanny, the right stuff. As usual, however, she is hiding purposefully behind her fan. Ah yes. Tiny bubbles. That's probably why he has the monocle.

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