Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941 sparked blame game

After Pearl Harbor, intelligent leaders, utilized great time and expense to point fingers and find someone to take blame for Imperial Japan’s man-made disaster Photo: Honolulu Star

SAN JOSE,  December 5, 2013 — The successful surprise attack against the naval base at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, by the Japanese Empire shocked America and the people of the Free World.

Yet, there have been any number of conspiracy theories that claim the United States government, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was aware of the pending bombing of the military installation in Hawaii. Similar conspiracy theories surfaced after the terrible terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

In reality however, such conspiracy theories serve primarily to confuse, to distract, and churn distrust of the U.S. government during turbulent times. It also causes Americans to question reality, and wonder whether the U.S. could actually be the cause  of such devastation and destruction. 

A question like this surfaced not long after the tragedy on December 7, 1941 at Pearl Harbor. Even though President Roosevelt went before Congress the very next day to request that the Legislative body declare war on the Empire of Japan, the nation was in a state of shock as it learned of the incredible loss of life in the horrendous “man-made disaster.”

People wanted to know, and more than a few demanded to know, how the mighty United States could be so unprepared for such an insideous attack. And of course, the rumor mill turned and the conspiracy theorists churned out their speculative charges. Some rumors even cast suspicion upon FDR, who was seen as seeking excuses to draw the country into war.

Amidst the rumors, investigations by high ranking government officials, both in the military and the political arena, examined the level of preparedness of the U.S. Military, and especially the nation’s intelligence gathering procedures, prior to the tragedy at Pearl Harbor. In this time, some scandalous rumors circulated that the President, desiring that the U.S. enter the fray, redeployed the U.S. fleet to Pearl Harbor, and intentionally left the installation unguarded as a way of baiting the Japanese militants to take advantage of the opportunity.

Soon after the attack, in December, President Roosevelt appointed a commission headed by U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Owen Roberts (nominated to the Supreme Court by President Hoover) to investigate the incident.

The Roberts Commission, as it was known, was tasked to investigate the tragedy and provide the facts pertaining to the attack. It also seemed to be tasked with assigning blame, as the commission ultimately determined that the commanders at Pearl Harbor, Admiral Kimmel and General Short, were guilty of “dereliction of duty.” Since it was only a fact-finding commission, no legal charges were brought against these two officers. Nevertheless, it was not the end of the blame game, and eventually the entire issue became a political battle, and the question regarding the real cause of this tragedy was ultimately taken up by the U.S. Congress to investigate what the U.S. had done to incite the attack.

The issue was basically dropped until the war ended in 1945. However, in April of the year, Franklin Roosevelt had passed away, and Harry Truman had taken over as President. On August 29, 1945, President Truman released investigation reports from the Army and Navy which actually found officials  in Washington, especially former Secretary of State Cordell Hull and U.S. Army Chief of Staff General George Marshall, primarily responsible for unpreparedness at Pearl Harbor. Finally, with the war over, Congress took the opportunity to act when the Senate Majority Leader, Alben Barkley, called for a joint investigatory committee to fully investigate the tragedy in December, 1941 and to explore the “contradictions and inconsistencies” in previous reports (as well as possibilities for more blame).

During this Congressional investigation, which persisted from November of 1945 until May of 1946, there was a startling revelation coming from a diary entry of Henry Stimson, U.S. Secretary of War during World War II. Remarks made by FDR which seemed to be speculative inquiry regarding the likelihood of an unannounced attack by the Empire of Japan on the U.S., but caused concern. The entry, admitted as official testimony during the hearings, described a White House “War Council” meeting at which Roosevelt, “brought up the event that we were likely to be attacked perhaps (as soon as) next Monday, for the Japanese are notorious for making an attack without warning, and the question was how we should maneuver them into the position of firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves…  a difficult proposition.”

Admittedly, for this to surface during the Congressional hearings on the Pearl Harbor Attack was a major embarrassment for the Roosevelt Administration. This item has puzzled both critics and defenders of FDR’s foreign policy for quite some time. Definitely, this diary entry of Secretary Stimson did prove to   be a “difficult proposition,” as he put it. However, Roosevelt was no longer around to explain his intended meaning. Nevertheless, in addition, the joint committee received testimony from 44 people, including high ranking officials such as U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Joseph Grew, former Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, as well as the military commanders involved like Admiral Kimmel and General Short.

Even then, investigating such a horrendous American tragedy, the congressional investigation became quite politically divided. One newspaper headline during the time read: “GOP Senators Say Democrats Block Pearl Harbor Probe.” Although Truman had numerous documents and exhibits released to the committee, it was seemingly overwhelming for the limited time and scope provided for the task. Also, some files related to the attack were never located despite many prior investigations.

Republicans did not trust the chairman, Alben Barkley (Democrat Senate Majority Leader), to reveal all the missing documents. Democrats labeled Republican’s demands for more complete access to material as a move to “dig up something…” to “besmirch the reputation of the Nation’s wartime Commander-in-Chief [FDR].”

The political controversy seemed to center upon President Roosevelt, and one major problem that Republicans had was related to FDR’s prior favoritism of Alben Barkley that had led to his election as Senate majority leader in 1937. To Republicans, his long-standing loyalty to FDR rendered Chairman Barkley incapable of being objective in the Pearl Harbor investigation. Such solid allegiance did catch Democrat attention because Barkley eventually got the nod as Truman’s running mate in 1948. Albeit much time was spent, and despite all efforts, including the political wrangling, eight members of the ten on the committee rejected claims that FDR or his top advisors had “tricked, provoked, incited, cajoled, or coerced Japan” into the Pearl Harbor attack so the U.S. would enter the war.

Incredibly, after over six months, and over 5,000 pages of final report as well as 14,000 pages of printed exhibits, eight members of the committee of ten concluded that, “officers, both in Washington and Hawaii, were fully conscious of the danger from air attack.” The military commands in Hawaii and the Intelligence and War Plans Divisions of the War and Navy Departments made “errors of judgment and not derelictions of duty.” And after all was said and reports finalized, they came to the conclusion that “the ultimate responsibility for the attack and its results rests upon Japan.” And, “the diplomatic policies and actions of the United States provided no justifiable provocation whatever for the attack by Japan on this Nation.”

In reality, on the other side of the world, there existed the government of Japan, which was ripped apart by political strife that made what was happening in the U.S. seem like a mild disagreement between brothers. The nation of Japan had been an ally during World War I, and had become increasingly democratic in the 1920s. However, such changes came with poor timing as the devastating effects of the Great Depression reverberated through the world. While Americans were struggling during the 1930s, the democratic government of Japan also struggled and became increasingly distrusted by the people, and was blamed for the weakened economy. Especially, the Army decided to take clear action to correct the problems associated with democracy.

Unlike the Fascist efforts in Europe aimed at destroying traditional systems of government, the Japanese military sought to restore traditional political control to military leaders. Over time, military leaders rose through the political system to secure more and more power. By 1932, the Japanese Army had gained so much control that the civilian leadership was seen as the primary obstacle to complete control. In that year, nine army officers went to the home of Prime Minister Tsuyoshi Inukai to confront him. Instead of talking after he cordially invited them in, the leader shouted, “No use talking!” He then pulled out his pistol and shot him ala Al Pacino in the Godfather. By 1935, a large faction of army officers attempted  an unsuccessful coup. But this period reveals the serious divisions within the government of Japan.

Complete Army control of the Japanese government essentially was accomplished by October of 1941 when the last hope of civilian restraint upon the militarists dissolved as Prime Minister Konoe (also spelled Konoye) resigned. On September 5th, he had submitted to the Emperor a draft of the Japanese Cabinet’s decision the previous day to commit to a course of war with the Allied nations if they resisted Japan’s intended militant domination of most of Southeast Asia. After argument with his chief advisors, Hirohito consented to the decision. Konoe realized that negotiations would not truly permit Japan to pull off such brazen a dominion without war with the West. When he grasped that the Emperor was on board with the militarists, Konoe was isolated, and realized war was inevitable!

On September 6th, the Imperial Conference formalized the decision for war. In September, Japan had decided to prepare for war with the United States - long before the attack was executed. The hollow masquerade of cordial diplomatic negotiations in Washington, D.C., even to the day of the attack, was merely a remnant of Konoe’s weak hopes to avert war. The deceptive charade reveals how deceitful and absolutely determined the militarists were in controlling the Japanese Empire. Essentially it enhanced the element of surprise in the insidious sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.

In essence, such deceptive and destructive actions spoke much more loudly than their hollow words.    In retrospect, the pattern of destruction could be seen by the world for a long time. Yet in the U.S., “intelligent leaders,” utilizing great time and expense, kept pointing fingers, seeking someone to assign the blame for what a militant government had determined long before bombs starting destroying Americans lives. That in itself, should speak volumes about the differences between the two governments at the time.  (See the second installment of Pearl Harbor Attack tomorrow)

 


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Dennis Jamison
Dennis Jamison
Dennis Jamison reinvented his life after working for a multi-billion dollar division of Johnson & Johnson for several years. Now semi-retired, he is an adjunct faculty member  at West Valley College in California.  He also currently writes a column on history and one on American freedom for the Communities at the Washington Times.

 

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