Tuesday, December 6, 2011

More "infamous" than we thought?

The December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor was hardly over before the public began to wonder how the US could have been caught so unawares. The Roberts Commission investigation (Dec 18, 1941 to Jan 23, 1942) concluded that General Short (Army) and Admiral Kimmel (Navy) were derelict in their duty and blamed them. But almost immediately questions arose about facts that didn't add up. By the end of May, 1946 a total of 9 investigations had taken place with differing and alternating conclusions each time, and yet questions still abound today.

John Toland looks at each of the investigations and discusses the evidence and testimonies presented. He focuses on a large amount of evidence that many in Washington knew beforehand that an attack was "imminent" and also that it would occur at Pearl Harbor. Some evidence pinpointed the exact date and other evidence the location of the "missing" Japanese fleet. He even presents communications that foreign dignitaries passed on information, and that those in top levels of American government had more than enough knowledge beforehand that could have prevented (or at least minimized) the attack. The only ones who knew almost nothing were Short and Kimmel.

Infamy: Pearl Harbor and Its Aftermath was originally published in 1982 so it's possible there may be newer information, and apparently it is a bit controversial in its conclusions. Toland claims that Admiral Stark (Chief of Naval Operations) and General Marshall (War Dept. Chief of Staff) in Washington had enough corroborated information that - at a minimum - a clear warning should have been sent to the commanders in Hawaii. He speculates that part of the reason they might not have intervened was because they didn't want the Japanese to know the US had broken their code and were reading all their messages (but he also presents evidence that the Japanese suspected as much). And while he doesn't directly condemn President Roosevelt, he certainly casts a shadow by claiming that FDR also had access to the information. He cites speculation that FDR allowed the attack to happen as a way to win support from the American public, over half of which opposed intervention into the war in Europe, but his criticism seems somewhat muted.

Although this book is nearly 350 pages it's a much quicker and easier read than that number might suggest. It was also more interesting than a dry and detailed accounting of the investigations might sound. Toland obviously places an emphasis on exonerating Kimmel and Short but does a good job piecing together the chronology of the intelligence that was gathered and known in the weeks and days leading up to the attack (he doesn't cover the attack itself). He discusses those who changed their testimonies as well as the documents which appear to have disappeared (such as the infamous "winds" message). For the most part Toland keeps the information from becoming overly tedious, but the main difficulty I had was with the VERY extensive "Cast of Principal Characters." They are listed at the beginning of the book but my interest was more casual and I didn't make the effort to keep everyone as straight as I might have. Still, I found it to be an interesting read and disappointing to know that maybe there was more "infamy" behind the scenes than we were led to believe.

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