By showing how the Pearl Harbor attack was more to do with intelligence (in the military information collection and analysis sense as well as the more literal sense) failures, I hope to illustrate that firstly there is no New World Order conspiracy dating back to the Second World War and second, to show that these enormous world changing events can happen without us being ready for them and without us expecting them - they're called surprises for a reason.
One of the things I've learned and that I am still learning about history is that major events - and often particularly those shocking and sudden world changing ones - are preceded by many smaller ones that enable and establish the circumstances of the major occurrences in ways that range from the sublime to the ridiculous. More often than not, history chooses to side with the ridiculous. Even if the Universe doesn't grant your desires, it does appear to have a sense of humour and a keenly developed understanding of irony.
This lesson appears lost on most conspiracy theorists however. For them, the ridiculous or the petty or the innocuous are evidence of a conspiracy and not of human failings, random chance and the sheer scope of possibility. With the number of things that could happen at any moment in time, why the surprise and incredulity that one particular thing did? The usual response you will hear from a paranoid conspiracy theorist (PCT) when faced with the innocuous explanation is "Yeah right." Or "How convenient." Not to mention the old favourite,"What a coincidence." To them, the fact that the event being described might have occurred outside of some vast conspiracy is impossible, primarily because they have already decided that the conspiracy is happening or has happened and so all subsequent evidence must in some way prove this.
This attitude to history is why they get it so wrong.
Weird, ridiculous, unbelievable, laughable, embarrassing and stupid stuff really does happen. Truth really is stranger than fiction. For instance, the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) was one of the most destructive wars in European history, and whilst there is no one factor that can be said to have caused it given the extremely convoluted political and religious situation of the time, the match that lit the fuse was a few people getting thrown out of a window!
Don't think that history has a grand sense of the ironic, farcical and tragic? Well, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand led directly to the First World War. The archduke was killed by a Yugoslav nationalist and Serbia was blamed and given a harsh ultimatum by the Austrian Empire. The archduke was one of the few voices in the Austrian Empire that advocated giving greater autonomy to the various nationalities (including the Slavic nationals that Princip claimed to represent) in the Austrian Empire. The archduke also advocated a softer approach to Serbia because he knew acting too aggressively would bring the Russian Empire into conflict with the Austrian one. Sound familiar? But it gets better - Princip was only able to get his chance at assassinating the archduke because the driver of the archduke's car had taken a wrong turn and was trying to reverse to get back on track, but the car stalled. Princip was only on the street where this happened because he had stopped for a sandwich. The rest, as they say, is history.
In history, small and seemingly ridiculous or coincidental things do happen, and their consequences are often of a far larger scale than can be readily accepted by those who don't have a good understanding of history but think they do.
All of which brings me to the topic of this post. This third part is going to focus on the immediate events leading up to the attack, with a follow up post to come on the attack itself. Simply looking at the facts here regardless of the detailed look at intelligence failures we began in part one and will go into again next time should be enough to convince anyone with a sound grasp of reality that the attack was nothing but a brilliantly executed surprise attack by the Japanese on the sleeping US giant. However, we aren't always dealing with people who have that sound grasp, are we? And yes, it was tactically brilliant even if strategically suicidal and yes, it was brilliantly executed even if it failed in its objective of neutralising the US Pacific Fleet.
Last time we looked at the events from 1930 to 1941 that set the international scene - now we will look at the period immediately preceding the attack in more detail. Once again, I rely heavily on Colonel John Hughes-Wilson's book Military Intelligence Blunders (Robinson, 1999) for the details of the events leading up to the attack, the rest comes from my own knowledge and what is available on the Interwebs. Any mistakes are mine!
What happened immediately prior to the 7th?
This part of our story starts on 26th November 1941. On this day, the fleet that attacked Pearl Harbor set sail from Japan for a position to the northwest of Hawaii, under the command of Admiral Yamamoto. Arrival time was to be at Hawaiian dawn on 7th December.
On 27th November, 10 days before the attack, the Chief of Naval operations for the US Navy sent a signal to his commanders in both the Atlantic and Pacific that reinforced a perception of Japanese strategy that was prevalent at the time (and that I mentioned in part two) - that there may be war coming but it would be in Southeast Asia, not Hawaii. The signal read:
This dispatch is to be considered a war warning ... an aggressive move by Japan is expected within the next few days.This may seem a startling admission from someone who is trying to prove that the USA did not know when and what was coming, and no doubt some PCT coming across this would happily misquote it. But it isn't the whole story. The whole world knew that something was coming. The point is, everyone thought it was coming for Southeast Asia - for the European and American colonies there. That is backed up further in this signal (Hughes-Wilson, pg 74).
The ... organization of naval task forces indicates an amphibious expedition against either the Philippines or the Kra Peninsula [Thailand] or possibly Borneo.They knew something was coming - just not where and when. A possible attack on Pearl Harbor was not on the radar - for reasons we'll talk about in a future post.
Secretary of War Henry Stimson had sent war alerts out whilst acting on behalf of Roosevelt (who was on holiday) during the last week of November. Whilst these warnings were received by both the army and navy commanders in Hawaii neither of them put their commands on alert. They didn't think Pearl Harbor was the target after all. Astonishing as this may seem, we are looking back at it through the lens of what we know modern militaries can do. Projecting force over a long distance today is easy for some modern militaries - not so in 1941. It is likely that this signal would have actually lowered the alert levels in the minds of those in Hawaii - the Japanese were looking another way it seemed. Their forces were deployed for attacks in Southeast Asia after all, so why up the Hawaiian alert status and affect morale and readiness levels (through eventual fatigue), not to mention the budget?
On 3rd December the Washington Navy Bureau sent a warning to Admiral Kimmel (commander of the US Pacific Fleet) that informed him that Japanese embassies or diplomatic missions in Hong Kong, Singapore, Batavia, Manila, Washington and London had been ordered to destroy their codes and ciphers and to destroy all confidential and secret documents (Hughes-Wilson, pg 82). This was a clear sign that war was imminent. The Navy Bureau knew about this Japanese signal because US intelligence agencies had been able to read Japanese diplomatic signals as, without the Japanese knowing, they had broken the Japanese codes in an operation codenamed Magic.
Another signal sent to Kimmel informed him that some Japanese diplomatic missions had also been told to destroy their code machines. That means that they were not expected to be receiving anymore secret message traffic. That means the embassies and staffs were about to be withdrawn. That means war is coming.
Crucially - Kimmel does not appear to have passed this on to General Short, commander of the army on Hawaii. Even now, just days before the attack, US forces responsible for the defence of Hawaii and Pearl Harbor were not co-operating. We'll go into the effects of this in a later post.
The Magic code-breakers were then able to alert US authorities that a final Japanese answer to peace negotiations was to be transmitted to the Japanese embassy in Washington on 6th December. The answer would indicate whether there was going to be war or not. What was to happen next highlights my point about histories relationship with the sublime and the ridiculous.
As the Magic operation had predicted the Japanese Foreign Ministry began to transmit the fourteenth and final part of the reply on 6th December. The transmission was intercepted by both the US Navy and the US Army. At the same time as the Japanese embassy staff were decoding the message elsewhere in Washington DC, so were the US Army and Navy, with the Navy taking the lead for the US.
At about 22:00 (10:00pm for those who don't speak 24 hour clock) Washington time, the first thirteen parts of the message were delivered to the White House and President Roosevelt, who read it to Harry Hopkins. Roosevelt commented, "This means war." (Hughes-Wilson, pg 84). The naval courier, a Lieutenant-Commander Kramer then carried the parts of the message available around Washington to other senior naval officers. At about 01:00 on Sunday 7th December, with no sign of the final part of the message coming from the Navy's intelligence office, Kramer went home to bed. Yes, you read that right.
Over in the Army intelligence building, the same message was getting similar treatment from the Army. Colonel Bratton of the Far East Section and his deputy, Lieutenant-Colonel Dusenbury were waiting for the full message. By 21:30 (9:30pm) the final part had still not arrived. However, Bratton was not prepared to do what Kramer had done and so, tired from working long hours throughout the Japanese crisis, he went home to bed and told Dusenbury to "make sure he showed the whole thing to General Marshall [the Army's Chief of Staff]." (Hughes-Wilson, pg 85).
At about midnight on 6/7th December the final part arrived. The fourteenth part of the message instructed the Japanese ambassador to break off relations with Washington at exactly 13:00 (1:00pm) Eastern Standard Time - 07:00 Hawaii time. Dusenbury basically had the declaration of war in his hand, and a timing for Japanese actions. Thirteen hours before it was to be given by the Japanese to the Americans. So he tried to contact General Marshall. But he couldn't. So, at 01:30 in the morning, Dusenbury did what everyone with advanced knowledge of a declaration of war would do. He went to bed. Wait, he did what? Over at Naval intelligence the fourteenth part of the message was sitting in Kramer's in-tray whilst he slept.
The Americans didn't get advance warning of the timing of the Japanese attack primarily because the people who knew went to bed without telling the people who needed to know. Precious hours of preparation were lost.
Early on Sunday morning (the 7th) people began to realise what was happening. Admiral Stark (commander-in-chief of the US Navy) read the final part of the message. Colonel Bratton was still trying to deliver the complete message to General Marshall. Roosevelt read the fourteenth part and simply remarked, "So it looks as if the Japanese are going to break off negotiations." (Hughes-Wilson, pg 86).
The US commanders were not as complacent as Roosevelt was, both recognising the significance of the timing. Marshall consulted with Stark and then drafted a signal to be sent to Hawaii and all other US Pacific commands. The text read:
The Japanese are presenting at 1pm (13:00) Eastern Standard Time, today, what amounts to an ultimatum. Also they are under orders to destroy their code machines immediately. Just what significance the hour set may have we do not know, but be on alert accordingly. (Hughes-Wilson, pg 86)What had the fourteenth part of the Japanese message said? It doesn't get much stronger, in diplomatic terms at least:
The Imperial Japanese Government regrets to have to notify hereby the American Government that in view of the attitude of the American Government it cannot but consider that it is impossible to reach an agreement through normal negotiations.In the words of Hughes-Wilson, the message effectively "gave the USA a blunt reply involving sex and travel" (pg 86).
So that's it isn't it? The Americans knew the attack was coming and did nothing therefore conspiracy. Right?
Wrong. And here comes history and the ridiculous, yet again.
General Marshall's message was never sent in time. He released it to the Comms Room at 11:30 (05:30 Hawaii time). The War Department's message centre couldn't raise Hawaii on the secure radio though. The senior signals officer, Colonel French, ordered the message encoded and sent by Western Union cable to San Francisco and then via RCA commercial radio to Honolulu. The message was logged at 12:01 Washington time (06:01 in Hawaii). By the time the message reached Hawaii, the bombs were already falling. The message finally reached General Short at 11:45 Hawaii time, 17:45 (5:45pm) Washington time. Hughes-Wilson writes that the RCA courier who delivered it apologised for the late arrival of the cable since he had been forced to "take shelter from an air raid". (Hughes-Wilson, pg 87).
Colonel French was asked by a later congressional inquiry into the Pearl Harbor disaster why he hadn't just used the phone. He replied that the Message Centre never used the phone for overseas calls because they considered it insecure, but that if senior officers had wanted to they could have done.
The position that French was in needs to be appreciated. If he had used the telephone to call Hawaii and pass on General Marshall's signal, and the telephone message was compromised, then he risked telling the Japanese that the Americans knew of their plans - which could have led to their concluding that their signals were being read and adopting new coding measures - and thus the war winning advantage of Magic would have been lost.
It's easy for us to judge him, this isn't December 1941.
So, what happened again?
So, let's recap the course of the small events immediately preceding 7th December 1941 that enabled the surprise attack on Pearl Harbour.
One, we have signals that seem to have lulled the commanders on Hawaii into a false sense of security because they indicated the Japanese would attack somewhere other than Pearl Harbor. Even though these signals did warn of probable impending hostilities.
Two, Kimmel received separate warnings from the Navy and didn't share these indicators of impending attack with his Army counterpart, who for all we know could have reacted very differently and placed his command on a heightened state of alert. This was just 4 days before the attack. We do know that commanders were reluctant to increase alert levels because of the effect this had on their commands.
Three, on the 6th of December a clear indicator was given that the Japanese were most likely going to war, in their final response to the ongoing peace negotiations. The crucial US commanders were never informed because the people with the information went to bed instead of ensuring it was delivered to whom it needed to be delivered.
Four, when everyone finally realised that there was something in the works, radio communications broke down and a warning to Hawaii was not delivered until after the attack. No-one thought to use the telephone, almost certainly because no-one was clear on whether or not Hawaii was an immediate target.
What does this mean for the conspiracy?
Remember what the conspiracy theorists claim - that Roosevelt and/or Churchill knew about the impending Japanese attacks and did nothing, and/or that the attack was deliberately provoked by Roosevelt who kept US forces in Hawaii uninformed of Japanese whereabouts and intentions so that he could bring the US into the war against Germany.
So, how do the events described above work against the conspiracy theory?
First, we see that the American commanders in Hawaii (Admiral Kimmel and General Short) were informed that hostilities were likely as early as 27th November. Why were they informed if Roosevelt's plan for the conspiracy was to keep them uninformed? We also see that these warnings may have had the unfortunate effect of simply reinforcing the perception that when the Japanese attack came it would be focused solely on Southeast Asia. This helps to explain why the US forces on Hawaii weren't prepared - they did not expect the attack at Pearl Harbor, they expected it elsewhere.
Second, how are we to suppose that the conspirators somehow made Kramer and Dusenbury go to bed and prevent the warning being given 13 hours in advance of the attack? In particular, Kramer had made great efforts to ensure that people saw the parts of the message he had - he did not have access to the fourteenth part, which set the deadline. If Dusenbury had gotten through to General Marshall then the US forces in Hawaii would have been alerted before the Japanese attack, instead of being completely unprepared. General Marshall tried to warn US forces in the Pacific as soon as he saw the fourteenth part of the message, but was prevented by technical communications failures. Claiming Marshall was in on the conspiracy won't work either because of this.
Furthermore, the decision not to use the phone to pass on Marshall's signal makes absolute military and political sense, even if it seems baffling to us. They could not risk compromising Magic to warn that negotiations were being broken off, and could not know that the Japanese fleet was already in place for the attack as soon as the deadline passed. The fleet took 11 days to sail into position remember - the US commanders thought they had time even if negotiations were broken off.
We must also not be too harsh in our judgements of Dusenbury - he did not know that the attack on Pearl Harbor was due at 13:00 Washington time (he just knew negotiations would end then - he did not know the Japanese fleet had sailed 11 days beforehand nor what its target was), and he was not responsible for the communications failures that prevented the warning still being given in plenty of time.
Third, Roosevelt was not to blame for the fact that both commanders on the ground failed to act appropriately to warnings they were given, and neither of them shared information with their counterpart that the other should have known. How did the conspirators arrange this? Or are we to assume that the commanders in Hawaii were in on the conspiracy when their commanders, Stark and Marshall, were not?
The biggest problem for the conspiracy comes from something else though - if Roosevelt knew the Japanese were going to attack, and had access to the time of the attack, and knew the location of the attack (all of which are claimed by the conspiracy) then why didn't he just prepare Pearl Harbor for it anyway? The effect would have been the same for his alleged aims if the attack had failed as well. If his aim was to merely enter the war then destroying a surprise attack would have worked as well as almost losing the Pacific Fleet ended up doing, but the risk would have been much smaller and the boost to his credibilty and the effect on the Japanese as valuable as American anger at the attack eventually was. Given the impact of aircraft carriers on the Pacific War, imagine if the Japanese had been without six of them and thier crews and aircraft. The Imperial Japanese Navy would have been devastated, and the US could begin their entry into the war with a magnificent triumph.
Destroying the attempted surprise attack of a perfidious enemy at the last minute would have been a far more successful way for Roosevelt to enter the war - so why would he choose the humiliating and militarily crippling option? It was the Japanese decision not to send in a third wave that saved Pearl Harbor from total destruction - which would have crippled US efforts in the Pacific for at least a year. If Roosevelt was smart enough to engineer an attack that brought him into the war, why was he too stupid to be ready for the attack on his terms to make himself look like the hero instead of the commander in chief caught with his pants down?
As with most conspiracy theories, the alleged actions of the conspirators just don't make sense because there would have been far easier and more successful, not to mention far less dangerous ways to achieve what the conspiracy theorists claim the conspirators wanted.
The conspiracy is crumbling and we haven't even got to the reasons for intelligence or military failures yet.
More importantly though this post has hopefully shown that the PCTs seem so caught up in the grand conspiracy that they never notice it is the little things that often make history, and it is the little things that they can't account for and so simply ignore or dismiss.
How convenient for them.