One flawed hero, three scapegoats
Last week, browsing through several newspapers, I noted that there was little or no mention of the daring and devastating attack on Pearl Harbor that triggered World War II in the Pacific almost 80 years ago.
In 1941, Dec. 7 fell on a Sunday. It would be remembered as “a date which will live in infamy.” The Japanese attack on the US Pacific fleet in the Hawaiian Islands lasted a little more than two hours. When the last Japanese plane had left, 18 US vessels including eight battleships, had been sunk or damaged. More than 175 aircraft were destroyed on the ground, with another 159 crippled. Some 2,403 servicemen died while another 1,200 were wounded. Japan lost 29 planes, mostly dive bombers.
Some writers have characterized the attack as “treacherous” and “unprovoked.” History paints a different side to the story as official records of events indicate that the United States knew an attack was imminent and “in the two weeks prior to December 7, the nine military commanders in the Pacific area received repeated warnings of impending hostile action by Japan.”
The man behind the Japanese strategy of attack was Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, commander in chief of the Japanese combined fleet. But responsibility for the actual attack on Pearl Harbor was given to the First Air Fleet under Vice Adm. Chuichi Nagumo, a battleship sailor who was chosen on the basis of seniority.
On the American side, Adm. Husband Kimmel was the commander in chief of the Pacific fleet. A graduate of the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, he assumed command at Pearl Harbor in February 1941 after being selected on the basis of merit over the heads of six more senior admirals. Lt. Gen. Walter Short, a graduate of the University of Illinois who was commissioned under the ROTC program, was commander of US army forces in Hawaii, responsible for the defense of military installations in the area.
Among the first actions taken after the attack was the setting up of a board of inquiry to pinpoint responsibility. A joint congressional committee concluded: “The commanders in Hawaii were clearly and unmistakably warned of war with Japan. They were given orders and possessed information that the entire Pacific area was fraught with danger. They failed to carry out these orders and to discharge their basic and ultimate responsibilities.” Admiral Kimmel was relieved from his position and demoted to rear admiral. He opted to take early retirement in 1942. General Short was demoted to the rank of major general, and retired the following year. A third official, Adm. Harold Stark, the chief of naval operations (CNO US Navy), was relieved of his command, assigned to England and after awhile, pushed into retirement.
That was not the end. In May 1999, almost 60 years after the Pearl Harbor tragedy, the United States’ Senate passed a nonbinding resolution exonerating Admiral Kimmel and General Short by a vote of 52 to 47. The senators believed the two were made scapegoats by the Pentagon, calling Kimmel and Short “the two final victims of Pearl Harbor.” President Clinton chose not to act on the resolution.
In 1941, Dec. 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, was a Monday. For Gen. Douglas MacArthur, commander of US Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE), to include the Far East Air Force under Maj. Gen. Lewis Brereton, his day started early at 3 a.m., receiving news of the Pearl Harbor attack from his aides and from Washington. At 5 a.m., General Brereton asked to see MacArthur, for permission to launch an attack on Formosa. He was told the General was too busy. At 7 a.m., he again asked to see MacArthur and was told to return to his office and await orders.
Not until 11 a.m. was Brereton able to get authority for bombing missions. By then it was too late. At around noontime, 54 Mitsubishi bombers and 56 Zero fighters, attacked the Iba airstrip, destroying 16 P-40 fighters on the ground. At Clark, another wave of heavy bombers, dive bombers, and Zeros, delivered a deadly blow against B-17 bombers bunched together on the ground, wingtip to wingtip. Of the 17 B-17s at Clark, 12 were destroyed and four damaged, along with P-40 fighters. In less than an hour of enemy action, MacArthur’s air force ceased to exist. Imagine how even limited air power could have influenced the narrative of Bataan.
Instead of facing a board of inquiry, MacArthur upon arrival in Australia from Corregidor, was awarded the Medal of Honor and appointed Supreme Commander, Allied Forces for Southwest Pacific.
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