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Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Pearl Harbor Revisited

Well, it's been going on three months since my last post, and I'm still alive, so I'd better send out another one.

I wrote this almost exactly one year before 9/11; before I had a blog.

At six in the morning of December Seventh, Nineteen Forty One, Hawaii Time, A Japanese Naval Task force of six aircraft carriers and their support craft reached a point two hundred miles north of the Hawaiian island of Oahu. As the first faint light of dawn gleamed in the eastern sky, forty-three fighter planes took to the air. These were followed by one hundred and forty bombers, many of them equipped with a secret new torpedo that was capable of operating in shallow water. Their target was the United States Pacific Fleet, which was at the moment lying at anchor in Pearl Harbor. It was Sunday, and most of the Fleet’s sailors were still asleep. It had been a busy week of one battle-preparedness drill after another, for war with Japan was considered to be just around the corner, and the fleet wanted to be ready for war when it came. It would come much sooner than any of them thought.
At six in the morning in Hawaii, it was 11:30 in the American capital, and after months of frenzied peace talks with the Japanese government, official Washington was strangely silent. The Chief of Staff of the United States Army had just returned from his usual Sunday morning horseback ride. Waiting for him in his office was an intercepted Japanese radio message instructing the Japanese diplomatic delegation that the peace talks were to be permanently broken off as of one p.m. Washington time. The message followed an earlier warning that had come in the week before, warning the Japanese embassy to destroy their code machines and stand by for a complete end to diplomatic relations. When this message was relayed to the Present of the United States on the evening of December Sixth, his response was to say: “This means war.” It was time to alert the Armed Forces in Hawaii and the Philippines to expect an imminent attack.

Back in Hawaii, as the sun came up over the eastern islands, the destroyer Ward detected an unidentified vessel in a secured area and implemented the shoot-on-sight orders that had recently been handed down. The dull thud of an underwater explosion lifted a tiny submarine to the surface of the water. It was obviously not American, and it had been right at the entrance of the Pearl Harbor Naval Base. Word reached the Admiral in Command of the Pacific Fleet that someone was attacking the base, and he hurried to get dressed. Forty-five minutes earlier, back in Washington, the top Commander of the Naval Forces had reached for the telephone to notify Hawaii that war would probably break out within hours, but changed his mind and telephoned the White House instead. At ten forty-five on a Sunday morning, the President’s phone line was busy. The top Army commander and the top Navy commander held a hasty conference, and rather that using official channels, they decided to send a warning message to their field commanders in Hawaii by Western Union Telegram. The telegram made its way across the US to a station in San Francisco, where it was relayed on through another telegraph company to their office in Honolulu. It was handed to a motorcycle-riding delivery boy who set off with the coded message just as a hundred and forty Japanese planes began to fill the sky over Oahu. It was five minutes to eight in Hawaii, and 1:25 in Washington. Two Japanese diplomats were on their way to a 2 p.m. meeting with the American Secretary of State. In their briefcases were copies of the message that had been intercepted by American Military Intelligence a day and a half earlier. Within hours the whole world would know what only a handful could now predict with certainty: The Unites States was at war.

Who was to blame for the two thousand and three sailors, two hundred and eighteen soldiers, one hundred and nine Marines, and sixty-eight civilians killed that fateful morning in Hawaii? Was it the Army and Navy commanders on the ground, who were relieved of their posts and spent the rest of the war fighting to clear their records of unspecified charges? Was it their supervisors in Washington, who right up to the minute of the attack refused to grant them access to the intercepted Japanese radio messages that caused so much alarm in Washington? Was it the president himself, who, while campaigning for an unprecedented third term in office, had assured audiences all over America that he would never, never, never, involve their sons in a foreign war? Who had, since 1939, been carrying out secret negotiations with Winston Churchill as to the conduct of a future war with Germany? Who, in the months leading up to Pearl Harbor, ordered his forces to share all intercepted intelligence information with the British--including information that was denied to his own commanders in Hawaii? Who had ordered, on July 26, that all Japanese assets in America be frozen, an order that everyone involved agreed amounted to an act of war? Who, as the Japanese attack force was secretly steaming east from its base north of Japan, gave orders to the Census Bureau to hand over a list of all the Japanese people in America?

The former commander of the Pacific Fleet, whom the President had dismissed from command at the beginning of 1941 for insisting that to base all of the Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor was to invite a Japanese surprise attack, put it this way to an investigator:

Assume you were the leader of the greatest nation in the world, and assume that you saw, in another hemisphere, the development of a power which you regarded as a threat to Western civilization as you knew it. Supposing, however, that for various reasons, your conception of the danger was not shared by your own people. Assume you saw that the only salvation of Western civilization was to repel this particular power, but that would require you to enter a foreign war for which your people were not psychologically or militarily prepared. Assume that what was needed to galvanize your own people for a unified approach towards this basic danger to civilization was an incident in which your posture was clearly of passive non-aggression and apparent unpreparedness; and the incident in question was a direct act of aggression which had no excuse or justification. Assume that you saw this potentiality developing on the horizon and it was the solution to the dilemma, as you saw it, of saving civilization and galvanizing your own people. It is conceivable, is it not, that you’d want to be sure that whatever the incident, it happened under circumstances where it was perfectly clear that you were not the aggressor, and the resulting incident galvanized your own people to a realization of the terrible threat which they faced from this totalitarian force. 
  What difference does it make to us who was responsible for involving our country in a war which we would have all repudiated? Who really cares, fifty-nine years later, that our nation was deceived into entering a war, a war that cost millions of human lives, by a coldhearted administration that made a calculated choice to act dishonorably in what they perceived to be the best interests of the nation and, ultimately, the entire world? 

Who really cares? I do--not because 10 years ago I stood over the hulk of the USS Arizona where it still lies at the bottom of Pearl Harbor and watched streaks of oil still bubbling up from the watery tomb where half the victims of that attack still lie buried. I care, not because I stood in the Arizona Memorial Visitors Center and listened to a tour guide go through a carefully prepared explanation of that attack, which had been modified to avoid offending the Japanese tourists who stood next to me. I care, not for reasons having anything to do with the fact that I was involved against my will in a war that could have easily been avoided. I care. The war brought about by the attack on Pearl Harbor is long since over; its survivors have by now mostly died; there are few left who still carry in their memories the horrors of that Sunday morning. Wars have come and gone since that time with enough horrors of their own. The full details of all the events leading up to Pearl Harbor will never be fully known. So what does it matter if someone in high places deliberately provoked that attack, suppressing both information that could have prevented it, and information about the attempt to let it take place?

Truth matters. The truth really does matter. What really happened really did happen, and no amount of lies, half-truths, deceptions, and cover-ups take away from that fact. I cannot stand before you today and say that the attack on Pearl Harbor came as a surprise to the highest officials in the US Government any more than I can say that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ was a plot hatched by his followers to gain public sympathy for his teachings. Regardless of what people have been told, regardless of what facts have been manipulated or suppressed, regardless of what the majority of the people believe, the truth is still true. The truth will always stand up to scrutiny. The truth will always bear up under investigation. The truth will always come out, because the truth is what really happened, and no one can ever change that, no matter how much they might wish to. You don’t even have to believe the truth to make it true--it just is.

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