Historical News and Comment
An Interview with Admiral Kimmel
Dean Clarence Manion
December 7. Whenever this fateful date reoccurs on the calendar, it invariably revives a flood of tragic and painful recollections. The pain of recollection will be intensified this year when you read the recently published frank, and informative, memoirs of the widely experienced and universally respected General Albert C. Wedemeyer [Wedemeyer Reports! -- Ed.]. This big revealing book begins and ends with the emphatic and unequivocal assurance that the attack on Pearl Harbor could have been -- and should have been -- prevented, and that the United States could have -- and should have -- stayed out of World War II.
Says Wedemeyer, and I quote: "The Soviet colossus would not now bestride half the world had the United States kept out of war -- at least until Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany had exhausted each other. But Franklin D. Roosevelt, the proclaimed champion of democracy," continues the General, "was as successful as any dictator could have been in keeping Congress and the public in ignorance of his secret commitments to Britain. Commitments which flouted the will and the wishes of the voters who had reelected him only after he had assured them that he would keep us out of the war. The fact that Japan's attack had been deliberately provoked was obscured by the disaster at Pearl Harbor," says Wedemeyer. "President Roosevelt had maneuvered us into the war by his patently unneutral actions against Germany and the final ultimatum against Japan."
So much for the beginning of the Wedemeyer Reports! Near the conclusion we find this, and I quote again:
"On December 4th, 1941, we received definite information from two independent sources that Japan would attack the United States and Britain, but would maintain peace with Russia. On December 6, our intercepts told us, the Japanese would strike somewhere the very next day. President Roosevelt," he says "had ample time to broadcast a warning that might have caused the Japanese to call off the attack." "In any event," continues the General, "we would not have permitted 3,500 Americans to die in Hawaii without an opportunity to fight back."
Who, then, was responsible for the bloody surprise at Pearl Harbor? A few days after the bombs fell there, President Roosevelt made a radio speech to the American people in which he condemned the treachery that propelled us into war, and called Sunday, December 7, 1941 a day that will live in infamy. Mr. Roosevelt was never more truly prophetic than he was when he spoke those words. The infamy of Sunday, December 7, 1941 becomes increasingly notorious with each passing year. Ever more and more certainly that calamitous day is being firmly established in history as the infamous time when more than 3,000 American soldiers and sailors were sentenced to sudden and violent death by the calculated and deliberate dereliction of their own Commander-in-Chief.
Pearl Harbor was but the bloody beginning of what is yet an endless tale of woe. Down with the sacrificed sailors and soldiers went the heart and soul of our proud Pacific Fleet. But with the flotsam of this powerful and humiliating holocaust came the corrosive curse of Communism to poison the whole stream of human civilization. The bright light of freedom that was extinguished by Mr. Roosevelt's dreadful "day of infamy" may not come on again for a thousand years.
Fixing the responsibility for this terrible catastrophe has been a delayed and difficult task. In war the truth is always the first casualty. It was so at Pearl Harbor. The American people were shocked by this successful sneak attack, and enraged at the realization that it had dragged them into the foreign war from which the president had promised "again, and again, and again" to steer then clear. Popular clamor demanded appropriate scapegoats, and the president obligingly and promptly met the popular demand by nominating for disgrace two men who, respectively, commanded the United States Army and Navy forces in Hawaii on that fatal day.
The American people did not know then that the president and his top military advisors in Washington had been intercepting Japanese secret messages for many months, and that as General Wedemeyer has said, "These messages had finally indicated the time, the place, and the character of the Pearl Harbor attack, days in advance of December 7," Neither did the American people know then that this dreadful and important information had been deliberately withheld from the men who were most entitled to know it, namely, the top commanders of the United States Army and Navy forces in Hawaii.
Ten years ago the distinguished newsman George Morgenstern wrote and published what he called Pearl Harbor: The Story of the Secret War. The politicians saw to it that Morgenstern's early revelation was given the silent treatment in the press of the country. But, in that book today, you can trace the long, sadistic persecution that was forced upon two great military men who were selected as the scapegoats for the day of infamy.
Namely, Lieutenant Walter C. Short and Rear Admiral Hus band E. Kimmel. General Short is now dead, but Admiral Kimmel is now living in Connecticut. Three years ago, he published his own book about Pearl Harbor, which is authentic, remarkably restrained and entirely without rancor [Admiral Kimmel's Story -Ed.].
In the magazine section of the Chicago Tribune, he writes an up-date of his findings concerning the available warning that was never given to him. Admiral Kimmel happens to be my life-long personal friend. Last week I went to his home to obtain his direct answers to key questions about the Pearl Harbor attack. Here is my recorded interview with this distinguished, long-suffering man, to whom the officers and trustees of his alma mater, The United States Naval Academy, recently gave an extended testimonial for the patriotism, loyalty, ability, fortitude and devotion to duty that he displayed at Pearl Harbor, before, on and after the 7th day of December, 1941.
CM: Admiral Kimmel, for myself and the radio audience, I am very grateful for the privilege of this interview. You know, of course, that you hold the key to one of the great tragic mysteries in our country's history. What you are doing here to day is a continuation of the great patriotic service to which your whole life has been dedicated.
HEK: Thank you, Dean Manion. In view of our long family friendship, I'm delighted to give this information to you, and through you, to the American people.
CM: To your present knowledge, how many people knew in advance that the Japanese planned to attack Pearl Harbor on December 7?
HEK: I believe those who had seen the intercepted and decoded Japanese messages, including the 14 part message received on December 6 and December 7, 1941, knew war with Japan was inevitable. And the almost certain objective of the Japanese attack would be the fleet at Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1941, at 1 p.m. Washington time.
CM: Who are some of these people and from what source did they get the information?
HEK: Those who saw the intercepted Japanese messages as they were received included: the President, Mr. Roosevelt; the Secretary of State, Mr. Hull; the Secretary of War, Mr. Stimson; the Secretary of the Navy, Mr. Knox; the Chief of Staff of the Army, General Marshall; the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Stark; the Chief of War Plans, Army, General Gerow; the Chief of War Plans, Navy, Admiral Turner; the Chief of Army Intelligence, General Miles; Chief of Naval Intelligence, Admiral Worthington. Recorded testimony shows that all of these, except General Marshall and Admiral Stark were shown 13 parts of the 14-part message by 9 p.m. December 6, 1941, or shortly thereafter. When Mr. Roosevelt had read the 13 parts, about 9 p.m. December 6, 1941, he remarked: "This means war." All investigations of the disaster have failed to disclose where George Marshall spent the evening of December 6, 1941, or what he did. Admiral Stark, some two years after he had first been asked, finally produced evidence that he had attended the theater on that evening, though he still maintained that he had no independent recollection of where he spent the evening or what he did during the evening of December 6, 1941. In 1957, I received information, which I believe to be reliable, that the British subject serving in the Chinese government as commissioner of education and intelligence in China, received on November 30, 1941, from his intelligence sources in Japan, information of the planned at tack on Pearl Harbor to be launched on December 7. Where the Japanese fleet would congregate to launch the planes, the hour the planes were to be launched, the berths of the U.S. fleet in Pearl and which ships were to be bombed first. This information was sent to London in a coded message, on Sunday, November 30, and Monday, December 1, 1941. Whether the Chinese commissioner's intelligence was transmitted from London to Washington, I do not know, but it appears highly probable that it was made available to Mr. Roosevelt. If Mr. Roosevelt did, in fact, receive the Chinese commissioner's intelligence, it was merely a detailed confirmation of the intercepted Japanese messages already available to him.
CM: In your opinion, why were you and General Short not notified well in advance that the attack was expected?
HEK: My belief is that General Short and I were not given the information available in Washington and were not informed of the impending attack because it was feared that action in Hawaii might deter the Japanese from making the attack. Our president had repeatedly assured the American people that the United States would not enter the war unless we were attacked. The Japanese attack on the fleet would put the United States in the war with the full suppport of the American public.
CM: Thank you, Admiral Kimmel, for this interview and for the patriotic persistence with which you have pursued and corralled the tragic facts about the attack upon Pearl Harbor.
My friends, you now have the authentic postscript on memorable day of infamy in 1941.
Seventeen years later the United States stands poised once more on the brink of shooting war. If the fighting must start again, let us demand the full truth in advance as a condition precedent to the conflict. Are we again bound by secret commitments which put the interest of other countries ahead of the interests of the United States? Are our far-flung armed forces spread around the world for our own defense, or as an assurance that we will automatically participate in every brushfire that breaks out any place on earth? The terrible truth about Pearl Harbor should galvanize our foreign policy with impenetrable armor of our own national self interest.
At long last, the finally revealed truth has revived righteous respectability of a policy that put the interest of America first.
(This interview was broadcast under the auspices of The Manion Forum in Fall, 1958.)
From The Journal of Historical Review, Winter 1991 (Vol. 11, No. 4), pages 495-499.