Holy moly. Shinzo Abe is going to visit Pearl Harbor “on Dec. 26-27 to pray for the dead”. Who saw that coming? According to the linked report:
“We must never repeat the tragedy of the war,” Abe said. “I would like to send this commitment. At the same time, I would like to send a message of reconciliation between Japan and the U.S.”
Reconciliation? More like reassurance the USA will back Japan over China should push come to bombs. Which is the idea The Japan Times has. A “symbolic gesture to cement the alliance” between our countries.
Anyway, one of the treats Yours Truly provides for his family is to screen (notice the sophisticated lingo) Tora! Tora! Tora! about this time every year. I helpfully point out small details and describe what the film (not movie) got right, what it got wrong. So penetrating and copious are my insights that people have been known to leave the room in order to digest in quiet the profound information I convey.
After seventy-five years intense scrutiny, coming up with something new to say is next to impossible. Unless a hidden diary of FDR admitting he knew Pearl Harbor was going to be attacked, and that he personally leaked a map of Hickam Field to Japanese agents so that America would finally be able to join the war is discovered.
Which all evidence indicates won’t be forthcoming. Nobody on the American side, including the Powers That Were in DC, expected Pearl. Sure, FDR & Co. goaded charter members of the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere in the hopes they would start a fracas, and thus provide the casus belli that was anxiously desired.
But no leader thought Pearl. The Philippines, maybe; even preferably. A blow there would sting, but it couldn’t cripple. And it might have even been welcomed. Even a fishing boat sunk would have been enough.
Pearl shocked the bejesus out of most folks. And it was a damn close thing. If Japanese Admiral Nagumo had launched a third wave of attacks, American might indeed have been pushed back to San Diego, which was what the Japanese were hoping for. But as Tora! Tora! Tora! got right, Nagumo didn’t know where the American carriers were. He could well imagine being caught without air support.
If you can get hold of it, read Admiral Husband Kimmel’s book, Admiral Kimmel’s Story. It and mountainous other information proves he had no idea what would happen. It’s true he was warned about a week before to expect something, but the clues given to him by Washington led him to suspect sabotage. Again, even a smoke bomb tossed over the base’s fence by one of the many Japanese, some of whom were known to be spies, living on Hawaii would have been enough for FDR to spin into a major attack. It was only by luck Kimmel had the carriers away.
I say “most folks” didn’t guess Pearl because some people on the Allied side, though they didn’t know, had deep suspicions. Best single book on the subject is And I Was There: Pearl Harbor and Midway Breaking the Secrets by Edwin Layton, retired Rear Admiral and one-time intelligence officer for Kimmel.
The infighting and petty politics he describes, which ring so true you’ll have to cover the book with a pillow (that metaphor demonstrates the dangers of beer for breakfast). Blame is especially laid at he wet feet of the military bureaucracy. Admiral King (and the Redman brothers, both officers) don’t come out as shiny as their official biographers portray. King nearly lost the war in the Pacific and Atlantic.
Layton tells the story of Joseph Rochefort, a Naval cryptanalyst, who was able to puzzle out many of Japan’s activities, but who was thought to be eccentric because he was reported to wear his bathrobe while working. He did. But that was because the machines with which he worked had to be kept so cool it was either that or develop pneumonia. The supposed eccentricity was used by the jealous Readman brothers to keep the decrypted diplomatic messages from the Purple code from Rochefort and his boss Layton. These were top-level communiques from Japan’s government to its embassy in DC. If Rochefort and Layton, who were at Pearl, had had those cables, there’s evidence which suggests they could very well have figured out what was going to happen.
For his efforts, Rochefort “was recalled from Pearl Harbor and eventually reassigned to command of a floating dry dock in San Francisco.”
Finally, on a familial note, there was a Briggs. Ralph Briggs (don’t know if he’s a relation, but we Briggses and cryptographers stick together), a seaman who claimed he heard the Japanese weather report “East wind rain” broadcast over Japanese civilian radio on 4 December 1941, which was supposed to be an encoded signal which meant relations with the USA were to be broken off. This the controversial Winds Code.
Laurance Safford, another Naval cryptographer, claimed to have passed on Briggs’s discovery to the Washington brass. If so, they should have cautioned Kimmel an attack in the Pacific, but maybe not Pearl, was imminent. But after the war, there was no evidence of a memo from Safford in the records. People think he misremembered.
Update Just saw this. One story among many, but a good one.