Members of the family of
Adm. Husband E. Kimmel at a hearing during the Congressional Pearl Harbor inquiry in 1995.
Edward ``Ned'' Kimmel, second from right, said the review still fell short of exoneration
of his father, Adm. Kimmel and Gen. Walter C. Short.
A question of honor: After 59 years, military commanders may
be exonerated of wrongdoing
By William Brand
For 59 years, the names of Adm. Husband E. Kimmel and Gen. Walter C. Short have carried
the stigma of two men who were either incompetent or simply in the wrong place at the
wrong time and left way out of the loop.
Just before 8 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941, Kimmel and Short watched as carrier-launched
Japanese aircraft crisscrossed above the Hawaiian Islands, their bombs, torpedoes and
bullets laying virtual waste to U.S. military installations, men and machines commanded by
the two career officers.
It was the Sunday morning attack on Pearl Harbor, and it began the United States'
direct participation in World War II and ended the careers of the islands' two top
military commanders, both of whom had stellar service jackets.
Now, the U.S. Congress wants to reverse the actions taken against the Navy's Kimmel and
Army's Short following the attack. It is asking, by a joint resolution, that President
Clinton exonerate the two men.
|U.S. Army Photo/ Mrs. Florence Short pins the three stars of a
lieutenant general on her husband Gen. Walter C. Short on Feb. 1, 1941. A year later Short
was forced to retire in disgrace. .
The key to the resolution is simple: Washington failed to warn Kimmel and Short that
intercepted Japanese radio messages showed war was imminent.
The resolution asks Clinton to clear Kimmel and Short of any wrongdoing and to
posthumously grant them promotions - promotions that were given to every other World War
II flag officer upon retirement, but were denied Kimmel and Short.
Retired in disgrace, Short died in 1949; Kimmel in 1968. Both were refused courts
martial - trials that would have given them a chance to clear their names.
What has brought this latest effort to restore the names and memories of Kimmel and
Short to ones of respect is the relentless pleas of their families and investigations by
the government and by historians.
Helping the cause is a book published last year by Oakland resident Robert Stinnett, a
WW II Navy Veteran turned historian. His ``Days of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl
Harbor,'' documenting for the first time the real lack of intelligence information given
to Kimmel and Short, continues to draw both raves, from supporters, and objections, from
those who flatly say there was no conspiracy to deprive the two commanders of needed
The Congressional resolution cites a number of government Pearl Harbor inquiries and
notes, for example, that a 1995 Department of Defense study concluded ``Army and Navy
officials in Washington were privy to intercepted Japanese diplomatic communications ...
which provided crucial confirmation of the imminence of war.''
Rejected by Congress previously, this version of the resolution has garnered powerful,
bipartisan backing. In the U.S. Senate, Delaware's Republican William Roth and Democrat
Joseph Biden Jr., carried the proposal, along with Republicans Jesse Helms of North
Carolina and Strom Thurmond of South Carolina.
In the U.S. House of Representatives, John M. Spratt Jr., D-S.C., and Floyd Spence,
R-S.C., were co-sponsors. After approval, the resolution was included in the defense
appropriations bill, which cleared Congress Oct. 30.
Clinton has already signed the appropriations bill, but still must sign an order
concerning the Pearl Harbor commanders to put the Congressional resolution into effect.
So what are the chances of approval of the resolution this time? Perhaps a tossup at
best. The White House has no comment, and a Department of Defense spokeswoman at the
Pentagon said it's unsure if the Army and Navy will recommend that the President sign the
``There's still a lot of opposition here,'' the spokeswoman, Cathy Abbott, said. U.S.
Army historian Col. Fred Borsht served on the 1995 Pearl Harbor inquiry panel and retains
his belief that Kimmel and Short should not be exonerated.
``It's a time-honored tradition in the armed services that the senior man on the spot
when something happens bears ultimate responsibility,'' Borsht said. ``During the
investigation, we went to Pearl Harbor; we looked at Battleship Row; we also looked at all
the millions of pages of documents. I think there were nine investigations,'' he said.
``Speaking only for myself, I came away convinced that both of these men - who were
good men and had been very successful - simply failed to appreciate that technology had
changed and it was, in fact, possible for our forces to be seriously hurt by an aerial
attack,'' Borsht said.
Opinions in the military notwithstanding, members of the Kimmel and Short families hope
the resolution will be signed by Clinton. ``A lot of us have been working for a long time
and I'm tickled to death,'' said Edward R. ``Ned'' Kimmel, Adm. Kimmel's son.
|Robert Stinnett's book Days of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and
The Kimmel and Short families say openly that Stinnett's ``Days of Deceit'' and its
conspiracy implications helped turn sentiment in their favor in Congress.
Short really died of a broken heart, and the fact that he could never clear his name
haunted Kimmel, Stinnett said. If he helped, he's very pleased, he said.
Stinnett's book, published by the Free Press, an imprint of the New York publisher
Simon & Schuster, is based on thousands of long secret American intercepts of Japanese
fleet radio messages that he obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. The
documents indicate America did know an attack was coming.
This is historical revisionism. For decades, revisionist historians have argued that
Kimmel and Short were kept in the dark, because President Franklin D. Roosevelt needed
Japan to attack the United States to inflame Americans and force the country from its
It worked, the argument goes. America entered the war.
The congressional resolution stops short of calling it a conspiracy. Congress cites the
1995 report which found that ``the evidence of the handling of [the intercepted Japanese]
messages in Washington reveals some ineptitude, some unwarranted assumptions and
mis-estimations, limited coordination, ambiguous language and lack of clarification and
follow-up at higher levels.''
Nuts, Stinnett says. There was a conspiracy to keep Kimmel and Short out of the
intelligence circle and it extended as far as Roosevelt. Most historians, though, say
Stinnett's trail of uncovered memos doesn't squarely nail Roosevelt.
With or without a Roosevelt smoking gun,``Days of Deceit'' has created a furor. More
than 100,000 copies have been printed. It will soon be published in Japanese, and a
paperback version with a new epilogue, adding more documentation showing the attack was no
surprise in Washington, is scheduled in the United States in a few months.
``We're so grateful to Mr. Stinnett,'' said Emily Short, the general's daughter-in-law,
who lives in Las Cruces, NM. ``I credit ``Day of Deceit'' with being the needed impetus to
shake the Congress loose from the forces opposing the truth,'' she said.
In Wilmington, Del., Ned Kimmel, 79, a retired lawyer and the admiral's only child,
said the Stinnett book added another important chapter to the long struggle to vindicate
his father and Short.
``When ``Days of Deceit'' came out last December, there was a seminar about Adm. Kimmel
by the Naval Historical Foundation. The book had some helpful information, and it was read
by an awful lot of people,'' he said. Kimmel said a committee is working hard to convince
Clinton to sign the proclamation.
``My opinion is this,'' Kimmel said, ``finally, after all these years, the people of
the United States in the form of the House and Senate have addressed this question, and my
father and Gen. Short are exonerated.''
Most mainstream historians say there never was a plot. But revisionists long have
argued that the attack was anticipated in Washington.
Dissident revisionists argue that Pearl Harbor, while horrible, did what Roosevelt
wanted: It galvanized Americans and drove the country into World War II against the Axis
Congress was right to pass the resolution, Stinnett says. The conspiracy is no theory.
It really happened, he believes.
Researching the book
It took Stinnett, a retired Oakland Tribune photographer who served in the Pacific in
WW II, 17 years of research through volumes of previously classified U.S. intercepts of
secret Japanese radio messages and government memos to produce the book. The radio
intercept-code-breaking information went to Washington, but it didn't come back to Pearl,
he said. He learned about America's secret code-breaking war 20 years ago during a visit
to ``Station Cast,'' a former radio signal listening post in Hawaii, while on a Tribune
After retirement, Stinnett started his own investigation - interviewing former American
military communications personnel and asking our government for long-classified messages,
now controlled by the National Security Agency.
When he was rebuffed - he began firing off Freedom of Information requests - called
FOIAs and based on a law first passed by Congress in 1966, requiring the government to
make records public unless it is in the modern-day security interests of the country to
keep them secret. They're regularly submitted by investigative journalists, but little
used by academics. Today, his office is stuffed with tens of thousands of declassified
memos and messages.
Despite Stinnett's exhaustive effort and support for his conclusions, his detractors
are equally strong in their belief that he has not supported his case.
Stanford History Professor Barton Bernstein said Stinnett's evidence linking Roosevelt
to a plot to allow the Japanese to bomb Hawaii, is flimsy. ``This is a book full of
speculation; the evidence seems to be lacking,'' Bernstein said. He admitted he knows
nothing about the Navy's message intercept and code-breaking prowess.
At the University of California, Berkeley, History Professor Anthony Adamthwaite takes
a more neutral stand. ``There really isn't enough evidence to say if the Roosevelt
Administration knew of an imminent attack on Pearl Harbor,'' Adamthwaite said.
``No doubt there was monitoring of Japanese transmissions going on - but electronic
intelligence was quite new at that time. Now we have the leisure to analyze this data,''
he said. ``But at that time - there was a tremendous amount of data coming in and the
question was - who read the intercepted signals?''
``I don't think the evidential chain is strong enough to reach the conclusion that the
White House let the attack happen,'' he said. ``You have to realize - for Japan to attack
an American base so far way - that would seem like a crazy thing to do from the American
point of view.''
The code question
|U.S. Navy Photo/ Adm. Husband E. Kimmel, the U.S. Naval
commander in Hawaii at the time of the Japanese attack, retired in disgrace. He died in
1968 - still unable to clear his name.
David Kahn, author of a definitive book on U.S. code-breaking, leveled a scathing
attack on Stinnett's code research in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books.
The operating Pearl Harbor attack story long has been that the Japanese Navy task
force, commanded by Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, kept strict radio silence as the fleet crossed
the Northern Pacific en route to Pearl. That's what really happened, Kahn said. No wonder.
``Central to the surprise [attack] was the radio silence of the strike force,'' Kahn
says. ``The Japanese commanders and radio operators alike, say unanimously they never
transmitted any messages.''
He adds that the Japanese code at that time, labeled JN 25, by the United States, had
not been cracked, and U.S. intelligence summaries produced in Hawaii stated there was no
information on submarines or carriers.
Now it's Stinnett who is scoffing.
Sitting in his basement office in his house near Lake Merritt, he pulls out a sheaf of
photocopied message intercepts from the days and hours before the Pearl Harbor attack. All
were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act in May of this year.
The intercepts show that American radio operators in Hawaii, Corregidor in the
Phillippines and near Half Moon Bay here in the Bay Area tracked the Japanese fleet before
the Pearl Harbor attack. The information went to Washington - but it never reached the two
key commanders in Hawaii, Stinnett said.
He also produces a communiqué from the listening station on Corregidor: ``We are
redoing enough current traffic to keep two translators very busy,'' the station commander
wrote Washington on Nov. 16, 1941.
Stinnett adds that after his book was published, four retired Navy officers who worked
at the Navy listening post in San Francisco in 1941 contacted him. One is Charles Black,
husband of former U.S. Ambassador and film star Shirley Temple Black. ``These guys knew we
had broken the Japanese code,'' Stinnett said.
``They didn't say definitely they knew Pearl Harbor was being attacked. But they said
the threat was very well-known in their department in San Francisco,'' he said.
The admission that American cryptographers had broken the Japanese code was kept in
secret U.S. Navy vaults until this May, Stinnett said.
Stinnett believes that one reason the National Security Agency remains reluctant to
declassify the rest of the Pearl Harbor documents is because the United States still
relies on communications intelligence.
``Who knows? Maybe there's some way they can track Saddam Hussein. Maybe they're
monitoring his radio communications, and they don't want publicity about what our
government does,'' he said.
Meanwhile, the mystery continues.
After ``Day of Deceit'' came out last December, the National Security Agency reviewed
documents about U.S. intercepts of coded Japanese messages before Pearl Harbor that
Stinnett had requested.
``They withdrew about two dozen documents,'' Stinnett said. ``I don't know what in the
world was in the text - all I have is the withdrawal slips.''
Not to worry. Stinnett has filed a new Freedom of Information Act
request, naming the 24 withdrawn documents.