The Real Essence of the Problem

Distilled down to its essence, therefore, the first question is: Did MAGIC really contain clear and unequivocal indications as to exactly where and when we would be hit by the Japanese in the war which Roosevelt knew, or was expecting, or at least felt was in the offing?

Much has been written on this basic question; hundreds of thousands--indeed, millions of words, in fact--have been published on the question in an attempt to answer it either affirmatively or negatively. If some Americans now scoff at the whole business and say that all that could be said on the point was said years ago--why not stop flogging a dead horse?--let them note that in as staid and unsensational a newspaper as The Wall Street Journal there appeared a long review of Admiral Kimmel's Story in the issue for 14 January 1955, accompanied by a lengthy editorial entitled "Pearl Harbor" in the same issue; let them note, too, another lengthy editorial entitled "Myth of the broken code" in the issue of the same newspaper for 21 January 1955; let them read also the baker's dozen "Letters to the Editor" in the issues for 21 January, 31 January, 4 February, and 6 February 1955, all commenting upon the two editorials and the book review mentioned above. The question therefore can by no means be said to be "dead and buried;" in fact, even to this day references to the "MAGIC" that was available and was not used at the time of Pearl Harbor keep popping up in the daily newspapers, in periodicals, and in books. For instance, there are two "Letters to the Editor" in the Washington Post on Pearl Harbor as recently as 31 December 1956 and 4 January 1957. And


as I write this brochure word has just come that the Chicago Tribune is about to publish another (revisionist, no doubt) article on the subject.

let me therefore repeat the question: Did MAGIC really contain clear and unequivocal indications as to exactly where and when we would be hit by the Japanese in the war which Washington knew, or was expecting, or at least felt was probably soon to come?

In this brochure I shall attempt to dispose of this basic question in a rather simple and, in my opinion, a definitive manner by attacking it is what may seem to be a round-about way. But just before getting right down to it I will place before the reader a short extract from a book published late in 1956 by a recently-deceased and a highly-respected (by certain Americans who knew him) Japanese whose words were such--he died in prison--as to indicate that he had no particular reason for hiding the truth. I refer here to the book written by Shigemori Togo, the man who was Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor and across whose desk there certainly must have passed the most important of the messages to and from the Foreign Office and Japanese ambassadors, ministers, and consuls abroad.1

It is to be noted, and indeed emphasized, before going into this phase of the subject, that at the time of the attack the only cryptographic systems which the U.S. cryptanalytic agencies had solved and were able to read were not the Japanese military or naval systems; they were only the systems used by the Foreign Office. Whatever intelligence the U.S. authorities were able to obtain from MAGIC therefore must have been and


was clearly derived from Japanese diplomatic communications. With this fact in mind let us take a look at an item of much interest in Togo's book (pp. 118-119 and 197):

It is not difficult to conceive the extent of the tyranny of the military power from the fact that on the eve of the Pacific War such a fundamental datum as the total tonnage of Japanese naval vessels--not to speak of the displacement of the gigantic battleships Yamato and Musashi, or the plan to attack Pearl Harbor--was vigilantly withheld from the knowledge of the civilian cabinet ministers. General Togo even told me in Sugamo Prison that it was only at the IMTFE that he had first learned that the Japanese task force which carried out the attack on Pearl Harbor had assembled at Hitokappu Bay on 10 November, and weighted anchor for Hawaii on the morning of the 26th! The high command did not divulge its secrets even to the full general who was Premier and Minister of War; it is easy to conceive how other ministers were treated.

* * * * * * * * * *

The war decision was thus made, and various problems which would arise with the opening of the war were submitted to meetings of the Liaison Conference. One thing which--needless to say--was not discussed in the Liaison Conference was operational aspects of the impending hostilities. It was disclosed at the IMTFE that the naval task force under Admiral Nagumo had sailed from Hitokappu Bay on 26 November under orders to strike Pearl Harbor, and in its judgment the tribunal made the absurd finding that the scheduled attack was freely discussed at the meeting of the Liaison Conference on 30 November. We had, of course, no knowledge of the plan; it was the invariable practice of the high command not to divulge to civilian officials, such as us, any scrap of information bearing on these highly secrete operations, and anyone familiar with the system will readily understand our total lack of knowledge of them. (This condition is sufficiently well illustrated by the fact, which I have mentioned elsewhere, that Tojo told me that it was only at the IMTFE trail itself that he first learned any operational details of the Pearl Harbor attack; a mass of additional evidence was adduced at the trial showing that the civilian members of the Cabinet had no prior knowledge even of the existence of the plan to attack Hawaii.)

It is a fair and logical deduction to conclude that if Togo was telling the truth, i.e., that the civilian members of the Japanese Cabinet, including Prime Minister Togo and the Foreign Minister himself, had no


prior knowledge of the plan, including of course the exact date on which the Pearl Harbor attack was to take place (as set by the Japanese high command) then the MAGIC messages themselves in the communications from and to the Foreign office could not possibly have contained any definite information, let alone a clear-cut statement, on this very important point. And if the MAGIC messages did not contain this information or statement how could President Roosevelt or any members of his immediate official family, or the heads of U.S. Army and U.S. Navy intelligence staffs know from the MAGIC messages exactly where and when the attack was coming? But this question does arise: did Togo tell the truth in his book? If he did, how are we to explain certain of the MAGIC messages the records of PHR contain?

After re-reading the hundreds of MAGIC messages that were exchanged between the Foreign Ministry and its offices abroad in the year 1941 it seems fantastic, it strains our credulity, to believe that Togo did not know what was being planned. To mention only one set of messages, the "dead line" messages--after which "things are automatically going to happen"--how could Togo not know what was being planned? How are we to explain them, if he didn't know that the U.S. was going to be attacked? But let it be remembered that we are now re-reading the messages from the vantage point of hindsight. There is not a single message that can be said to contain categorical evidence proving that Minister Togo must have known that Pearl Harbor was to be the target. In 1946, and even now when we re-read those messages in Part 12 of the PHR, i realize that it is fantastic that somebody in U.S. Intelligence did not or could not see that the blow was being prepared against Pearl Harbor. But if we


believe Togo was an honorable man and was telling the truth, then we must conclude that he and his closest associates in the Foreign Office were not better at intelligence than our own intelligence authorities! They knew or only guessed that something was going to happen after 20 November 1941, but they didn't known exactly where or when! Or shall we assume that somebody in the Japanese Foreign Office, some subordinate of Togo, the Foreign Minister, was "in on the secret"--and it was he that took care of all the messages that pointed to Pearl Harbor? Could be! Could easily be! How many messages going out of any one of our own large executive departments and signed by the Secretary thereof are actually seen by the Secretary? But I do not wish to belabor the point. let us merely say that it is quite possible that Togo saw none of the crucial messages or, what is more probable, that he saw them but, not being "in on the secrets" of the Japanese high command, did not draw the correct deductions--that the U.S. was to be attacked, without warning, at Pearl Harbor in the early hours of 7 December 1941, and that the object of the attack was to destroy the U.S. Pacific Fleet if possible. But let us also remember that reading the MAGIC messages in 1946 or in 1956 is analogous to reading the final chapter of a detective tale--before the preceding chapters, with their false and purposely misleading clues injected by the author to evoke the reader's interest. In reading such a detective story in the normal manner the final chapter often makes the reader feel inferior, even silly, that he could not see the truth, the real elements of the mystery right from the beginning. The Japanese were getting intelligence reports--call them if you will, "ordinary spy reports" from several U.S. military bases


besides Hawaii, such as the Philippines, Panama Canal, Seattle, and San Francisco. It is true that Japanese interest in Pearl Harbor seemed to be and actually was much greater than at any other base; but one could also say that this greater interest stemmed from a perhaps justifiable fear by the Japanese that the U.S. Pacific Fleet might sortie some dark night and strike the first blow at Japan. They, as well as the U.S., did not want to be taken by surprise! Perhaps an intelligence specialist with the proper kind of imagination might have hit upon the real reason for the greater Japanese interest in Pearl Harbor, but who can be certain of this? All that can safely be said in regard to the Togo statement in this: Both he and Prime minister Togo may have been told, or they may have guessed, that Japan was going to strike--but not exactly where and when. These two very important elements the Japanese high command kept to itself, even after the task force left Japanese waters. And for those revisionists who think the U.S. note of 276 November 1941 was an ultimatum and that it was that note which triggered off the attack on Pearl, let them ruminate on the fact that the Japanese task force which attacked Pearl left Japanese waters the day before that note was sent off by Secretary of State Hull. His note may have constituted an ultimatum--but it did not bring on the attack. The attack was planned very carefully, months before that, and, to repeat, was already launched to the point of having departed from Japanese waters.

But there is another revisionist prop, and a very important one, I must emphasize, which I wish to undermine, for it should be greatly weakened when consideration is given to another argument which is so obvious


and simple that it has been a source of astonishment to me that the revisionists themselves have not thought of it. (Parenthetically I want to preface the argument by saying that any hesitancy I might have in stating it melts away when I find that several very able naval historians with whom I have discussed it expressed astonishment that it had not hitherto been mentioned. One of them said of it in a recent personal letter: "In retrospect I realize that some of the ideas you mentioned about the events leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor (like Columbus' egg trick!) are startling in their simplicity and obviousness--which is probably why no one has heretofore recognized their importance." My contention, I think warrants taking a new look at a certain phase of the Pearl Harbor mystery--if indeed there is any mystery about the factors entering into our being taken by surprise.


Table of Contents
Previous Section*   Next Section


1. The Cause of Japan. New York; Simon and Schuster, 1956.


Transcribed and formatted by Patrick Clancey