6. The Question of Sabotage

What led General Short to prepare for sabotage rather than for military action by the Japanese?

In my opinion the reason for General Short's very brief answer to the war warning message sent him after the 26 November 1941 American rejoinder to Japanese proposals for arriving at a modus vivendi was not, as many people believe, utter nonsense. Short said merely that he was prepared for sabotage. The fact is that everybody in Washington and, apparently, also in Honolulu had but two things in mind as to possible or probably Japanese action. First, the Japanese march was certainly to be to the southward (to Malaya, Thailand, Indo-China, Borneo, or the Dutch East Indies; indeed all their action seemed to point in those directions) and Short was not able to do anything at all about that. Then, secondly, there was incessant talk in America, including in the radio broadcasts and in the writings of columnists, sabotage was what we had to guard against. The generally-held view was that the Japanese were tricky, that attempts to thwart their march would be countered by the various mechanisms of sabotage. This I remember very vividly. And I feel sure that when General Gerow received General Short's message stating that all steps to prevent sabotage had been taken and that he was in liaison with the Navy, General Gerow probably thought "Find business-Short's on the job." So must have the others in Washington who saw it--General Marshall included. By hindsight Short's message seems entirely unresponsive to the message sent him. But the matter of


sabotage as in the air. That's what we had to look out for. Confirmation of this attitude can be seen in various messages. Even the Navy's strong message beginning "This dispatch is to be considered a war warning" ends with "Continental Districts Guam Samoa directed to take appropriate measures against sabotage." Everybody had forgotten all about the war plan of May 1941 which envisaged as the first and most dangerous contingency as surprise air attack on the Fleet at Pearl Harbor. Parenthetically, I may add that those whose memories of World War I included the two great acts of sabotage by German agents in this country (the Black Tom explosion ad the Kingsland Fire) before the U.S. became a belligerent in that war will perhaps agree with me that Japanese sabotage was the thing Americans thought was most to be feared in regard to American territory. Let us not forget that this fear quickly expressed itself very clearly and heartlessly in what was done to thousands of Japanese-American citizens (including Nisei) in California the moment we declared war on Japan. Why did they move them out of the port cities? What were the authorities afraid of? Sabotage! For this reason I, for one, find it difficult to criticize General Gerow in his handling of General Short's message in response to the 26 November message from Washington.

But what about the views held by U.S. intelligence authorities on this question of sabotage? Were they the same as those of the average American citizen, "the man-in-the-street?" I think they were--and just as the views of "the man-in-the-street" of those days were wrong, so it seems were the views of our intelligence authorities. Why? Because we never have paid too much attention to intelligence. After several


thousands of years of experience, who do military and naval authorities seem to pay less attention ton intelligence than to logistics, for instance? Why does intelligence have to play the role of step-child in the conduct of warfare? What is there about intelligence that makes it less desirable as a career than artillery, for example? The reasons are clear when one looks into the matter.

Admiral Theobald lays great emphasis on Tokyo to Honolulu message number 83 of 24 September 1941(the so-called "Bombing Plot Message") and says (p. 46):

After studying Tokyo dispatch #83, no military intelligence organization could fail to reach that deduction (that it was to prepare the detailed plan for a surprise attack on the major units of the Fleet moored there).

Here I think is the kernel of the nut--the secret of why the U.S. was taken by surprise. I have underlined the phrase "no military intelligence organization" in the foregoing extract because I think that our military and naval intelligence organizations had serious defects at that time--and I think they still have. (Theobald does not mean just military, U.S. Army Intelligence, but also U.S. Navy Intelligence.) I think that serious defects in our military and naval intelligence made it possible for the Japanese to take us by surprise at Pearl Harbor. A strong statement? Yes, but I think it is warranted. I will with some diffidence go into this question because I do not know too much about the situation as of 1957. I did know what it was like in 1940-41 and in 1950, four years after the PHR was released. it is clear that the intelligence situation in the U.S. was defective in 1940-41 and in 1950, when the Korean "police action" broke out without warning. Where


were our intelligence services then? What were they doing or thinking about? By 1950 we had CIA. What help was CIA?

Four years after the PHR was released, Major General Sherman Miles, Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence of the War Department General Staff, from April 1940 to February 1942, in what some people may regard as an apologia, has many things to say in an endeavor to explain what appear to have been derelictions of himself and his staff.3 It was an attempt to absolve G-2 from its responsibility for the debacle on 7 December 1941. For the most part he does as good a job of this, perhaps, as could be done to exculpate G-2 from its failures, omissions, and lack of the kind of imagination which might have foreseen and forestalled the disaster caused by the Japanese surprise attack. A salient paragraph among many which could be quoted is the following (p. 71):

The plain fact is that the war warnings sent out by the highest military authorities nine days and more before Pearl harbor were far more authoritative and more definitive of what the Hawaiian commands might expect, and what was expected of them, than any information or interpretations form "magic" that Military or Naval Intelligence could possibly have sent. Complete reliance was placed on the effect those warnings should have had--and did have everywhere except in Hawaii. But Tokyo apparently believed that the incredible might happen and Hawaii be surprised: Washington did not.

General Miles takes it for granted that the warnings sent out by Washington properly alerted all our overseas commands except the one in Hawaii. One wonders about the basis for the General's assumption in this regard. Indeed, in one case, already mentioned, even 12 hours after General MacArthur in the Philippines knew that the Japanese had made the


surprise attack at Pearl Harbor his command was nevertheless taken completely by surprise, when the Japanese destroyed all his plane on the ground, just as they did in Hawaii. General Miles, notwithstanding his statement that (p. 70):

The Hawaiian commands later complained that this "magic" information was not transmitted to them--this in spite of their failure to react to the authoritative warning orders sent them when the situation was commonly known to be far more critical. By comparison, it may be noted that General MacArthur, who had access to "magic," could not later identify the more important "magic" messages; he apparently took no action on them, but alerted his command for war on Washington's warning orders.

This assumes that General MacArthur "alerted his command for war on Washington's warning orders." What does "alerting" mean, anyhow, if a commander loses all his planes by what I think was inattention?

General Miles admits (pp. 70-71) that "there were two "MAGIC" messages ... which have subsequently been held to have been signposts, had we so read them, to Pearl Harbor." The General devotes many words to these two cases and concludes that the signposts pointed to a half-hearted proposal, admittedly discussed in Washington, that the British and U.S. occupy the Netherland Indies before the Japanese did so--and he thus tried to explain away the famous clue contained in a Tokyo message to Berlin telling General Oshima, the Japanese Ambassador to Germany, to tell the Germans: "Say very secretly to them that there is extreme danger that war may suddenly break out between the Anglo-Saxon nations and Japan through some clash of arms, and add that the time of the breaking out of this war may come quicker than anyone dreams." The explanation of Miles (or, better perhaps, the lack of imagination) on the part


of U.S. intelligence agencies appears to me (even by hindsight, or course) to be pretty thin.

Here are two more paragraphs from General Miles' article, both of which I think are of considerable significance:

The last twenty-four hours in Washington before the bombs fell have come in for much scrutiny. Why did the President, with most of the Japanese final answer before him, conclude that it meant war and then, after a fitful attempt to reach Admiral Stark by telephone, quietly go to bed? Why was he in seclusion the following morning? Why was no action taken on the Japanese reply by the Secretaries of State, War, and Navy when they met on that Sunday morning? Why did they not consult the President, or he send for them? Where was everybody, including my humble self? Why, in short, didn't someone stage a last-minute rescue, in good Western style?

The picture undoubtedly is one of men still working under the psychology of peace. They were, to quote Secretary Stimson again, "under a terrific pressure in the face of a global war which they felt was probably imminent. Yet they were surrounded, outside of their offices and almost throughout the country, by a spirit of isolationism and disbelief in danger which now seems incredible." They were men who thought they had done their possible to prepare for impending war, and who had no idea that there was an innocent maiden in need of rescue.

I will add another extract that may be helpful in seeing things in what I regard as their proper light. This extract comes from Secretary Stimson's statement with respect to the report of the Army Pearl Harbor Board, repeated as a footnote (p. 239) to the PHR:

As expressed by Mr. Stimson: "A keener and more imaginative appreciation on the part of some of the officers in the War and Navy Departments of the significance of some of the information might have led to a suspicion of an attack specifically on Pearl Harbor. I do not think that certain officers in the War Department functioned in these respects with sufficient skill. At all times it must be borne in mind, however, that it is easy to criticize individuals in the light of hindsight, and very difficult to recreate fairly the entire situation and information with which the officers were required to deal at the time of the event." See statement of the Secretary of War with respect to the report of the Army Pearl Harbor Board, committee exhibit No. 157.


My own explanation of the failures and derelictions of U.S. intelligence can be stated in few words: I do not think there were any imaginative officers in G-2 or in Naval Intelligence; but more important there was nobody in either the Army or the Navy intelligence staffs in Washington whose most important, if not sole duty, was to study the whole story which the MAGIC messages were unfolding and which played so important a part in our failure to deduce that the Japanese were planning a surprise attack on the U.S. Fleet at Pearl; there was nobody whose responsibility it was to try to put the pieces of the jig-saw puzzle together. Certainly there was nobody in the Army's Signal Intelligence Service who was assigned to or available for this purpose--even if the responsibility for this sort of work had been fixed on that organization, which it wasn't. This was likewise true of the equivalent Navy organization. This important phase of intelligence was a responsibility which in both services was jealously held by the Intelligence staffs. And the distribution of the MAGIC messages was so rigidly controlled that there was nobody in either of these Intelligence staffs whose duty it was to study the messages from a long-range point of view. The persons, officers and civilians, in intelligence, as well as in the White House, had the messages only for so short a time that each message represented only a single frame, so to speak, in a long motion picture film--a film which should have been shown and should have been intently studied as a continuous series of pictures, because they were telling a story. But the film was simply not there to be studied and this was a very serious weakness, I think, in the intelligence organizations of the two Services. It may have been that they


simply did not have the people to devote to such work.

Of course, there are those critics who point to the message which Navy Captain McCollum testified that he thought should be sent to Admiral Kimmel, and to the one which the Army's Colonel Sadtler testified that he thought should be sent to General Short. They, it seemed, sensed that MAGIC was telling a story and was pointing toward a surprise attack, the most likely target being Pearl Harbor. But both efforts came up against stone walls--their superior officers claimed enough had been sent to put Kimmel and Short on full alert: To send more would only confuse them, or worse than that, irritate them. But the latter were obviously wrong--or so it seems to us now--again by the aid of hindsight. Admirals Theobald and Kimmel have made the most of this failure on the part of those above Captain McCollum and Colonel Sadtler to realize how inadequate the warnings that had been sent to Short and Kimmel really were.

The Joint Congressional Committee (Majority Report) clearly felt that what Kimmel and Short were sent by way of information left much to be desired. One thing seems certain, as I have already said; the intelligence arrangements in both Services were inadequate. The Committee reached certain conclusions and made but five major recommendations, the second of which is as follows:

That there be a complete integration of Army and Navy intelligence agencies in order to avoid the pitfalls of divided responsibility which experience had made so abundantly apparent; that upon effecting a unified intelligence, officers be selected for intelligence work who possess the background, penchant, and capacity for such work; and that they be maintained in the work for an extended period of time in order that they may become steeped in the ramifications and refinements of their field and employ this reservoir of knowledge in evaluating material received.


The assignment of an officer having an aptitude for such work should not impede his progress nor affect his promotions. Efficient intelligence services are just as essential in time of peace as in war, and this branch of our armed services must always be accorded the important role which it deserves.

What has been done about this recommendation by the Services? Very little; in fact, I think it can be said that nothing has been done. Of course, we have the Central Intelligence Agency; but is that establishment really responsive to the Joint Committee's recommendation? I hardly think so. The three services no doubt can cite good reasons why they have not made a professional career in intelligence possible or attractive to its officer personnel; no doubt they can cite at length factors and difficulties that would have to be overcome. All I can say is that judging by what the Army has done the attitude toward intelligence seems not to have changed very much, as is indicated by the following editorial which appeared in the Washington Post on 5 December 1955 and which states the case in succinct terms:


Snub to Intelligence

The recent reorganization in the Army General Staff leaves the Military Intelligence Service in an ambiguous and rather humiliating position. Although directors of the other major staff divisions have been designated as Deputy Chiefs of Staff with the rank of lieutenant general, the Chief of intelligence remains a major general with the subordinate title of Assistant Chief of Staff.

The extraordinary thing about all this is that not long ago the special task force which investigated the intelligence problem for the Hoover Commission strongly recommended that in the case of those units associated with the three armed services their chiefs "be evaluated in the organizational structure to level of Deputy Chiefs of Staff in the Army and Air Force, and Deputy Chief of Naval Operations in the Navy." This was a rather prolix way of saying that they ought to have a little more prestige and influence, along with a little more gold braid, than they now enjoy. Why, in the case of all three services, was this recommendation ignored by the Department of Defense?

The chief function of military intelligence is to collate and interpret the information provided by the attaches abroad and by other agencies, such as the CIA, the FBI and its own counterespionage service. Correct interpretation required more than the accumulation of relevant facts; it also requires a considerable knowledge of the psychology of the potential enemy, and this in turn requires an extensive study of his language, history, culture, customs and philosophic tradition, since these afford the keys to such an understanding. But all this, together with the secrecy in which their activities are necessarily cloaked, seems to have made intelligence officers somewhat suspect to a certain sort of politician. Even professional military men are often inclined to discount the value of the critical function exercised by intelligence officers in the discussion of pet military projects or plans.

The question raised by the reorganization is whether we can realistically expect to increase the quality of military intelligence by de-emphasizing its significance. It is hard to see how a career in intelligence can be made to appear to capable officers when the importance of intelligence is so obviously downgraded in comparison with other staff functions.


High-level Army authorities obviously don't think that Intelligence is as important as Personnel, Supply, and similar services. How long will it take before it becomes quite clear to them that Intelligence can be of the greatest help in fighting a war? For too many years intelligence in the Army and in the Navy has been a "dead-end" for officers who showed an interest in it, or an aptitude for it. Is this to continue indefinitely? Do the Armed Forces think that the Central Intelligence Agency will or can do the job? Of course, CIA representatives can be assigned to the headquarters of military commands-- but will that fill the need? I doubt it, I doubt it very much.

The introductory statement of the "Supervisory, Administrative, and Organizational Deficiencies in our Military and Naval Establishments revealed by the Pearl Harbor investigation" (p. 253) the PHR begins as follows:

The Committee has been intrigued throughout the Pearl Harbor proceedings by one enigmatical and paramount question: Why, with some of the finest intelligence available in our history, with the almost certain knowledge that war was at hand, with plans that contemplated the precise type of attack that was executed by Japan on the morning of December 7--Why was it possible for a Pearl Harbor to occur? The answer to this question and the causative considerations regarded as having any reasonably proximate bearing on the disaster have been set forth in the body of this report. Fundamentally, these considerations reflect supervisory, administrative, and organizational deficiencies which existed in our Military and Naval establishments in the days before Pearl Harbor. In the course of the Committee's investigation still other deficiencies, not regarded as having a direct bearing on the disaster, have presented themselves. Otherwise stated, all of these deficiencies reduce themselves to principles which are set forth, not for their novelty or profundity but for the reason that, by their very self-evident simplicity, it is difficult to believe they are ignored.


it is recognized that many of the deficiencies revealed by our investigation may very probably have already been corrected as a result of the experiences of the war. We desire, however, to submit these principles, which are grounded in the evidence adduced by the Committee, for the consideration of our Army and Navy establishments in the earnest hope that something constructive may be accomplished that will aid our national defense and preclude a repetition of the disaster of December 7, 1941. We do this after careful and long consideration of the evidence developed through one of the most important investigations in the history of the Congress.

What have the Services done to ameliorate the deficiencies mentioned? In my opinion, very little. Maybe it would be correct to say "nothing." As a colleague said to me recently "Nothing will be done--until war breaks out. Then, of course, intelligence is no longer treated a step-child." Is that what we want? The chances are that there won't be time to use intelligence after a war breaks out: maybe the U.S. will be down and out by that time.


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3. "Pearl Harbor in retrospect" in the Atlantic Monthly for July 1948, pp. 65-72.

Transcribed and formatted by Patrick Clancey