Page IV-1


The families of Admiral Kimmel are concerned with the "stigma and 
obloquy" flowing from early charges [1] and their persistent effect on 
public opinion. Because it is not sufficient to review the personnel 
actions and investigations which constitute the Government's formal 
actions in these cases, this Section of the review addresses 
accountability, responsibility, and fairness in the "court of public 


Three periods must be distinguished: (1) the early war years, (2) the 
period of response to the reports of the Service boards and of Joint 
Congressional Committee, and (3) the postwar period. 

The Early War Years

The national response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor took two 
forms. The first was the national rage at Japan for the surprise attack, 
captured, echoed, and perhaps led by President Roosevelt's 
characterization of December 7th as "a date which will live in infamy" 
in his speech to Congress. 

The second response, following almost immediately, was shock and 
disbelief at the extent of the devastation, the one-sidedness of the 
battle, and the obvious unreadiness of the American forces. These 
sentiments turned rapidly to incessant demands, that continue to this 
day, for explanation and for identification of those responsible. "[T]he 
American citizenry...were less interested in why the Japanese had 
attacked Pearl Harbor than in how they got away with it." [2] 

Interest immediately and inevitably focused on the officials in command 
in Pearl Harbor. Admiral Kimmel said, "The flood of abuse and 
misrepresentation began immediately after the attack. My court-martial 
was demanded on the floor of the House of Representatives on Monday, 
December 8, 1941." [3]

That same day, Secretary Knox left for Pearl Harbor. After he returned 
and reported to the President, the full text of his report [4] was 
released to the public on December 15th. The relief of Admiral Kimmel 
and General Short was announced on December 17th. Although the press 
releases merely announced their relief without comment and Secretary 
Stimson explained that the action "avoids a situation where officials 
charged with the responsibility 

[1] Mr. Edward R. Kimmel, Thurmond transcript, p. 19
[2] Prange, p. 584 
[3] Kimmel, op. cit., p. 170. General Short was largely silent during 
these years and did not write his memoirs.
[4] The sections pertinent to Admiral Kimmel and General Short are 
quoted in Section III, supra.

Page IV-2

for the future security of the vital naval base would otherwise in this 
critical hour also be involved in the searching [Roberts] investigation 
ordered yesterday by the President" [5], the plain language of the Knox 
report and the juxtaposition of that report with the relief of the 
Hawaiian commanders naturally focused attention on those individuals. 
Admiral Kimmel saw a more sinister interpretation: "After the Secretary 
of the Navy, Mr. Frank Knox, reported to the President the result of his 
inspection at Pearl Harbor, additional statements were released which 
augmented the campaign of vilification." [6] 

The Roberts Commission report, containing the "dereliction of duty" 
language, was presented to the President on January 24, 1942, and 
released to the press that same day. The Commission's findings do not 
indicate a determined effort by the Commission to single out Admiral 
Kimmel and General Short as scapegoats to bear all of the blame for the 
disaster at Pearl Harbor. However, the harm to Admiral Kimmel's and 
General Short's reputations began almost immediately. The headline on 
the front page of the New York Times the next day read: "ROBERTS BOARD 
headline added: "Stark and Marshall Directed Hawaii Chiefs to Prepare - 
Courts-Martial Likely." [7] Admiral Kimmel found that "[w]hen the 
Roberts report was published a veritable hurricane of charges were 
hurled indiscriminately at Short and me." [8]

Although the President stated that that he did not intend to order 
courts-martial or take any other action personally [9] and the Services 
took no further action, the accusation of "dereliction of duty" remained 
unchallenged in public, and the announcements of the retirements of 
Admiral Kimmel and General Short made public the reservation "without 
condonation of any offense or prejudice to any future disciplinary 
action." This had the effect of leaving the issue unresolved in the 
public sphere. Admiral Kimmel complained to Admiral Stark on February 
22, 1942: 

"I stand ready at any time to accept the consequences of my acts. I do 
not wish to embarrass the government in the conduct of the war. I do 
feel, however, that my crucifixion before the public has about reached 
the limit. I am in daily receipt of letters from irresponsible people 
over the country taking me to task and even threatening to kill me. I am 
not particularly concerned except as it shows the effect on the public 
of articles published about me. 

"I feel that the publication of paragraph two of the Secretary's letter 
of February 16 [accepting Admiral Kimmel's retirement "without 
condonation of any offense"] will further inflame the public and do me a 
great injustice." [10] 

[5] Stimson Diary, December 17, 1941
[6] Kimmel. p. 170
[7] James B. Reston. "Roberts Board Blames Kimmel and Short", N.Y. 
Times. Jan 25, 1942, p. 1, col. 8.
[8] Kimmel, p. 170
[9] "Inquiry on Hawaii Urged in Congress", N.Y. Times, Jan 27, 1942, p. 
4, col. 1.
[10] Kimmel, p. 182 

Page IV-3

The need to keep secret the Magic intercepts (of which Admiral Kimmel 
had some knowledge but General Short did not) effectively precluded 
informed and objective public discussion during the war years of the 
Pearl Harbor issue, or final resolution of Admiral Kimmel's and General 
Short's role. The need to keep Magic secret precluded even explaining to 
the public the necessity of keeping it secret. 

Nevertheless, the public clamor for fuller investigation of fault in 
Washington began almost immediately after the publication of the Roberts 
Commission report On January 27th, the New York Tunes reported that 
members of Congress from both parties were demanding a full 
Congressional investigation, asserting that officials in Washington had 
been remiss in failing to follow up on actions being taken at Pearl 
Harbor, and charging that there had not been proper coordination between 
the Army and Navy. [11] The debate in Congress immediately took on a 
partisan political tone, as reported in the press. [12] After the 
initial blaze of interest in additional investigation into 
responsibility for the disaster at Pearl Harbor in early 1942, Admiral 
Kimmel and General Short appeared from time to time in the press in 1943 
and 1944 in connection with the extension by federal law, or waiver, of 
the statute of limitations on courts-martial. Debates in Congress over 
courts-martial also took on a partisan tone as the 1944 election neared. 

The Service Boards and the Joint Congressional Committee

Suggestions that the Army Pearl Harbor Board and the Navy Court of 
Inquiry would clear General Short and Admiral Kimmel began to appear in 
November and December 1944. [14] Admiral Kimmel's counsel, Charles B. 
Rugg, stated publicly that the findings of the Roberts Commission had 
been corrected by the Court of Inquiry: 

"Kimmel Cleared, Says Lawyer

"BOSTON, Dec. 1 - Charles B. Rugg, counsel for Rear Admiral Husband E. 
Kimmel, declared here tonight that "the statement of Secretary of the 
Navy Forestall means that Admiral Kimmel has been cleared" of charges of 

[11] "Inquiry on Hawaii Urged in Congress", N.Y. Times, Jan 27, 1942, p. 
4, col. 1. By the next day, a list of specific topics that many in 
Congress wanted to further investigate was published in the press, 
including the degree of responsibility of the Administration, and the 
reason messages from Washington focused on the Far East as the most 
likely point of attack. Arthur Krock, "Pearl Harbor Issue: Many in 
Congress Want Inquiry", N.Y. Times, Jan 28, 1942, p. 5, col 2. 
[12]Republicans Push Inquiry on Hawaii, N.Y. Times, Jan 28, p. 5, col. 1 
(Representative Whittington of Mississippi told the House that Pearl 
Harbor "could not be permitted to rest by finding the Hawaiian area 
commanders derelict in their duly.").
[13] Kathleen McLaughlin, "House Votes Trial for Short, Kimmel", N.Y. 
Times, June 7, 1944, p. 11, col 8.
[14] E.g., "Hints Vindication of Kimmel, Short", N.Y. Times, Nov. 26, 
1944, p. 44, col. 3; Lewis Wood, "Kimmel and Short Will Not be Tried", 
N.Y. Times, Dec. 2, 1944, p. 1, col. 7. 

Page IV-4

liction of duty at Pearl Harbor." [15]

Final release of the reports made front page news in August 1945, with 
reports that Marshall, Secretary of State Cordell Hull, Stark and 
Lieutenant General Leonard Gerow [16] had also been cited for various 
failures. [17]

After the war, the veil of secrecy was lifted from the intercepts, and, 
with the permission of President Truman [18] the Joint Congressional 
Committee explained the Magic intercepts and published the full texts of 
the critical messages. Again, issues associated with the Congressional 
investigation stimulated lively partisan debate, with accusations that 
Democrats on the Committee would control the proceedings. [19] In July 
1946, the Joint Congressional Committee's findings were described in the 
press as exonerating Roosevelt and determining that "the overshadowing 
responsibility . . . lay with the Navy and Army commanders in Hawaii," 
Admiral Kimmel and General Short. While neither Admiral Kimmel nor 
General Short was happy with the Commission's findings, General Short at 
least could argue that ". . .I am satisfied that the testimony presented 
at the hearings fully absolved me from any blame and I believe such will 
be the verdict of history. As I have stated before, my conscience is 
clear." [21] Testimony to the completeness of the Commission's review is 
the fact that the many analyses and interpretations published since 1946 
have drawn primarily on the primary sources published in the JCC 
hearings record. 

The Post-War Period

On the other hand, sober analysis in the years since the publication of 
the Joint Congressional Committee's report has produced a number of 
works of nuanced and balanced scholarship which constitute the 
beginnings of the verdict of history. Those works, based on a careful 
reading of the entire record of the Joint Congressional Committee and of 
other primary sources that have come to light in the intervening years, 
are creating a responsible and increasingly accurate and just 
understanding of the tapestry of failure at Pearl Harbor. Ultimately, in 
a free society this must be the function of the academic community, and 
it is one that the academic community is performing well in this case. 

[15] N. Y. Times, Dec. 2, 1944, p. 5, col. 6.
[16] In December, 1941, a brigadier general and Chief, Army War Plans 
CENSURED", N.Y. Times, Aug. 30, 1945, p. 1., col. 1. The full texts of 
the Army and Navy reports were reproduced in section 2 of the same issue 
of the Times.
[18] JCC, Appendix C
[19] C. P. Trussell, "Angry Senators Debate on 'Records' of Pearl 
Harbor", N.Y. Times, Nov. 3, 194r, p. 1, col. 6; "Hannegan Says 
Republicans are Trying to Smear the Memory of Roosevelt", N.Y. Times, 
Nov. 18, 1945, p. 2, col. 5; W. H. Lawrence, "Pearl Harbor Inquiry 
Enmeshed in Politics", N.Y. Times, Nov. 18, IV, p.5, col. 1.
[20] William S. White, "Roosevelt Found Blameless for Pearl Harbor 
Disaster", New York Times, July 21, 1946, p. 1, col. 2. "Short 
Reiterates Stand," New York Times, July 21, 1946, p. 12, col. 6. 

Page IV-5


Without question, Admiral Kimmel and General Short got "bad press" in 
the war years, especially in the immediate aftermath of the attack and 
of the publication of the Roberts Commission's report. The critical 
contribution of Magic and Purple to the war effort meant that questions 
could not be answered while the war raged, and in that sense to some 
degree Admiral Kimmel and General Short's reputations were sacrificed to 
the war effort. While concentration on them deflected attention away 
from others, perhaps conveniently, there is no evidence of organized 
efforts to make Admiral Kimmel and General Short into "scapegoats" and 
little evidence of efforts to vilify them personally. In particular, 
there is no evidence of official government actions directed only 
against their reputations. There is, however, also no evidence of 
government actions to deflect criticism from Admiral Kimmel and General 

Pearl Harbor occurred in the midst of a spirited debate between 
isolationists and interventionists. The energies of those debates were 
not stifled by Pearl Harbor, but redirected. To a certain extent, 
Admiral Kimmel and General Short became *causes celebre* in that 
partisan rivalry. This was, and occasionally is today, the result of the 
politically charged world in which officers holding three-star and four-
star positions become involved by virtue of their high public offices, 
often with consequences out of all proportion to one's talents or 
standing as a military professional. Indeed, Admiral Kimmel willingly 
and even eagerly entered that fray, keeping the issue of his reputation 
before the public; his autobiography details his efforts, some of which 
have been cited in this report. [22] 

With the publication of the Joint Congressional Committee's report -- a 
gold mine of primary sources -- and the growing body of valid 
scholarship, a responsible and increasingly accurate and just 
understanding of the nature of the failure at Pearl Harbor is emerging. 
In this process Admiral Kimmel and General Short are taking their 
rightful place -- certainly not solely to blame for the disaster at 
Pearl Harbor but also certainly not entirely innocent of error. There is 
nothing that government can or should do to alter that process. 

[22] Kimmel, op. cit.

Page maintained by Larry W. Jewell, Created: 12/24/96 Updated: 12/24/96