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Pearl Harbor: The Verdict of History

Pearl Harbor: The Verdict of History

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by Gordon W. Prange

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The monumental bestseller At Dawn We Slept was a landmark recreation of the apocalyptic events of December 7, 1941. This provocative sequel delves even further to examine the underlying causes of Pearl Harbor and the revisionist theories that Roosevelt and other high officials knew about the attack.

With the same imposing scholarship and narrative drive that


The monumental bestseller At Dawn We Slept was a landmark recreation of the apocalyptic events of December 7, 1941. This provocative sequel delves even further to examine the underlying causes of Pearl Harbor and the revisionist theories that Roosevelt and other high officials knew about the attack.

With the same imposing scholarship and narrative drive that distinguished its predecessor, Pearl Harbor uncovers the secret roles played by the president, his cabinet secretaries, admirals, and generals in the weeks before the attack. Based on more than forty years of research, extensive interviews, and an insider's knowledge of the military, this book poses an explosive and highly convincing new theory of America's entry into the Pacific War. Like the very best works of history, it not only expands but dramatically deepens our understanding of the vents that were once the province of myth and rumor.

Editorial Reviews

Chicago Tribune
This excellent book confirms that the story behind the attack on Pearl Harbor...can match a good detective yarn for suspense and complexity...The authors of Pearl Harbor are first-rank historical gumshoes.
Wall Street Journal
Mr. Prange has been called the "dean of Pearl Harbor historians." The accolade—with appropriate credit to his associates—is deserved.

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Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
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6.14(w) x 9.22(h) x 1.23(d)

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Pearl Harbor

The Verdict of History

By Gordon W. Prange, Donald M. Goldstein, Katherine V. Dillon


Copyright © 1986 Anne Prange and Prange Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-8949-3


"We Were All Out There"

Were the American people primarily responsible?—The role of the press—Post-World War I disillusionment—"Merchants of Death"—Reluctance to increase armed forces—Assurance of U.S. safety—Postevent press charges—Isolationism

Almost before the echoes of Japanese engines had died away, some individuals in the United States declared that the American people must accept a portion of the blame for Pearl Harbor, because of "our blindness, our provincialism, our complacency, even our ignorance as a people." Seldom if ever has the nation indulged its propensity for self-chastisement and breast-beating more thoroughly than in relation to Pearl Harbor. Each investigation, each development, brought a fresh outburst, culminating on August 30, 1945, when President Harry S. Truman pronounced: "... the country as a whole is basically responsible in that the people were unwilling to take adequate measures to defense [sic] until it was too late to repair the consequences of their failure to do so."

Was this a valid judgment? Did Truman's remark spring from a profound search for the root of the matter, or had he spread the responsibility so thinly that no one could carry more than a token share?

Certainly, responsibility for the American aspects of what happened on December 7, 1941, was too widely diffused to pin exclusively on any one man, or even any two men. Newspaper editor William Allen White warned against passing the buck too far, however, although he added courageously, "... the writer of these lines is by no means innocent."

This admission made White a rare bird among journalists. Yet the American press had been the prime medium of popularizing and perpetuating myths of Japanese inferiority, of American superiority, of the country's security from Axis attack. For example, an editorial in the Chicago Tribune on Navy Day, 1941, ridiculed the idea of war with Japan:

She cannot attack us. That is a military impossibility. Even our base at Hawaii is beyond the effective striking power of her Fleet. She may threaten the Philippines but the Philippines are of so little vital interest to this country that we have already arranged to give them their independence within five years.

And what has Japan that we want? Nothing.

Thus the Tribune bestowed its prestige upon two dangerous fallacies: First, the United States held in its own hands the choice of peace or war; second, Hawaii was out of reach of the Japanese Navy. Moreover, the Tribune callously suggested that the United States should toss the Philippines to the wolves because its "vital interests" were not directly involved, although in 1941 those islands were under American protection.

Possibly the Honolulu Advertiser tacitly included the press when it admitted that the errors in judgment involved at Pearl Harbor "belonged to all America, and, thus all America must share in the national complacency that found us unprepared."

The reasoning of those who blamed the people split into two streams. The first took an almost mystical attitude of mea culpa. The people of the United States had sinned, so the Lord punished them with Japanese bombs and torpedoes as the modern equivalent of fire and brimstone. Henry R. Luce spoke for this school of thought: "The disaster ... was a sign of all the weakness and wrongness of American life in recent years." Following publication of the report of the tragedy that Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox made shortly after the event, the blunt-penned Dorothy Thompson poured an avalanche of scorn over her countrymen:

And I will tell you where the ultimate responsibilities lies, for Hawaii and for everything else. It lies with us....

For a whole generation the American idea has been to get as much as it could for as little effort. For a whole generation the American motto has been, "I guess it's good enough."

I accuse us. I accuse the twentieth-century American. I accuse me....

Walter Lippmann carried this reasoning another decimal point or two: "... what happened at Pearl Harbor is the very pattern and image of the deadly illusions and the moral failings which have prevailed among us since the other war ..."

Others took a more practical view of why the American people were culpable. The Meridian (Mississippi) Star crisply expressed this rationale: "For years and years we refused to face facts and demand from our congressmen an army, navy and air corps big enough and strong enough to hold its own against all comers.... The result? A nation that was unprepared...."

The Charleston (West Virginia) Gazette attributed this torpor to the fact that some "honestly thought we could build a wall of steel around ourselves and retire within it in complete safety, there to remain isolated until the storm passed."

This withdrawal did not result from a heartless disregard for the rest of humanity. No natural disaster could occur in so remote a corner that Americans would not reach into their hearts and pockets to help alleviate suffering. But to involve themselves again in the Old World's man-made holocausts was something else.

The United States had entered World War I in a spirit of high sacrifice. Uncle Sam and his noble allies would fight the war to end all wars, would make the world safe for democracy, a world fit for heroes to live in. After they came out of the ether, American survivors looked around and what did they see? In Germany an iron-fisted, sadistic regime which made Kaiser Bill's "huns" look like Boy Scouts by comparison; Benito Mussolini, trying to remodel the genial Italians into scowling Roman warriors, had hooked them ignominiously to Adolf Hitler's tailboard; Russia was proving that if you scratched a commissar you drew Romanov blood; Japan had run amok.

Instead of war being at an end, the nations of Europe and Asia were arming to the back teeth; the world had never been less safe for democracy; it was not a suitable abode for everyday, peace-loving human beings, let alone heroes. An indignant public concluded that Uncle Sam had been played for a sucker.

Popular imagination seized upon "merchants of death," a catch-phrase of the 1930s, publicized by a number of books on the manufacture and sale of armaments. This concept culminated in the Senate investigations of the munitions industry held between 1934 and 1936, presided over by Senator Gerald P. Nye of North Dakota. Nye's committee found:

While the evidence ... does not show that wars have been started solely because of the activities of munitions makers and their agents, it is also true that wars rarely have one single cause, and the committee finds it to be against the peace of the world for selfishly interested organizations to be left free to goad and frighten nations into military activity.

It was not a pretty picture that the Nye Committee held up to the eyes of a disgusted nation. Not the least disquieting aspect of the inquiry was the revelation of the close relationship between the armed forces and the munitions industry. Naturally, the Army and Navy wanted the United States to have a strong capacity to produce armament, but in some cases they went over the line. Perhaps most damaging from the standpoint of the American people, testimony concerning the munitions industry's publicity campaigns cast doubt upon the credibility of the press in crisis reporting. Nye remarked to a witness that he had noted over a period of nine years

that just preceding the advent of each naval appropriation bill we have had a great deal in the papers about trouble with Japan. How much of these annual scares are occasioned by what was strictly propaganda, having your own personal interests at stake? How many of these annual scares of trouble with Japan have you and others interested in the munitions game played up?

Yet the years of the Nye Committee—1934 to 1936—covered a period of acute need for close, objective reporting and a well-informed public. Japan had given notice that it would abandon the Washington Naval Treaty and had withdrawn from the second London Conference. Germany had repudiated the arms limitations sections of the Versailles Treaty, denounced the Locarno Pact, and sent troops into the Rhineland. All the iniquities of the arms trade could not nullify these iron facts.

There was definite appeal in the naive concept that the basic cause of war was the "merchants of death" drumming up trade: It absolved of war guilt all except an infinitesimal, sinister minority; it relieved the average citizen of the humiliating conviction that he had been a gullible rube; it reduced war to a simple matter of dollars and cents, which most people could understand.

Of course, the theory was entirely too pat, too neat, and ignored the whole sweep of man's life on earth. War was a long-lived, widespread phenomenon whose roots struck much deeper than a munitions maker's profit-and-loss statement. This thesis helped drive the United States still further into its self-imposed "ivory tower" mentality. The nation had already achieved something of a record in inconsistency. By standing aloof from the League of Nations it had rejected collective security, yet it had refused to provide for itself an adequate unilateral national defense system.

As a result of the Washington Naval Conference of 1922, the United States scrapped twenty-eight vessels, including eleven capital ships in various stages of completion, and converted two battle cruisers, Lexington and Saratoga, to aircraft carriers, then considered to be instruments of defense rather than offense. Moreover, the United States pledged itself not to increase existing fortifications of Guam, Tutuila, the Aleutians, and the Philippines. In effect, this left American outlying possessions in the Pacific at the mercy of Japan and removed the means of enforcing American foreign policy in the Far East.

The Navy did not even build up to treaty limits during the administrations of Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover. Matters began to look up when Roosevelt became President. He took a personal interest in the sea service; nevertheless, he did not press for a big Navy. Always a master of the possible, he tacked to catch the prevailing winds. And the little breezes of public opinion did not yet blow in that direction. But the little scraps Roosevelt gave the Navy were an improvement over the nothing bestowed by the two previous administrations.

The Army was in no better shape. The Versailles Treaty had limited Germany to an army of 100,000 men, deemed the absolute minimum required to preserve national order while rendering Germany harmless to the rest of the world. Yet when the Preparatory Committee for the Geneva Conference first met on May 18, 1926, the United States had reduced its own land forces to 118,000. Considering the relative size of the two countries, the United States had voluntarily denuded itself far beyond what even Germany's late enemies believed essential to declaw the double eagle.

In 1932 the U.S. Regular Army, with not quite 120,000 active-duty enlisted men, ranked seventeenth among the world's armies. When General George C. Marshall became Chief of Staff in September 1939, the Army and its Air Corps combined had less than 200,000 men. As late as April 1941, in a magazine article urging reorganization of the air forces, one finds this suggestion for financial savings:

The planes which have been built and those to be built can be reduced in productive cost by eliminating the idea that the airplane should be built like the automobile—to last for four or five years. Careful study of the records of this modern air warfare reveals that the average pilot's life is between thirty and fifty hours in the air. Therefore, why build the airplanes to last longer than the pilots who fly them?

One would give much to have heard the reaction in General H.H. "Hap" Arnold's staff to the idea of no-deposit no-return aircraft.

Authority for a 20-percent increase in the Navy finally became law on May 17, 1938, "after strenuous debate." It called for forty-six combatant ships and twenty-six auxiliaries. "Opponents of the expansion dubbed it 'monstrous' and 'indefensible,' and tagged it a 'super-Navy bill.'"

A peculiar aspect of American thinking in this period was preoccupation with beating the corpse of World War I. Some Americans decried the alleged sins of their former Allies while ignoring the rearming and the frankly expressed aggressive intentions of the Axis. In a radio address on January 28, 1938, Representative Herbert S. Bigelow of Ohio urged against passage of the "super-Navy" bill. He "put no trust in the governments of Europe. They roped us in once, but I say never again.... Let us not be a Nation of old maids looking under the bed every night for Germans or Japs."

Representative Thomas O'Malley of Wisconsin spoke like an irreconcilable Irishman: "God grant we may not be led into another [war] by that wily little island in the Atlantic ..." If the United States needed to defend itself, why not spend the money on coastal defenses, antiaircraft guns and other protective measures, instead of "$75,000,000 apiece for battleships that can be destroyed by $350,000 bombing planes? ..."

Nye, too, was unhappy about the expanded Navy. He thought it would be too big for defense, not big enough to attack Japan, and too late "to stop Japan in China." He favored a Navy "strong enough to defend this nation." But he was dead set against anything that might be "part of an adventurous gamble on a foreign war."

The ever eloquent Representative Hamilton Fish of New York announced his readiness "to vote millions for defense" but did not propose "to vote one single dollar for purposes of offenses and aggression." He laid the whole problem upon the Administration rather than on the Axis, and accused Roosevelt of trying to build a navy "not merely for defense but for aggression, to enable him to quarantine and police the world."

The United States did not really waken to a sense of peril until the Germans had conquered Poland, invaded Denmark and Norway, smashed Holland, Belgium, and France, and were racing headlong for the channel ports. On June 14, 1940, Congress passed an 11-percent naval expansion bill, and one for 70 percent on July 19, 1940. Nevertheless, not until 1944 did the U.S. Navy reach the strength authorized in 1934.

In the weeks between release of the Knox report and that of the committee chaired by Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Owen J. Roberts, the press continued to slug at John Q. Public. "Our army and navy personnel were not the only people not on the alert," avowed newsman Quincy Howe. "It was a case of the whole nation being asleep at the switch." Exactly one year later, columnist Barnet Nover termed Pearl Harbor

the tragic epitome of an entire era in our foreign relations, an era whose dominant characteristic was a mood of well-nigh indestructible unreality....

... The policy pursued by the nations and particularly by the United States during that decade [1931–1940] was, in effect, one of every one for himself and the devil take the hindmost....

It was less a case of "every one for himself"—which implies a readiness to enter the race with the will to win—than of the "well-nigh indestructible unreality." A large segment of the public had yet to learn that the United States was no longer invulnerable geographically. Modern shipping, the submarine, the aircraft carrier, and the transoceanic airplane had made this planet a very small world indeed.

The American people did not seem to understand that the seas had no intrinsic protective quality. And, like all the forces of nature, the oceans played no favorites. Whether they were bulwarks or causeways, well disposed or inimical, depended upon who controlled them. As author Leonard Baker noted in later years, the Atlantic was a protection for the United States solely because the British Navy patrolled it. The case would be far otherwise if British ships fell into German hands.

By the same token, the waters that laved the American West Coast were friendly or hostile depending upon how far the U.S. Navy yielded control of the Pacific to Yamamoto's Combined Fleet.

Many also failed to understand the threat of ideological warfare, the insidious campaign of words to sap the morale, cloud the reason, and weaken the will to the point where physical defense became meaningless.

Most isolationists were patriotic Americans, and they were not all of one stamp. As Wayne S. Cole stated in his admirable study, America First, both interventionism and isolationism "were composed of extremely heterogeneous elements. Each group drew support from all regions of the country; from different age, ethnic, and social groups; and from persons holding widely diverse economic and political views."

Few of the isolationists were pacifists. The majority heartily joined with the interventionists in advocating armed forces strong enough to defend the United States. The question over which they parted company was: How much was enough? Many isolationists also took the position that the United States should remain aloof from the Old World and its age-old quarrels. One of the sincerest of them was Charles A. Lindbergh, who believed that global war would mean the end of present civilization. Their big mistake lay in believing that this country could remain cloistered if it wished to.


Excerpted from Pearl Harbor by Gordon W. Prange, Donald M. Goldstein, Katherine V. Dillon. Copyright © 1986 Anne Prange and Prange Enterprises, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Pearl Harbor: The Verdict of History 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This text is a followup to At Dawn We Slept that examines virtually every revisionist theory concening the attack. It is as thorough an exposition of who knew what and what each of those involved did, in Washington and at Pearl. Mistakes were made at both ends and no attempt is made to excuse any of the participants, including FDR. The treatment is both comprehensive and judicious. There are many details for which only a guess can be made as to their importance or likelihood. The treatment of the 'Winds' messages is superb - it points out that once the codebreakers learned that Japan had ordered embassies in Allied countries to destroy their codes, the winds messages at that point became irrelevant, since that was their only purpose. A very fine book that has no competition in terms of completeness or intelligent thought. This book is required reading for those who want to delve as deeply as possible into the events of Dec. 7th. Many revisionist theories are examined and found in most cases to be utterly implausible or based on falsehoods.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Written by the two who assisted Prange in his extremely comprehensive At Dawn We Slept, this is not the history of the event but an evaluation of all of the theories put forth by others, as well as an examination of all who were involved, what part each one played and how they were treated by the aftermath investigations. The book is very long and very well reasoned and pretty much essential reading for those who really want to know every last detail of the event. A very fine work.
offtrack More than 1 year ago
How did the Japanese slip past the American radar? im a ex radar tech(ET), 1968, so know why, the answer is many fold, (it's not at all like 1950 or 1968 or now) not at ALL. the Radar was 'A" scan, not PPI, so they only know, somethings, there, not direction exact. Imagine crude and x10 crude, nor was IFF in use, IFF tells you friend or foe, using SIF codes, in modern sense, if IFF was used, then the zero would squawk, nothing, or using illegal sif codes, that the Radar tech would see, (sorry ,not invented yet, dig?) "somethings there, birds, dense clouds, ?? but what"? they also had no day plans for all scheduled air craft. and was experimental that nobody understood or trusted IT, so now you know.! i'm reading both.