Flame & Blame at Pearl Harbor The Responsibility Question
by Frank Pierce Young

Fright. Fury. Finger-pointing.

History can offer entire libraries devoted to that sequence and its consequences -- which commonly involve power positions, political manoeuvering and, often as not, scapegoating; for surely, someone must be to blame for what happened.

The totally unexpected attack upon the great U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on 7 December 1941, was no exception to this generality. And in prompt consequence, two very senior American officers, men of previously outstanding professional records, lost not only their positions and careers, but also their ranks and reputations. Meanwhile, others at least equally involved and in whole or part professionally responsible for the debacle escaped any trace of blame. This official aftermath of the Japanese attack has since been severely questioned both officially and privately numerous times by many, including Members of Congress and the U.S. Senate, a variety of serving and retired officers, historians, veterans' organisations, the aging Pearl Harbor Survivors' Association. Not least among these are surviving and descendant family members of those two men, who are yet pursuing their forebears' vindication more than a half-century later -- a possibility yet being variously fought against, stalled, and sidetracked by high officialdom both political and in the Pentagon, for to do otherwise would automatically point fingers very embarrassingly and sharply elsewhere at certain celebrated men, plus at their own official actions long ago.

It has all the elements of a great Shakespearean tragedy: ambitions, egos, assumptions, secrets, clues, deceptions, beliefs, errors, friendships, betrayals, public uproar and private contriving -- and, of course, love, death, and a wish for revenge. As of 6 December 1941 there were certain main players.

Franklin Delano Roosevent -- President of the United States, and legal Commander-in-Chief of all U.S. armed forces. All officers above the ranks of Major-General or Rear-Admiral are nominated by the President, and appointed to higher rank with "advice and consent" of the U.S. Senate.

Harold R. "Betty" Stark -- Admiral; Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), the functional head of the entire U.S. Navy; Navy Department, Washington, D.C. A very able administrator with seven very successful ship commands, Stark was selected over 50 more senior men to be CNO on 1 August 1939, and was firmly in favour of creating the strongest navy in the world.

Ernest J. "Jesus" King -- Admiral; Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet; at Norfolk, Virginia. A Great War veteran as a junior officer in the Sixth Battle Fleet at Scapa Flow, he was aloof, austere, cool with subordinates and distant from others; strongly opinionated, of persistent rank ambition, and adept at Navy Department politics, he was less a leader than a "driver", and held a lifelong anglophobia.

Husband E. Kimmel -- Admiral; Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet; at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. A highly skilled and detail-minded professional with a spotless record, he was noted for his intense style in operations, and "his tenacious compulsion to obtain and act on information without delay was a trait that never diminished."

Richmond Kelly Turner -- Rear-Admiral; Chief of both Naval Communications and Naval Intelligence; Navy Department, Washington, D.C. Since his days as a Naval Academy midshipman he held a reputation for being forceful, so intimidating he often got his seniors to make room for him and his ways simply to avoid confrontation; something of a bullying sort, and with considerable ambition in the realm of Navy Department politics.

George Catlett Marshall -- General; Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army; War Department, Washington, D.C. Unlike all other top Army officers, he was not a graduate of the Military Academy at West Point, but of the famed and equally stringent Virginia Military Academy in that state; a Great War combat veteran, he was quiet, deliberate, meticulous, thoughtful, imaginative and far-sighted, and became known postwar as a near-genius.

Douglas MacArthur -- General; Commander, Army Department of the Philippines; Manila, P.I. The son of a general who had commanded in the Philippines after the Spanish-American War, he'd been a Great War combat brigade commander and postwar Army Chief of Staff; semi-retired, he was sent back to the Philippines by Roosevelt in 1935 to create and organise a native Philippine Commonweath defence force for its government. He had an immense ego and fondness of flattery, a lofty aristocratic view of rank's rights and privileges, was a consummate Army politician and publicity-seeker, and held firmly to the twin notions that he was not only the nation's best general, but that he alone truly knew and understood the Far East and all Orientals, most particularly the Philippines and their people.

Walter Campbell Short -- Lieutenant-General; Commander, Army Department of Hawaii; Honolulu, Hawaii. A veteran of the Mexican Punitive Expedition in 1916 and a combat leader in France during the Great War, he was solid, detail-critical, utterly reliable, sternly duty-conscious, and steadily rose postwar in both rank and reputation, achieving 3-star rank ahead of several seniors.

On to Part 2