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Fdr: Not Guilty I Don’t Buy It
July/August 2001 | Volume 52, Issue 5
Then there is Admiral Richardson’s second track. Despite his contention that the defenses of Pearl were fatally underequipped, he also insists that further warnings from Washington might have made a real difference. Yet the commanders at Pearl Harbor had been warned repeatedly by Washington, throughout the fall of 1941, that war with Japan appeared imminent. These warnings included the November 27 message that began, “This dispatch is to be considered a war warning,” and ended by ordering Admiral Kimmel to “execute appropriate defensive deployment…” Admiral Kimmel’s commander of submarines at the time, Rear Adm. Thomas Withers, later told a Navy court of inquiry that on being shown the dispatch, he told Kimmel, “I think it means war.”
It is true that most of the warnings that autumn emphasized the likelihood of Japanese actions in the South Seas, including the Philippines. That is, after all, where most of the American military establishment, including Kimmel and Short, expected the first blow to fall. It is also true that Washington generally warned area commanders against firing the first shot. This did not mean that Washington would object to the forces at Pearl Harbor firing on a Japanese task force that was about to attack it, and these instructions did not significantly alter their behavior. As Admiral Kimmel himself later testified at the same Navy court of inquiry,”… if we had sighted anything 700 miles from Oahu, I think I would have found some means to handle the situation, insofar as the forces I had available would have permitted me.”
EVEN IF THE “EAST WIND RAIN” MESSAGE HAD BEEN SENT, WOULD IT HAVE MATTERED?
Admiral Richardson refers to several warnings that he claims the commanders at Pearl were not given. The first of these is known as the “bomb plot” warning. This was a message sent from the Japanese Foreign Ministry to the Japanese consulate in Honolulu, ordering that the consulate divide the waters of Pearl Harbor into a grid and report on all American ship movements within the grid blocks. It reads: “With regard to warships and aircraft carriers, we would like to have you report on those at anchor (these are not so important), tied up at wharves, buoys and in docks. (Designate types and classes briefly. If possible we would like to have you make mention of the fact when there are two or more vessels alongside the same wharf.)”
The message was sent on September 24, 1941, intercepted, and translated by U.S. Army intelligence on October 9. It never did get to Kimmel and Short. The general interpretation of it was that the Japanese were most interested in seeing what American ships sortied, and how fast, in order to get a heads-up report if the American fleet left Pearl Harbor. Of course, this message should have been forwarded to Pearl Harbor, and both Short and Kimmel were understandably bitter about not receiving it. Yet, in light of their inaction after the warnings they did receive, it is not at all clear that it would have made a difference.
The same can be said for the “East wind rain” message that Admiral Richardson mentions—one of the best-known bits of conspiracy-theory lore. On November 29, 1941, the Japanese Foreign Ministry sent out a message informing Admiral Nomura, its ambassador in Washington, that in case diplomatic relations were about to be terminated— and if communications were cut off —a message would be added to the standard daily Japanese-language shortwave radio broadcast. The message was: for Japanese-U.S. relations, “East wind rain"; for Japanese-Soviet relations, “North wind cloudy"; and “West wind clear” for Japanese-British relations.
Consulates and ministries around the world were to respond by burning their codes and other papers. Washington took this directive to heart upon intercepting it and immediately assigned four language officers to monitor all relevant broadcasts from Tokyo around the clock.
Cmdr. Laurence Safford did tell both a Navy 1944 board of inquiry and a 1945 congressional investigation that an “East wind rain” message had indeed been received; at the time, no other officer could recall ever picking up such a message. Nor could Safford remember much of anything about when he had heard “East wind rain” or how his superiors had reacted when he had told them about it. Other listeners testified that there had been a number of false alarms, but none remembered intercepting anything like “East wind rain.”
And why would they? It would have meant all communications between Japan’s Foreign Ministry and its diplomats in the United States had been cut off, but in fact they were never terminated until after the attack on Pearl Harbor. There was no need to send such a message, and there is no credible evidence that Japan ever did. But even if the “East wind rain” message had been received on December 4, 1941 (and if every officer who saw it, save for Commander Safford and General Clarke, either lied about it to both a Navy board and the U.S. Congress or somehow forgot), would it have made any difference to Kimmel and Short?
On December 3, 1941, Kimmel was informed by his chief intelligence officer, Lt. Cmdr. Edward T. Layton, that Japanese embassies and consulates around the world were destroying their code machines. Kimmel never denied this; in fact, he later testified that he hadn’t thought the widespread destruction of the Japanese codes to be “of any vital importance.. . . .”