A Personal Dilemma – Was The Pearl Harbor Attack Foreseeable?

In one of my recent blogs, I mentioned that predictions of the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, came from at least two sources.  But I didn’t mention the sources.  So, here they are.  One was from a Peruvian source known to U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Joseph Grew.  This is discussed on page 118, footnote 7, of my new book, “Prelude to Disaster:  How Imperial Japan’s Diplomatic Treachery Led to America’s Greatest Military Disaster – Pearl Harbor,” available on amazon.com in both Kindle and print.

It is pointed out in that footnote that Ambassador Grew’s testimony before the Joint Congressional Committee which issued the report which forms the essential basis for my book, was that, with the single exception of  information on which his message of January 27, 1941 was based, he had no knowledge or indication from any source prior to the attack which indicated the possibility of such an attack.  The information on which that message was based is explained in footnote 7, as follows:  “My Peruvian colleague told a member of my staff that he had heard from many sources including a Japanese source that the Japanese military forces planned in the event of trouble with the United States to attempt a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor using all of their military facilities.  He added that although the project seemed fantastic the fact he had heard it from many sources prompted him to pass on the information.   Paraphrased copies were promptly sent by the State Department to Military Intelligence Division (Army) and Office of Naval Intelligence (Navy).” (Emphasis added).  Interesting stuff.

The other source came somewhat earlier but was more authoritative.  In 1937, General George Patton was the G-2, i.e., military parlance for Intelligence Officer, for the Hawaiian Islands, in charge of security for the Islands and their vulnerability to attack.  Patton had followed  Japan’s continued aggression 0ver the years, including its invasion and conquest of Manchuria in 1931 and its invasion of China in 1933, and believed that war with Japan was likely.  That year, 1937,  he wrote a paper entitled “Surprise” in which he predicted, with uncanny accuracy, a Japanese attack on Hawaii.  This bit of information comes from an excellent book about General Patton entitled “Patton – A Genius For War,” by Carlo D’Este, page 361.

So, the idea of a Japanese attack against the U.S. itself was likely scoffed at and little, if anything, was done about it.  But, nevertheless, those two straws in the wind, coming from widely disparate sources, did exist.

More disturbing to me was the apparent failure of those directly concerned with the nation’s security to foresee that elimination of the U.S. Pacific Fleet would fit nicely into Japanese plans to push south in the Pacific, towards Malaya, the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), the Philippines, and Australia, among other areas, plans which were undoubtedly anticipated by the U.S.  (See e.g.,  book, pp 41- 42).

This is where my dilemma arose.   To say the attack was therefore foreseeable would fit well into the “In Retrospect” or conclusory part of my book.   However,  on reflection, to add that comment to the book seemed a bit presumptive on my part.  It just didn’t seem right for me, coming along some 74 years later, to say that the attack was foreseeable and, therefore, should have been preventable.  So, I left it out.  There were some very skilled and highly intelligent and competent people in The White House, the State Department, and the armed forces, who arguably failed to see the attack coming so I decided not to second guess them.  Maybe, when and if I do a revised edition of the book, I’ll put it in.  In the meantime you’ll have to read the book yourselves and decide whether I made the right decision.  Please let me know what you think via a comment to this post.

Copyright©2016.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

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