“Yesterday, December 7th, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific……
“I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.”
President Franklin Roosevelt had made Pearl Harbor the headquarters for the US Pacific Fleet earlier in 1941. He did this as a sign to Japan that the US was preparing for war, a move that he was warned against making. Roosevelt knew the move could trigger an attack, but more important was the need to show that America was powerful and ready to prevent further Japanese expansionism.
When it came to the attack on Pearl Harbor, many believe he could have prevented it but that he failed to act on information he received about a planned attack, though this has never been proven.
The military at Pearl Harbor was under the command of Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, who worked alongside General Walter Short. Not long after he was put in charge, Kimmel expressed concern about Pearl Harbor being at risk of a surprise attack, but he didn’t make any changes in preparation.
It has been said that both Kimmel and Short were given numerous warnings that there was the potential for an attack, but neither took any action. They were sent a telegram from General Marshall that stated, “Prior to hostile Japanese action you are directed to undertake such reconnaissance and other measures as you deem necessary but these measures should be carried out so as not, repeat not, to alarm civil population or disclose intent.” No action was taken.
And on December 3, 1941, a final warning informing Kimmel of the imminent outbreak of war with Japan was again ignored.
On the day of the attack, the two had planned to play a round of golf. Instead they faced atrocity. Could it have been prevented? The question remains.
Both men admitted they hadn’t expected an air attack, but Short claimed the government hadn’t provided the right resources, stating their defenses were inadequate even if they had warning.
Kimmel and Short were relieved of duty ten days after the attack, and spent the rest of their lives under investigation and trying to clear their names of any wrongdoing.
In fact, Kimmel’s successor Admiral Chester W. Nimitz said, “It was God’s mercy that Admiral Kimmel didn’t have warning that the Japanese were about to attack Pearl Harbor. If we had been warned, our fleet would have gone out to sea. All our ships would have been destroyed one by one in deep water. We would have lost the entire Pacific Fleet and eighteen to nineteen thousand men, instead of the ships and 3,300 men we did lose.”
Kimmel died in 1968, Short in 1949. It wasn’t until 1999 that they were both exonerated by the Senate.