Veteran’s Day 2016 and Civic Courage

Robert Gould Shaw memorial

Photo by the author of the Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Memorial in Boston

The memorial pictured that sits on Boston Common marks a bit of history that is but an echo of an earlier time to us, it affected me greatly when I actually saw it up close, for it spoke to me.  I felt a kinship over time and space to those men who are represented in bronze and stone and what they might have been thinking as they marched in the cause of equality for all people, of self-government, and of a steady intolerance of extremism, ruthlessness, and violence in defense of a cause, which cause itself was morally repugnant; fear, no doubt, trepidation, hope, pride, and steely resolve to acquit themselves well when the time came for them to do their duty.  It was a time where warfare was very close and personal.

I have some close friends and those I considered to be like family buried in Arlington.  Two died in battle.  Some carried physical and some psychic wounds after their military service was done.  All acquitted themselves well.  There are still those who are alive who are also like family and it will always be so.  Some of these preceded and some that followed me in my own service, and others with whom I served.  They are men and women.  Straight and gay.  Of every religion, belief, ethnic group, and color.  I am the son and the nephew of veterans, and the father of a veteran.  It is this term “service” that binds us together.  Sometimes this bond, among those with similar experiences in very challenging conditions, cannot be put into words, but there is that word.

At one time when someone asked about whether you were in the military you would say “I was in (or am) in the Service.”  Of every bit of writing that I have come across William James comes most closely to describing the meaning of “service” for a democratic people, both in wartime and in peacetime.

James, because of physical infirmities, could not participate in the defense of the union and, with it, to fulfill one of the unfulfilled promises of the Declaration of Independence.  His younger brothers had volunteered as officers in the first black regiments–Wilky to the 54th Massachusetts under Shaw, and Bob in the 55th Massachusetts.  Wilky, in particular, had distinguished himself in battle during the attempt to take Fort Wagner in South Carolina, suffering serious injuries that would affect his the rest of his life.  After the war Bob and he moved to Florida to continue the cause of emancipation through a land company formed to find investors to develop agricultural lands on which freedmen would work.

While Wilky and Bob were the brothers committed to action, William was the thinker and philosopher and learned much from them and their experiences.  In 1897 the memorial pictured was dedicated.  Given the increasingly more destructive and impersonal nature of modern warfare and the arc of where our nation seems to be heading in civil society, I think, for Veteran’s Day, it apropos to read a portion of his address:

“War has been much praised and celebrated among us of late as a school of manly virtue; but it is easy to exaggerate upon this point.  Ages ago, war was the gory cradle of mankind, the grim-featured nurse that alone could train our savage progenitors into some semblance of social virtue, teach them to be faithful to one another, and force them to sink their selfishness in wider tribal ends.  War still excels in this prerogative; and whether it be paid in years of service, in treasure, or in life-blood, the war tax is still the only tax that men ungrudgingly will pay.  How could it be otherwise when the survivors of one successful massacre after another are the beings from whose loins we and all our contemporary races spring?  Man is once for all a fighting animal; centuries of peaceful history could not breed the battle-instinct out of us; and military virtue least in need of reinforcement by reflection, least in need of orator’s or poet’s help.

What we really need the poet’s and orator’s help to keep alive in us is not, then, the common and gregarious courage which Robert Shaw showed when he marched with you, men of the Seventh Regiment.  It is that more lonely courage which he showed when he dropped his warm commission in the glorious Second to head…the 54th.  That lonely kind of valor (civic courage as we call it in peace times) is the kind of valor to which the monuments of nations should most of all be reared, for the survival of the fittest has not bred it into the bone of human beings as it has bred military valor; and of the five hundred of us who could storm a battery side-by-side with others, perhaps not one would be found ready to risk his worldly fortunes all alone in resisting an enthroned abuse….The nation blest above all nations is she in whom the civic genius of the people does the saving day by day, by acts without external picturesqueness; by speaking, writing, voting reasonably; by smiting corruption swiftly; by good temper between parties; by the people knowing true men when they see them, and preferring them as leaders to rabid partisans or empty quacks.  Such nations have no need of wars to save them.,,,

Democracy is still upon its trial.  The civic genius of our people is its only bulwark, and neither laws nor monuments, neither battleships nor public libraries, nor great newspapers nor booming stocks; neither mechanical invention nor political adroitness, nor churches nor universities nor civil-service examinations can save us from degeneration if the inner mystery be lost.  That mystery, at once the secret and the glory…consists in nothing but two common habits, two inveterate habits carried into public life—habits so homely that they lend themselves to no rhetorical expression…One of them is the habit of trained and disciplined good temper towards the opposite party when it fairly wins its innings—it was by breaking from this habit the slave States nearly wrecked our Nation.  The other is that of fierce and merciless resentment toward every man or set of men who break the public peace…”

Song for My Father, Those Who Mentored Me, and for the Son who is Father to the Man: Veteran’s Day 2015

Joseph Pisano

My father was Joseph Pisano. He wasn’t a hero to anyone but me and those who loved him, nor did he fight in combat, though it wasn’t for trying. He joined the Navy at the age of 17 against the wishes of his parents in 1944, lying about his age to get into the Second World War. He went through boot camp at the old Naval Training Center at Bainbridge, Maryland, and later was trained to become an aviation mechanic for a squadron of Avengers. After a brief assignment on the USS Philippine Sea (CV-47), he was discharged in the post-war drawdown. A few years as a civilian were interrupted when the Korean War broke out. Though still in the Navy Reserve he found himself drafted into the U.S. Army where, he did his basic training at Ft. Dix in New Jersey, and then combat training at Ft. Benning in Georgia. Though he volunteered for combat in Korea, the Army stationed him in Germany and assigned him to the artillery. He rose to Sergeant First Class before being discharged in 1952. He was admired for his diligence, hard work, and leadership—qualities that he carried with him throughout his life, along with a fiery temperament.

An otherwise unassuming man, he never made more than $20,000 in any one year, but he owned what he had, and lived life on his own terms, even when it meant that he swam against the tide of the times. He was a co-founder of the Toms River, New Jersey Little League, and mentored many a young man and woman over the years. To this day I meet men and women who tell me that my father had a profound and positive influence in their lives. He was loyal to his family, his wife until the day of her passing, the New York Yankees—and to me his only child.

The times my father served in the Service were among the most significant of his life. He impressed upon me the values of hard work and dedicating oneself to something greater than one’s self-interest. His was among the first generation American immigrant experience. As with many people previously disenfranchised and looked down upon by previous arrivals, Italian-Americans felt a need to demonstrate their commitment to a country that promised, though did not always live up to, a measure of human dignity and equality. Here, in the United States, was at least the chance of not bowing to the rich man on the hill, to be told what to think and do, and to owe one’s existence to the whims of the rich’s largesse. Here a man or woman could stand upright and look his or her fellows in the eye, to get one’s rights—or at least to have a fighting chance to get them.


Nick Rubino

The photo above is of Nick Rubino, my mother’s brother and my namesake. Though I was named for my paternal grandfather Nick, my mother had a special place in her heart for her younger brother. She confided to me one time that she was proud that I shared the same name of the sensitive little boy whom she remembered would cry if someone stepped on an ant. She saw the same characteristics in me.

My Uncle Nick, as I knew him, was a very gentle and quiet man. He was the father of twin girls, my cousins, who were named Tony and Mary. The sisters, children themselves just a few years older than me, watched over me when I was a very small boy. I have many early memories of them dressing up the four year old me and including me in their make-believe worlds. They were very kind to me, as was their father.

Nick Rubino was late when he came of age to serve in the Second World War. He went to basic at Ft. Dix and was sent to jump school where he became part of the 101st Airborne Division. He arrived in France after D-Day and was among the fresh troops in Belgium being positioned in December 1944 prior to the push into Nazi Germany.

My uncle never talked of his service. He didn’t tell sea stories or brag about what he had done. But something took hold of him one day. An old friend had passed away and my uncle began to drink in a way that he had not done in quite a long time, and his memories of the war began to spill out. He opened an old footlocker that he had kept under his bed and took out his medals and insignia, a German helmet with a bullet hole stained with old blood, a Luger sidearm, a bayonet, and other items, laying them on the floor.

He began to tell us in a very quiet voice about what has become known as the Battle of the Bulge and the encirclement of the 101st Airborne in Bastogne, Belgium. He recalled each of his friends and how they had been killed or captured. The Americans had dug themselves in to repulse the German offensives, which for the foot soldier mostly involved combat at close quarters if one survived the artillery and mortar shelling.

His outpost was at the top of a hill outside of the town. The command at Bastogne tried very hard to break out of its encirclement and so they sent my uncle and his comrades down that hill to find a weak spot in the German lines. Three times they attempted to break out and each time were repulsed, and then themselves repulsed German counterattacks. After each battle the number of Americans was diminished.

My uncle described nights of pure fear, and days filled with the most horrible scenes of industrialized murder. When I look back at the things he described, sobbing and pounding the floor with his fists, I can only say that my uncle was momentarily transported back in time in his mind, and that in that moment he had lost his mind, as he must have done living in the horror of that forest in Belgium.

A U.S. tank under the command of Patton’s 4th Armored Division arrived on that hill around the 9th of January 1945. Bastogne had been encircled for three weeks, under constant bombardment and deadly attacks. The tank commander called for the members of the 101st who had been positioned on the hill to come out of their foxholes. The only man left in his Company not killed, severely wounded, or captured was Nick Rubino.

The tank commander who liberated that hill was my father’s brother, William Pisano. They did not meet again until February 1953 when they met at my parents’ wedding rehearsal. In 1945 my parents had not yet met. The Pisanos and Rubinos were not closely associated with one another, though the former lived in what used to be known as lower Weehawken and the latter from Hoboken in New Jersey separated merely by a mile. It was just one of those things.

When night overtook us and the alcohol took its toll on him, my uncle quietly returned the items to the footlocker. He never spoke of the war again, nor did he speak to us about what he described that day that went late into the night.


William Pisano, the man who I do not have a photo in uniform, was, like my Uncle Nick, a hero by any measure. He joined the war early and joined the tank corps. He participated in Operation Torch in North Africa under the 1st Armored Division where he was involved in many of the earliest direct battles with German forces. At the Battle at the Kasserine Pass his tank was destroyed by Panzer fire. His life was saved by the sole African-American tank crew member who, not fearing for his own life, threw my uncle from the tank just before the man was killed by machine gun fire.  When he returned to the United States he remembered the man who had saved his life and supported the drive for equal rights for all Americans.

The American defensive positions were overrun that day in North Africa, and my uncle was forced to fight his way back to the Allied lines.  Suffering from burns, shrapnel, and multiple bullet wounds, he was sent to England to recuperate. By June 1944 he was found fit for duty and participated in the landing of armored units following the D-Day invasion. Assigned to the 4th Armored Division he continued to be deployed against German forces in battle until the end of the war.

My father and my Uncle Pete, William’s other two brothers, complained that when he returned that my grandparents babied him. But I think that it was because they saw what no one else at the time saw. My Uncle “Chick,” as he was called, never fully recovered from the war. Today we recognize the signs of his behavior as PTSD, but at the time it was simply not fully understood. Eventually the night terrors passed, the screaming in the night, the sleepwalking that caused him to believe that he was surrounded again and had to fight those around him. From time to time he drank too much, lost his temper, and suffered from long bouts of depression.

But, on the whole, he was a good and loving son to his parents, my grandparents, and a good brother, father, and husband. He worked hard throughout his life and provided for his family. He paid his dues. He always treated me with kindness and encouragement. The only descriptive for him that comes to mind is that he was a good man. That’s as good an epitaph as any.


Ruben Soliman

Ruben Soliman pictured above, who retired from the United States Navy is my best friend.  He was best man at my wedding in Key West and, during challenging times, was a surrogate father to me.  Ruben followed his distinguished Navy career, retiring as a Chief Petty Officer, as the Deputy Material Officer at Naval Air Station, Norfolk.  There I had the pleasure of working with him.  Ruben taught me many life lessons, and has provided much wisdom.  When he was a small boy he survived the Japanese occupation of the Philippines.  Many people forget that the Philippines was a possession of the United States for almost 50 years.  As such, it was U.S. territory when it was invaded in 1941.  The Filipino people were Americans–and many who inhabit those islands are still Americans in their hearts.  Many of them emigrated to the United States by serving in the U.S. military.  Ruben followed in that tradition, and is the epitome of what it means to be an American.  He is soft-spoken, he does not brag, he is loyal and loving.  He is a natural leader, and in some very challenging situations, he was always level-headed and steel-nerved.  I am proud to call Ruben my friend.  I admire him a great deal.  I aspire to be as good a man as Ruben.


Tommy Jones

Tommy Jones served in the United States Marine Corps.  He is a big man with a very big heart.  If I ever had a brother, I could only wish that it would be Tommy Jones.  He served his country during a time when serving one’s country in the military was falling out of favor.  As with most veterans, Tommy does not brag about his service, except to state emphatically that he is a Marine, still. I admire Tommy.  He demonstrates kindness, courage, and modesty.  Tommy is Ruben’s brother-in-law and, watching him, I can truly say that to me Tommy epitomizes loyalty and reliability.  When the chips are down, Tommy is the guy who you want to be there.  You can rely on him–put your life in his hands.  I would trust him with mine.

Visiting Ruben and Tommy in Williamsburg 2015

Tommy Jones (purple), Ruben Soliman (red), their families, and me (in blue), 2015.


Finally, there is John Paul Pisano, my son.  I have a number of photos of him in uniform that have not yet been scanned for this blog.  I will need to rectify that deficiency in the near future.  When my son told me that he was joining the Marine Corps, I must admit that it was with both pride and trepidation.  Pride because I knew that he had to just one-up his U.S. Navy career dad by joining the toughest of all of the Services, bar none.  I have always been able to rely on the Marines with whom I served, that they were true to their country, the Constitution, and to their Creeds.

When Bill Clinton became President of the United States I attended a Dining In shortly after his first inauguration where the senior officers at the head table, confusing their personal ideology with their service and Oath, refused to rise when the toast to the President of the United States was announced.  I raised my glass and looked around.  Only myself, one other Navy Officer, and every other member of the United States Marine Corps who were present rose, and held their glasses high during the playing of “Hail to the Chief.”  The Marine Lt. Colonel in the audience looked around and called “Attention on Deck!”  A number of other Navy officers then rose and toasted, defying the senior officers who dishonored themselves and their commissions that day.

When I was a Supply Officer on a tank landing ship and Boat Group Commander, I had the pleasure of serving with the Marines in both fair and foul operations.  I formed a bond with my fellow officers when engaging in counterterrorism operations in Southeast Asia in the early 1980s.  The Marines with whom I operated made it plain that they would fight anyone who threatened our position, and the safety of the ship–and they had a brief opportunity to prove it.

Thus, when my son decided to join the Marine Corps, I knew that he was joining a Service with a long and proud tradition.  Though there is a great deal of inter-service rivalry, the fact of the matter is that the Navy cannot perform its mission without the Marines.  Nor can the Marines perform theirs without the Navy.  Both have fought and bled together from the beginning of the United States.

But that knowledge also was part of my trepidation.  We live in a time when very few serve their country–are willing to put their lives on the line–where the military experience is understood, and the idea of a shared stake in this democratic experiment is suffering from neglect.  The ideology of self-interest is anathema to our ideals.  Democracy dies without the care and feeding of the people.  Self-interest turns the American people from citizens and persons into interest groups and employees.  The idea of the modern non-partisan foreign policy and non-politicized military has been largely undermined.  Commitment today is often limited to a hashtag, the waving of flags or their flying on cars, and the platitude “thank you for your Service.”

This makes the soldier, sailor, or marine unimportant as human beings.  They have become like the burger flipper in the minds of the political establishment and economic elites, though the difference, of course, couldn’t be greater.  They are seen as there to do a dirty job and then be forgotten, reminded to stay in their place.  After all, they are reminded, you volunteered.  Personnel medical and pension expenses are viewed as if it is corporate America–even within the confines of the E-ring at the Pentagon, and among the senior staff.  Like the protagonist in the book Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by author Ben Fountain, there is nothing for us to do than to support each other, and hold on to one’s ideals.

My son was in Okinawa when the Twin Towers fell.  It wasn’t long before he was sent to combat in Afghanistan during the initial invasion there.  The occasional details he provides of his service while there are that it was a miserable place and the days were mostly boring, punctuated by the proverbial moments of terror.  When he returned home for duty in North Carolina, it was with a great deal of relief and thankfulness.  I was living in western Virginia at the time, and thought I would finally be able to see him from time-to-time.

But there was another invasion to come, this time in Iraq.  During the run to Baghdad he was at the pointy end of the spear.  He wrote occasionally of his experiences, which involved combat and riding in convoy.  He then served in country for the initial occupation, and was returned home with severe physical issues.  For the longest time he wouldn’t talk to anyone, seemed to hold a burning resentment.  The gentle and sensitive boy I had raised had been changed.

I felt a great deal of guilt at this condition.  After all, I had served a charmed life in the service.  I joined at the end of the Vietnam War and retired four years prior to 9-11.  The Cold War was anything but safe, especially in the many years I served in operations at sea and overseas, but there is no comparison in my experience to those of the men and women who have served since 2001.  My anchors in placing all of this in perspective were the men and women who had served in Vietnam, just as they and the Second World War and Korean War vets had been my mentors and anchors when I was first a young enlisted man, and then later when I achieved my commission.

But time and patience have brought my son back to me.  As I sit here and write this post on Veteran’s Day 2015 I am thankful for having him once again, that he went through a trial by fire, and came out stronger and wiser for it.  John Pisano is the bravest man I know.  I couldn’t be prouder to be his father.

But it is not just because of his service.  It is because of what he took from that service–for the caring and thoughtful man he has become.  Just as the unassuming and dedicated men named above were and are caring and thoughtful.  Just like William Pisano, who through his awful experience, learned to see the humanity of everyone despite the separation of skin color that was common in his time.  Just like Nick Rubino who lived a quiet life taking care of his wife, his children and his mother, and who never revealed the many decorations for bravery he earned on that hill outside of Bastogne to his family, who only learned of them at his funeral by a contingent sent by the local VFW.  Just like Ruben Soliman and Tommy Jones who are good family men–and good friends–and have continued to serve their communities is so many ways.  And just like Joseph Pisano, who took so many young people under his wing regardless of their color, creed, and ethnicity, to help them realize their intrinsic worth.

As William James said at the dedication to the 54th Massachusetts Infantry–one of the first African-American military units during the Civil War–in 1897:

“It is hard to end a discourse like this without one word of moralizing; and two things must be distinguished in all events like those we are commemorating–the moral service of them on the one hand, and on the other the physical fortitude which they display.  War has been much praised and celebrated among us of late as a school of manly virtue; but it is easy to exaggerate upon this point.  Ages ago, war was the gory cradle of mankind, the grim-featured nurse that alone could train our savage progenitors into some semblance of social virtue, teach them to be faithful to one another, and force them to sink their selfishness in wider tribal ends….It is that more lonely courage which he (Robert Gould Shaw) showed when he dropped his warm commission in the glorious Second to head…the 54th.  That lonely kind of valor (civic courage as we call it in peace times) is the kind of valor to which the monuments of nations should most of all be reared, for the survival of the fittest has not bred it into the bone of human beings as it has bred military valor; and of the five hundred of us who could storm a battery side-by-side with others, perhaps not one would be found ready to risk his worldly fortunes all alone in resisting an enthroned abuse….The nation blest above all nations is she in whom the civic genius of the people does the saving day by day, by acts without external picturesqueness; by speaking, writing, voting reasonably; by smiting corruption swiftly; by good temper between parties; by the people knowing true men when they see them, and preferring them as leaders to rabid partisans or empty quacks.  Such nations have no need of wars to save them.”

Real World — Normalization of Relations with Cuba

Family and holiday routine has interrupted regular blogging.  I’ve been working on new posts on project management and high tech that will shortly appear at, as well as here.

In the meantime, much has happened in the world.  Among these events was the President’s announcement on normalizing relations with Cuba.  The usual suspects have squeaked but this is a policy a long time coming in sweeping away the last vestiges of the old Cold War.  As a student of both history and political science I cannot let this go by without some comment.

Those of who served during the latter part of that long standoff known as the Cold War understand that, after the initial institution of containment of Soviet imperial ambitions, that the Iron Curtain fell only after the implementation of policies such as the West German Ostpolitik under Willy Brandt and greater U. S. engagement through rapprochement.

Low level social and cultural contacts are more effective in bringing about change in oppressive regimes than isolation. An isolated people are more easily manipulated, tending to play into the regime’s hands fostering paranoia, xenophobia, and social control. This is not just opinion but the result of numerous studies tracking the incremental changes that led to liberalization and liberation in central and Eastern Europe.

It is harder to blow up the world if one realizes and acknowledges the basic humanity of one’s adversaries. We had to learn that lesson anew after the nearly disastrous ramifications from FleetEx ’83 and the similarly foolish brinkmanship of Able Archer ’83. Both of these Reagan era exercises almost led to thermonuclear war. (I participated in the first, on an LST just off the Kamchatka Peninsula, as part of the greatest naval armada ever assembled).

I think Mr. Obama has once again proven himself clear-eyed and level-headed in changing a failed policy that nonetheless has managed to survive due to political intransigence and perceived electoral politics.  The repressive regime in Cuba is no less hesitant to fully embrace this change than our own extremists. I think that this alone is a good indication that this president has made the right decision.

Note:  The links for this post did not appear in the first version.  I have refreshed them for update.

Let’s Put An Axe to the Axis — Pearl Harbor Post-Mortems

Holiday, work, travel, and a recent bug have conspired to keep my blogging output relatively low.  Thus, some of my friends and colleagues were surprised when December 7th passed without some mention of that event from me.

There is a large cottage industry on the Web touting conspiracy theories about Roosevelt who, it is said, either provoked or engineered the Japanese attack in order to find a pretext to enter the war against the Axis powers.  As a student of history I have always been fascinated by this particular conspiracy theory because of its obvious inconsistencies and non-sequiturs.

By December 1941 Nazi Germany had proven itself the epitome of totalitarian brutality, barbarism, and nationalism run amok.  The same could be said for the behavior of pre-defeat Showa Japan, especially in China and Korea.  The expansionist warring of both Germany and Japan not only posed an existential threat to the ideals of freedom and self-government, but to civilization itself; to any concept of civilization based on law as opposed to predation.  They were also existential threats to the United States–or, at least, a United States based on constitutional government and democratic processes.  President Roosevelt made it no secret that he viewed the world in exactly this way.  His actions were provocative to all of the Axis governments.  Short of capitulation this was both the right and only reasonable position to take.  Fascism and Showa ideology were hostile to American interests and institutions, and those of its allies.

A sizable portion of the U.S. electorate did not wish to get involved in the war.  In this way Roosevelt was ahead of the American people.  The Selective Service Act was extended that October by a single vote in the U.S. House of Representatives.  But Roosevelt did everything he could short of war to support China and the United Kingdom, as well as Russia once Hitler double-crossed Stalin on their non-aggression pact, while at the same time preparing the United States for war.  These actions were taken publicly and garnered a lot of attention and criticism from isolationists and many prominent individuals–especially on the right–who outwardly supported Germany and fascism, at the time.

Many on what is considered the American right–though it often appears in the literature of the New Left–seem to adhere most to the theory that Roosevelt provoked or engineered the attack to sway the American people to support the war.  Thus, in this thinking, the American Servicemen who gave their lives at Pearl Harbor were martyrs to Roosevelt’s intention.  This ignores so much history that one has to live in an alternative universe or imagine a conspiracy so wide as to include individuals of differing walks of life and political allegiances over several decades.  It also ignores the actions of Japan.

By the summer of 1941 the United States and the Axis powers were on a collision course.  Japan’s war of aggression continued to expand as they sought to form puppet governments under their economic and political suzerainty in order to create what they called a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.  Under this regime, the self-described Japanese Asian master race would reign over all other Pacific peoples.  In the way of this ambition stood the United Kingdom and its Commonwealth, France, China, Russia, and the United States.

In particular, the United States considered the Pacific Ocean an “American lake.”  Governments across Asia considered (and still consider) the United States Navy the honest broker in ensuring that international waters and trade went unmolested.  Hawaii, Guam, and the Philippines were United States territory.  (The first, of course, is now a state and Guam is still a possession of the United States.  The Philippines was given its independence after the war).  The United States, especially due to the sizable U.S. west coast population of Chinese descent, had developed a close relationship with China, especially supporting the efforts of Sun Yat-sen and his (somewhat problematic) protégés in their efforts to create a Chinese constitutional republic.

By November 1941 it appeared to the opposing sides in the Pacific that war was inevitable.  The question was: when?  When Japan invaded French Indochina, the United States froze all Japanese assets in the United States.  Scrap metal, as well as oil and gasoline products were also embargoed, and the Panama Canal was closed to Japanese shipping.  These economic actions had a direct adverse impact on the Japanese economy and its ability to sustain the war.  Instead of seeking peace and pulling back from its imperial ambitions, the Japanese doubled-down and adjusted their strategy to take out the ability of the United States to undermine their ambitions and to seize these resources by expanding their zone of control.

Thus stood the two sides when Japanese emissaries came to the United States to negotiate an alternative to war.  What the Japanese did not know was that the U.S. was monitoring its cryptographic traffic and had broken its highest codes under the codename MAGIC.  What the United States did not know, because the MAGIC communications did not provide such information, was the location of a portion of the Japanese fleet.  The most likely strike was expected in the Philippines, but Pearl Harbor, Guam, Wake, Midway and the Aleutians were also identified as possible targets.

The United States’ possessions and interests in the Pacific were quite extensive.  Much has been made of the decision to forward deploy the fleet to Pearl Harbor, but given the distances involved it made much more sense to place them in Hawaii, where they could be called up when needed, while at the same time being out of harm’s way near much of the action in Southeast Asia.  One of the worst things a country can do in war and diplomacy is underestimate one’s opponent.  It was felt that the Japanese could not project power and any long-range strike, even if carried out, could not be sustained.  But forward deploying the fleet, even with the losses on December 7th, proved prescient.  Despite the loss of life and materiel, most of the ships sustaining damage–including most of the battleships–were repaired or refloated, and entered into combat.

Anyone who has served in the sea services in the Pacific can understand the scale of that ocean.  It contains just over half of all of the earth’s oceanic water.  It extends 9600 miles north to south and over 12,300 miles from east to west.  Even when I served in the U.S. Navy back in the 1980s and 1990s I engaged in operations, now declassified, in which we were able to evade submarine, electronic, and satellite detection by assets of the old Soviet Union and pop up in unexpected places–allowing detection (in order to send an unequivocal message) when we chose.  It is not inconceivable, given the technology of 1941, that the Japanese fleet would have traveled within striking distance of Pearl Harbor without detection, and without need for some elaborate and tone-deaf conspiracy theory.

There were eight investigations to determine the root cause of the failure to determine why the Japanese attack was not anticipated where it occurred.  Many of the documents and findings from these investigations remained classified until the 1980s.  Generally the investigations, especially the U.S. Navy Court of Inquiry that was held from July to October 1944, found that Admiral Harold Stark, the Chief of Naval Operations at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, bore the brunt of the blame.  Later more politicized investigations held by Congress found a number of scapegoats, mainly Admiral Husband Kimmel and Army General Walter Short, the area commanders at the time of the attack.

The following are excerpts from the summary of the investigation conducted by Admiral Kent Hewitt in from 14 May to 11 July 1945.  The exhibits referred to in the text can be found on-line here.  Captain Layton in the text refers to the future Admiral, Edwin T. Layton, who was Kimmel’s intelligence officer.  The Pacific theater commanders had been warned of impending war on November 27, 1941.  The inquiry focuses on the speculation of where the possible attack would occur and the countermeasures that were undertaken at the time.

Admiral McMorris stated that he did not know whether Washington kept CincPac fully informed but, he said, the information which was received was taken at its face value (page 899).

The “war warning,” it will be recalled, had been sent to Admiral Kimmel on November 27th. On November 28th, the Army dispatch had been repeated to Admiral Kimmel, advising, among other things, that Japanese future action was unpredictable but that hostile action was possible at any moment. Also on November 28th, there had been sent to Admiral Kimmel a copy of CinCAF’s dispatch advising of the “winds code” to be used if diplomatic relations were on the verge of being severed. And, on the same day, he had been in communication with OPNAV concerning his plan for the reinforcement of Midway and Wake, and, in that connection there had been mention made of the shortage of antiaircraft guns.

On November 30th, Admiral Kimmel sent a dispatch (Exhibit 77) urgently recommending the shipment of 37 mm. anti‑aircraft guns and ammunition for familiarization and training.

On November 30, 1941, OPNAV sent a dispatch to CincAF for action and to CinCPac for information (Exhibit 76), which advised in part:

“Indications that Japan about to attack points on KRA by overseas expedition X. Desire you cover by air the line Manila Camranh Bay on three days commenc­ing upon receipt of this dispatch X.

A second similar dispatch was also sent on the same day (Exhibit 77) requesting a daily report from CincAF, even if there were no contacts and the information were all negative….Also on November 30th Admiral McMorris prepared, at the direction of Admiral Kimmel, a memorandum setting forth the steps which he recommended to be taken in the event of American‑Japanese war within the ensuing twenty‑four hours (Exhibit 69A). This was revised on December 5th and set forth the steps to be taken in the event of war within forty‑eight hours (Exhibit 69B).

Vice Admiral McMorris testified that during the first week of December, 1941, he, and he was sure Admiral Kimmel, had in mind constantly the “war warning,” the fact that the Japanese forces were, according to Intelligence, on the move, the fact that the Japanese were destroying codes, and that the Japanese in the past had attacked without declaration of war (p. 328).

He stated further that during that time he was also considering the tasks set forth in Phase IA of the Pacific Fleet Plan, and that daily or on alternate days he furnished Admiral Kimmel with an informal memorandum as to the action that should be taken by important elements of the Fleet if war were initiated within twenty‑four hours. He stated that typical of such memoranda were Naval Court of Inquiry Exhibits 69A and 69B, which were dated 30 November and 5 December 1941, respectively (p. 328‑329).

With reference to the Phase IA task of maintaining air patrols against enemy forces in the approaches to Oahu and the fact that no provision was made for carrying out that task, Vice Admiral McMorris testified that submarines were considered to be the greatest element of danger. He said that anti‑submarine patrols had been placed in effect (p. 339).

At about this time, it will be recalled, Admiral Kimmel also received information concerning the estimated position of the Japanese Fleet. As Captain Layton expressed it:

Captain Layton testified that in accordance with the request of Admiral Kim­mel, he prepared a memorandum for the Admiral, dealing with the location of the Japanese Fleet. This was prepared, according to Layton, on the evening of December 1st and was submitted by him to Admiral Kimmel on 2 December 1941. The original memorandum bears certain notations in red pencil which, Layton testified, were inserted by him on December 2nd prior to submission of the memorandum to Admiral Kimmel and which reflected the later information received after Preparation of the memorandum on the night of December 1st‑2nd. It also bears certain lead pencil notations which Layton identified as the hand­writing of Admiral Kimmel. This memorandum, according to Layton, sum­marized his best estimate of the location of the Japanese Fleet, based on all information available to him and to Admiral Kimmel up to and including 1 December 1941.

Layton’s estimate stated that from the best available information, units of the Orange (Japanese) fleet were “thought” to be located as listed in the memorandum. In the Kure‑Sasebo area he listed the Commander in Chief of the Combined Fleet and Commander in Chief, First Fleet, with six battleships, “(f)” and other units. He listed the Commander in Chief, Third Fleet, at Nagara initially and then corrected it in red to indicate that it was at Takao. Also in the Kure‑Sasebo area he located Cruiser Division 8.

In the Shanghai area, Layton’s estimate located the Commander in Chief, China Fleet, the Shanghai Base Force, and an air group.

In the Bako‑Takao area Layton listed Third Fleet submarine squadrons and various destroyers and the commander of the Combined Air Force with numerous air groups and the KASUGA MARU (thought to be a converted carrier with 36 planes). He estimated that the Commander in Chief, Second Fleet, had been en route to Takao (this he corrected in red pencil to indicate that he was at Takao) with a cruiser division, destroyers, and with “Cardiv 4‑two CV and four DD; Cardiv 3‑two CV and 3 DD; Batdiv 3 less HARUNA‑3 BB (maybe 2 BB) and, he added in red pencil, certain cruisers and Destroyer Division 2.

In the Hainan‑Canton area, Layton located the Commander in Chief of the South China Fleet and various cruisers and destroyers and transports. In the French Indo‑China Area, he located the Commander in Chief of an Expedi­tionary Fleet with various ships, including 21 transports and some base forces, among others. In the Mandates area, he located at Palao an air group and base force; at Truk, the Commander in Chief of the Fourth Fleet with cruisers and destroyers, and a base force and an air group At Saipan he located the Com­mander in Chief of the Submarine Force with possibly submarines and various air groups and a base force. In the Marshalls area, he located various air groups and the carrier “KORYU” plus plane guards,” and several submarine squadrons and base force (Hew. Ex. 23).

Layton’s memorandum did not make any reference to the location of Carrier Di­visions 1 and 2 of the Japanese Fleet (which in fact were en route to attack Pearl Harbor). According to Layton, on 2 December 1941, during his conference with Admiral Kimmel, the Admiral noticed and commented on the absence of informa­tion concerning Japanese Carrier Divisions 1 and 3. In his testimony, he described the conversation on this point as follows:

“Mr. SONNETT: Will you state the substance of what he said and what you said, as best you recall it?

“Captain LAYTON: As best I recall it, Admiral Kimmel said, ‘What! You don’t know where Carrier Division 1 and Carrier Division 3 are?’ and I replied, ‘No, sir, I do not. I think they are in home waters, but I do not know where they are. The rest of those units, 1 feel pretty confident of their location.’ Then Admiral Kimmel looked at me, as sometimes he would, with somewhat a stern countenance and yet partially with a twinkle in his eye and said, ‘Do you mean to say that they could be rounding Diamond Head and you wouldn’t know it?’ or words to that effect. My reply was that, ‘I hope they would be sighted before now,’ or words to that effect . . . . (P. 213‑213)

“Mr. SONNETT: Your testimony, Captain, was not quite clear to me, arising out of your description of Admiral Kimmel’s twinkle in his eye when he spoke. What I am trying to get at is this: Was the discussion about the absence of information concerning Cardivs 1 and 3 a serious jocular one?

“Captain LAYTON: His question was absolutely serious, but when he said, ‘Where are Cardivs 1 and ,3?’ and I said, ‘I do not know precisely, but if I must estimate, I would say that they are probably in the Kure area since we haven’t heard from them in a long time and they may be refitting as they finished operations only a month and a half ago,’ and it was then when he, with a twinkle in his eye, said, ‘Do you mean to say they could be rounding Diamond Head? or words to that effect. In other words, he was impressing me on my complete ignorance as to their exact location.

“Mr. SONNETT: He was conscious, therefore, of your lack of information about those carriers?

“Captain LAYTON. This incident has been impressed on my mind. I do not say that I quote him exactly, but I do know that he made such a statement to me in the way to point out to me that I should know where they are but hadn’t so indicated their location” (P. 255‑266).

On December 1, 1941, he submitted to Admiral Kimmel, on request, his esti­mate of the locations of all major units of the Japanese Navy (page 913). After this was typed, more recent information caused it to be changed, in red; it showed available in the Empire—4 aircraft carriers, 6 battleships, with a question mark after them, 4 heavy cruisers, with a question mark after them, and 12 destroyers—available for use in the home area. This was a portion of the entire Japanese Navy, the majority of which was shown as disposed to the south and implicated in the impending moves, from their sources of information. The witness referred to his translation of a book (“a novel published in Tokyo to inflame public opinion toward larger armament money”—page 911), which stated that it would be very dangerous for Japan to launch a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor using carriers, battleships, and cruisers; with Japan staking its existence on the move to the south it could not afford to gamble its defenses by sending some of this force on a raid which would denude the Empire of vessels. That was generally his reasoning (page 913);

Captain Layton further testified that there were delivered to him, for presenta­tion to Admiral Kimmel, daily communication intelligence summaries, during the period of time subsequent to the sending and receipt of the dispatches of 26 November. (Page 192). Captain Layton identified such summaries for the period 14 October to 14 December 1941, (Exhibit 22), and pointed out that the initials appearing in the lower right hand corner of these documents reading HEK, appeared on the original and were the initials of Admiral Kimmel (Page 193‑194)….

during this period, as previously noted, included the fortnightly summary of current national situations, prepared by ONI and issued on December 1, 1941 (Exhibit 57). In addition to the military and naval information furnished, this stated, concerning the Japanese diplomatic situation, that unless the Japanese requested a continuance of the conversations, the Japanese‑American negotia­tions would have virtually broken down; the Japanese government and press were proclaiming loudly that the nation must carry on resolutely the work of building the greater East Asia sphere; the press was also criticising Thailand severely; strong indications pointed to an early Japanese advance against Thailand; and, relations between Japan and Russia remained strained.

On December 2, 1941, Admiral Kimmel wrote to Admiral Stark (Exhibit 50) and advised that Admiral Halsey’s advance in the ENTERPRISE to Wake had been covered by two patrol squadrons operating from Johnston, Midway, and Wake, and that upon completion of the movement, Admiral Kimmel planned to return one squadron to Pearl Harbor and leave the other at Midway and awaiting developments. The letter discussed the difficulty of supply and defense of the out­lying islands. The letter also stated that consideration was being given to the dispatches concerning the use of Army personnel in outlying islands; and, that Admiral Kimmel had frequently called Admiral Stark’s attention to the inade­quacy of Army anti‑aircraft defense in the Pearl Harbor area, with particular reference to the shortage of anti‑aircraft guns. So far, he said, very little had been done to improve this situation. It was pointed out that because of the Army’s lack of equipment, Admiral Kimmel was unable to understand the dis­patches directing that the Army be utilized in the defense of the outlying islands.

A postscript to this letter stated, “You will note that I have issued orders to the Pacific Fleet to depth bomb all submarine contacts in the Oahu operating area.” It will be recalled that Admiral Stark testified that he took no exception to this (page 153)….

On December 3, 1941, OPNAV sent two dispatches advising of Japanese instructions to destroy codes as follows:

1.  A dispatch from OPNAV to CincAF, ComSIXTEEN for action, and to CinCPac and ComFOURTEEN for information which advised that Tokyo ordered London, Hongkong, Singapore, and Manila to destroy Purple machine and the Batavia machine already had been sent to Tokyo; Washington also had been directed to destroy the Purple and all but one copy of other systems, and all secret documents; also, that the British Admiralty had reported that the Embassy at London had complied (Exhibit 66).

Captain Safford referred to OpNav secret dispatch 031855 which he said he prepared on December 3, and to a similar dispatch released by Admiral Wilkinson. He then said:

“Before drafting my message, I called Commander McCollum on the telephone and asked him, “Are you people in Naval Intelligence doing anything to get a warning out to the Pacific Fleet?’ McCollum emphasized both “we’s’. McCollum replied, ‘We are doing everything we can to get the news out to the Fleet.’ In sending this information, I was overstepping the bounds as established by approved war plans and joint agreement between Naval Communications and Naval Intelligence, but I did it because I thought McCollum had been unable to get his message released. OpNav 031855 was addressed to CinCAF and Com 16 for action, but was routed to CinCPac and Com 14 for information. It was written in highly technical language and only one officer present at Pearl Harbor, the late Lieutenant H. M. Coleman, U. S. N., on CinCPac’s Staff, could have explained its significance.” (p.359‑360)

Captain Safford said that the unit in the Fourteenth Naval District did not have any material from which they could have gained this information through their own efforts. (p. 360)

2.  A dispatch from OPNAV to CincAF, CincPac, ComFOURTEEN, ComSIXTEEN, for action:

“Highly reliable information has been received that categoric and urgent instructions were sent yesterday to Japanese diplomatic and consular posts at Hong Kong X Singapore X Batavia X Manila X Washington and London to destroy most of their codes and ciphers at once and to burn all other important and confidential and secret documents” (Exhibit 20)

Admiral Pye said that he saw the December 3 dispatch concerning the destruction of codes and discussed it with the Commander in Chief, that it seemed perfectly evident that such action could precede war by many days and it did not indicate immediate action. They were unaware of the source of this information and as it had appeared in the newspapers it probably did not mean as much as it would have meant had they known the source. Admiral Pye felt that at Oahu they were pretty much operating in the dark so far as the international situation was concerned. (p. 157)

Exhibit 11 is the December 3 dispatch by CNO to CinCAF, CinCPac and others.

Concerning the code destruction messages, Admiral Turner said that it was impossible for him to understand how anyone could believe that because of the messages the war was coming in the Western Pacific and would not involve Oahu. He pointed out that both Washington and Manila had been included in the dispatch.

Admiral McMorris said that the December 3rd dispatch concerning codes was the best indication, in his opinion, that the United States would be involved in war with Japan. He did not recall Admiral Kimmel’s view. (p. 247)

Admiral Anderson said that he had not precise knowledge but he thought that there had been a proper dissemination of information among the officers of the higher command. He saw the Commander in Chief at least weekly. Admiral Anderson did not think that he had seen nor had he been told about the October 16 dispatch. (p. 392). Admiral Anderson could not recall the November 24 dispatch or the November 30 dispatch to CinCAF with copy to CinCPac for information. He did remember having seen the war warning and believed that he had seen the December 3 dispatch.

As a matter of interest, it may be noted that a sentence appearing at the end of this copy of the dispatch, which was released by T. S. Wilkinson, was stricken out in pencil. That sentence read: “From foregoing infer that Orange plans early action in Southeast Asia.”

On December 4 1941, OPNAV sent a dispatch (Exhibit 21) to NavStaGuam for action, and to CincAF; CincPac; ComFOURTEEN, and ComSIXTEEN for information stating:

“Guam destroy all secret and confidential publications and other classified mat matter except that essential for current purposes and special intelligence retaining minimum cryptographic channels necessary for essential communications with CincAF, CincPac, ComFOURTEEN, ComSIXTEEN, and OpNav X Be prepared to destroy instantly in event of emergency all classified matter you retain X Report crypto channels retained”

On December 6, 1941, a dispatch (Exhibit 22) bearing time‑date stamp 061743 was sent by OPNAV to CinCPac for action, and to CincAF for information. This stated:

“In view of the international situation and the exposed position of our outlying Pacific islands, you may authorize the destruction by them of secret and confidential documents now or under later conditions of greater emergency X Means of communication to support our current operations and special intelligence should of course be maintained until the last moment”

Commander Kramer drafted Exhibit 66, the December 3rd dispatch concerning Japanese destruction of the “purple” machine. This was sent on the “Kopek” Channel, which was a channel for technical traffic between the Navy Department; Pearl Harbor and the Asiatic Station (page 971). It indicated, he said, a break in diplomatic relations. Exhibit 20, sent out by OPNAV on the same day as Exhibit 66, was the interpretive dispatch of Exhibit 66 (page 960).

Admiral Noyes said that Exhibit 21 (dispatch to Guam of December 4th, directing the destruction of codes) was prepared by him and motivated by the growing feeling that war in the Pacific was imminent (page 1031). It was released by Admiral Ingersoll.

Admiral Noyes said that Exhibit 22 (authorizing destruction of codes on outlying islands, dated December 6, 1941) was prepared by him and treated as priority dispatch, despite the lack of priority shown on its face (pages 1040, 1042).

Admiral Stark testified that the code destruction message was sent to Guam because he felt that Guam was in the most danger; he did not similarly advise ComFOURTEEN because he did not think Hawaii was in as much danger as was Guam. (page 69). At this time, Admiral Stark testified, he believed that war was imminent. Of particular significance he felt, was the information relating the destruction of codes (pages 165‑6). We also knew that the Japanese consuls were advising the evacuation of Japanese nationals from Malay, the Philippines, Hawaii, the United States, etc. (page 157). Admiral Ingersoll stated that the dispatch concerning Japanese destruction of codes strengthened the “war warning” (page 835).

Admiral Turner said that on Friday, December 5, 1941, there was a discussion between Admiral Stark, Admiral Ingersoll and himself concerning the general situation, and they all felt that all necessary orders had been issued to all echelons of command preparatory to war and that nothing further was necessary (page 1006). They did send some other messages about destruction of codes, both Japanese and our own (page 1007).

Admiral Kimmel testified that he regarded the dispatches concerning Japanese destruction of codes as indicating that the Japanese were going to take steps to prevent the seizure of their codes upon the breaking off of diplomatic negotiations, and regarded the dispatch directing Guam to destroy classified matter as a general precautionary measure (page 327). He “presumed” that he received the December 6th dispatch prior to the attack (page 327).

Admiral Smith testified that he saw the dispatches relating to the destruction of codes but that this meant little to him as CincPac was prepared to destroy codes (page 533). At this time, he said, war was inevitable (page 534).

About December 3rd, Admiral Smith said, after receipt of the dispatch of that date, and information from the Asiatic Fleet to the effect that heavy Japanese movements were on the way to the Southward, he believed that the Japanese were going to attack Malay Peninsula and possibly the Philippines; he thinks that the reaction of others at Admiral Kimmel’s headquarters was the same.

Admiral Pye testified that he saw Exhibit 20 (Japanese destroying codes) on December 4th, but that this information was published in the newspapers (page 427). Admiral Pye testified that he had not seen Exhibits 21 and 22 (Page 428).

Commander Rochefort, who was in charge of combat intelligence of the Four­teenth Naval District, stated that during this period the Japanese Consulate was burning or destroying various papers (page 474).

Captain Layton said that the messages concerning Japanese code destruction meant to him only that the Japanese, were destroying a cipher machine; he knew “purple” designated it as a diplomatic code (pages 904‑5) and that the “purple” cipher was A high class cipher (page 908).

On December 5, 1941, he said, they received word from the Naval Observer at Wellington that the Japanese were destroying codes. This was given to CincPac and was considered along with other information received at that time (page 906). At that time, they received messages from the British and from Washington Stat­ing that highly secret and reliable information indicated a Japanese attack on the Kra Peninsula; this seemed to dovetail with the other information which they had (page 906).

There was a discussion concerning the significance of the code destruction mes­sages; they seemed to indicate to Layton that Japan was preparing for all even­tualities. He presumed that when it was discussed by Admiral Kimmel with the War Plans Officer and others, it was a matter of discussion (page 906).

Admiral McMorris said that he felt that Exhibit 20 (Japanese destroying codes) indicated strongly that there would be war with Japan. He did not recall whether this opinion was prevalent on CincPac’s staff, but believed it was thought by CincPac that war was then extremely possible (page 895).

It may be noted that although Admiral Kimmel stated that he had kept Gen­eral Short informed, he did not personally direct that General Short be given the dispatches concerning codes destruction (Exhibits 20, 21, 22) and did not know whether they were given to him (page 327).

The only action that Admiral Bloch recalled as a result of the December 3 dispatch concerning the destruction of codes was the security measures already prescribed, the additional inshore patrol in Honolulu, a warning that was given to the Destroyer captains, and his belief the Army was on a full alert. (p. 18)

Admiral Bloch did not believe that the Army had been informed of these warning (code) messages. The messages, he said, ‘were secret and they had been admonished to keep them secret to prevent alarming people, and one thing and another, Admiral Bloch’s War Plans Officer would know about them. Admiral Bloch said that since General Short and he saw one another very frequently and Admiral Kimmel and he saw one another practically every day, it is hard to believe that anything of importance could take place or that anything could be received of even small importance that was not discussed because it is only fair to assume that they discussed everything. (p 18)

General Short, he said, had an Army Colonel as a liaison officer in Admiral Bloch’s office and Admiral Bloch had in the General’s office a Lieutenant of the Naval Reserve as a liaison officer and these men were supposed to be kept informed. Admiral Bloch’s liaison officer did not know of the dispatches that had been received because Admiral Bloch did not consider that it was proper to tell him; he was quite inexperienced. Nor was Admiral Bloch sure that the Army’s liaison officer knew of the messages, but he said they were in close touch through these liaison officers and felt that they knew what was going on. He said that it was indicated that there were some things which they were not correctly informed about. (p. 18)

Neither General Short nor his Chief of Staff recalled having seen these messages prior to the attack (pages 255, 486).”

As with all information, intelligence is only as good the context and significance that can be discerned from it.  Once processed it can then inform decision-makers of the actions that must be taken.  In 1985, after most of the MAGIC and other documents had been declassified, including many of those from the various investigations, Admiral Layton broke his silence in the book And I Was There: Pearl Harbor and Midway–Breaking the Secrets.  In the book Layton, breaking his silence of over 40 years, detailed the infighting and professional jealousy between the Washington and fleet commands within the Navy which caused important intelligence to be withheld and misrouted that not only contributed to the lack of readiness on December 7th at Pearl Harbor, but had almost led to a similar disaster at Midway had better minds not prevailed.

The title of the book was derived from a heated exchange between Layton and Admiral R. K. Turner that almost led to fisticuffs.  According to Layton, who had served the war as the fleet intelligence officer for Admiral Chester Nimitz, the day of the Japanese surrender Turner had entered the wardroom of the USS Missouri and was jubilant that another inquiry had placed the blame for the size of the disaster at Pearl Harbor on its area commander, Admiral Kimmel.  According to Layton:

“Turner continued to hold forth.  Time and again he said, ‘Kimmel was given all that information and didn’t do anything about it.’  I sat there stunned. I knew that what he was saying was not only untrue, but a monstrous slur on my former commander in chief….Turner repeated his rant: “They should hang him higher than a kite!”  And I, boiling with indignation, had to correct him.  ‘Admiral,’ I said, ‘I’m sorry.  But Kimmel did not have that information.  You say that he did.  I know that he did not, and I was there.”

Turner had good reason to celebrate the placing of blame elsewhere since, as the head of war plans for the Navy, it was his job to keep the fleets informed of the latest intelligence.  According to Layton it is not Kimmel or any subordinates in the fleets that deserved blame.  As CNO Admiral Stark certainly was responsible for ensuring that his fleet was informed.  In his own role as part of the triumvirate of Naval Operations, Admiral Turner, who monopolized intelligence for his own purposes, bore as much responsibility as the CNO for the disaster.  Layton wrote that had he had the same intelligence that had been selectively routed elsewhere within the Navy, that he would have had sufficient warning to provide to Kimmel to minimize, and perhaps thwart, the Japanese attack.  He also wrote that, having learned the lessons from Pearl Harbor, the commanders and officers in the fleet learned to quickly adjust to prevent a similar disaster from occurring at Midway, but just barely.

It must be said that Turner, though loathed by many men and officers around him for his temper and alleged bouts with the bottle, distinguished himself during the war in charge of amphibious operations.  Reality rarely makes for black-and-white characters.  Admiral Stark took the initial blame, as he must have.  Admiral Turner dodged a bullet.

But Pearl Harbor was an extraordinary event.  No one possesses clairvoyance.  The audacity, bravery, preparation, and dedication of the Japanese fleet was as much responsible for the effectiveness of the attack as any failure on the part of U.S. Navy intelligence or its commanders.  The standard for placing blame under a court of inquiry or JAG investigation is to determine whether gross negligence or incompetence was a contributing factor.  Looking back in history through the various reports, most of what I see is the fog of war.  That and organizational confusion regarding the use and distribution of intelligence, and internecine rivalry.  The secrecy of MAGIC was of utmost concern to Naval Operations in Washington.  Excluding Kimmel due to rivalries among senior command certainly contributed to the tragedy.

Even a man as otherwise rational as Layton finds regret in not encouraging Admiral Kimmel to read the translation of a Japanese book written in 1933 that plays out the scenario of an attack on Pearl Harbor.  Had Kimmel found the time to do so, would he have acted differently on December 7th without the intelligence that Turner possessed?  I doubt it.  But there lies the basis of valid criticism that also reveals the defect in Kimmel’s defense (and I started out doing the research for this post wanting to absolve him).

While it is true that Kimmel believed that the missing carriers were reported as heading to Malaysia or the Philippines, thousands of miles away, that was only supposition and he expressed that to Layton.  Knowing war was imminent what would a circumspect commander do?  Kimmel’s own defense was that he relied on Navy Operations to share all essential intelligence derived from MAGIC.  But this was 1941 where international and naval communications were relatively slow.  He was in Pearl Harbor and MAGIC was in Washington, where raw data went through a series of decryptions and processing before it became intelligence that then had to be properly interpreted and routed.  His argument assumes a level of inerrancy in intelligence sharing unknown in military history before or since, especially considering the pace of events from November 27th, when he received the war memo, to December 7th.

I would say that Kimmel should have remained on a readiness footing that Sunday.  He should have continued to fly missions to the north as identified by the Orange war games that identified that position as the most likely place from which the Japanese would launch an attack, even if he thought his aircraft levels were too low to be completely effective.  (Forces are always deficient.  Not using what one has is inexcusable).  And he should have continued to keep a portion of the surface fleet underway along with his carriers.  Then and only then could he argue that he had done everything that could be possibly done absent the latest intelligence.  The overall impact of the attack would certainly have been lessened and it is possible that the Japanese fleet could have been directly engaged.  Instead, he abrogated his responsibility by relying on Washington to give him sufficient advance warning–4,828 miles away.  That is at least simple, and perhaps, gross negligence.  While not a proximate cause, it is a contributing cause to the severity of the attack and the inability for his forces to engage the enemy.

But Navy Operations also bears a great deal of responsibility.  Kimmel was left on his own, and neither Stark nor Turner displayed any urgency regarding the readiness of their two main areas of operation: Pearl or the Philippines.  Given the information they had, if they could not share information due to the sensitivity of MAGIC, then they should have taken it upon themselves to order measures without revealing the particular reason for it.  The post-World War attempt by some officers and their political allies to scapegoat others, including General Marshall and the President, ring hollow when one sees that the Navy had all of the information it needed prior to December 7 to at least defend from, if not counter, an attack.

To the U. S. Navy Pearl Harbor is a cautionary tale.  Since that time Command at any level has been imbued with a high degree of accountability and responsibility.  As a result, a great deal of emphasis has been placed on readiness at all times–even during peacetime.  During the war the Navy developed new methods of leadership and reformed itself to be more inclusive in its officer corps.  For all that, the Navy still experiences many of the internal conflicts and rivalries of those days.  It’s inability to balance the need for security and control while taking advantage of new information technologies is its biggest challenge today.  In that way the lessons of Pearl Harbor still need to be learned.

Why Can’t We Be Friends — The Causes of War

Paul Krugman published an interesting opinion piece in the Sunday New York Times entitled “Why We Fight Wars” in which he attempts to understand why developed, relatively affluent countries still decide to wage war, despite the questionable economic costs.  Many websites seconded his observations, particularly those that view social systems and people as primarily rational economic beings.  I think the problem with Mr. Krugman’s opinion–and there is no doubt that he is a brilliant economist and observer of our present state of affairs with a Nobel to his name no less–is that he doesn’t fully comprehend that while the economic balance sheet may argue against warfare, there are other societal issues that lead a nation to war.

Warfare, its causes, and the manner to conduct it was part of my profession for most of my life.  My education was dedicated not only to my academic development but also to its utility in understanding the nature of civilization’s second oldest profession–and how to make what we do in waging war–at the tactical, operational, strategic level–that much more effective.  In the advanced countries we attempt to “civilize” warfare, though were it to be waged in its total state today, it would constitute post-industrial, technological mass murder and violence on a scale never seen before.  This knowledge, which is even recognized by peripheral “Third World” nations and paramilitary organizations, actually make such a scenario both unthinkable and unlikely.  It is most likely this knowledge that keeps Russian ambitions limited to insurgents, proxies, Fifth Columnists, and rigged referendums in its current war of conquest against Ukraine.

Within the civilized view of war, it begins with Clausewitz’s famous dictum: “War is the attainment of political ends through violent means.”  Viewing war as such we have established laws in its conduct.  The use of certain weapons–chemical and biological agents for instance–are considered illegal and their use a war crime; a prohibition honored throughout World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and most other major conflicts.  Combatants are to identify themselves and, when they surrender, are to be accorded humane treatment–a rule that has held up pretty effectively with notable exceptions recorded by Showa Japan, North Korea, and North Vietnam and–tragically and recently–by the United States in its conduct in the War on Terror.  War is not to be purposely waged on non-combatants and collective punishment as reprisals for resistance are prohibited.  There are also others that apply, such as Red Cross and medical persons being protected from attack.  In the U.S. military, the conduct of personnel at war are also restricted by the rules of engagement.  But in all cases the general law of warfare dictates that only the necessary amount of force to achieve the desired political ends is to be exercised–the concept of proportionality applied to a bloody business.

Such political ends typically reflect a society’s perception of its threats, needs, and grievances.  Japan’s perception that the United States and Western Europe was denying it resources and needed its own colonial possessions is often cited as the cause of its expansion and militarism under Showa rule.  Germany’s economic dislocations and humiliation under the Allies is often blamed for the rise of Hitler, rabid nationalism, and expansionism.  In both cases it seemed that at the societal level both nations possessed the characteristics on the eve of war that is typically seen in psychotic individuals.  Other times these characteristics seemed to behave like a disease, infecting other societies and countries in proximity with what can only be described as sociopathic memes–a type of mass hysteria.  How else to explain the scores of individuals with upraised hands in fealty to obviously cruel and inhumane political movements across the mess of human history–or the systematic collection and mass murder of Jews, Gypsies, Intellectuals, and other “undesirables”: not just in Germany but wherever the influence of this meme spread across Europe, Africa, and Asia?

Nations can also fool themselves in learning the wrong lessons from history.  Our own self-image of righting the wrongs of the Old World go back to our anti-colonial roots and the perceptions of our immigrant ancestors who were either rejected by or rejected that world.  Along these lines, the example of Munich in the 20th century has been much misused as a pretext for wars that have ended disastrously or created disastrous blowback resulting from the fog of war simply because the individuals assessing the strategic situation told themselves convenient stories gleaned from an inapplicable past and ignored the reality on the ground.  We have seen this in my lifetime in Vietnam, Iraq (twice), and Afghanistan.

For all of the attempts to “civilize” warfare and lend it rationality, there comes a time when its successful prosecution requires the rejection of rationality.  This is why soldiers and combatant personnel use euphemisms to dehumanize their enemy: it is easier to obliterate a person who is no longer seen as human.  Correspondingly the public is inflamed, the press becomes a tool of the war party, and dissent is viewed with suspicion and penalized.  This is why warfare cannot be interpreted as an extension of neo-classical or–any–economics.  There are no rational actors; at least, not as it is presently conducted by modern nation-states no matter their level of economic development or the maturity of their political systems.  War is unhinged–part of the savagery found in all of us from our primate pasts.

One of my most effective professors when I was seeking my Masters in Military Arts and Sciences was the brilliant historian Dr. Roger J. Spiller–a protégé’ of T. Harry Williams.  “We are always learning,” he would say in repeating a familiar refrain in the military profession, “the lessons from the last war.”  For students at the Army Command and General Staff College it was the critique that doctrine (and therefore the organization and construction of the force) was based on the 1967 Arab-Israeli War; probably the only analogue that could be used in Iraq and–unfortunately for Russia–if they decide to turn their armor on Ukraine or any Article V NATO countries.

Aside from these few exceptions, however, the American way of total warfare that we learned first in our own Civil War and then perfected on the battlefields of Europe and Asia–and our success in its use–has rendered it largely obsolete.  It has been obsolete for quite some time because warfare has changed; its practitioners have evolved.  It has changed because its present incarnation is being prosecuted by people and groups that have no significant power and so use violence to destroy power.  This is the purpose of the terrorist.  Even the strength of this new form of warfare–Low Intensity Conflict–is transient–evident only in tactical situations.  What it cannot do is establish legitimacy or power.  Thus, meeting violence with violence only exacerbates the situation in these cases because power is further eroded and–along with it–legitimacy.  We see the results of the vacuum caused by this inability to adjust to the new warfare in the political instability in both Iraq and Afghanistan–and the rise of ISIS.

While I would argue that the use of economic balance sheets are not what we need in assessing the needs to ensure global stability and peace, we do require a new theory of war that infuses greater rationality into the equation.  Clausewitz–and his intellectual successor Antoine-Henri Jomini–in looking at the guerilla warfare in Spain against French rule, simply admonishes war’s practitioners not to go there.  It is not until T. E. Lawrence and Mao Zedong that we have a modern theory to address this new, societal form of “revolutionary” warfare and then only from the perspective of the revolutionary that wishes to establish neo-colonial, authoritarian, or totalitarian regimes.

Thus, we possess the old templates and they no longer work.  With the specter of nuclear weapons still held over the head of humanity we can ill afford to view every situation as a nail, needing a hammer.  We must, I think, follow the lead as advocated by Hannah Arendt, who distinguished the differences between power, strength, force, violence, and authority.  There is, as John Dewey observed, a connection in consequences between means and ends.  The modern form of violence through terrorism or paramilitary revolution has all too often, in the last quarter of the 20th century and the first decades of the 21st century, led to new oppression and totalitarianism.  This has probably been inevitable given the indiscriminate brutality of the struggles.  Diplomacy backed by credible power and sufficient military force to counteract such violence is the new necessary face of achieving stability.  Contrary to the assertions of neo-cons at the time, the very thing we needed in the wake of 9-11 was an effective police action in lieu of chaotic regional warfare.

Interestingly, the insight between means and ends in warfare was perceived early by George Washington when he won his struggle over the conduct of the war against the methods of Nathaniel Greene.  Greene’s irregular methods of warfare were designed to win the war but to unmake a nation, while Washington’s method–the existence of the disciplined continental army as the strategic center of the revolution–was designed to make a nation once the war was over.  Unfortunately for the French and the Russians, there was no George Washington to see this important distinction in their own revolutions.

So too in the 21st century is this connection between means and ends in the handling of conflict–and terrorism–important.  The years since the fall of the Soviet Union seem to have turned the clock back to 1914 for the pressures and conflicts that were held in check by a bi-polar world: the Balkans, the Middle East, Eastern Europe all have been engulfed in conflict.  The tragedy that can result given the new technologies and approaches for inflicting violence and chaos on civilization require that we not apply 1914 methods in meeting them.