On Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima…

…brought to you by a couple of my recent reads…


I saw this one at Half Price Books a few weeks ago, but it was cheaper on Amazon.

The man in the top right corner, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, is the subject of the book. You might remember him as the commander of the Pacific Fleet when Pearl Harbor was attacked; he was subsequently relieved of his command and replaced by Chester W. Nimitz. This book was the first I had ever seen of the theory that he was made the scapegoat for others’ failures.

Suffice to say it was a revelation. I know you have to have your stuff together to get to the rank Kimmel did, but his pre-Pearl Harbor record goes above and beyond just that. He was one of the most highly-regarded officers of his day.

Which makes the whole thing even more enraging, as enlightening as it was. I really don’t know what the worst part of that whole sordid affair was, but the bit that most readily comes to mind is this:

Several people, among them then-Vice President nominee Harry S. Truman, tried to say that Kimmel and his Army counterpart, Lieutenant General Walter C. Short, did not have any kind of relationship, working or otherwise. As in, they never even talked to each other. But that was not true. They had a fine relationship, both as colleagues and as friends — in fact, they played golf together every week.

Also, both Kimmel and Short knew they were woefully undergunned; they repeatedly begged for more weapons from Washington and were refused every time. And we haven’t even gotten into the monumental amount of intercepted communications between Japanese forces in the months leading up to the attack that were kept from them. One of the people involved in that was Admiral Harold Stark, Chief of Naval Operations, whose friendship with Kimmel went back to their days at the Naval Academy. Stark basically threw Kimmel under the bus in the post-Pearl investigations…and strangely enough, kept up correspondence with him. But Kimmel was having none of it; he never responded to any of the letters, and in fact, the following was written in a draft of a letter to Stark that was found after Kimmel’s death:

“May God forgive you for what you have done to me, for I never will.”

Can’t really say that I blame him.

And then, a friend of mine brought up the possibility that the government knew what was coming and let it happen, which really got me going. Suffice it to say, that if it were true, I think that would be the textbook definition of dereliction of duty, and absolutely worthy of the gallows or the firing squad. I just would not have the words. 2,403 American servicemen dead, 2 distinguished and honorable commanders relieved and disgraced, and for what?

Yeah, I know. Casus belli and all that. But the attack would still have been a fine justification for entry into the war even if it had been an American victory. Yeah, I know. I am saying that with the benefit of 75 years of hindsight. But I am absolutely willing to admit that I may well be wrong.

Which brings me to the next book…


God, the numbers in this book were just absolutely staggering. 12,000 B-17s rolled off assembly lines during the war. Just shy of 4,000 B-29s. For comparison, we built only 744 B-52s (all models, A through H), 100 B-1Bs….and 21 B-2s. 325 B-29s flew in one raid over Tokyo, 529 in a raid over Nagoya, and 427 in another Nagoya raid two days after that one. They dropped so much ordnance that they completely ran out of the napalm that the Navy had stockpiled for the bombs. Another friend of mine made the observation that one thing that the atomic bomb second-guessers don’t ever think about is exactly what LeMay would have done with all those bombers from the European theater plus all the B-29s all flying from as close as Okinawa instead of the Solomons.

What would he have done? He would have left the rest of Japan in smoking ruins, that’s what he’d have done. That man did not screw around. To twist something I was telling Sabra as I was reading this book, I really don’t think it’s fair to say nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki was the wrong thing to do when you have the benefit of almost 75 years of hindsight. People seem to whitewash Unit 731, the Rape of Nanking, and the Bataan Death March. You know that an invasion of Japan would have brought about more of that if they had managed to somehow gain the upper hand. And even if they had not, they were all still going to fight to the death. It was going to be brutal either way. The bombings sucked, but in the end, I think it’s safe to say they saved lives on both sides.


4 Responses to “On Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima…”

  1. rick Says:

    The million deaths we’ve heard about if there were to be an invasion of Japan’s home islands was based on US intel which predicted 3 divisions protecting the islands. That intel was very much wrong.

    There was between 7 and eleven divisions protecting the southern approaches were the Allied assault were to begin. In this light, the dropping of the bombs were even more the right thing to do.

    As an aside: while hosting foreign exchange students, three at a time, one semester I had two Japanese and one Korean. One of the Japanese and the Korean nearly got into a fist fight over how the Japanese had treated the Koreans. That history is not taught in Japan to this day.

  2. LoFan John Says:

    Regarding ” the possibility that the government knew what was coming and let it happen”: I am a fair bit older than you. Over the years I have read and heard a fair amount of “Roosevelt KNEW!” speculation and accusation. I always thought it was BS for the reason you mention: the attack didn’t have to be allowed to succeed; the attack itself, and the inevitable U.S. casualties, would have sent us to war with Japan. Over the years, as more and more documents were declassified, it became clear that there was the opposite of a conspiracy to hide the Japanese military’s intentions. Warnings had gone out to Army and Navy units all over the Pacific that an attack by Japanese forces was likely, that U.S. forces should not attack but should be prepared for an attack. The problem seems to have been that nearly everyone assumed that the attack would come in the Philippines. It wasn’t just Kimmel assuming that. Our forces in the Philippines weren’t taken by surprise, though their air power was nearly wiped out by a fluke of lucky (for the enemy) timing. I agree, Kimmel was a scapegoat.

  3. Ray Says:

    The B-29 was a disaster. It was the single most expensive weapons system of WW2, and an utter failure. Over half of them were lost from mechanical failure. The only thing they could hit from 30000 feet was the ground. It was the reason that Lemay stripped the guns and started night bombing from below 8000 feet with Napalm. Japan had been trying to surrender since the March firebombing of Tokyo. The US wouldn’t even respond until they had tested the “A” bombs. The chose Hiroshima and Nagasaki because they were undefended targets filled with refugees from Tokyo. The “A” bomb didn’t shorten the war by a single day. It was cold blooded murder for political gain. —The coverup of the Dec.7.1941 attack was conducted to protect FDR and the CNO who both KNEW that the Japanese were about to attack. The PI. They had set Gen. Mac Arthor (spell?) up with loads of obsolete and junk equipment then just waited for “plan orange” to play out The “tell” can be found in FDR’s first words to H. Hopkins after being told the Japanese had attacked “Perl Harbor” FDR was quoted as saying “NO you mean Mannilla” (spell?) Hopkins: “NO SIR Its Perl” . FDR “That’s not the plan at all”——–One of the worst war crimes in history was conducted AFTER WW2. When the US Army build monitoring stations at both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Then forced the survivors to live in dirt floor shacks in the blast zone. So that the US could study the effects of radiation sickness. The stations were used until the citizens were evicted from the radioactive shanty towns in 1960. Millions of women and children died of radiation sickness who would have lived if they had only been allowed to move from the radioactive zone. The US Army knew and just watched. —“History is a lie written by the victors”

  4. Les Says:

    The government of Japan wasn’t willing to surrender even after the A Bombs. There was a plot to stop the Emperor’s message to surrender from going out. The pressure of the A bomb attacks and the presence of Russia moving in persuaded the Emperor, but not his government completely.

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