By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Dereliction of duty or political scapegoat?
Admiral Husband Kimmel

“And Aaron shall cast lots upon two goats; one lot for the Lord, and the other lot for the scapegoat.”

— Leviticus 16:8

TIn biblical times one goat was sacrificed and a second goat, the ‘scapegoat’, was exiled into the wilderness as an atonement to ‘remove the burden of sin’ for others. In modern times, the ‘scapegoat’ is a person unfairly blamed for the shortcomings of others.

On Dec. 7, 1941 at approximately 7:48 a.m., the first of two waves of Japanese aircraft swept in from northwest of the Hawaiian Islands to unceremoniously welcome the United States of American into World War II. It was broadcasted as a ‘sneak attack’, a ‘surprise attack’, and in President Roosevelt’s famous words destined to become, ‘a date which will live in infamy.’

In a little over two hours, 21 American warships – including eight battleships — had been sunk or damaged. Of available military aircraft, 188 planes were destroyed and 159 damaged. American casualties: 2,403 killed and 1,178 wounded. As Japan continued to run amok through the rest of the Pacific and Southeast Asia, the American public, the press, and the government demanded to know why and how the Pearl Harbor tragedy could have even happened. The scope of the catastrophe was visible, but to many critics the unpreparedness of American military power in Hawaii bordered on criminal. Heads were about to roll and stones were about to be tossed.

When protecting an adulteress from executioners, Jesus said, “Let him among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone….” In 1941, Washington, DC was a political caldron of sinners with no qualms about tossing stones to protect their own careers and hindquarters after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Two men were targeted for dereliction of duty, demoted and sacked from their responsibilities, and both officers were denied a court martial each demanded to properly defend themselves: Admiral Husband Kimmel, our Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, and General Walter Short, Army Commander on Oahu. Both commanders shoulder some of the culpability, but they were not the only Pacific commanders caught with their khakis down. General Douglas MacArthur in the Philippines was notified of the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor seven hours before the Japanese caught his aircraft on the ground.

MacArthur lost the Philippines, had over 70,000 men killed or taken prisoners, yet was awarded the Medal of Honor and went on to become a national hero.

Enter Tom Kimmel. As Commander of the Atlanta World War II Round Table, I had the honor to introduce Tom as our guest speaker on June 18. Tom is a noted Pearl Harbor scholar, a former FBI agent, and eldest grandson of our Commander at Pearl Harbor, Admiral Husband Kimmel.

Tom’s credentials are impeccable: A graduate of the US Naval Academy, Tom served on three warships during the Vietnam War and attended John Marshall Law School before joining the FBI in 1973. For more than 25 years, special agent Kimmel investigated organized crime in Cleveland, worked with the House Appropriations Committee Investigation and Surveys at CIA Headquarters and supervised the FBI in East Texas. He headed the Labor Racketeering Unit at FBI HQ and the National Drug Intelligence Center in Johnstown, Pennsylvania; served on the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency and as the Assistant Agent in Charge of the Philadelphia FBI Division supervising the Foreign Counter-Intelligence and Terrorism Programs during the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.

After retirement, Tom served as an FBI consultant addressing major spy scandals in the FBI and CIA. He has appeared on 60 Minutes, Discovery Channel, National Geographic Channel, War Stories with Oliver North, and the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

Tom gave a remarkable presentation in defense of his grandfather plus provided enough food for thought to nurture the 7th Fleet. Convincing and concise, after hearing Tom’s lecture one could immediately join the ranks of Admiral Kimmel’s defenders and supporters. Notwithstanding, to present this story I dug deeper, real deep, using numerous research engines, transcripts, absorbing the details of 5 Pearl Harbor classics on conflicting hypotheses, plus scrutinized all 14 of the notorious 14 coded transmissions from Tokyo to its embassy in Washington, DC from Dec. 6-Dec 7, 1941.

The term ‘military intelligence’ has offhandedly been referred to as an oxymoron. Having served in Air Force Intelligence, I have on occasion agreed with that statement. But if one analyzes the calamity of Pearl Harbor, it must be remembered in 1941 our civilian and military leaders did not have spy satellites, GPS, supersonic SR-71 spy planes, up-to-the-minute cable news, cells phones, or Windows 8 to really confuse things. During my first class in Intelligence school we were told ‘don’t believe anything you read and only half of what you see.’ No truer words have ever been spoken, especially when one bears in mind the professional spin-doctors infesting today’s political climate.

Albeit, dive into the perplexity of eight formal investigations during WWII, the last one a joint congressional investigation beginning in November of 1945, and you’ll take a roller coaster ride of accusations, slurs, split favoritisms, biased reports, lack of common sense, recommendations based on limited knowledge, and even worse…the unlawful destruction of military records.

He-said-she-said journalism will not inhabit this article. The irrefutable hard facts will be divulged so the reader can derive his or her personal conclusions, pro or con, as to why only two officers bore the brunt for Pearl Harbor.

In early 1941, Adolf Hitler was preoccupied with England and the Soviet Union. No credible evidence exists of immediate plans for Germany to instigate a war with America by striking its overseas possessions or the American heartland. The direct threat lay in the Pacific: Japan. Aware of Japan’s aggressive strategies, the Pacific Fleet was ordered to move from San Diego to Pearl Harbor in the spring of 1941.

Pearl Harbor: the massive American fleet sat poised to intervene in the Pacific. To what extent was the fleet protected? A brief list.

1. Four SCR-270 radar units were set up around Oahu. Limited spare parts, poorly trained personnel, the units could not identify friend from foe, and manned between 0400 and 0700 only.

2. Obsolete fighter planes. The Japanese Zero flew circles around our planes. Warned of the Zero’s capabilities, the warnings were deemed inaccurate because it was believed a fighter plane could not do what the Zero was reported capable of doing.

3. Long range patrol aircraft. Kimmel had 48, seven of which were under repair. To cover the area effectively, Kimmel needed about 250.

4. Protected by shallow water from torpedoes. The Japanese made a torpedo to travel in shallow water.

5. The firepower of fleet guns and Army anti-aircraft guns were to protect Pearl Harbor. The ammunition was kept under lock and key.

6. General Short believed the navy was there to protect his assets; Admiral Kimmel believed the army was there to protect the fleet.

The above list is an incomplete list. Dozens of accusations, some valid, some manufactured, were hurled at Kimmel and Short. Yet most of the significant allegations against these men are trivial and pointless when undisputable evidence revealed that neither commander had access to the following information:

In late November and early December, 1941, a Japanese spy at Pearl Harbor was ordered by Tokyo to send details on American warships at Pearl, their moorings, depth of the harbor, departures, arrivals, barrage balloons, anti-aircraft positions, number of aircraft stationed in Hawaii, and any relevant information on the defenses at Pearl. This is the type intelligence required by an enemy to preplan an attack; Admiral Kimmel and General Short would have recognized this information as such. The spy’s phone had been tapped, all the information recorded, and passed on to Washington. NONE of the spy’s activities were reported to Short or Kimmel.

The most treacherous oversight of all, bordering on foolish negligence by the Washington hierarchy: the Japanese code had been broken by military intelligence, the secret program dubbed MAGIC. MAGIC was the most important top secret intelligence program of the Pacific War. The MAGIC decoding machine was even made available to the British, vis a vis Winston Churchill. So secret was MAGIC, that high ranking personnel, including General Marshall, lied under oath to protect the program. And there sat Admiral Husband Kimmel, Commander of the vital Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, entrusted to defend and protect his country, his men, and his ships. Kimmel’s Pacific Fleet was the only real barrier to halt or curtail the Japanese, an enemy known to be planning an attack somewhere, at some time, and soon.
Admiral Husband Kimmel WAS NOT given a MAGIC decoding machine nor even informed of its existence. Admiral Kimmel

was politically and militarily blindfolded with his hands tied behind his back. Intelligence, is only good when shared with the people that need it most. To argue that the Commander of our Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor didn’t have ‘a need to know’ is ludicrous, if not felonious.

The 1945 Joint Congressional Committee Investigation, after reviewing the MAGIC documents released by the Truman Administration, came to the final conclusion on culpability: Blame should be apportioned among all the principals: The two commanders at Pearl Harbor, plus the Navy and War Departments. It also concluded that Secretary of War Henry Stimson, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Harold Stark, Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall, and Chief of the War Plans Division Brigadier General Leonard T. Gerow, to be culpable for the disaster.

An even longer list of minor players did not bode well for the military nor our politicians in Washington, DC. Admiral Husband Kimmel and General Walter Short paid the price for being at the wrong place at the wrong time in service to their country. Scapegoats? You decide.

One of Admiral Kimmel’s lawyers wrote to him in 1953, “Pearl Harbor never dies, and no living person has seen the end of it.” However, on May 25, 1999 the United States Senate approved a resolution stating that, ‘Kimmel and Short had performed their duties competently and professionally’, and added that, ‘our losses at Pearl Harbor were, ‘not the result of dereliction of duty.’

Perhaps Strom Thurmond of South Carolina said it best, “Kimmel and Short are the final two victims of Pearl Harbor.”

Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran, columnist and freelance writer. You can reach him at or