A Defense of Kimmel and Short at Pearl Harbor
By Edward L. Beach, Captain, USN (Ret.)
Naval Institute Press. Annapolis, MD 1995
Reviewed by Byron D. Varner, U.S. Navy (Ret.)L. Beach, a highly-decorated naval warrior, historian and novelist (most notably, RUN SILENT, RUN DEEP, which was made into a motion picture) has done an outstanding job of researching a seemingly endless source of conflicting information.
Included in this virtual sea of paper were the findings of ten different official investigations or hearings from 1941 through 1995, and numerous books written by ranking historians and persons involved in the December 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor disaster.
The result of Beach's effort is a well-documented conclusion in defense of restoring the honor of two “scapegoats” besmirched by the actions of their superiors thousands of miles from the scene. Top military and government officials withheld vital information that could have made a difference in the outcome of the attack.
Explaining his reasons for this book, Beach wrote: “My purpose is not to revise history, or to rewrite it, but to interpret it. Adm. Husband E. Kimmel and LtGen. Walter C. Short, the military commanders in Hawaii in 1941, paid a high price for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. They were deprived of their good names while others of equal or greater guilt — MacArthur, Marshall, Stark, even Roosevelt — were absolved or not even accused. It may have been politic because there was a war to win.
But now, half a century later, we have an obligation to address the question of truth and justice, one of the founding canons of our national system. Our country must not continue to perpetuate a lie.”
Thus the author has joined the efforts of surviving family members and a few people in high places, including some congressional members, in trying to right a wrong that is long overdue.
His work exposes intriguing and questionable actions on the part of many historically heroic figures - in the manner of a detective unfolding clue after clue to solve the mystery. Some of these require deductive reasoning because actual proof no longer exists or has yet to be uncovered. Nonetheless, his presentation is masterful, logical, thought provoking, and generally convincing.
Those who participated in or are old enough to remember WWII will especially appreciate SCAPEGOATS because they can recall the vast difference between our military structure then and now.
They also remember the U.S. military's 1941 unprepar-edness, engendered by both the great depression of the 1930s and the isolationist concept in the Congress at the time. Despite many new national programs initiated by President Roosevelt, government was still comparatively small.
Censorship, high security and other wartime measures limited access of information to news media, making it easier to suppress or hide facts considered “detrimental to the war effort.” Persons in high authority were able to cover up a sensitive issue in that type of environment.
Now, the Freedom of Information Act allows researchers to delve into items that were once off-limits, giving hope that someday the question of the missing facts will be answered.
In today's society, which seems to place decreasingly less value on moral standards of our civilian and military leaders, the larger question may be, “Are there enough people who really care about the concept of honor to make possible its restoration to these deceased scapegoats?”
Captain Beach obviously thinks the government should do so and perhaps you might think so, too, after you have read his book.
Footnote 1: “I was there, and you weren't.”
Footnote 2: A congressional bill to restore both officers' ranks was not included in the 2000 Defense Authorization Bill.