SCAPEGOATS (LETTER) - Joseph Taussig

The following letter to the editor of the WASHINGTON TIMES is reprinted here as an interesting and timely sidelight to my book review on Scapegoats, elsewhere in this section:

“The Norman Polmar letter about the correctness of the demotions of Admiral Husband E. Kimmel and General Walter Short because of the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is just a bunch of nonsense ['Revisionist History,' Letters, June 28, 2001].

“Mr. Polmar is, indeed, a well-known and often respected 'naval historian and author,' but he was not there. His studies, which indicate 'the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor and Army Air Forces were psychologically and materially unprepared for war,' do not reflect on General Short nor Admiral Kimmel.

“I was involved in the attack. At 0745, I took over the deck of the battleship Nevada. When alerted to the attack about 0800, I went to my battle station directing the starboard anti-aircraft battery. About 0805 a bomb hit our AA gun deck, the aircraft swung around and one of its strafing bullets went completely through my left hip. I had no idea how serious the wound was, but it was not until April 1946 that I was returned to duty. For the rest of the morning, until forcibly removed from Sky Control in the face of a fire that destroyed the station, I functioned as the senior AA officer present.

“Why did Mr. Polmar conclude that we were 'psychologically unprepared?' I have yet to find a single authenticated statement that a single person, Army or Navy, shirked their duty, ran from obvious danger, or failed to do their best with whatever they had available to them. This is an out and out tribute to the full credit of our leaders, General Short and Admiral Kimmel. Their people were totally prepared psychologically to react. And they did so with outstanding valor.

“Materially' we were not prepared. I have talked to scores of former AA officers who were there, and not one of them made any claim whatsoever that the 3-inch and 5-inch anti-aircraft guns in the fleet ever hit a single aircraft, although thousands of rounds were fired. Why? The guns weren't worth a damn. This was not the fault of General Short (who had a total of six AA guns to protect the entire island of Oahu) or Admiral Kimmel. The fleet practiced and practiced with those guns. They stunk. They proved they couldn't hit anything despite 'Washington's' assurance that they could. Even the lousy 1.1-inch guns, which a couple of ships had, failed. What few planes the Japanese lost were hit by .50-caliber guns, and possibly one to a .30-caliber gun.

“As it was, all the ships 'sunk' at Pearl Harbor save the battleships Arizona and Oklahoma lived to fight another day. Why? Because Pearl Harbor is only 40-feet deep, and ships that sink in 40 feet of water often do not even have their decks awash. Had we been at sea, we would have lost ships in hundreds of fathoms of water because our guns were useless; again no fault of Admiral Kimmel.

“The powers in Washington who conducted or participated in all the investigations kept their rosy little noses clean either to hide their own derelictions, or to 'protect through loyalty' whomever, whether anyone was actually derelict.

“Kimmel and Short were leaders who showed their battle-ready mettle, and were outstandingly brave, and they lost their stars. This is one of the outstanding outrages of military history, Mr. Polmar, Sen. John Warner (R-VA), and a lot of other know-it-alls-but-weren't-there-experts notwithstanding.

“It will not cost the taxpayers a penny to restore General Short and Admiral Kimmel to their ranks. It will make the vast majority of Pearl Harbor survivors feel far better that we are no longer held to be 'psychologically unprepared' or badly led.”

Joseph K. Taussig, Jr. Annapolis, Md.