Should Kimmel and Short Still Live in Infamy?

by Edward R. "Ned" Kimmel

From the Commentary page of the October 8, 2000 issue of The Washington Times

Copy from the collection of Edward R. Kimmel

The Defense Authorization Act for 2001, currently pending before the Congress, contains provisions exonerating the Pearl Harbor commanders, Adm. Husband Kimmel and Gen. Walter Short.

The legislation recites that these two Hawaiian commanders performed their duties "competently and professionally," and requests the president to nominate both officers to their highest-held World War II ranks of admiral and lieutenant general.

Sens. William Roth, Delaware Republican, Joseph Biden, Delaware Democrat, Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, Strom Thurmond, South Carolina Republican, and Reps. John Spratt, South Carolina Democrat, and Michael Castle, Delaware Republican, introduced the same language of justice in the Senate and House bills. The language was fully considered and adopted by both the Senate and House Armed Services Committees. The congressional sponsors are as motivated by the need to restore our national tradition of justice for all as they are by the multigenerational distress of the descendants, colleagues and friends of the admiral and the general.

These two officers were denied advancement to their highest held World War II ranks when the Officer Personnel Act of 1947 was implemented. They were the only two eligible officers denied such advancement. Their sole exclusion serves only to perpetuate the myth of their singular responsibility for the success of the Japanese attack of Dec. 7, 1941.

There have been 10 investigations of the circumstances surrounding this attack. Initially, in 1941 the Roberts Commission charged them with "dereliction of duty." But they were completely cleared of this charge by subsequent investigations: the Naval Court of Inquiry in 1944: the Army Board of Investigation in 1944, the Joint Congressional Committee Investigation in 1946. the Army Board for the Correction of Military Records in 1991.

Finally, in 1995, Defense Undersecretary Edwin S. Dorn issued a Defense Department Report that frankly acknowledged that "Responsibility for the Pearl Harbor disaster should not fall solely on the shoulders of Adm. Kimmel and Gen. Short, it should be broadly shared." The Dorn Report went on to say that this conclusion should have been clear since 1946, based on the congressional investigation.

Based on the incontestable facts determined by the numerous investigations, it is clear the Hawaiian commanders accomplished all that anyone could have in view of the limited resources and support provided by their superiors in terms of operating forces (ships and aircraft) and information (instructions and intelligence). Their disposition of forces, based on the information made available to them by the command structure in Washington was reasonable and appropriate. Adms. Thomas Moorer, William Crowe, James Holloway, Elmo Zumwalt and Carlisle Trost agreed as did Gens. Andrew Goodpaster and William J. McCaffrey and the Naval Court of Inquiry and Army Board of Investigation.

The facts establish also that essential and critical intelligence information, available in Washington from decoded Japanese messages, was withheld from the Hawaiian commanders despite the commitment of the command structure in Washington to provide this information to them. For example, there is the "Bomb Plot" message and subsequent reporting orders from Tokyo to Japanese agents in Hawaii as to locations, types and number of warships, and their replies to Tokyo, one of which actually articulated the likelihood that a surprise attack could be achieved.

Adm. Kimmel was told of the code-breaking capabilities of U.S. intelligence with respect to Japanese codes and he was promised he could rely on adequate warning of any attack based on this special intelligence capability.

The most recent 1995 Dorn investigation concluded that the code-breaking intelligence available in Washington the evening of Dec. 6 and morning of Dec. 7 did provide warning of an attack on the United States at dawn (Hawaii time) on Dec. 7 by Japan. But the Hawaiian commanders were not informed. Whether deliberate or for some other reason should have no bearing on the matter here under consideration. Adm. Kimmel and Gen. Short did not get the support and warnings they were promised.

The Dorn Report also found that "the evidence of the handling of these messages in Washington reveals some ineptitude, some unwarranted assumptions and misestimates, limited coordination, ambiguous language, and lack of clarification and follow-up at higher levels."

It is obvious that the fault for the Pearl Harbor lay at the seat of government in Washington and not with the Hawaiian commanders. The undisputed facts show Adm. Kimmel and Gen. Short were singularly and unfairly scapegoated as solely responsible for this historic disaster. Correcting an injustice is not rewriting history. History in this case is based on 10 official government investigations. An objective assessment of those facts makes it clear Adm. Kimmel and Gen. Short were treated unfairly, an injustice that persists to this day as a blot on both their legacies and the integrity of the U.S. military and nation as a whole.

This long-overdue exoneration is praised by Edward Beach, retired Navy captain, celebrated naval warrior and historian and author in 1995 of "Scapegoats -- A Defense of the two Hawaiian Commanders." "They have already been exonerated in public opinion," wrote Mr. Beach. "Now this action means they are officially ‘not guilty.' History will have to take note. This is the final point."



The writer is the sole surviving son of Adm. Husband Kimmel and is himself a former naval officer and a retired lawyer and lives in Wilmington. Del.


Details on the pages of the Kimmel Family Record web site come from the collection of
Timothy W. Kimmel of Fort Wayne, Indiana.  You can contact Tim at

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