THE Pentagon was right in refusing last week to clear the names of the two American military commanders at Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941. Relatives and supporters of Lt. Gen. Walter Short and Rear Adm. Husband Kimmel sought to restore the men's reputations and full ranks. They were demoted and forced to retire shortly after the devastating Japanese surprise attack.
The two men's backers say the Pentagon did not give commanders adequate warning or equipment to repel the attack. For example, military intelligence never passed along intercepted Japanese messages that made clear an attack was imminent. And there's no question that US armed forces everywhere were woefully unprepared for war, both in planning and equipment. Blame Congress for that.
But the two commanders were inexcusably clueless. On Dec. 6, Kimmel received this newspaper's correspondent, Joseph Harsch, and blithely informed him there was no way the Japanese would attack the US in the Pacific. He was either alarmingly misinformed or dissimulating: On Nov. 27 and Dec. 3, he and Short had both received "war alerts" from Washington.
This was revealed three years ago by Henry Clausen in his book "Pearl Harbor: Final Judgment." Clausen was a wartime Army major in the judge advocate general's office, whom Secretary of War Henry Stimson asked to undertake a full investigation of Pearl Harbor. Clausen had access to all the documents in the case.
Clausen learned, for example, that Short had revised his war plans several months earlier and inverted the order of his alert-status codes. So Washington thought he was on high alert when he was on low alert.
Short was responsible for providing air cover to Kimmel's ships in port. Yet Kimmel never checked to find out just how Short planned to defend them, and Short never consulted with Kimmel on air-defense procedures, despite the war warnings. No reconnaissance flights were sent up. Ships were left in the harbor, planes wingtip to wingtip on the airfields.
Clausen found plenty of blame to go around. But at the top of the list are the two field commanders.