- Kimmel, Short, and Pearl Harbor: The Final Report Revealed
The question of responsibility for Pearl Harbor will never be resolved to the satisfaction of all, but this slim volume should satisfy all but those who are convinced there was a second shooter on the grassy knoll, and E.T.'s body is held in Area 51.
For readers like me, interested in the debate over the culpability of Pearl Harbor's Navy and Army commanders, Admiral Husband Kimmel and Lieutenant General Walter Short, but not versed in the arguments, the authors bring a clarity and finality that should answer all questions.
There were nine investigations into U.S. military culpability for the attack. None, except one, charged either Kimmel or Short with dereliction of duty but all found errors in judgment by them. The issue has not been whether the attack could have been prevented. It almost certainly could not have been. The question has been, given what Kimmel and Short knew, with the resources available to them, were the heavy U.S. losses and minimal enemy losses reasonable? Was there a failure to prepare for the conflict so obviously imminent? A second question has been the propriety of Kimmel's retirement not as a full admiral, his 7 December rank, but as a two-star rear admiral. Short similarly retired a two-star, rather than a lieutenant general.
Kimmel's heirs have been relentless in pursuing a posthumous promotion to full admiral for their paterfamilias. The Department of Defense's 1995 Dorn Report, the basis of this book, was initiated at the persistent urging of the Kimmel family and their champion, Senator Strom Thurmond. Coauthor Borch was one of three Dorn Report authors; coauthor Martinez is chief historian at the USS Arizona Memorial. The authors do a commendable and scholarly job, reaching logical conclusions supported by tangible evidence and historical logic.
It's not a matter of whether the relief and demotion of Kimmel and Short were lawful—they clearly were—but whether they were fair. In answering "yes," the writers point out that command is a privilege, not a right, and Kimmel and Short both failed to anticipate and prepare for the predictable attack. Notably, both Kimmel's and Short's high ranks were temporary grades. No adverse action of any kind was ever taken against either officer. Both soon retired as two-star officers, hardly marks of infamy. On the other hand, virtually all World War II officers, including those relieved for cause, were allowed to retire at their highest grade held. Kimmel and Short were not.
In assessing culpability, the authors note that Short had a radar report that a large flight of unknown planes was approaching. The report was ignored, presumed to relate to incoming B-17s. Kimmel knew of the sinking of an unidentified submarine at the harbor entrance. Neither air reconnaissance nor picket ships were employed. For fear of sabotage, aircraft were [End Page 1244] aligned on runway approaches, rather than in revetments. There was a lack of the superior judgment necessary for high command.
Borch and Martinez also convincingly rebut the charge that officers and politicians in Washington purposely withheld information from the Hawaiian commanders that would have warned them of the attack.
The writing is workmanlike but clear and appropriate to the book's goals. Better editing would have eliminated the repetition that too often appears in the text. Several times we read of the nine prior investigations, that Kimmel and Short had tactical as well as strategic warnings, and that the Dorn Report was an independent look at the issues. But this little detracts from the overall value of this well-researched and authoritative book. Borch and Martinez, steeped in the facts of the attack, resolve questions that, for many, have lingered for more than a half-century. Well done.