A Pardon 75 Years in the Making || U.S. News & World Report

A Pardon 75 Years in the Making

It’s time to pardon the two high-ranking military officers unfairly blamed for the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Dec. 5, 2016, at 8:00 a.m.

Soon to be 75 years ago, the deadliest military attack to ever take place on United States soil occurred, and two men were blamed for it. There was plenty enough blame to go around for the failure, but two men were considered the culprits who failed to keep America safe: Adm. Husband E. Kimmel, commander in chief of the United States Pacific Fleet, and Lt. Gen. Walter Short, commander of the Army garrison in Hawaii.

As the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor rolls near, President Obama has the opportunity to right this terrible wrong by pardoning both these men.

When 353 Japanese aircraft – including 40 torpedo planes, 234 bombers and 79 fighters – attacked Battleship Row and Hickham Field and other military installations on Dec. 7, 1941, resulting in the deaths of over 2,000 American men and women, there was one lingering question: How did this happen?

A fractured and splintered American intelligence network, that could only see so many pieces and no picture, was without a doubt the principal cause of the disaster, but if bureaucracy excels in one regard, it’s shifting blame. The Roberts Commission, appointed by President Franklin Roosevelt, said,”It was a dereliction of duty on the part of each of them not to consult and confer with the other.” As a result of this view, Kimmel was relieved of his command on Dec. 17 – less than two weeks after the attacks, when America was still unsure of the future, and was demoted to a rear admiral, two ranks and two stars lower. Short, likewise, was demoted to major general, one rank lower.

The Roberts Commission was headed by Supreme Court Justice Owen J. Roberts, the only Republican on the federal bench who later voted against Japanese internment camps. Still, he was a member of the Washington culture and the blame was going to go to the White House, the War Department, the military in general, or it was going to go to Kimmel and Short. When it came to Washington politics, they were out of their league. The blame was unfairly placed on them, even as the White House and the War Department had more than an inkling, yet never told their commanders in the field, including Kimmel and Short.

Indeed, in a top secret 25-page memo we discovered at the FDR presidential library, prepared by the Office of Naval Intelligence, stated directly and often of a real and possible attack by Japan on various American civilian and military installations including the Panama Canal Zone and Pearl Harbor. The memo was dated Dec. 4, 1941, fully three days before the attack. Yet none of this information was ever shared with the field commanders, to the best of our knowledge. Nor were Washington’s intercepts of deciphered Japanese diplomatic transmissions.

Both of these men, distinguished officers in the Navy and the Army, were “retired” from service in early months of 1942. They were disgraced and placed on indefinite leave. Many years later Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina would say they were “the two final victims of Pearl Harbor.”

In May of 1999, the Senate barely passed a resolution exonerating Short. He performed his duties “competently and professionally,” according to the report. It was “not a dereliction of duty” that caused the Japanese to attack. Instead, it was the mess in Washington, D.C. that allowed this disaster to happen. Actually Adm. Kimmel had often complained to the senior leaders that Pearl Harbor was vulnerable to attack. To no avail.

Kimmel and Short both saw the terrible attack first hand, and both performed honorably, considering the circumstances. Kimmel himself was shot at, as Japanese ammunition tore through his house and struck his clothes, he said “It would have been merciful had it killed me.” He felt the full weight of what was loss that day. It was a day of “infamy.”

President Obama could perform a tremendous act of statesmanship by considering pardoning these two men who did their duty to their utmost and were demonized for it. They did no crime, they committed no fault, yet Washington made them both sacrificial lambs to satiate a shocked and angry public’s demand for accountability and answers. To pardon them, Mr. President, would restore their status not just to this generation of Americans, but to our greatest generation who deserve to see a fellow soldier and a fellow sailor have their names, legacies and honor restored.