On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked the United States naval station and its associated air defense bases at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. This disaster could have occurred for several reasons. Japanese decoded messages made it clear that war was imminent. It was the fault of the United States government for not providing adequate information to commanders in Hawaii detailing Japan’s intentions. However, it was equally the fault of the local commanders at Pearl Harbor for not acting on whatever information they were provided. The overall cause of the attack on Pearl Harbor was a combination of mutual confusion and miscalculation between government officials in Washington and local commanders at Pearl Harbor.
The war warnings to Admiral Kimmel, Commander at Pearl Harbor, and other commanders were insufficient attempts of preventing a Japanese attack. Because Hawaii is located so far from Japan, few believed an attack on Pearl Harbor possible. However, Japan was becoming increasingly aggressive and negotiations with the Unites States had ceased (Doc. A). Admiral Kimmel blamed the government for depriving the Pacific Fleet of a chance to avert the forthcoming disaster.
Also, he was not informed about a local FBI report indicating suspicious activity near Pearl Harbor naval base. Although a “war warning” dispatch was sent to the Pacific, it did not indicate the possibility of an attack on American property. The message simply ordered an appropriate defense deployment against Japan, not specifying the location of the attack. The lack of defense by commanders in Pearl Harbor and the vague orders given by the government created an easy target for Japan (Doc. F).
The United States government expected the local commanders to be fully aware of a surprise Japanese attack. The government assumed that all the necessary procedures were being taken at Pearl Harbor to make sure such an attack by Japan would fail. This great assumption left the United States Navy shocked by the numerous loss of Americans when the Japanese attacked (Doc. B). Commander of the Department of Hawaii, General Walter Short, was also at fault for giving the impression that all the necessary procedures to prevent war were being made. While, in reality, he was unaware of the planned attack on his fortress (Doc. C).
There was a serious lack of communication between the Roosevelt administration and the commanders at Pearl Harbor. Even though there was an abundance of information regarding the details of an attack, government officials did not properly convey the essential news which greatly angered General Short (Doc. E). The War Department had a significant amount of time to inform commanders at Pearl Harbor that their preparations were inadequate. Even in Japanese coded messages, Washington officials were informed that Japan would not reach an agreement with America. This war message, unable to be sent to Pearl Harbor by military priority cable, was sent by commercial telegram, received and decoded after the attack (Doc. G). This lack of communication and urgency was a primary cause of the disaster and was the fault of both Pearl Harbor commanders and government officials.
There was a tremendous amount of confusion between the government and those at Pearl Harbor concerning the military situation in Hawaii. Washington claimed it had no idea that the majority of the Pacific Fleet was in Pearl Harbor on the morning of the attack. The government just left it up to the local commanders to go out to sea, as directed in the war plan, without ever confirming their safety (Doc. H). Japanese Intelligence in Tokyo, however, with clever planning on December 6, 1941, acquired more knowledge of Pearl Harbor’s military condition than the United States government. They were continually updating their intelligence files on the US Navy. The pathetic military condition of Pearl Harbor, made it easy for the Japanese to attack the following morning (Doc. D).
On the whole, it was Washington’s duty to advise the commanders at Pearl Harbor as well as it was the duty of the commanders to be militarily prepared for the worst. Therefore, when the “war warning” was sent, it was the responsibility of the commanders at Pearl Harbor to execute a defense deployment in every possible area, regardless of it’s vague connotation (Doc. I). The blame cannot be given to either the government officials in Washington or local commanders at Pearl Harbor for causing the disaster. Both were equally at fault with the confusion and inadequate communication provided. The disaster could not have been prevented with Japan’s belligerent behavior and Roosevelt as president searching for a reason to break neutrality.