5-289 Editorial Note on Marshall’s Testimony on the Pearl Harbor Attack

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: December 6, 1945

Subject: Postwar

Editorial Note on Marshall’s Testimony on the Pearl Harbor Attack

December 6-13, 1945

The Joint Committee on the Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack had begun holding hearings on November 15, 1945. Marshall knew that he would be called to testify, as he had at hearings held by the Roberts Commission (December 1941-January 1942; see Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #3-001, #3-002 [3: 3-7]), the U.S. Army Pearl Harbor Board (July-October 1944), and the U.S. Navy Court of Inquiry (July-October 1944). After he was told his testimony date, he would need, he told his friend Admiral Harold Stark, about two weeks to prepare (see Marshall to Stark, September 29, 1945, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #5-242 [5: 317-18]). The hearings, which were initially intended to consume approximately two months, were marked by political partisanship and occasionally raucous behavior by committee members (three Democrats and two Republicans from each of the two houses of Congress).

Since the committee began the hearings by focusing on the diplomatic aspects of Japanese-American relations in 1941, the investigation of the military aspects of the Pearl Harbor drama began only on November 29. By this time, Marshall was deeply involved in preparations for his mission to China. The mission caused Marshall’s testimony dates to be changed; as he wrote to the committee’s counsel, William D. Mitchell: “I regret that the presentation of my testimony at an earlier date than contemplated in your carefully arranged program should have caused you so much of extra work and difficulty.” (Marshall to Mitchell, December 15, 1945, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, General].) The time change also severely restricted the preparation Marshall was able to make for his appearances before the committee.

The committee’s questioning also far exceeded Marshall’s expectations in time and ascerbic temper. He told Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek that he hoped to depart for the Chinese wartime capital of Chungking by December 7—i.e., after but two days of testimony. (Marshall to Wei Tao-ming [the ambassador from China], December 1, 1945, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected (China)].) Marshall’s ordeal actually lasted seven days: just under twenty-four hours of testimony that filled 407 pages of the printed record. His remarks were front-page news in many newspapers.

Marshall told his authorized biographer in 1956: “Remember that the investigation was intended to crucify Roosevelt not to get me. There was no feeling in the War Department that we had anything to hide.” (Forrest C. Pogue, George C. Marshall: Ordeal and Hope, 1939-1942 [New York: Viking Press, 1966], p. 431.) Marshall’s brief time for preparation (two days) and his attempts while testifying to distinguish between what he knew at the time from what he later learned, unwillingness to express certainty of recollection when he was unsure, and frequent assertions that certain facts could best be obtained from the written records or that other persons would be more appropriate witnesses on a particular point lent an air of tentativeness to his testimony. Committee members (particularly Roosevelt administration critics) were demanding detailed recollections and precise analyses of motivations, policies, documents, and activities during the final weeks of 1941.

One thorough student of the Pearl Harbor affair, Gordon Prange, observed: “To this day one can sense the electric tingle of excitement as the crowd in the hearing room awaited Marshall’s first appearance” on December 6. “In some respects,” Prange wrote, Marshall “was not a good witness. He had a rather rambling style and did not express himself well. He knew that he was not at his best when testifying.” Moreover, his press-inflated reputation for having a phenomenal memory may have worked against him. (Gordon W. Prange, with Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon, At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1981), pp. 687, 689.)

Recommended Citation: ThePapers of George Catlett Marshall, ed.Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens(Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 5, “The Finest Soldier,” January 1, 1945-January 7, 1947 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), pp. 377-378.

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