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Editorial Summary of Pearl Harbor Committee Testimony (3)
December 12-13, 1945 Washington, D.C.
Marshall spent four hours before the committee responding to questions from Representative Keefe. Reporting on the hearings, William S. White observed that Marshall appeared “tired at times and speaking in a voice so low as to be sometimes indistinct.” (New York Times, December 13, 1945, p. 1.) At one point, unhappy with Marshall’s inability to recall precise details, Keefe said: “You were Chief of Staff of the United States Army at that time. Whether you have a present recollection of it or not appears problematical.” (Pearl Harbor Committee, Hearings, p. 1418.)
Keefe began with questions on the 1940 Hawaiian alert, Marshall’s understanding of the state of relations with Japan, and the War Department’s attempts to reinforce U.S. positions in the Pacific. The Wisconsin congressman desired detailed comments from Marshall on the policies behind and wording of various documents and the content of meetings—subjects which other committee members had previously covered. Marshall at last observed:
May I say also, Mr. Keefe, at the risk of being unduly repetitious, that you gentlemen are bringing up things to me that have been, to a large extent, rubbed out by 4 years of global war. I have not investigated these things to refresh my memory until the past few days, and so I think it is not unduly remarkable that I would not remember the detailed conversations and the frequency of conferences at which one we discussed this, and at which one we discussed that. At the time, of course, I would have had a lively recollection. But there are some rather great events that have intervened. I think I have a fair memory, and I am giving you the best I can under the circumstances. (Ibid., pp. 1406-7.)
Two of the key points in General Short’s defense were: (1) the General Staff, in not sending him information about certain Japanese messages that army and navy cryptanalysts had solved, deprived him of knowledge vital to his command; (2) he had responded properly to the November 27, 1941, warning message sent to the four Pacific commanders, but the General Staff had erred in not noting and thus not correcting the Hawaiian Department’s concentration on defense against sabotage rather than air attack. Keefe, who twice asserted that he was not trying to defend General Short, examined at length the circumstances surrounding the November 27 warning. Given the international situation and Marshall’s knowledge of the state of U.S.-Japan diplomacy, Keefe said, “in the exercise of ordinary care as Chief of Staff ought you not to have proceeded to investigate further and give further orders to General Short when it appeared that he was only alerted against sabotage?” “As I stated earlier,” Marshall replied, “that was my opportunity to intervene and I did not do it.” Keefe appeared to imply that Marshall was mincing words in order to avoid taking responsibility; was not “opportunity . . . synonymous with responsibility.”
Mr. Keefe, I had an immense number of papers going over my desk every day informing me what was happening anywhere in the world. . . . I was responsible for the actions of the General Staff throughout on large matters and on the small matters. I was responsible for those, but I am not a bookkeeping machine and . . . it is an extremely difficult thing for me to take each thing in its turn and give it exactly the attention that it had merited. Now, in this particular case a very tragic thing occurred, there is no question about that, there is no question in regard to my responsibility as Chief of Staff, I am not attempting to evade that at all, but I do not think it is quite characterized in the manner that you have expressed yourself. (Ibid., pp. 1421-22.)
Given the emphasis for months on the hazard of an aerial or submarine attack in messages to and from Short and the slight emphasis on sabotage, when his “message came in in this way I think everyone that had seen it was misled on what it meant or did not mean and that, I think, accounts for the main portion of the misunderstanding in the case. The fact that it was merely sabotage did not register on anybody’s mind.” Marshall explained what he thought General Short should have done under the November 27 warning. (Ibid., pp. 1424-25.)
Keefe then shifted his inquiry to the handling of MAGIC messages and the information coming in via MAGIC between November 27 and December 7. “Do I understand, General Marshall,” he said, “and is it fair to conclude from your testimony, that you fix responsibility for this disaster upon General Short so far as the Army is concerned?” Marshall, who thought that a lieutenant general in high standing should not need detailed instructions from the General Staff on the running of his command, responded: “I have never made that statement, sir. I feel that General Short was given a command instruction to put his command on the alert against a possible hostile attack by the Japanese. The command was not so alerted.” (Ibid., p. 1434.)
Marshall’s final day before the committee lasted two and three-quarters hours. Congressman Keefe opened with questions about the 1940 and 1941 alerts. In response to a series of questions from Senator Scott W. Lucas (Democrat from Illinois), Marshall denied that he or any member of the General Staff had any information prior to the morning of December 7 that pointed to a probable attack on Pearl Harbor. The fourteenth part of the well-known Japanese message carried only the implication that something serious was going to happen somewhere in the Pacific. Marshall also denied that he had seen the much-discussed “winds” implementing message that would have warned Japanese diplomats of an imminent break in U.S.-Japan relations. Such a diplomatic break did not mean immediate war anyway, he noted. (Ibid., pp. 1499-1507.)
In response to questions from Congressman Gearhart, Marshall denied that the various MAGIC intercepts either pointed conclusively to an attack on Pearl Harbor or that Short’s not receiving them should have had any impact on the alert status of his command (as this did not in Panama or the Philippines). Senator Ferguson asked questions about the circumstances of Short’s relief and had Marshall repeat his testimony regarding the November 27 warning message and the problem of Short’s reply. (Ibid., pp. 1512-15, 1528-35.)
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. 387-388.