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Memorandum for the President
September 22, 1945 [Washington, D.C.]
With reference to the present discussion in the press and by political leaders regarding communications between Governor Dewey and myself in the latter part of September 1944,1 the following information and attached papers are submitted for your information.
In the latter part of September, 1944, it was reported to me that it was the purpose of the Republican party, in the campaign that was then in progress, to launch a detailed attack on the Administration in connection with the Pearl Harbor incident. In my opinion, with which Admiral King concurred, such a debate would inevitably have disclosed to the Japanese, and possibly to the Germans, the fact that we had succeeded in breaking their machine codes on which we were largely depending at that particular time for information resulting in the destruction of the Japanese navy and other shipping. You will recall that at this particular period the sinkings of Japanese vessels was developing at a very rapid rate and continued to the point where little remained in the China Sea. General MacArthur was then making his final preparations for the invasion of the Philippine Islands and obtaining vital information from this same source. We were also depending on this source for information concerning the German army which was being transmitted by the Japanese Ambassadors in Berlin, Moscow, Stockholm, and Bern.
Under the circumstances it was considered imperative that something be done to prevent the loss of this vital source of information which meant much to this country in the expeditious conduct of the campaign and economy in American lives. It was decided that the only way this could be done was by some method which avoided any political implications, and that method appeared to be a communication direct from me to Governor Dewey with a frank statement of the situation and the assurance that the President and the Cabinet were unaware of my action. To guard against the accidental disclosure of the information given Governor Dewey by letter, he was requested not to read the letter unless he would bind himself to secrecy.
This communication was sent to him by the hand of Colonel Clarke, the officer in charge of Cryptographic Intelligence, who, in civilian clothes, succeeded in unobtrusively gaining an audience with Governor Dewey at Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Governor was unwilling to bind himself to secrecy before reading the entire letter. Therefore another draft of the letter was prepared, which is attached, and Colonel Clarke carried this to the Governor at Albany. Governor Dewey then talked to me on the telephone, stating that as the representative of the Republican Party in the campaign he could not consider himself as an individual in this matter and that he felt it was necessary that at least one trusted adviser be permitted to read the letter. I agreed to do this and a Mr. Bell was indicated over the phone.
The letter also contained the direction that it be returned after he read it. The Governor took exception to this, stating that he should be protected by having the letter in his secret files. I agreed to this. So far as I was concerned this closed the incident, Governor Dewey reading and keeping the letter. There was no further mention of Pearl Harbor, as I recall, during the campaign.
There is, of course, a very heavy pressure from the press and others for the release of the letter or some statement by me. It is my view that at best only a partial release could be made, as there are certain paragraphs in the basic letter involving British interests which I feel we have no right to disclose. Further, it now appears to me that I should not make any statement, certainly at this time, and especially as I have been unable to communicate with Admiral King over the weekend.2
G. C. Marshall
Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, Selected Materials, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.
Document Format: Typed memorandum signed.
1. The New York Times, for example, ran a story about an essay on Pearl Harbor by John Chamberlain to appear in the Life magazine issue dated September 24 (pp. 110ff) that called attention to Marshall’s letters to Thomas E. Dewey. (New York Times, September 21, 1945, p. 4.) On these letters, see Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #4-530 [4: 607-11].
2. President Truman returned the original with the following note at the end: “Dear General: As you know I have the utmost confidence in you & your judgement. I suggest you give both of these—memo and letter to Dewey to the press for tomorrow. It will stop all the demagogues.” On September 24, Marshall sent copies of his memorandum printed here and the 1944 Dewey letter to Admiral King and Admiral Leahy, but not to the press.
The issue of Marshall’s letters to Dewey was examined at length in December 1945 by the congressional Joint Committee on the Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack. Over Marshall’s objections, the committee voted to release the letters to the public, and Marshall had to read the two letters into the record on December 7. (See Pearl Harbor Committee Testimony, December 7, 1945, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #5-290 [5: 379-80].) The letters were subsequently widely published in the press. (For example, see New York Times, December 8, 1945, p. 5. See also the story on Marshall’s objections to publication; ibid., December 16, 1945, sec. 4, p. 10.)
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. 309-310.