On December 27, 2016, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Barack Obama met at Pearl Harbor to pay their respect. Together they acknowledge a dark day in the history of conflict, and a generational turning point for the American populace in World War II.
Emotions run high when discussing the attack on Pearl Harbor. It is important therefore to remember the reality of the events as they occurred, as well as to understand where mistakes happened that may have changed the course of events drastically.
In accordance with The Hague III Convention on the Opening of Hostilities, it is clearly noted that hostilities should not commence without previous warning. Article 1 states that “…hostilities between themselves must not commence without previous and explicit warning, in the form either of a declaration of war, giving reasons, or an ultimatum with conditional declaration of war.” (IHL)
There has been much discussion about how notification of conflict did not arrive until after the attack. Army Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) personnel translated a cracked message on December 6, whereby “Tokyo instructed its ambassador to stand by for a 14-part message, a counter-proposal to the Americans, and for it to be delivered no later than 1:00 PM on the following day.” Once all 14-parts were received, cryptographic equipment was to be destroyed.
The first thirteen parts of the message were intercepted by SIGINT personnel stationed in Bainbridge Island. They were in English and teletyped to Washington around 3:00 PM. The final part was intercepted around midnight. Warnings had previously been sent out and therefore it was believed that bases were on the appropriate alert level. General George C. Marshall was unavailable until almost noon. When he authorized the dispatch for war, communications were down in Hawaii due to atmospheric conditions and it was sent via a Western Union telegram, arriving at 11:45 AM. It was not received until 3:00 PM.
The timeliness of reporting was not much better on the Japanese-side. Instead of providing the 14-part message to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, the decision was made to provide it to Secretary of State Hull in Washington D.C. This meant that the parts had to be received, deciphered, translated, carried, and delivered. Additionally, when an appointment was requested with the Secretary of State, none was available until 1:45 PM. Japanese representatives arrived late at 2:05 PM and were not seen until 2:20 PM.
While the political side was occurring, the tactical element was unfolding. At 3:42 AM HST on December 7th a US minesweeper detected an enemy submarine 3.2 kilometers from the entrance to Pearl Harbor and sent notice. At 6:10 AM Japanese planes take off from aircraft carriers to Pearl Harbor. At 6:45 AM the U.S. destroyer Ward sinks the submarine earlier reported. At 7:49 AM Japanese pilots initiate the attack. First official reports of the attack comes at 7:55 AM from the command center on an unencoded telegraph, “AIR RAID ON PEARL HARBOR X THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” At 1:00 PM the Japanese strike force flies back to their ships.
While all factors cannot be planned for, the difference between Hawaii Standard Time and Eastern Standard Time is five hours. If the 14-part message had arrived as planned no later than 1 PM EST, it would have served to give what the Japanese deemed notification for an attack to initiate no earlier than 8 AM HST.
The final parts of the 14-part message state that “hope for the promotion of peace and cooperation in the Pacific with the United States Government has been lost, and that it is impossible to reach an agreement through further negotiations.” This statement does not meet the criteria established by The Hague convention, but its intent was clearly meant to. It is impossible to say what might have been if the message was received earlier, or if atmospheric blackout had not limited communication with Hawaii to telegram.
In reflecting back 75 years ago, it is important to realize that the decisions made were made so based on a feeling of necessity. What would follow would be years of war, marked with the death or displacement of hundreds of thousands on both sides. War brings out the worst in countries, and sometimes, the best in people. Imagine where we will be in 75 years, and how we will look back at this time in our history.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.