'Pearl Harbor in Retrospect': Why the U.S. Was So Unprepared

More
Seven years after the attack, the Army's chief of intelligence assessed the issue for The Atlantic

body for archive.jpg

National Archives

Seventy years after Japan launched the devastating Sunday morning attack that startled the United States into assuming an aggressive role in World War II, fascination with the day and its repercussions for the country continue a discourse on the subject. But what if it could have been prevented? 

In July, 1948, Major General Sherman Miles, the chief of Army intelligence between 1940 and 1942, wrote "Pearl Harbor in Retrospect," in which he examined why the base at Pearl Harbor was so dismally ill-prepared for the attack and looked at what was known and communicated at the time among government, intelligence, and military leaders.

It has since been implied that the reason Hawaii was not on the alert was that Washington thought the Japanese would not attack there. That suggestion points up very neatly the crucial issue. For the opposite was true--Washington thought the Japanese would not attack Hawaii largely because it believed Hawaii was alerted and prepared.

That was, admittedly, an assumption, but it was so fundamental an assumption, based on so many years of indoctrination, as well as on issued orders, that it was not questioned by anyone in Washington, from the President down. For guns don't shoot or planes fly by themselves.

Miles likened the events to classical tragedy: for him, looking back, it was as if the disaster arose inexorably from Japan's belief "that the incredible might happen and Hawaii be surprised"--and from dangerous negligence by military leaders in Hawaii.

Read the whole "Pearl Harbor in Retrospect"

Jump to comments
Presented by
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Social Security: The Greatest Government Policy of All Time?

It's the most effective anti-poverty program in U.S. history. So why do some people hate it?


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in National

Just In