'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)

A Technicolor Time-Lapse of Alaska's Northern Lights

The beauty of aurora borealis, as seen from America's last frontier


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

What Do You Wish You Learned in College?

Ivy League academics reveal their undergrad regrets

Video

Famous Movies, Reimagined

From Apocalypse Now to The Lord of the Rings, this clever video puts a new spin on Hollywood's greatest hits.

Video

What Is a City?

Cities are like nothing else on Earth.

Video

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Writers

Up
Down

More in National

Just In