Pearl Harbor and the Cuban Missile Crisis Term Paper

Pages: 12 (3327 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 32  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Military

Pearl Harbor and the Cuban Missile Crisis

All countries gather information regarding what other countries are doing. This information, called "intelligence," may be gathered in a variety of ways. Government analysts may study the speeches of other countries' leaders or use agents on the ground (loosely referred to as "spies") to gather such information as what ships come and go from harbors. Individual countries may use agents to infiltrate the governments of other countries to gather information that country would not willingly share. Government often view these intelligence-gathering efforts as crucial to protect their own interests, and large countries such as the United States and Great Britain, as well was smaller countries with significant concerns about other governments, such as Israel and North Korea, will have governmental agencies that study information from other countries intensely and carefully, looking for information they feel is important to their government's well-being.

United States history is full of events where the intelligence gathered was interpreted either well or badly, affecting the outcome of major events. Two such events are Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and the "Cuban Missile Crisis" of October 1962. Both events relied on a combination of information gathered in a variety of ways. However, the resulting body of intelligence helped prevent acts of war in once instance but failed to prevent acts of war in the other.

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TOPIC: Term Paper on Pearl Harbor and the Cuban Missile Crisis Assignment

It is always easier to see the pattern of cause and effect in hindsight when looking at major historical events. Looking in hindsight, some experts have charged that President Roosevelt and the Washington, D.C. intelligence community either knew or should have known that Japan intended to attack Pearl Harbor. Such a view suggests political manipulation on a large scale rather than a failure to interpret and/or disseminate intelligence information to the Pearl Harbor military leaders who would have mounted a far more effective defense had they known the Japanese attack was coming. Some authors argue that Roosevelt deliberately misled the United States about Japan's attention in order to draw this country into World War II.

Such a scenario gains some credibility because of the tremendous amount of information gathered by the U.S. War Department. General Short, who bore the primary blame for failing to be prepared for the December 7 attack along with Admiral Kimmel, believed that had he and Kimmel been provided with more of the available intelligence, they would have made different command decisions. In fact the United States had made a stunning intelligence breakthrough when we broke the Japanese diplomatic code, called "Purple," which the Japanese used to transmit highly sensitive information. In September 1941 the United States intercepted and translated a message instructing Japanese agents in Hawaii to provide a detailed map of Pearl Harbor that identified each naval ship and its precise location. In November the United States intercepted and translated another message warning the Hawaiian embassy that Japan might soon have a break in diplomatic relations with the United States along with Great Britain, or Russia, the countries we would align with in the event that we entered World War II. We knew that Japanese outposts throughout southeast Asia as well as in the U.S. (including Pearl Harbor) and Great Britain had been ordered to destroy their codes. This information was not shared with either Kimmel or Short because the fact that we had broken the "Purple" code was such a closely held secret.

Another reason to withhold this information may have been Washington's hope that war with Japan could be avoided. Japan planned to conquer much of Asia and had invaded China, an action unacceptable to the United States. As a result, the United States froze Japanese assets in the United States and imposed a trade embargo that actually forced Japan to look to Asia for materials they could no longer get from the United States. In addition to a failure to share military intelligence with those who needed it to protect Pearl Harbor, we misinterpreted Japan's determination to acquire the natural resources of Southeast Asia even if it meant war with the United States.

When General Short testified before Congress in 1947, he noted these problems. He pointed out that the U.S. military intelligence knew that Japan was moving troops and naval ships into Southeast Asia. However, those evaluating the military intelligence concluded that Japan would make their military move in that area, possibly against Thailand, Malaya, or the Dutch East Indies, all of which fit into their larger plan, rather than Pearl Harbor. They did not realize that Japan thought they would have their best chance of success in Southeast Asia if they crippled the one naval source in the Pacific capable of thwarting their plans: the U.S. Naval contingent at Pearl Harbor. After World War II was over, General Short argued that since he was charged with the military protection of Pearl Harbor, this information should not have been withheld from him, and that if he had had access to the information, he would have made some different decisions. Based on his incomplete information, Short had concluded that sabotage, not a full-scale military attack, was the most likely scenario, and took steps that made it easier for Japan to achieve a decisive victory on December 7.

General Miles of the Washington office acknowledged that it did withhold important military intelligence information from Kimmel and Short. They were given information on a "need to know" basis and unfortunately, underestimated the amount of information given to military leaders at Pearl Harbor. This was done because Washington believed that the fact that they could decode Japan's messages was the highest priority. As General Short said to Congress, "There was a feeling still at that time that secrecy was more important than the time element in getting the information to us as rapidly as possible."

Short and Kimmel were not kept completely in the dark. They were sent a "war warning" and told that "hostile action" was possible "at any moment." However, they were not told the nature of that hostile action. Pearl Harbor was a difficult harbor to attack: its shallow water meant that torpedoes would be ineffective. Therefore Short concluded that the biggest risk was sabotage. He ordered the aircraft to be grouped together so they could be guarded easily. While that was a good strategy to prevent sabotage, it was a poor plan if an aerial attack occurred, because the planes would be easy targets. In Washington, Army Chief of Staff General Marshall was vague in his communication because if the Japanese had intercepted more specific information, Japan would know their code had been broken and would have stopped using it.

While testifying before Congress General Short observed that if all the known information had been put together with Japan's firm intention to conquer Southeast Asia, the inevitability of war with Japan would have been clear. He recognized that if he had taken more aggressive actions to prepare Pearl Harbor for a full-blown attack, the Japanese would have realized the code had been broken. This is why Short was specifically "not to disclose intent, alarm the population, or do anything which Japan could use as propaganda that the United States had provoked war." This choice of secrecy over war preparation tied Short's hands and was a decision made in Washington, not at Pearl Harbor. At these 1947 hearings, General miles described the fact that they had broken the "Purple code "military secret of incalculable value." No one outside of Washington, D.C. was given either the knowledge that the code had been broken or information that would lead to a conclusion that the code must have been broken.

It would be easy to blame decisions in Washington for Japan's success at Pearl Harbor. However, the times must be taken into consideration. However, there are some mitigating circumstances. First, military strategists in Washington did not believe Japan contained the technology necessary to attack Pearl Harbor. In this they were mistaken, because Japan had designed new torpedoes that could be fired from aircraft and travel through shallow water. Pearl Harbor is a shallow port. Without the development of shallow water torpedoes, Japan's bombers could not have inflicted the damage it did inflict on the U.S. Navy that day.

Second, disseminating information was markedly more difficult in 1941 than it is today. The United States knew that codes used to transmit messages over the airwaves could be broken because the U.S. had managed to break Japan's secret codes. Because of this, U.S. Intelligence had access to highly sensitive information sent via Japanese radio signal. But in addition, such messages could be sent via radio only when atmospheric conditions were satisfactory. If information could not be sent by radio, then it had to be carried by courier. It was a long distance between Washington, D.C. And Pearl Harbor. The success of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor was not a failure of intelligence but the result of a larger military strategy to prevent Japan, at… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Pearl Harbor and the Cuban Missile Crisis.  (2005, November 12).  Retrieved September 17, 2021, from

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"Pearl Harbor and the Cuban Missile Crisis."  November 12, 2005.  Accessed September 17, 2021.