Surprise Attack?

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While I was writing my review of George Victor’s book “The Pearl Harbor Myth” (October) I learned that Percy L. Greaves, Jr.’s book, “Pearl Harbor: The Seeds and Fruits of Infamy” had just been published. In 1945 and ’46, Greaves was a consultant to the Republican minority members of the congressional committee that investigated the Pearl Harbor attack. He died in 1984, but his widow, Bettina Bien Greaves, a contributing editor of Liberty, edited his book, which is largely based on the committee’s hearings. I ordered the volume right away, but wasn’t able to read it until after my review was finished. Let me begin by saying that it is a wonderful book, beautifully clear and lucid, thoroughly edited. For anyone interested in the key Pearl Harbor issue — which can be summarized as “what did FDR and his associates know and when?” — it is an extremely rich source of information. And in spite of its 937 pages, it is never boring. It gives detailed accounts of the many government investigations into Pearl Harbor, while also placing the attack in its historical context (including descriptions of what Germany and Japan were doing before the war). Like Victor’s book, Greaves’ book shows that top officials of the Army, Navy, and even the White House distorted, denied, and covered up information about what was known before the Pearl Harbor attack. Many inconsistencies appeared in the congressional investigation — some witnesses were pressured to change their stories; others were simply not called. Although other books, such as Victor’s, have shown these inconsistencies, I don’t think there has been as extensive a description of the investigations and the prevarications with which they are riddled. Although almost all the information in the book is based on information available before Greaves died, in 1988 his widow interviewed Ralph T. Briggs, who had been a young radioman in Cheltenham, MD, on December 4, 1941. Briggs had intercepted the Japanese radio message called “Winds Execute,” which indicated that war with the United States was about to begin. Briggs’ superiors told him not to testify in the congressional hearing, and his absence — along with revised stories by others who had previously admitted seeing or knowing about the message — led the committee to deny the message’s existence. There is one interesting difference between the findings of Victor and Greaves. Both report extensive duplicity and cover-ups, which went at least as high in the administration as Army Chief of Staff George Marshall and probably included President Roosevelt as well. Indeed, the cover-ups are as plain as day. But Greaves does not seem to think that FDR actually expected the impending Japanese attack to be on Hawaii. Greaves suggests that the group huddling secretly in the White House late in the night of December 6 expected attacks on British territories in Southeast Asia and the Philippines, a U.S. territory — attacks that would also have led to war. While George Victor offers evidence that top officials knew the target was Hawaii, there is also evidence, as Greaves reports, that some officials were genuinely surprised about the actual bombing site. In conclusion, those fascinated by the tragic Pearl Harbor story have a tremendous new resource, written by Percy Greaves, an eyewitness to the 1945–46 congressional investigation, a beautiful book edited by his wife, Bettina Greaves. How fortunate we are!

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