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Blame the White House?

In response to:

Did FDR Invite the Pearl Harbor Attack? from the May 27, 1982 issue

To the Editors:

David Kahn fails at least at one point, I think, in his effort to discredit John Toland’s claim in the book, Infamy, of an intelligence coverup in Washington before the Pearl Harbor attack [NYR, May 27].

One of Mr. Toland’s contentions is that a radio man on the passenger ship, Lurline, and an electronic expert in the Naval district in San Francisco had warned the authorities of radio signals intercepted from the Japanese force as it steamed towards Pearl Harbor.

Mr. Kahn believes the theory founders because the Japanese ships are now known to have maintained radio silence. “Shipboard direction finding was then notoriously unreliable,” he says.

Even conceding the radio silence, Mr. Toland’s evidence still stands up. Those intercepting the signals thought the Japanese warships were moving towards Pearl Harbor and passed the warning on to higher ups.

We can’t excuse the White House or the military in Washington for failing to alert the defenders of Pearl Harbor about reports of this gravity. A quick check by a reconnaissance airplane would have determined their accuracy.

James B. Sibbison

Amherst, Massachusetts

David Kahn replies:

Mr. Sibbison has not read John Toland carefully. Toland states that there is no evidence that the information from the Lurline was passed to Washington. He further states that the San Francisco expert merely “assumed” that Washington was informed. This is little more than a guess. So, without evidence that information was passed to Washington, blame cannot justly be placed on “the White House or the military in Washington for failing to alert the defenders of Pearl Harbor about reports of this gravity.”

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