Dec 7, 2008

A Last Saturday of Peace

PEARL HARBOR -- Fleet intelligence chief Ed layton has only one  pleasant interlude today, his ride in a gig to visit Admiral Pye aboard the battleship California. He hands Pye  the morning dispatch which repeats that Japanese agression in southeast Asia could come at any moment.  A number of intercepted but still coded messages to and from the Japanese consulate in Honolulu are forwarded to Washington for decrypting, translation, and action -- most of which are accomplished sometime after the Honolulu sunrise tomorrow.

WASHINGTON -- Exhaustion has set in at every level of  naval communications and intelligence. Only civilian specialist  Dorothy  Edgers stayed through the early weekend afternoon to translate what has come to be called the "lights message." Somehow, it just seemed significant to her.   She left the translation  with her boss, Lieutenant Commander Alwin D. Kramer, who found the wording imperfect and the punctuation in need of titivating. It is still on his desk Monday morning, Dec. 8. The message details the light system (including bonfires) Japanese spies on Oahu will use to signal attacking aircraft of the status of ships at their moorings and anchorages in Pearl Harbor. 

At the White House, Roosevelt finally agrees to follow through on his scheme to send a personal message to Emperor Hirohito, a piece of prose blending conciliation and veiled threat. He figures Hirohito will  respond by Monday evening, whereupon, if necessary,  a pure threat can be sent to the Imperial Palace.

Across the capital after sundown, almost to a man the power elite disperses to balls and dinner parties, as Wellington danced  before Waterloo. Kramer, with a decoded intercept of the  14-part message from Premier Tojo to his Washington envoys is successful in tracking down  some of the nation's leaders. Some of them eventually join the President in a late-night council.  Or perhaps there was no White House meeting. Some say yes. Some say no. Nothing of the sort is recorded in the official White House records. In any case, no one picks up a  phone to call Hawaii, to tell Kimmel and Short that America has received something like a declaration of war.

KIDO BUTAI -- Admiral Nagumo, now steaming due south,  eases water rationing for his fleet of carriers and escorts. His sea and  sky fighters take the final showers they desire to enter battle in purity.  The word from the Honolulu embassy is good: The battleships are in Pearl, as expected. Aerial reconaissence confirms that nothing worth bombing is in the port of Lahaina. The ultimate   announcement is made to all ships via the flag signals representing Admiral Togo's message to his 1904 fleet before its victory over the Russians in the Tsushima Strait: "The fate of our nation depends on this battle -- all hands will exert themselves to their utmost." The maintenence crews joined the cheers, then began fueling the planes.


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