On Tuesday, 30 August 2005, the day after Hurricane Katrina hit the Louisiana coast, while water was still pouring across the broken levees, at the very hour FEMA was turning back volunteer firefighters who were trying to enter New Orleans, President Bush was in Coronado, California, delivering a speech. The occasion was the 60th anniversary of the end of WWII. Mr. Bush, in his speech, compared himself to FDR.
So, let’s talk about WWII for a moment. Specifically, let’s talk about, not the end, but the start of WWII for the United States: The devastating surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
The Pearl Harbor attack took place just before 8:00 am local time on a Sunday morning, 7 December 1941. Surprise was total, sucess was complete: Within minutes 2,400 Americans were dead, five out of the eight battleships in the harbor were sinking. The men responsible for the defense of Pearl Harbor were Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, Commander, US Pacific Fleet, and Major General Walter C. Short, Commanding General of the Hawaiian Department.
Ten days earlier, on 27 November, Admiral Kimmel received a “war warning” from the Chief of Naval Operations indicating that war was imminent. Rather than prepare an active defense of Hawaii against attack, General Short set up passive defenses against sabotage.
Over an hour before the raid, USS Ward, a destroyer, fired on and sank a Japanese midget submarine in the Pearl Harbor approaches. Admiral Kimmel was informed of that sinking, but no alert was issued; no planes were launched, no guns manned.
The failure of the New Orleans levees during a major hurricane had been predicted for years. When assistant secretary of the Army Mike Parker, head of the Corps of Engineers, objected to cuts in funding for Mississippi delta flood control during testimony before congress, Mr. Bush fired him. Rather than strengthen the levees, President Bush cut the funding for their improvement and maintenance by 80%. Rather than create plans for a hurricane strike on New Orleans, FEMA outsourced planning to a civilian agency. It is unclear whether those plans were ever produced. Seventy two hours before the levees broke, Hurricane Katrina’s path and strength had been accurately forecast by the National Weather Service. The Departmnet of Homeland Security took no effective measures in response.
One day after the Japanese attack, President Roosevelt asked congress to declare war in the “date that will live in infamy” address. One day after the levees broke, President Bush compared himself to President Roosevelt and accepted a gift guitar.
Two days after the attack, the Knox Commission (9-14 December 1941) investigated the facts. Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox went to Pearl Harbor, and reported back to the President.
Two days after the levees broke, Bush returned to Washington.
On 16 December 1941, nine days after the attack, General Short was relieved of command.
On 08 September 2005, nine days after the levees broke, Michael Brown is still director of FEMA.
On 17 December 1941, ten days after the attack, Admiral Kimmel was relieved of command.
No one knows what tomorrow will bring, but I’m willing to bet that ten days after the levees broke Michael Chertoff will still be Secretary of Homeland Security.
The Roberts Commission, headed by Justice Owen Roberts, was convened on 18 December 1941, eleven days after the attack. They delivered their report on 23 January 1942. The Roberts Commission report begins:
The White House
SIR: The undersigned were appointed by Executive order of December 18,1941, which defined our duties as a commission thus:
“to ascertain and report the facts relating to the attack made by Japanese armed forces upon the Territory of Hawaii on December 7, 1941.
“The purposes of the required inquiry and report are to provide bases for sound decisions whether any derelictions of duty or errors of judgment on the part of United States Army or Navy personnel contributed to such successes as were achieved by the enemy on the occasion mentioned, and, if so, what these derelictions or errors were, and who were responsible therefor.”
The Congress speedily supplemented the Executive order by granting the Commission power to summon witnesses and examine them under oath.
The Commission examined 127 witnesses and received a large number of documents. All members of the Military and Naval Establishments, and civil officers and citizens who were thought to have knowledge of facts pertinent to the inquiry, were summoned and examined under oath. All persons in the island of Oahu, who believed they had knowledge of such facts, were publicly requested to appear, and a number responded to the invitation and gave evidence.
Various rumors and hearsay statements have been communicated to the Commission. The Commission has sought to find and examine witnesses who might be expected to have knowledge respecting them. We believe that our findings of fact sufficiently dispose of most of them.
The evidence touches subjects which in the national interest should remain secret. We have, therefore, refrained from quotation of testimony or documentary proof. Our findings, however, have been made with the purpose fully and accurately to reflect the testimony, which as respects matters of fact is substantially without contradiction.
23 January 1942 was forty-seven days after the attack. 16 October 2005 will be forty-seven days after the levees broke. What are the bets we’ll see an investigatory report on the New Orleans disaster on that day?