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Lt. Gen. Walter C. Short
Lt. Gen. Walter C. Short
Photograph courtesy U.S. National Archives


Walter Short is remembered mainly for being in charge of U.S. Army defenses in Hawaii when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. But from the end of World War I, in which he served as assistant chief of staff to the Third Army, to his appointment as head of the Army’s Hawaiian Department in February 1941, Short had several important assignments. His career lasted almost 40 years, and ended on December 7, 1941.

Admiral Kimmel and Short shared a fundamental belief: They did not expect the Japanese to attack Pearl Harbor. Short seems to have regarded his major mission as training. His limited encouragement of the use of radar surveillance stemmed from his belief that he was using radar primarily for training. His infamous defense of Oahu airfields--clustering his warplanes wingtip to wingtip--stemmed from his belief that defense against sabotage outweighed defense of vulnerable aircraft against air attack.

The most damning charge against Short (and Kimmel) was that they failed to appreciate the import of the November 27 “war warning” message from Washington. Other parts of the chain of command, including Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall, War Plans heads Brig. Gen. Leonard T. Gerow, and Rear Adm. Raymond K. Turner--along with many others--may be given a share of the blame. But Short and Kimmel must be seen to have failed in their duty as the on-scene commanders.

After the attack little time was lost in relieving Short (and Kimmel) of command. Lt. Gen. Delos Emmons replaced Short on December 17. Short’s requested retirement from the Army was granted and he went to work for Ford Motor Company.

Through four years of investigations and hearings, Short maintained his essential innocence of the charge of “dereliction of duty,” but remained convicted of a tragic lack of imagination. After his public testimony in front of Congress in 1945 and 1946, he entered quiet retirement that ended in 1949 with his death. Attempts to clear his name continued.

In 2000 the U.S. Senate passed a resolution saying that Short and Kimmel had performed their duties “competently and professionally” and that the Japanese attacks were “not a result of dereliction of duty.”


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