Harry Themal: Pearl Harbor commanders deserve same mercy shown to drug users

President Obama has granted nearly 1,000 commutations for men and women given stiff federal sentences in the “war on drugs.” No president has been that active.

Yet Obama has so far ignored a 75-year-old wrong that only he has the power to correct: the unjust scapegoating of Admiral Husband Kimmel and Lt. Gen. Walter Short.

It is up to his close friend and vice president, Joe Biden, to see if Obama cannot be convinced to see that justice is done.

Biden’s office tells me that the vice president “has continued to advocate in the White House for their reinstatement” to the rank of which they were stripped after the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

Biden sits by Obama’s side for the many briefings the president gets and for the eight years of their administration they have enjoyed a weekly private lunch, presumably a frank discussion.

If Biden has not done so already, he could use a few minutes to explain to the president how Navy brass has blocked the will of Congress. Pearl Harbor veterans, veterans organizations, military experts and many retired admirals and generals have urged that action but only the president can correct the wrong.

During his 36 years in the U.S. Senate, Biden joined many colleagues on both sides of the aisle, led by the late Delaware senator Bill Roth; South Carolina’s Strom Thurmond and Massachusetts’ Ted Kennedy in sponsoring and supporting resolutions urging the president to undo the unfair reduction in rank that followed the attack.

Committee after investigating committee found that Washington failed to warn Kimmel and Short that the Japanese were planning the attack. The excuse was that it would tip off the enemy that their code had been broken.

The naval and military commanders at Pearl Harbor were forced into retirement and to this day remain the only officers whose rank was not restored after the war under the 1947 Officer Personnel Act.

Biden has said, “Why now? I believe it is more important than ever to take this action now…there can be no statute of limitations for restoring honor and dignity to men who spent their lives dedicated to serving America and yet, were unfairly treated.”

Biden also said during the Senate debates: “If we perpetuate the myth that Admiral Kimmel and General Short bear all the blame for Pearl Harbor, then we miss the real story. We fail to look at the readiness shortfalls they were facing – the lack of adequate reconnaissance planes, pilots, spare parts and maintenance crews.

“We fail to look at the flawed intelligence model that was used – the disconnect between what was obtained and what got to the commanders in the field.

As Biden emphasizes, “Ultimately it is the president who must take action.” President after president has knuckled under to Pentagon excuses.

Now 75 years after Pearl Harbor is the perfect time for Obama to correct what his predecessors have failed to do and it’s up Joe Biden to remind him of the necessary fairness of that action. It’s long past time, and getting close to the term’s end, for him to find success.

Just last week Obama and Biden embraced warmly, as Biden family members and others watched, as the president signed the last major act of his eight years: the $6.3 billion Century Cures Act. While it includes funds for research in many fields, to Biden the most important is $1.8 billion in a cancer research fund, the Beau Biden moonshot to which the vice president will continue to devote himself after his term ends next month.

How great it would be for the Kimmel and Short families to join Biden to watch Obama make the necessary gesture before Jan. 20 of reinstating the two honored military leaders to the rank they held on the day Hawaii was attacked.

Harry Themal has written a News Journal column since 1989.

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