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Pearl Harbor: Is The “Wind Message” Theory True?

Pearl Harbor: Is The “Wind Message” Theory True?
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A major debate that resonated decades after the World War 2, remaining a major mystery of the world’s greatest war: who among the Washington high command knew when and what would happen before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941?

The Pearl Harbor Incident

The Pearl Harbor Incident
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The Pearl Harbor attack was a shocking pre-emptive military strike carried on by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service on the neutral country of United States, attacking their naval base at Pearl Harbor, in the territory of Hawaii on December 7, 1941. The attack was intended to formally introduce the US into World War II. The Japanese further intended to keep the United States Pacific Fleet away from interfering in its idea of expansion and military actions in SouthEast Asian colonies of Britain, the Dutch, and the US.  

The Decrypted “winds code”

The Decrypted “winds code”
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The “Winds Code” referred to a confused military intelligence relating to the Pearl Harbour attack which claimed that the attack was already expected.

The Japanese legislations received instruction from Tokyo, known as the “Winds Code,” that diplomatic relations were in the utmost danger, and ruptures were meant to happen. However, the debate remained whether the code was ever transmitted or not. While some claim it was transmitted, the majority of indications pointed out that in the face of an approaching conflict, it was unlikely that that message was sent or rather recorded by the US command structure.

The code was built for the purpose that in any case, an emergency situation erupts, leading to the interruption of regular communication channels, this coded message would be covertly inserted into the daily Japanese international news broadcast in order to warn the required officials about the impending danger. The code was to be repeated twice and was concealed with the meteorological reports:

  1. “East wind rain” (“Higashi no kaze ame“) – indicating a breach of diplomatic relations with the United States
  2. “West wind clear” (“Nishi no kaze hare“) – breach of relations with Britain
  3. “North wind cloudy” (“Kitano kaze kumori“) – indicating a ruptured line of relation with the Soviet Union.

The signal setting up the code was intercepted and cracked by USN cryptographer Commander Laurance Safford at OP-20-G in Washington. The “Winds Code” – was dubbed by the Americans after consequently monitoring the Japanese daily broadcasts which were instituted for the codes.

The Theory Refuted

Specifically, it still remains an argument that what was the evidence behind the fact that the transcript of the Tokyo shortwave radio news broadcast was interrupted by a prearranged coded weather report. It was held that the weather bulletin signaled the Japanese officials to destroy all confidential documents and codes because war with the United States, the Soviet Union, or Britain was reaching a crucial point.

The witnesses, who were brought for testimony for government inquiries said that the “winds messages” were intercepted three days before the attack, on December 4.

The historians for the National Security Agency concluded that whatever warnings reached Washington about the attack, the “winds message” was not one of them. They came to such a conclusion after analyzing various American and foreign intelligence sources and decrypted cables.

The “winds execute” situation was apparently laid out by a Japanese message which was intercepted and decoded at an American monitoring station on Bainbridge Island, Washington on November 19, 1941. According to specialists, if diplomatic relations were “in danger” with any of the three countries, the coded phrase, instead of being broadcasted twice, would be repeated as a special weather bulletin, twice at the middle and end of the daily Japanese-language news broadcast.

The Center for Cryptologic History of the National Security Agency published the historical document, “West Wind Clear”, which attributed to the accounts of the messages which were being broadcasted, to the fabricated memory of some witnesses with the intention of deflecting the culpability from other officials for the United States’ deficient readiness for the war.

According to the New York Times reports, “If there was such a message, the Washington military establishment would have been gravely at fault in not having passed it along” to the military commanders in Hawaii. If there was no such message, then the supporters of those commanders would have lost significant leverage for the case.

Officials of the National Security Agency claim that various views reverberate from such an event. The supporters who said that the message was actually sent, such adherents of the theory had unshakable faith in the efficiency of radio intelligence, and when any copy of such message wasn’t found, in order to back their argument, they said that an intelligence-gathering is never foolproof.

Washington further missed many warning signs because their intelligence sources were majorly diverted to the Atlantic theatre, the advantage was taken up by the Japanese to mislead the Americans about the whereabouts of Tokyo’s naval strike force.

During December 1, Washington became aware of the fact that the Japanese were building up diplomats overseas to selectively destroy confidential documents. However, according to NSA reports, “because of the sometimes tardy exploitation of these messages, intelligence officers in the Army and Navy knew only parts of the complete program. It is possible that they viewed the Japanese actions as ominous, but also contradictory and perhaps even confusing. More importantly, though, the binge of code destruction was occurring without the transmittal of the winds execute message.”

pearl harbor
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Historians and officials later concluded after analyzing the pieces of evidence, only one phrase that is, “west wind clear” was broadcasted according to previous instructions. However, it was some seven hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

In conclusion, it was added that the winds message was never the proper intelligence indicator to warn the Americans of imminent danger or to its allies. In the political realm, it never added anything constructive to indicate that relations between the Allies and Tokyo had deteriorated to a dangerous point. The wind messages from the military standpoint had no proper intelligence either about Japanese intentions in Southeast Asia or about Pearl Harbor.

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What do you think?

Written by Sanjali Mitra

I am currently pursuing my Masters in International Studies and History, from Christ University, Bangalore. A child with an old soul, I have an inclination towards writing, travelling and most importantly, baking! I believe in living in the moment, so the devil of future drudgery doesn't usually rest on my shoulders.

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