The furor arising from the Wikileaks release of [previously] classified diplomatic documents has reminded me of another time in America's history when a leak about diplomatic documents would have certainly placed many more American lives in peril. Four years ago, I was prompted to write about the politician I respect the most. The reprint of my article follows. It is longer than normal, but you will gain a new perspective about some of the previously hidden elements of our history and hopefully gain a new appreciation for an unheralded American hero.
Who is your most respected politician? Around Independence Day, I would normally look to those amazing Founders of this great nation to answer that question, but not this year. The politician I most respect is a presidential candidate who was never elected to that highest office.
Prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, American intelligence agencies - still in their infancy stages of development - were able to begin deciphering the Japanese diplomatic code. They called this code "Magic." Amazingly, the Japanese never changed their diplomatic code throughout the war; consequently, being able to decipher it was of immeasurable help to the Allied war effort. More than once during the course of the war, Allied use of Magic was almost compromised. One of those incidents occurred at the time of the Presidential election in which President Roosevelt was seeking his unprecedented fourth term. Here is where the story of a truly patriotic politician is found.
The Republican candidate, and my most respected politician, opposing President Roosevelt was Thomas E. Dewey. The Republicans running the Dewey campaign intended to use their knowledge of pre-war intelligence to attempt "to discredit Roosevelt and show that he must have known beforehand about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor." (Lee, p. 244). In other words, the Republicans accused the President of "rushing America to war" by not preventing the Japanese attack and providing the rationale for immersing America into the European conflict on the side of England. The Republicans had no accurate concept of the vital part that Magic was still playing in the war effort. So critical was the need to prevent Magic's compromise that General George C. Marshall wrote to Dewey explaining its significance. Dewey rejected the letter without reading it completely. General Marshall wrote again on September 27, 1944, begging that Dewey "?say nothing during the campaign' about the fact that U.S. government authorities had been reading Japanese codes and ciphers before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Not only was the information true, Marshall tells Dewey, ?but much more important were the facts that (1) the war was still in progress; (2) the Japanese were still using certain of the pre-Pearl Harbor cryptosystems; and (3) the U.S. government was still reading highly secret Japanese messages in those systems, as well as highly secret messages of other governments. Therefore, it was absolutely vital that Governor Dewey not use the top-secret information as political ammunition in his campaign.'" (Lee, p. 245)
The action General Marshall took to implore Dewey not to use this information in his campaign was unprecedented. In his letter, he promised Dewey that only nine other people knew about the letter. President Roosevelt was not one of them. Marshall wrote, "I am persisting in the matter because the military hazards involved are so serious that I feel some action is necessary to protect the interests of our armed forces." He explained that there was no reference to Japanese intentions toward Pearl Harbor until the last message, which did not reach the hands of the U.S. military until December 8. Marshall explained that the Allies were breaking both German and Japanese codes and emphasized: "Our main basis of information regarding Hitler's intentions in Europe is obtained from Baron Oshima's message reporting his interviews with Hitler and other officials to the Japanese government." Marshall spelled out completely to Dewey how Magic won the battle of the Coral Sea, won the battle of Midway, and provided the sinking of Japanese merchant shipping by providing the sailing dates and routes of Japanese convoys. (Lee, pp. 245-246)
Dewey was the first person outside of Roosevelt and the high command to know the full story and importance of Magic. Because of Marshall's letter, Dewey determined that "the Republicans cannot take the risk of losing American lives, or prolonging the war, by revealing the Magic secret." Dewey returned to his campaign and never mentioned the subject. Many Republicans in Congress came to believe that Dewey's sudden failure to make the pre-war intelligence about the Pearl Harbor attack a campaign issue cost them the election, and they determined to seek revenge. "As a result. just before congressional Pearl Harbor hearings open in November 1945, the Republicans on the committee blithely release the news that before and during the war the British and the Americans had broken both the German and Japanese codes. This breach of national security is done after Marshall begs the committee to keep the secret. The committee refuses, publishing Marshall's correspondence with Dewey. Thus, our Congress gives our former enemies the first knowledge that their codes had been broken, to say nothing about breaching America's diplomatic confidence with the British." (Lee, pp. 246-247)
Thomas E. Dewey demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt true political patriotism and earns the distinction of being my most respected politician. Instead of attempting to redefine patriotism, he took so seriously the damage to the war effort and to the military personnel themselves that disclosing information about Magic would cause that he sacrificed a possible successful political campaign against Roosevelt. Given the current climate of political dissension and compromise by media of classified programs successfully tracking down high ranking terrorists, which contemporary politician or reporter can we imagine giving up a political advantage or reporting scoop for the sake of shortening the length of the war and protecting American lives? Given the current debate, I unfortunately have a difficult time imagining even a few, if any, accepting such a patriotic challenge. Sadly, our politicians and reporters today seem intent to follow the damaging self-interest blueprint of the 1945 Republicans in Congress.
Perhaps the Wikileaks document dump will expose this administration and prompt them to take national security seriously, as Peter has written. Nevertheless, I get the chilling feeling that more lives of American personnel and our allies are in peril because of this massive leak.
After all, loose lips can still sink ships.