Thursday, August 11, 2011
McLachlan Defends Disclosure of Military Unpreparedness
By ROGER M. GRACE
James McLachlan, the congressman from Los Angeles, in May of 1910 proposed a resolution calling upon the secretary of war to advise the House as to the state of the preparedness of the military in the event of an invasion by enemy forces. He had in mind, in particular, a Japanese attack on the West Coast.
The resolution passed and a comprehensive report was sent to the House in December, as recited here last week. The report confessed U.S. vulnerability.
President William Taft learned of the report and concluded that the information was so sensitive that foreign powers should not have access to it. However, copies had already been printed and were in the hands of the press. A plea to the Fourth Estate to suppress it proved ineffective.
McLachlan is quoted by newspapers as commenting: “The War Department is tickled to death to have the truth come out.”
Ironically, McLachlan now gained national attention—which he previously lacked. It was too late to help him politically, however; he had lost the Republican nomination earlier 1910 to a member of his party’s progressive faction. He was to butt heads with Rep. James A. Tawney of Minnesota…who had likewise been rejected by voters in a GOP primary election in favor of a progressive.
Newspaper reports out of Washington on Dec. 16 relate that Tawney, former House majority whip, was asserting that the current predicament was the outgrowth of a conspiracy to generate massive approperiations for the army and navy. McLachlan’s statement that the War Department was “tickled to death” over developments would seem to validate that reading of the situation.
Tawney is quoted as saying:
“No one but a coward will publicly admit his inferiority and what is true of an individual is true of a nation.”
A Dec. 17 United Press dispatch conveys a trenchant statement penned by McLachlan. The lead-in says:
“As the author of the famous resolution which led the War Department to admit the defencelessness of the United States, Rep. James McLachlan, of California, is the pivotal center about which one of the most sensational contests ever seen in Washington is being conducted today. McLachlan this afternoon wrote exclusively for the United Press his reply to those who have opposed the publication of the facts contained in the War Department’s answer to his resolution—especially to Representative Tawney (Republican, Minnesota), who is accredited with priming President Taft to oppose and prevent the [disclosure of the report].”
McLachlan’s rejoinder begins:
“Representative Tawney, if the interview accredited to him is correct, says, that it is ‘cowardly’ to make known our admitted national weakness, either to our own people or the world at large. He admits that we are as a fatted capon and would have us pose as a game cock. In other words he would that we trust our national security to ‘bluff.’
“We have ‘bluffed’ since the beginning of our national existence and we have been at regular intervals ‘called by war.’ Our appalling pension rolls, the great heart scars carried by thousands of our people bear witness to the fact that there have been ‘Tawneys’ in the councils our nation before. Alleged patriots have kept the nation in utter ignorance of its helpless condition, until war has come, and then placed unenduring, untrained and untrusted men, armed with obsolete weapons in the field to uphold the national honor.”
The statement provides a run-down of points in U.S. history at which military unpreparedness proved damaging, including this:
“Thousands of the best of our blood and brain and brawn have perished in typhoid camps through ignorance of the elemental sanitary precautions. The Filipino was better armed in 1898 than our volunteers. The most wicked national ‘cowardice’ I can picture is demanding of our people to come to the national defence and then sending them forth, an unequipped mob, to deadly camps, or against a prepared enemy to be murdered.
“The great Washington pleaded against ‘Tawneys’ in our struggle for independence, that he be given trained troops, and after the end of the struggle, charged such men with the prolongation of the war.”
McLachlan’s greatest moment in the sun came during his lame-duck days in Congress.
Surely the public’s interest was not served by popular ignorance of military unpreparedness; to the contrary, public awareness was crucial to nudging a bolstering of military strength. McLachlan aided in bringing about that public awareness in the days preceding World War I.
McLachlan warned of an attack from Japan. Following release of the War Department report, Major General Leonard Wood, Army chief of staff, publicly opined that war with Japan was inevitable. That was in December of 1910.
Had McLachlan been alive on Dec. 7, 1941, he would no doubt have crowed: “I told you so.” As it was, the former congressman, former DA, and early tenant in the Wilcox Building, died Nov. 21, 1940.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company