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You're a Good Egg, Tom Dewey

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By Grant Davies

On this day (-5), in 1941, the Japanese executed a sneak attack on the US Pacific fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The world war that ravaged the rest of the globe had finally came to the US.

But this story is only peripherally about that event. This story is about a man who put his own advancement and interests beneath the interests of his country.

Such things were common in those times. Most citizens and virtually every person in the armed services fell into that category. But if you can fathom this, the man in the story was a politician. Crazier things have happened, but not often.


So let’s fast forward a few years. The year was 1944. The man was running for President. His name was Tom Dewey. And Tom knew a secret. The secret he knew was explosive. It would almost certainly assure that he would defeat his opponent, a guy named Franklin D Roosevelt, in the upcoming election.

Tom had it on reliable information that the US had broken the Japanese code prior to the attack on Pearl. The implications were obvious. FDR knew of the plan to attack before it happened and had purposely ignored it so the US could enter the war. FDR wanted to join in, and knew it was inevitable anyway. But people were standing in his way. And it naturally follows that once he knew, all our sailors had died so FDR could get his political way.

The secret was true. The code had indeed been broken, and a pretty important guy named George C. Marshall found out that Dewey knew. Marshall was the US Army Chief of Staff and the situation at the time was desperate. He feared that Dewey might do what almost every candidate today would do with that kind of information, so he sent him a sealed message via a courier named Colonel Carter Clark. Clark caught up with Dewey at his hotel during the campaign.

When he opened the letter from Marshall and read the contents, Tom was initially furious. In the letter, Marshall reminded him of the damage that would be done to the war effort if the Japanese learned that we had broken their code. Based on his own information, and now the admission by Marshall that it was true, Dewey not only thought FDR should be defeated in the election, but that he should be impeached.

But Dewey kept his mouth shut and lost the election without using the only thing that would have insured that he would win. In fact, he never revealed it and took it to his grave. He died in 1971.

But wait a minute. Ten years later some secret documents from the time were declassified. In one of them something was revealed that Dewey never knew. Namely that the code that was cracked was the Japanese diplomatic code, not the military code. The military code wasn’t cracked until after Pearl Harbor. FDR hadn’t known after all.

So drink a holiday toast to Tom Dewey, who, like Danny Noonan from Caddy Shack, was a good egg and did the right thing even though he had bad information.

Source material for this story was taken from “Destiny”, by Paul Aurandt.

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