Is February 19, 1942 a Day of Infamy?
Under the provisions of the Alien Enemies Act of 1798, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, relocating the west coast Japanese, on February 19th 1942. What is the current political context entwining the 75th anniversary of this decision? Both Time magazine and the New York Times on November 17, 2016 ominously analogized the relocation to President Trump’s immigration and refugee policy. Any honest, scholarly debate on the relocation was abrogated by frenzied campaign to vilify Trump at every opportunity. The Marcusean New Left tactic of intimidating, silencing, censoring, and punishing political incorrectness went viral.1 Despite iconic liberal support for relocation, i.e. Roosevelt, Earl Warren, and Walter Lippmann, even a measured defense that the policy could be justifiable on the basis of national security in an emergency wartime crisis was pilloried as “racist.” Since only one position was permissible, appeals to the extensive historical scholarship on the topic were a pedantic distraction from the summary indictment of an America rooted in racism.2
Isn’t it demonstrable that all Japanese-Americans were patriots who were collectively subjected to blatant racial discrimination? In actuality, bonds to the Japanese homeland were solidified by Japanese language schools in America whose curriculum was marinated with ultra-nationalism. As many as 10,000 Kibei left to be educated in Japan and indoctrinated into the ideology of emperor worship. Japanese citizens and soldiers proved to be far more fanatical than the Nazis. Japanese newspapers in the United States celebrated Japan’s military conquests. Some American Japanese left in order to enlist in the Japanese war machine. Within the somewhat insulated Japanese communities, pro-Imperial Japan organizations flourished, including the Japanese Military Serviceman’s League. Such organizations contributed millions of dollars to the Japanese National Defense and Soldier’s Relief Fund as well as subsidizing the ongoing Sino-Japanese War.3 These ultra-nationalist groups were deemed by American intelligence agencies as prime prospects for sabotage and espionage activities.
In 1938, the United States broke the Japanese diplomatic code(named MAGIC). David Lowman revealed that:”in May 1941, Japanese consulates in the west coast reported to Tokyo that first and second generation Japanese had successfully been recruited and were now spying on shipments of warplanes and war materials in San Diego and San Pedro areas. They were reporting on activities within aircraft plants in Seattle and Los Angeles. Local Japanese …were reporting on shipping activities at the Bremerton Naval Yard…The Los Angeles consulate reported.”’We shall maintain connections with our second generation who are at present in the Army to keep us informed’…Seattle followed with a similar dispatch.”4 Can one seriously maintain that such espionage activities would have ceased unilaterally after Pearl Harbor? This intelligence information factored into Roosevelt’s determination that relocation was advisable.5
Quickly after Pearl Harbor, Imperial Japan launched devastating military campaigns on Hong Kong, the Philippines, Malaysia, the Dutch East Indies, New Guinea, Wake Island, and Singapore. They were abetted by local Japanese who served as espionage agents and welcomed the invading troops. On Niihau Island in Hawaii, a downed Japanese pilot was assisted by Yoshio and Irene Harada. The action was notable because the Haradas were not previously members of any ultra-nationalist organization but their loyalty shifted to ethnicity and reverence for the emperor. Between December 7th and February 19th, Japanese submarines mounted attacks on the U.S. west coast, sinking shipping and shelling the oil fields at Ellwood. The west coast was declared to be a “combat area.” In both Canada and Mexico, Japanese were removed from their coast. Canada didn’t those interned to return till 1949.6 Most Japanese in the United States were simply relocated. In addition, thousands of Germans and Italians were evacuated from the west coast.
Within the Roosevelt Administration, a variety of policy options were examined. Some advocated the removal of Japanese from sensitive military areas. Simple monitoring of suspect Japanese would pose a logistical nightmare. Prosecuting spies confronted many impediments, including a possibility of revealing intelligence sources.7 In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese fleet included eleven battleships and ten aircraft carriers. The decimated Americans had no battleships and only three carriers. What would have transpired if the U.S. was defeated at Midway and its carriers destroyed? The imperative of national security, not racism, convinced Roosevelt that a mass relocation was a viable emergency means to combat the threat. There simply wasn’t the time available to separate the loyal from suspect Japanese. In Japanese military circles,including Admiral Tamon Yamaguchi, an invasion of the United States wasproposed. Was this any less plausible in Japanese eyes than the war against the United States itself? Secretary of War Henry Stimson wrote on February 10, 1942: “…I think it is quite within the bounds of possibility that if the Japanese should get naval dominance in the Pacific, they would try an invasion of this country and, if they did, we would have a tough job meeting them.”8 As Supreme Court Justice Black declared in 1944: “To cast this case[Korematsu] into outlines of racial prejudice, without real reference to the real military dangers which were present, merely confuses the issue. Korematsu was not excluded from the military area because of hostility to him or his race… He was excluded because we are at war with the Japanese Empire.”9
Within the relocation camps, a vicious, militant pro-Japanese element terrorized the pro-Americans. They, including the notorious Black Dragon Society, had to be transferred to the Tule Lake facility. In the relocation camps, residents’ loyalties were vetted. Among the questions posed were: “Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States in combat wherever ordered?”(17% said no) Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any attack by foreign or domestic forces and foreswear any form of obedience to the Japanese Emperor or other foreign power, government, or organization?”(20% said no). 5,584 Japanese renounced their American citizenship. While most Japanese were loyal, a critical mass constituted a genuine threat to American national security.
One canard employed Leftist critics insists that Japanese-American citizens were “condemned for actions of a foreign government, with which they had no involvement, some politicians today are pandering to popular fears of Islam, connecting all Muslims by association to the atrocities of ISIS and radical groups.”10 Isn’t this analogous to whites in the United States who never discriminated against anyone, whose relatives never owned slaves, but were bearing the burden of historical grievances under affirmative action? Unfortunately, on the basis of an ideologically stacked Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, Ronald Reagan’s ill-advisedly signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 that included an apology and indiscriminate reparations – even for Black Dragon members. Japanese Americans were not blamed for the racist policies of Imperial Japan who brutalized the Koreans, Chinese, Filipinos, and American P.O.W.s. Imperial Japan was the real racist victimizer. Does Trump or any other public figure connect all Moslems to ISIS or radical terrorist groups? At the same time, the Left champions group identity politics, with “white privilege,” Black Lives Matter, and “micro-aggression.” Race persists as an indispensable, unquestionable canon of the Left’s historical narrative. It also continues to obstruct legitimate means to address national security.
1. See George Takei on Twitter in the Huffington Post(January 31, 2017)
2. Most scholars would concede that the issue is at least debatable. See Brian Hayashi, Democratizing the Enemy(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004); John Stephan, Hawaii Under the Rising Sun: Japan’s Plans for Conquest After Pearl Harbor(Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press,1984); Michelle Malkin, In Defense of Internment(Washington D.C.: Regnery, 2004); Ken Masugi, “Relocation Reconsidered Courtesy of Donald Trump,”Claremont Review of Books(January 25, 2016).
3. Malkin, In Defense of Internment,pp. 18-19.
4. 1984 House Congressional Hearing, Lowman Testimony, 431,434.
5. In its report, the Commission on Wartime Relocation omitted reference to the MAGIC revelations though the information had already been declassified.
6. Lilian Baker, Dishonoring America(Medford, OR: Webb Research Group, 19888), p.60.
7. The treatment of German internees was quite severe in comparison to the Japanese. They received no reparations, no apology, and none incidentally were prosecuted for any subversive activity. See Karen Eby, “WW II. Violations of German Civil Liberties by the U.S. Government,”(http://www.foitimes.com/gasummary.htn.
8. Malkin, In Defense of Internment, p.12.
9. Korematsu v. U.S.(1944) 323, U.S. 214, 236.
10. Dave Arnold, “The Politics of Fear,” Tri-city Herald(31 January 2017).