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In Defense of Internment Scholarship:
Posted by Andrew on Monday, August 09 @ 14:37:48 EDT

A Critique of Michelle Malkin's "In Defense of Internment", Part Two

By Greg Robinson
Special to ModelMinority.com
August 8, 2004

Several years ago, I wrote a book on the decisions behind the mass removal and confinement of the Japanese Americans, commonly, if inaccurately, known as the internment, and in particular the role of President Franklin Roosevelt. I based it on several years of research in a number of archives around the country. The book was published under the title By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans (Harvard University Press, 2001). In the time since, I have done further research in this area, which has confirmed me in my conclusions. Since the book was published, I have read a number of critiques by various defenders of Executive Order 9066, especially by bloggers, who seem to constitute a large and vocal group. I have preferred to let the work speak for itself, and I have never before responded to any critics, even when their comments distorted what I actually said. However, I feel that I must break my silence in the case of Michelle Malkin's book.

First, Malkin is a bestselling author whose book is being put out by an established publisher, and her status as a celebrity will make many undiscriminating or unknowing people buy the book and take her arguments at face value.

Also, Malkin, unlike all other writers I have seen, deliberately impugns the motives of those who disagree with her. She proclaims herself a disinterested seeker for truth with an open mind. However, she is gratuitously nasty towards all others: "Unlike many others who have published on this subject, I have no vested interests: I am not an evacuee, internee, or family member thereof. I am not an attorney who has represented evacuees or internees demanding redress for their long-held grievances. I am not a professor whose tenure relies on regurgitating academic orthodoxy about this episode in American history."

Well, I am none of these things, apart from being a professor, and I was not even that when I researched and wrote my book. I am mindful, however, of the wise counsel of Sidney Hook, who in his "Ethics of Controversy" reminded people "[b]efore impugning an opponent's motives, even when they legitimately may be impugned, answer his arguments." Since there is a great deal to criticize in Malkin's arguments from a logical and historical point of view, I will first focus on that.

The analysis of the book should start with the material the author includes on MAGIC (the decrypted intercepts of the Japanese code), which by her own statement constitutes the heart of her argument. There is a certain boredom born of repetition in any such discussion of this book, since the author's material is mostly if not entirely lifted from the work of the late David Lowman, to whom the book is dedicated. (As the author states in the August 3, 2004 entry on her website, www.michellemalkin.com: "After reading a book by former National Security Agency official David Lowman called MAGIC: The untold story of U.S. Intelligence and the evacuation of Japanese residents from the West Coast during WWII, published posthumously by Athena Press Inc., I contacted publisher Lee Allen, who generously agreed to share many new sources and resources as I sought the truth."

Lowman's work has frequently been refuted and discredited. (Lowman first tried to make the case that the evidence of the MAGIC cables justified Executive Order 9066 in testimony before the Subcommittee on Administrative law and Governmental Relations of the House Committee on the Judiciary in June 1984. At that time, John Herzig, himself a retired Lieutenant Colonel and former intelligence officer, and Peter Irons effectively rebutted his testimony. Lowman did not resurface until 2000,when he put the same information in the book Malkin mentions. According to the LA TIMES review, the editor of Lowman's book himself expressed doubts as to the credibility of Lowman's conclusions.

Since there is nothing new in the author's case for MAGIC, my rebuttal will be brief. (For a more detailed presentation of the matter, John Herzig's "Japanese Americans and MAGIC," Amerasia Journal 11:2 (1984) is still unequalled).

Let me divide it into three parts: first, that the MAGIC cables do not present the image of a Japanese American spy network; Second, that the people who pushed the case for evacuation would not have had access to the MAGIC excerpts in any case; thirdly, that those who did have access to MAGIC did not base their decision on it.

First, an examination of the MAGIC cables provided by the author does not provide any case for implicating the Japanese Americans in espionage activities. Most of the cables discussed (a tiny handful of the thousands of messages decrypted) come from Tokyo or Mexico City and refer to areas outside the United States. Those cables that do speak of the United States detail various efforts by Japan to build networks, and list hopes or intentions rather than actions or results. For example, the author quotes (p. 41) from a January 31, 1941 cable from Tokyo which orders agents to establish espionage and to recruit second generations. It does not say that such recruitment took place, and furthermore that recruitment was to take place even more among non-Japanese. Similarly, the author cites excerpts listing census data transmitted on the Japanese population of various cities-hardly secret information. The author relies most strongly on a memo from the Los Angeles consulate to Tokyo from May 1941. The author claims " the message stated that the network had Nisei spies in the U.S. Army" (p. 44). In fact, the message states "We shall maintain connection with our second generations who are at present in the U.S. Army…" This speaks again of agents to be recruited. There is no evidence that any individuals had been recruited as agents, still less that they were actively giving information. report was given Replies back from Los Angeles and Seattle state that they had established connections with Japanese and with "second generations". The rest of the cables she cites recount information given to Japan in fall 1941, long after any discussion of recruiting Japanese Americans had ceased, with no clue as to the source of the information given. The sum total of the information is that Japan unquestionably tried to build a spy network in the US during 1941. It is also clear that the Japanese wished to recruit Japanese Americans, as well as non-Japanese. There is no evidence that they did so, or that Japanese Americans provided any of the information.

Even assuming for the sake of argument that the MAGIC excerpts did show some credible risk of disloyal activity by Nisei on the West Coast, those who made the case for internment did not rely on them. The author herself notes that access to the MAGIC encrypts was limited to a dozen people outside the decrypters. This leaves her in the position of asserting that the essential reflection and decision was made by those three figures, and the reasons of motivations of any other actors were irrelevant. However, the record amply demonstrates that West Coast Defense Commander General John DeWitt (and his assistant Karl Bendetsen) were largely responsible for making the case for evacuation, and that their judgment of the situation and their recommendation for mass evacuation overcame the initial opposition of McCloy and Stimson. DeWitt's motivations for urging evacuation-notably his comment to McCloy that "a Jap is a Jap", and his reliance on arguments about the "racial strains" of the Japanese in his Final Report-indicate that his conduct was informed by racism.

Finally, there is no direct evidence to support the contention that the MAGIC excerpts played a decisive role in the decision of the figures who did have access to them to authorize mass evacuation, and considerable evidence that leads to a contrary inference. Throughout all the confidential memoranda and conversations taking place within the War Department at the time of the decision on evacuation, transcripts which show people speaking extremely freely, the MAGIC excerpts are not mentioned a single time. In particular, there is no evidence that President Roosevelt ever saw or was briefed on the MAGIC excerpts the author mentions, let alone that he was decisively influenced by them. As I detail at great length in my book By Order of the President, throughout the 1930s Roosevelt expressed suspicions of Japanese Americans, irrespective of citizenship, and sought to keep the community under surveillance. As early as 1936, he already approved plans to arrest suspicious Japanese Americans in Hawaii if war broke out. As of early 1941, before FDR could have received any MAGIC excerpts, the Justice Department and the military had already put together lists of aliens to be taken into custody (the so-called ABC lists). These were not based on suspicion of individual activities, but of their place in Japanese communities. Roosevelt continued to believe in a threat despite receiving reports of overwhelming community loyalty from the FBI and his own agents, reports he called "nothing much new".

The author's entire case for military necessity--she claims there was a "West Coast under siege"--is fatally flawed, as it reposes on her dramatic account of the shelling by Japanese submarines of a refinery in Goleta, California (pp.7-8), which she called "the first foreign attack on the U.S. mainland attack since the War of 1812." (No, it wasn't, actually; Pancho Villa's 1916 raid into Columbus, New Mexico set off panic and a large-scale punitive expedition led by General Pershing; but never mind). In fact, as the author states, this event took place on February 23, 1942, four days after Executive Order 9066 was signed, so it could not have played a factor in any of the decisions.

Not satisfied with describing this single (rather minor) incident, the author tries to disguise the lack of concrete military threat by claiming that this incident "was just one of many long forgotten (or deliberately ignored) attacks"(p.9). Long forgotten? Then where are the incident reports and media accounts at the time, when it was well remembered? Deliberately ignored? By whom? By the Californians who were so panicked over the spectre of a Japanese invasion that they spread wild stories that turned out to be untrue? By the West Coast defense authorities who were ready to make the most compelling case for mass evacuation? The author finishes with stories of Japanese submarines roaming free around Hawaiian waters, and mentions two sinkings of boats in the mid-Pacific. How then was the West Coast under siege? As the author seems to confess by omission, were there then no sinkings of ships by Japanese subs around the area of the West Coast? If such sinkings in Hawaiian waters did not change the situation in Hawaii, they should not have been responsible for arbitrary action on the West Coast.

In contrast, there was an urgent military danger on the East Coast. Nazi submarines in the Atlantic were sinking Allied shipping at an alarming rate, and Nazi saboteurs landed on Long Island-the last invasion of the U.S. mainland. However, the Army and the Administration did not take steps to intern all German aliens out a fear of collaboration. As Attorney General Biddle, who was responsible for control of enemy aliens, stated in an unpublished section of his memoirs, "There was more reason than in the West to conclude that shore-to-ship signals were accounting for the very serious submarine sinkings all along the East Coast, which were only sporadic only the West Coast…But the decisions were not made on the logic of events or on the weight of evidence, but on the racial prejudice that seemed to be influencing everyone." (cited in Robinson, By Order of the President, p.112).

Malkin engages in overkill in other areas. Her stated purpose is to prove that the removal and confinement of Japanese American aliens, and particularly of citizens, was based on justifiable fears of espionage and sabotage, rather than racism (and thus make the case for racial profiling by the Bush Administration). If this were all she wished to argue, she could have stopped with the signing of Executive Order 9066 itself. She could then more easily have made the case that the Army and the Executive felt obliged to act as they did considering the circumstances, though it was a terrible injustice to loyal citizens. After all, how the government's policy played itself out afterwards is logically irrelevant to the initial cause. She would still have been mistaken, in my opinion, about the threat from the Nisei (more on the distinction between the confinement of Issei and Nisei later on) . However, she would have been able to summon up some reputable authority. This was, after all, the retrospective commentary of Secretary of War Henry Stimson, the most influential advocate of evacuation, in the memoir he wrote with McGeorge Bundy, On Active Service in Peace and War, p. 406. Because of this, Stimson supported compensation for losses suffered by Japanese American aliens and citizens in the evacuation. (On the other hand, Stimson went on to say that, more than the danger of disloyal activity, the anti-Japanese hysteria on the West Coast was so strong that Japanese Americans needed to be moved to protect them from illegal violence, a statement which throws into doubt Ms. Malkin's insistence that racial bigotry played no decisive factor in the evacuation).

In contrast, Malkin's objective is to defend the government's actions throughout, which means that she goes beyond that those involved believed, all in order to denounce a nonexistent conspiracy among her opponents to create "the myth of the concentration camp." (Like Eric Muller, I am dubious about any campaign among scholars to equate the camps with concentration camps of Nazi Germany. As one who had relatives disappear during the Holocaust, I myself would certainly be unlikely to do so). Malkin thus follows in the paranoid style of Lillian Baker, the most important internment denier, whose gift to posterity, "The Concentration Camp Conspiracy," likewise charges an immense conspiracy on the part of Japanese Americans to defraud the government and distort history. To be fair, Malkin does not go as far as Baker in claiming that the camps were pleasant places or that the guard towers were for the inmates' protection. Still, her central premise is that the government acted justly in establishing camps to which Japanese Americans were "free to move elsewhere (initially)" "free to leave" and " free to enter". This is a serious distortion. Let us break down her comments.

First, Japanese American were, for a few weeks in March 1942, permitted to relocate "voluntarily." However, they were required-in practice, and possibly officially-to have an outside sponsor, and they were given no aid or financing for such a move. Such relocation would have meant families had to sell everything they owned or relying on what they had on hand--the bank accounts of enemy aliens were frozen--and move to an unknown location. Despite this, thousands of Japanese Americans did indeed move East. The vast majority of them, relying on the assurances of the West Coast Defense Command, moved inland to eastern California, only to be caught in the cruel net of involuntary confinement when that area was declared restricted. The author correctly notes that the threat of violence from inland communities made further "voluntary" relocation possible. She might have gone further, in order to defend the government, to point out that the War Relocation Authority did initially intend to place Japanese Americans in communities outside the West Coast, but that when WRA Director Milton Eisenhower visited a Western Governor's conference, the rabid anti-Japanese sentiment he experienced forced him to shelve his plans and prepare for confinement for the duration. Rather, Ms. Malkin's talent for overkill shows itself in her dubious insistence (twice repeated) that hostility from inland Japanese-Americans was a significant factor in striking fear in the hearts of the West Coasters.

To say that people were free to enter the camps is true but irrelevant. In many case non-Japanese spouses of confined Japanese Americans, such as Elaine Black Yoneda, "volunteered" to go to camp to be with their families. As with people who volunteer to be jailed for their beliefs, such actions are a result of (or protest against) injustice and not a denial of it.

Finally, the assertion that Japanese Americans were "free to leave" the camps must be placed in context. The author correctly notes that those with permits who were adjudged loyal by the governments were able to leave. Again, she might have gone on to mention that as time went on the camp inmates were able in many cases to get day passes to go into town for supplies or on hikes. However, the Japanese Americans were held for months without individual trials, hearings, or charges. Until individuals were able to arrange to get paroled through the long, cumbersome and inevitably arbitrary loyalty and sponsorship procedure, they had no way to escape being confined against their will. The WRA, for a number of reasons, was unable to accommodate all those who sought resettlement, and some three quarters of Japanese Americans remained in the camps throughout the war.

Malkin's talent for overkill is displayed most breathtakingly when she goes so far as to state that "even with the benefit of hindsight (which the War Department officials did not have), it is not at all clear that mass evacuation was unwarranted" (p.80). Not unwarranted? When the United States occupation authorities went methodically through captured enemy files, they found no new evidence of Japanese American disloyalty. When the Nisei of Hawaii, spared mass race-based internment, were permitted to enlist, they rushed to take up the colors. Malkin not only refuses to question the military's judgment (even in retrospect) but stresses that their roundup of all Japanese Americans of all ages was untainted by racial sentiment-the removal of children being founded in the need to assure that they were properly cared for. One wonders whether this includes the families who were separated or the Japanese American orphans and foster children who were removed from their homes or institutions and sent off to camp. (The Army was ready to release the children of mixed marriages where the mother was Japanese and the father another group-these were evidently considered less Japanese than those children of Japanese fathers and non-Japanese mothers).

Now that I have covered Malkin's central arguments as fallacious, I would like to step back and look at the work as a whole. I do appreciate the author's willingness to take an unorthodox position, and it is good to put the wartime treatment of the Japanese Americans in perspective-I was not aware that GIs were housed in the stalls at Santa Anita after the Japanese Americans had been confined there. Still, Malkin's book is not a useful work of history, but a polemic that relies for its attraction on sensationalism and overstatement. The author lumps everyone who has ever written on the wartime treatment of Japanese Americans into a single homogenous (and self-interested) group and does not discuss their different arguments, or indeed, their disagreements with each other. Such conspiratorial thinking detracts from the merit of what the author does get right. (A minor but indicative point: in one of the two places where my work By Order of the President is cited, the author refers to me as "Canadian historian Greg Robinson." Since the matter of my nationality has no relevance to the point at hand I can only interpret its inclusion as a subtle attempt at discrediting me as a foreigner-in fact I am a born and bred New Yorker, with undiluted fealty to my native land).

The work also suffers from the author's perceptible shoddiness of method. Many of the author's contentions, and particularly her generalizations about popular perceptions (such as that the government confiscated Japanese American property), are barren of footnotes. In her section on the MAGIC intercepts, the author takes over David Lowman's work to the point of plagiarism. Not only does she cite the same MAGIC cables, she even indulges in the same selective quotation of sources such as Roberta Wohlstetter and John Costello in which Lowman indulged. For example, she cites military historian John Costello (p. 37) as saying that "The rising current of fear on the West Coast and the evidence from the MAGIC intercepts were important factors in the President's decision to sign Executive Order 9066," but fails to add Costello's statement almost immediately after that sentence that Executive Order 9066, "enabled the military to start to round up 120,000 innocent Japanese Americans." Thus the author ignores the fact that Costello regarded the Japanese Americans as victims, not instigators, of the Order and the fear that surrounded it. Indeed, if I have been able to reply so quickly to Malkin's contentions, it is because all the information she presents on MAGIC was featured in Lowman's Congressional testimony twenty years ago, and were addressed in detail at that time. (Many of the MAGIC excerpts and testimony as to Japanese spies were old even then-they had first been made public in 1946, during the Congressional Committee investigation into the Pearl Harbor attack).

The author also has a tendency to contradict herself. For example, she states that the opinion of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover on the Japanese Americans was not reliable or relied upon, since he had no access to the MAGIC intercepts that she claims demonstrated spying by Japanese Americans. (In fact, Hoover received detailed summaries of MAGIC information from the Office of Naval Intelligence, whose members likewise opposed mass evacuation). On the other hand, she is quick to quote any negative comment on Japanese Americans by the FBI or the ONI. Similarly, she implies on pages 77 and 126 that the push for evacuation came from President Roosevelt, since McCloy told DeWitt that he had specifically authorized the evacuation of citizens. Yet on page 81 she states that FDR was too busy with directing the war effort to think of matters, and properly delegated all decisions to Stimson.

I suspect that in some part these contradictions and cutting and pasting come from the fact that book was written very quickly-the author herself says that she wrote it over a single year in her spare time (presumably not very plentiful, given her daily columns and other work in media). However, much of it clearly is a result of the author's procrustean effort to stretch facts to fit an ideologically predetermined thesis. As a result, there are certain basic facts that Malkin dares not even touch. She does not explain why the Canadian government, whose leaders did not have the benefit of the MAGIC cables which "proved" the existence of Nisei espionage networks, nonetheless went through the process of relocating and incarcerating their ethnic Japanese residents. Furthermore, she does not explain why immediate loyalty hearings were not granted to the Japanese Americans, whether citizens or aliens, the way that they were to ALL other enemy aliens, and they eventually were granted to Japanese Americans. Most of all, the author does not deal at all with the long, extensive, and very well documented history of anti-Japanese American racism on the West Coast. This absence is so glaring as to constitute bad faith. Malkin tries desperately to get around the question of racism by locating the entire decision in the White House, and in a vacuum. She must be aware that trying to discuss the process of evacuation without mentioning the long campaign by Californians to get rid of the "Japs" or the political pressure on the Administration from West Coast congressmen and commercial groups is unreal--like trying to discuss the origins of the Fourteenth Amendment without bringing in slavery or African Americans.

Robinson is an assistant professor of history at the University of Quebec At Montreal.

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wow. (Score: 1)
by minotaar on Monday, August 09 @ 15:07:52 EDT
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All I got to say is "ouch".

Re: In Defense of Internment Scholarship: (Score: 1)
by Tao on Tuesday, August 10 @ 10:24:05 EDT
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According to Michelle Malkin, government dominated by racist white males is always right, and US citizens of color are always suspect. Not only that, but according to her THIS IS THE WAY THINGS SHOULD BE.

What is especially sad is that the heroes of the 442/100 died to preserve the freedom of speech which allows Malkin to spew her distorted, venomous racist filth. We should all respect her freedom of speech, and speak up to refute such nonsense.



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