Michelle Malkin's In Defense of Internment--Breaking News: Japan, Not America, Guilty of War Crimes 60 Years Ago

For decades, the public considered the central event in America's 20th Century history to be the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Countless movies included a scene where swing music emanating from a wood-sided radio is replaced by a breathless announcer saying, "We interrupt this broadcast …"

In recent years, however, merely drawing attention to Japan's aggression has come to be seen as a little racially insensitive, something that nice white people just don't do. Thus the Holocaust, a much safer topic, is increasingly portrayed as the most important occurrence in last century's American history.

With the crimes of the Japanese militarists fading into the blur of Things We're Not Supposed to Think About, the bushido mindset, which inflicted so many atrocities on the world, is now considered cool. Recent Hollywood movies, such as Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill, Vol. 1" and Tom Cruise's " The Last Samurai," are full of Shinto.

However, some non-Japanese Asian-American writers are still inclined to raise unfashionable historical issues due to their relatives' victimization by Imperial Japan, and are well positioned to survive charges of racism. For example, Iris Chang's aptly-titled 1998 book The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II was a surprise bestseller. (If you read even a few of its 449 reviews on Amazon, you'll see that Japanese hypernationalism is far from dead.)

For those in the educational and cultural establishments who believe that only whites can be racist, the reality that America, and much of Asia and the Pacific, was brutalized by fanatically racist nonwhites is profoundly inconvenient.

Fortunately for their peace of mind, the crimes of Imperial Japan can be nicely balanced off against an alleged American crime: the internment of Japanese Americans after the outbreak of Pearl Harbor.

Michelle Malkin, whose parents were born in the Philippines, bravely takes on the internment industry in her new book In Defense of Internment: The Case for "Racial Profiling" in World War II and the War on Terror. It's a daring and powerfully argued, if perhaps not wholly convincing, effort. Most importantly, it restores some three-dimensional perspective to a complex event.

I must say I have no idea how Michelle can write a serious work of polemical history, while keeping up her popular column, and having a new baby, but she's done it. [VDARE.COM NOTE: And even found time occasionally to go fishing.]

In Defense of Internment is timely because the taxpayer-funded effort to demonize the memory of all the public servants responsible for the evacuation of the West Coast Japanese has left our airport security system a sick joke.

Nobody, including Michelle, is arguing for interning all Arab Muslims in the U.S. But the "Slippery Slope to the Manzanar Concentration Camp" argument is repeatedly trotted out these days to render unthinkable even the most narrowly-tailored racial profiling.

Underperformin' Norman—Mineta, the Secretary of Transportation—has repeatedly declaimed that, because he was interned with his family during WWII, the Transportation Security Administration must continue its dysfunctional system of randomly searching, say, Navajo grandmothers, rather than (for shame!) focusing on Arab Muslims.

Still, Michelle could have noted that Mineta, the only Democrat in the Cabinet, didn't initiate his anti-profiling policy. Instead, George W. Bush denounced profiling of Arabs back during his second debate with Al Gore in 2000—as part of a plan hatched by Grover Norquist and Karl Rove to win the Muslim vote.

Michelle's book raises a series of difficult questions to which I'll give my answers.

  • Was the internment the result of wartime hysteria and racism?

No doubt overexcitement played a role. My grandfather, for example, became convinced that a Japanese farmer who owned a sloping field above Pismo Beach had planted his crops in a coded pattern conveying secret information to submarines lurking offshore. That seems like the lowest bandwidth communication medium imaginable. But, I am told, there was no arguing with the old boy.

And there were also many threats of mob violence against the Japanese, with Filipinos being especially angry.

Still, the Japanese weren't the only ones to be evacuated or suffer other restrictions on their freedoms. In 1941, America's most popular athlete, Joe DiMaggio, famously hit in 56 games straight. Yet, the next year, his father, a San Francisco crab fisherman, was grounded for the duration to prevent him from, I guess, rendezvousing in the fog beyond the Golden Gate Bridge with Mussolini's invasion fleet.

Italy, of course, had no navy to speak of, and Il Duce's subjects showed negligible enthusiasm for the war. Indeed, when Patton's army landed in Sicily in 1943, the Italian soldiers put down their guns, ran down on the beach, and helped the Americans unload.

In Germany, warlust was running much higher, but Hitler never finished building any aircraft carriers so he was never a credible threat to strike land targets in America. Moreover, the loyalty of German-Americans had been fully tested in World War I, when expressions of pride in German culture in the U.S. had been crushed during the anti-German kulturkampf.

Our current fetish with Nazi Germany disguises the fact Japan was much more objectively worrisome to West Coasters in early 1942. In Japan, fanaticism was strongest of all.

And the Japanese surface fleet was world-beating. It boasted eleven battleships, compared to the zero we had left afloat after their sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, and ten aircraft carriers (six full-sized), while the U.S. could seldom put more than three flattops to sea in the Pacific. These aircraft carriers had revolutionized warfare, raiding Hawaii, Australia, and Ceylon, spanning 65 degrees of longitude, between December and April.

Secretary of War Henry Stimson argued that hit-and-run raids on the West Coast were "not only possible, but probable in the first months of the war, and it was quite impossible to be sure that the raiders would not receive important help from individuals of Japanese origin."

  • Was this worry strategically plausible or a figment generated by fear?

Worries about Japanese attacks were not simply a rationalization to drive out the Japanese Americans. Serious decisions were based on these concerns. For instance, the huge Kaiser steel mill, where the Liberty boats were to be built, was situated well inland in Fontana, California, precisely to be out of range of Japanese battleships.

Arguably, incursions on California made no long-term strategic sense for the Japanese and were thus unlikely. The problem with trying to judge how rationally Americans responded, however, is that the Tokyo high command, while tactically brilliant, was strategically nuts, with a pronounced tendency toward what Paul Johnson in Modern Times called "rational hysteria." For years, fierce young Japanese Army officers had been assassinating moderate statesmen skeptical of their demands for war. For Japanese, openly discussing the risks inherent in attacking the much bigger country of America could be a death sentence.

Having started a war it didn't know how to end, attacks on West Coast ports to disable the U.S. Navy made about as much strategic sense as anything else the Japanese did.

With hindsight, we know that the Japanese chose instead to drive south and east, conquering Guam, Wake Island, Malaya, Singapore, Hong Kong, the Dutch East Indies, the Philippines, and Burma. By May of 1942, the Japanese had conquered one-eighth of the Earth's surface.

Finally, in June, Japan's mighty First Air Fleet turned back east, toward Midway Island, as the initial step toward Admiral Yamamoto's goal of conquering Hawaii and holding the population hostage until America agreed to end the war.

This was yet another strategic misjudgment. If Admiral Yamamoto had succeeded in capturing Oahu, and the Japanese had treated Americans the way they treated the Filipinos, the U.S. would never have negotiated. It would probably have taken until about 1946 or 1947 for the U.S. to fight its way back within bombing range of the Japanese mainland. But then, instead of atom-bombing just two Japanese cities, we probably would have annihilated a couple of dozen.

Fortunately, the Japanese were spared the full wrath of which America was capable by the U.S. Navy's extraordinary victory at Midway on June 4th, 1942. After that, the threat of raids on the mainland diminished sharply.

But by then, the evacuation from the West Coast of about 112,000 ethnic Japanese, about one-third of the adults being citizens, had been underway for months. (Japanese American citizens outside of the Coastal region were left alone.)

  • Were fears of disloyalty wholly hallucinatory?

Japanese immigrants in Southeast Asia had aided the invaders. But that doesn't prove than many in America would have helped temporary raiders. For one thing, any such traitors would have been left behind to face the wrath of the American survivors.

But the precision of the Pearl Harbor attacks did show that the Japanese had a spy ring operating on Oahu. It included one American-born citizen, Richard Kotoshirodo.

And top Roosevelt administration officials were hungrily reading decodings of Japanese diplomatic cryptograms, some of which recounted spy surveillance of mainland ports. The Japanese government would have preferred to use whites and blacks as its spies, but racist regimes have a much harder time recruiting Benedict Arnolds from other ethnic groups than do communist dictatorships. There's no evidence that the Japanese state progressed beyond organizing espionage to arranging sabotage, although suicide bombings would have been a logical step for the government that invented the kamikaze.

Unfortunately, the first two Japanese American citizens to have their loyalty spontaneously tested by a Japanese incursion … flunked. A Japanese pilot returning from shooting up Pearl Harbor crash-landed on Niihau, the privately-owned ranching island that serves as a cultural preserve for Native Hawaiians. The two American-born citizens of Japanese descent on Niihau collaborated with the pilot and briefly took over the island, until a wounded Hawaiian killed the aviator with his bare hands. One of the quislings then shot himself.

  • How severe was the risk?

On Hawaii, the Japanese ethnic group made up such a large fraction of the workforce that mass evacuation was impractical. Instead, the territory came under martial law. Few problems were observed. But then, the Japanese Navy never made it back.

Let it be noted that sabotage was more of a left-of-center fear at that time. Stalin had denounced "wreckers" at his show trials, and the international left had become obsessed by fascist "fifth columnists" during the Spanish Civil War. So evacuation of the Japanese from the West Coast was supported somewhat more by liberals than by conservatives. The most notable public spokesman against mass evacuations was Republican Senator Robert Taft—and the leading dissenter within the Roosevelt Administration was FBI supremo J. Edgar Hoover.

It should also be noted that the 1924 shutdown of immigration did much to cut down on the threat of disloyalty. All the Japanese-born noncitizens had been in the U.S. for at least 18 years. Even if they hadn't grown fond of America, they had at least gotten old enough that militancy wouldn't be as fun-sounding as it once might have seemed. The American citizens had all been born in this country and, typically, educated in assimilationist public schools.

But thousands of American-born citizens, such as Kotoshirodo, had been sent to Japan for their education, where they'd caught the militarist virus.

Everyone has heard, repeatedly, of the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which was formed in the camps and went on to set records for medals won while fighting in Italy.

We don't hear, however, of the fact that over a quarter (28%) of the young male citizens in the camps refused to swear allegiance to the U.S. Presumably, many had been alienated by their experiences, but it shows that stories about complete loyalty among the internees are myths. Ultimately, 5,589 individuals even renounced their citizenship.

  • How bad was the treatment of internees?

By WWII standards, not all that bad, at least after the initial chaos. The worst injustices were that many evacuees had to sell their property at fire sale prices. In particular, many farmers in Los Angeles County would have made a fortune if they had been able to hold on to their land until the housing boom after the war. Some compensation for property losses was voted by Congress in 1948, but it wasn't enough.

Luckily, Japanese Americans are a hard working and enterprising people, so most got back on their feet relatively quickly after the war. In the 1970s, Senator S. I. Hayakawa argued that by breaking the authority of the older generation, internment enabled the younger people to adapt to the American economy better and make more money after the war than they would have otherwise.

Physical conditions in the camps were spartan, but not much worse than those experienced by draftees who remained stateside. And, of course, lots of draftees ended up in much worse places, such as Guadalcanal or, worst of all, a Japanese prisoner of war camp.

Workers in the relocation camps were paid, although the maximum wage was limited to that of an Army private's. Eventually, tens of thousands were allowed out to take jobs or attend colleges away from the West Coast.

Still, there was a significant psychological difference between being drafted and being interned. This must have been especially painful to the status-sensitive Japanese. Also, this complete disruption of life would be easier for a young draftee to endure than an elderly evacuee.

In summary, I would agree with Michelle that based on what policy makers knew in the desperate month of February 1942, mass evacuation of the Coast was certainly defensible.

I would add, though, that it seems less than optimal. Hoover's proposal for rounding up suspicious characters and removing Japanese ethnics from around just the most militarily crucial locations in Seattle and San Diego sounds far better both from the standpoints of protecting personal liberty and justice and of maintaining wartime production.

Unlike Michelle Malkin, I approve of the 1988 payment of $20,000 to each internee. The U.S. is a rich country and can afford to pay off at leisure for decisions that need to be made in haste.

That's a much better practice than our current tendency to immediately get bogged down interminably by half-remembered half-truths.

[Steve Sailer [email him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and movie critic for The American Conservative. His website www.iSteve.blogspot.com features his daily blog.]