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Internment - an objectively discredited canard

Reader comment on item: Why the Japanese Internment Still Matters

Submitted by Gary R. White (United States), Jan 5, 2005 at 16:34

[The following is an ultimately unpublished letter to the editor that I submitted to the Los Angeles Daily News when a commentary by Thomas Sowell appeared touting Malkin's rehabilitation of internment. Although it was is rather lengthy for a letter to the editor, I believe it was irresponsible to provide so much space to such an objectively discredited canard as the military necessity of ethnic Japanese internment without allowing a response equal in length and detail. Even other neoconservatives such as Max Boot know that this dog doesn't hunt

In any case, that Dr. Pipes could be "sandbagged" by such a well known historical episode is utterly amazing.]

Regarding Thomas Sowell's "Political correctness no substitute for truth," (Thursday, September 23) showcasing Michelle Malkin's defense of the internment of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War as a military necessity. Sowell should give serious consideration to the possibility that something is not necessarily true just because it is political "incorrect."

The well documented hostility toward the "Yellow Peril" in the West Coast states played a major role in lobbying the Federal government to remove all members of the Japanese ‘race.' Pre-war state laws prohibited land ownership by Japanese aliens, and state legislators would have included all of Japanese ethnicity were it not for the Federal Constitution. Initially, the exclusion zone was a uniform coastal strip (with a border strip for Arizona). California, and California alone, was able to persuade the federal government to arbitrarily extend the coastal strip to include the entire state. Was this born of military necessity or merely reflective of local frustration that too many ethnic Japanese, including those who were able to relocate themselves from the coastal zone, remained in the state? After all, atomic research facilities were located in eastern Washington State.

Even J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the F.B.I., opposed the internment, but not because he was a civil libertarian. The waste of resources and financial burden of relocating over 120,000 individuals to government-constructed camps did not come anywhere near satisfying any conceivable cost-benefit analysis.

The mitigating factors Sowell cites in defense of internment only serve to demonstrate that it made no sense. For instance, ethnic Japanese, including actual Japanese enemy aliens, were free to relocate themselves elsewhere in the U.S., including an Atlantic coast patrolled by German U-boats. However, the ultimate absurdity of wholesale Japanese ethnic relocation was that it was never applied to the most sensitive military region of all in the Pacific, Hawaii. As a skilled polemicist, Sowell anticipates this obvious weakness in Malkin's argument by noting that the entire territory (Hawaii was not a state at the time) was technically placed under martial law, implying that such a measure accomplished the same security needs. The fallacy of this defense is that Hawaiian residents were also potentially subject to internment, martial law notwithstanding. That only something fewer than six hundred Hawaiian residents and less than thirty actual citizens were interned in this militarily sensitive area only underscores the bankruptcy of the military justification for the wholesale West Coast evacuation.

Malkin's book is based upon David D. Lowman's earlier work, "MAGIC: The Untold Story of U.S. Intelligence and the Evacuation of Japanese Residents from the West Coast during WWII." U.S. Army historian James McNaughton summarized Lowman's analysis as follows: "Lowman's book rehashes old arguments and give a tortured reading of the available intelligence sources. He errs in giving absolute primacy to communications intelligence, no matter how ambiguous. His polemics should be viewed as symptomatic of the lingering bitterness stemming from Pearl Harbor and the emotions raised by apologies and compensation."

McNaughton also notes that "…Japanese Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoka directed his nation's diplomatic assets in the United States to engage in stepped-up espionage using labor unions, anti-Semitic groups, Communists, African Americans, and individuals of foreign extraction other than Japanese" to underscore the fallacy of relying upon the MAGIC intercepts as a blueprint to targeting evacuation candidates.

Whatever utility Sowell and Malkin perceive in rehabilitating the West Coast evacuation of ethnic Japanese for current Neocon policy preferences, they should pause and reflect before accusing others of lacking a sound grasp of history.


garywhite@mail.com
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