Monday, August 9, 2004
Rethinking the wisdom
About the emotional issues raised by these columnsThere are few historical dilemmas that strike closer to the heart of the Japanese-American experience than the relocation and internment of otherwise loyal AJAs during the Second World War. The subject always comes up during conventions of the Japanese-American Citizens League, the 2004 edition of which begins tomorrow in Honolulu.
Columnist Michelle Malkin's new book, "In Defense of Internment," questions the conventional attitudes about the event in the past half-century, and her conclusions have been derided by a number of scholars.
Malkin submitted a column to the Star-Bulletin on Friday advancing her argument that the internment was justified. Because of Hawaii sensitivities on the issue and because of time constraints, we asked David Forman, a member of the Hawaii JACL chapter, to read Malkin's column before publication and write a response, which is printed below. This is a departure from normal Star-Bulletin practice, but necessary, we felt, given the imminent convention.
Also, Malkin relied heavily on original research by Star-Bulletin writer Burl Burlingame, both from his book "Advance Force -- Pearl Harbor" and a series of articles by Burlingame printed in the Star-Bulletin in 1986 about an Imperial Navy aviator who crashed on Niihau on Dec. 7, 1941. Given the same facts, Malkin came to different conclusions than Burlingame.
Star-Bulletin editorial page editor
It might seem hard to imagine today, but 60 years ago, both Hawaii and the West Coast were extremely vulnerable to Japanese attack. With Japanese submarines roaming free up and down our coastlines, the U.S. government's national security concerns -- in particular, the threat of espionage by ethnic Japanese in support of the Japanese emperor's war effort -- were real and urgent.
More than any other source of intelligence, it was the "MAGIC" messages -- Japan's diplomatic communications that were decoded by American signal intelligence officers -- that influenced top decision-makers within the Roosevelt administration.
Beginning in December 1940, with the possibility of war looming, a series of MAGIC messages revealed Japan's intent to establish an espionage network in the Western Hemisphere. Within months, West Coast consulates reported to Tokyo on their progress in setting up the spy network's surveillance of military posts and bases, shipyards, airfields and ports.
A message from Japan's Los Angeles consulate stated, "We have already established contacts with absolutely reliable Japanese in the San Pedro and San Diego area, who will keep a close watch on all shipments of airplanes and other war materials, and report the amounts and destinations of such shipments. The same steps have been taken with regard to traffic across the U.S.-Mexican border." The message also stated that the network had U.S.-born Japanese-American spies in the U.S. Army.
A message from Japan's Seattle consulate stated that Japanese spies were "securing intelligences concerning the concentration of warships with-in the Bremerton Naval Yard, information with regard to mercantile shipping and airplane manufacturer, movements of military forces, as well as that which concerns troop maneuvers." The same message said that Japanese consular officials had "made arrangements to collect intelligences from second generation Japanese draftees on matters dealing with the troops, as well as troop speech and behavior."
The most detailed MAGIC messages were those sent by Japan's Honolulu consulate. With increasing frequency leading up to December 1941, these messages provided meticulous reports on ship locations and movements within Pearl Harbor. Coupled with other information, the Honolulu-Tokyo messages were, as author James Gannon put it, "a smoking gun" signaling an impending attack on Oahu -- but due to decryption backlogs, courier delays, petty rivalries and bureaucratic bungling, not a single one of them reached Hawaii before Dec. 7.
The information sent by Honolulu consular officials was obtained by an espionage cell that included at least two ethnic Japanese local residents, one of whom was a U.S. citizen. The spy ring monitored ship movements, water currents and made note of military routines on installations and at airfields. Among the agents' observations: that no American warships were stationed off the west coast of Maui, so that attacking Japanese fighter-bombers could concentrate exclusively on Oahu; that the American battleships moored in pairs, so that the inshore ship could not be struck by a torpedo; that a large number of ships were always in the port on Saturdays and Sundays; and that the Americans conducted hardly any patrols at all north of Oahu. This information was critical to the planning of the Pearl Harbor raid.
Local law enforcement officials knew about the Honolulu spies, but before Pearl Harbor there was nothing they could do to stop them since observing ship movements from public locations was legal. On the day of the Pearl Harbor raid, the governor of Hawaii declared martial law. The writ of habeas corpus was suspended, and hundreds of ethnic Japanese considered potentially subversive, including the two ethnic Japanese who participated in the Honolulu espionage ring, were confined without trial -- an option that was unavailable to military and law enforcement officials on the mainland where civilian courts were still operative.
Years later, after the MAGIC cables were declassified, the architect of the West Coast evacuation, Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy, stated that MAGIC was instrumental in shaping the administration's homeland security policies. President Roosevelt himself was an avid reader of the MAGIC messages. Yet virtually every popular account of the ethnic Japanese experience during World War II has ignored MAGIC and its vital importance. Leading high school textbooks condemn evacuation, relocation and internment as shameful injustices -- without informing students of the vast amount of communications intelligence that informed FDR's decisions.
The effort by Japanese-American activists and their media allies to minimize the importance of the intelligence that supported President Roosevelt's wartime decisions amounts to educational malpractice. In order to fairly judge present homeland security measures, all Americans -- especially our students -- deserve an accurate account of the past.
Michelle Malkin knows that the Japanese American Citizen League's 75th Anniversary National Convention is being held this week -- tomorrow through Saturday -- here in Honolulu. Malkin's use of this event to promote her new book, although opportunistic, is a civil right protected by the First Amendment. Nevertheless, I find her accusation that "almost everything you'll hear this week from the Japanese American Citizens League about the internment of ethnic Japanese during World War II is false" to be offensive.
Nothing Malkin writes will ever erase the painful memories of Japanese-American businesses and homes lost and families uprooted because of their ethnicity. Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, who was interned with her family at the age of 7 and later co-authored "Farewell to Manzanar," has educated many people about these facts. She will be presented with a Japanese American of the Biennium award during the JACL's Sayonara Banquet on Saturday evening at the Hawai'i Convention Center.
Nor can Malkin's words detract from the stories of Japanese-American soldiers who fought valiantly in Europe and elsewhere while their families remained incarcerated in the United States. A tribute to World War II veterans -- including representatives of the Tuskegee Airmen, Navajo Code Breakers, Filipino veterans, Rosie the Riveters, the Women's Army Auxiliary, the Women Air Force Service Pilots, in addition to Japanese Americans who served in the 442nd Infantry, 100th Battalion, 1399 Engineering Battalion and the Military Intelligence Service -- will be held from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Friday at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.
Nevertheless, I do agree with one observation made by Malkin: "All Americans -- especially our students -- deserve an accurate account of the past." However, her baseless accusation that "Japanese-American activists and their media allies" have engaged in "educational malpractice" rings hollow for several reasons.
>> First, Malkin relies entirely upon the so-called MAGIC messages/cables, which respected historians, academics, government commissions and courts of law have decisively rejected as grounds for the purported military necessity of relocating and interning Japanese Americans during World War II. (See, e.g., John Herzig, "Japanese Americans and MAGIC," Amerasia Journal 11:2 ; Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, "Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians 475" .)
Nothing in these documents justified the mass incarceration, without trial or hearing, of more than 100,000 people chosen strictly on the basis of race. In fact, the government raised the "Magic Cables" defense without success during litigation in the 1980s that resulted in an order vacating the 40-year-old conviction of a Japanese American for violating the wartime exclusion and curfew orders. (See Hirabayashi v. United States, 828 F.2d 591 [9th Circuit 1987].)
>> Second, Malkin appears to have based her argument on a false premise. She seems to suggest that if one person of Japanese ancestry were involved in espionage (in fact, no Japanese American was charged or convicted), then the entire racial group could rightly be imprisoned indefinitely without charges of disloyalty or trial. Moreover, Malkin's misleading reference to "the internment of Japanese, German, Italian and other enemy aliens" blatantly obscures the disparate treatment of these ethnic groups. Despite the demonstrable disloyalty of those German Americans and Italian Americans, who were clearly identified with the Nazi Bund and Mussolini's groups prior to the war, these European descendants received individual hearings while Japanese Americans were interned en masse without due process of law.
>> Third, Malkin's dismissive statement that our government's shameful actions "were not the result of irrational hatred or conspiratorial bigotry" ignores the meticulously documented history of racism (among other complex factors) that undeniably contributed to these events. A person truly interested in providing an "accurate account of the past" surely would not gloss over the context provided by the virulent racism and the organized anti-Japanese movement that relegated Japanese immigrants and their families to second-class status. It should also be noted that those who lived through martial law in Hawaii have a much less nostalgic perspective on the experience, which Malkin does not appear to consider or comprehend.
I have had the pleasure of working with many people of good conscience, including Japanese-American activists like JACL National Executive Director John Tateishi and countless others from diverse backgrounds, who successfully obtained redress for the injustices of the internment. Since then the JACL has used its experiences to advocate equal justice for all.
As a Filipino American, I have been welcomed by the JACL and learned a great deal while volunteering my time on a wide variety of civil rights issues that affect all Americans. I heartily encourage others, whether Japanese American or not, to learn more about the principled efforts of the JACL by registering for the JACL Convention at the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa. Call 921-5036 for more information on the convention, or 523-8464 to join the local chapter.
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