January 18, 2008

What Al Qaeda Believes about American Muslims

by PG

A passage in Curtis Bradley's and Jack Goldsmith's foreign relations casebook created a concern for Stephen Griffin and Eric Muller that the book unintentionally "endorse[s] a false, revisionist, and partisan history of the Japanese American internment," by suggesting that there was a fact-based fear of Japanese-Americans' becoming fifth columnists traitors who would assist Japan's invasion of the U.S. From what I understand, Michelle Malkin and others who have promoted this revisionism regarding Korematsu and whether the internment policy was sound rely almost entirely on decrypted transmissions from Japan's Foreign Office that describe the Office's attempt to influence U.S. opinion against entering WWII. This attempt included claims of "already established connections with very influential Negroes to keep us informed with regard to the Negro movement."

Like much of Japanese wartime thinking regarding its capabilities against the U.S. on its own territory, the Foreign Office's transmissions were wildly overoptimistic. The Malkin argument seems to be that because a delusional Japanese government was convinced that racial loyalty was a driving force in the breast of all Japanese people wherever they might be, it was perfectly rational for the U.S. government to believe the same thing without evidence that it was true. I find this as sensible as the U.S. government's taking the same estimate of American Muslims that Al Qaeda might: those Muslims who have not become degenerate Westerners are perforce on Al Qaeda's side. However, Sandy Levinson argues that it

doesn't strike me as "irrational" to fear that Japanese nationals would support the land of their birth against a country that had treated them so shabbily, and I'm not even sure that it's lunatic to believe that some 14th Amendment birthright citizens wouldn't be sufficiently angry at the treatment of their parents to turn against the US. Then one must take the step of arguing that it is also non-lunatic to engage in general sequestration given the exigencies of time with regard to conducting pre-detention hearings.
It is the combination of two ideas that may not in themselves be "lunatic" that produced a policy of ethnic internment that was not based in reason. The rationality Levinson claims for the fear that Japanese Americans, having been mistreated in the U.S. in a way that Italian- and German-Americans hadn't been, would turn on the U.S. is a rationality based to some extent in tribalism. It doesn't explain the non-tribal mindset; why would Japanese-Americans who left Japan and chose to remain in the U.S. despite the mistreatment become saboteurs for the homeland against their adopted country? It certainly wasn't based on evidence of widespread anti-Americanism among Japanese immigrants and their U.S.-born children.

So then we are left with the vague presumption that OK, maybe not all the Japanese-Americans felt the way Levinson describes, but surely some of them did? Even if there were some, it is instances of "some" that individual hearings are designed to cover. Internment even could have been used as a threat to coerce assistance from the Japanese American community: help us root out the traitors among you, the government could have said, or you're all being ripped from your homes and put behind barbed wire. Blunt tools often work better when they're being twirled menacingly than when they're actually applied. In short, only if one uses a very bare form of rational basis scrutiny, such as that usually applied to economic regulations under Williamson v. Lee Optical, does interning all Japanese-Americans on the West Coast survive the test. Levinson's idea of what were "not irrational" assumptions for the government to make about the psychologies of Japanese-Americans reminds me of good old "common sense," which need not be backed by any evidence whatsoever so long as it fits with existing prejudices -- ones here shared in common between the Japanese and U.S. governments.

January 18, 2008 11:45 PM | TrackBack

There is far more to this issue than gets a reasonable airing. If you are interested in reading a brief and partial summary, including documentation, I invite you to visit

Posted by: Lee Allen at January 20, 2008 09:41 PM

Given that the first page of this site describes Ryoichi Sasakawa merely as a war criminal without noting that he became a famous philanthropist commended by the U.S. Congress, and another page quotes Inouye's story about a jingoistic Japanese priest without noting that the principal of the school condemned the priest's behavior, I don't think I'm going to consider it the type of writing that tells the full story. This is indeed a brief and partial summary -- partial to one side of the issue.

The main point of the site seems to be that instead of blaming the U.S. government for believing on thin evidence that Japanese-Americans as a whole were disloyal, we should blame the Japanese wartime government for believing that Japanese Americans would be loyal to Japan. Fine, I think that was a stupid thing for the Japanese government to believe -- and it was a stupid thing for the U.S. to believe. What's your point? This is exactly what gives rise to the title of the post. We should not make our estimates of a group of Americans based on what our enemies believe about them; we must decide based on evidence stemming from those Americans themselves.

Posted by: PG at January 21, 2008 01:19 AM

PG, As you seem to want to know the "full story," here's a website that will help explain a lot about that period with the Nikkei in the US during WWII. I hope it will clarify the exact number, age, and location of Japanese Americans you are researching (the NIsei, not to be confused with enemy alien Issei).

By the way, a number of Japanese war criminals went on to become "famous" persons in Japan, one even becoming prime minister, as you know.


Posted by: Wes at January 21, 2008 12:01 PM


Thanks for your comment. As you know about PM Nobusuke Kishi, he was assigned Class A war criminal status based on his being Minister of Commerce and Industry during the war. He was imprisoned for years without ever being tried by a tribunal. I realize that imprisonment and guilt without trial is becoming quite fashionable these days, but as a future member of the legal profession, I hope the trend does not continue.

I am afraid that your website did not add much to my understanding of ethnic Japanese in the U.S. during WWII. You refer to the "alien enemies" as including other U.S. resident but enemy-nation citizens -- yet do not mention that Germans, Italians, Hungarians, Romanians and other Europeans were all free to become naturalized citizens of the U.S, while Japanese were barred from this status. Of course, admitting that the U.S. government distinguished between Europeans and Asians would require admitting to the government's policy of racism.

You compare the Japanese government's treatment of American POWs and citizens, which was indisputably wrong, to the U.S. government's treatment of ethnic Japanese. This is another tendency I find very disturbing: judging the U.S. based on what other countries do. I hold my nation, as one deserving my loyalty and defense, to a higher standard. I have absolutely no problem saying that the Japanese government during WWII (and even today, to some extent, as seen in the treatment of those not ethnically Japanese) was a racist government. That doesn't make racism in the U.S. government, then or now, acceptable.

This kind of selective analysis seems to run throughout the site. You say "Many local officials and business leaders declared they did not want any Japanese living in their area. Even the Japanese American Citizens League requested so (see JACL letter here)." Yet the document you link is one that says the JACL of one particular city (Ogden, Utah) was opposed to having the Japanese evacuees from the coastal areas sent there for fear that it would disrupt the good relationship the local Japanese had with others in the community. This was not a letter saying, "Get rid of the Japanese who are here"; it was a letter saying, "Please don't bring evacuees here."

You claim, "There was also no threat of attack on the East Coast from either German or Italian naval forces." Yet the major case we actually have from WWII about the treatment of enemy combatants, Ex Parte Quirin, stems not from some Japanese traitor, but from 8 German saboteurs, two of whom were American citizens. The fact that you are either ignorant of this very famous instance of saboteurs being brought by German submarine to the U.S. East Coast, or simply chose not to mention it, doesn't speak well of your site.

In arguing against the proposition that the lack of convictions against Japanese for espionage or sabotage indicates that they were not a threat, you say, "The real issue is that there were thousands of Japanese who were placed into detention and internment camps for their alleged involvement in subversive operations, but none of them were brought to trial -- for obvious reasons of security, as the incriminating evidence was still top secret then." Then why was it possible to bring Germans to trial? And if it really was too dangerous during the war, why not try them after the war? After all, we don't imprison people who have committed crimes in order to prevent future crimes; we imprison for the purpose of punishing them for the crime committed. If these Japanese committed the very serious crime of subversion, they deserved to be tried and if found guilty, executed -- just like the Germans.

Finally, the fact that the U.S. government actually was capable of distinguishing the loyal Japanese from the disloyal and criminal (the latter group having been apparently segregated to the Tule Lake Center) makes the whole process precisely as I described it: one where individual hearings could have determined which Japanese should be kept under watch and if necessary locked away for the duration of the war. Instead, the U.S. government simply ordered Japanese-Americans in the West Coast and Rocky Mountain areas to abandon their homes and livelihoods for years. Such a reaction was irrational and plainly based in prejudice against the Japanese.

What I said about Kishi applies here as well. I believe very strongly in due process. Part of due process is punishing those who deserve punishment, which is why I would have no problem with surveillance and detention of the Japanese who were determined to be potential saboteurs. But the other part is leaving free those who have no evidence against them showing that they were disloyal. That is what shows the racism of the internment and relocation -- it treated all people of a particular ethnicity the same, instead of distinguishing between them based on their individual levels of loyalty to the U.S.

Posted by: PG at January 21, 2008 08:01 PM

PG. Let me get this straight. I give you evidence that there was wide spread Japanese/Japanese American espionage on the West Coast prior to WW II, and you are concerned that I failed to recognize a "good" Class A War Criminal.
You whine about me being one sided and yet you champion a cause that has legislated one-sidedness and denies appropriated funds in the form of grants to anyone who differs from the approved fictional account of the evacuation.
Contrary to your statement, the U.S. never contended that all Japanese were disloyal.
A good number were, and as one might expect in the world outside of law school, they operated secretly.
It may come as a surprise to you to know that about 60% of those who were evacuated were minor children, many of Japanese citizens. The effort to keep families together was the cause of their evacuation.
Don't pretend to be fair minded and expansive in your view of this historical event when you can't even acknowledge what Imperial Japan was up to in our country before the war or the role played by resident Japanese.

Posted by: Lee Allen at January 22, 2008 12:01 PM

In the crazy world inside law school, we are taught that people must be given due process before we declare them to be guilty. Please tell me the names of those who were convicted of this "wide spread Japanese/Japanese American espionage on the West Coast prior to WW II," and I will take seriously that you have real evidence. If it was evidence that no prosecutor could make stand up in court, even after the war (the statute of limitations on treason is pretty long, which is why I find the argument that it was impossible to prosecute treasonous Japanese utterly ridiculous), then yes, in the world where people believe in due process, your claims sound quite fictional.

To my knowledge, the following were the only people convicted of treason against the U.S. for WWII era activities:

* Robert Henry Best - Nazi propagandist. Not Japanese.
* Iva Toguri D'Aquino (Tokyo Rose) - Forced to broadcast propaganda while stuck in Japan during the war, and subsequently pardoned by President Gerald Ford.
* Mildred Gillars - Nazi propagandist. Not Japanese.
* Hans Max Haupt - father of one of the German-American saboteurs noted in my comment above, convicted for helping his son. Not Japanese.
* Tomoya Kawakita - torturer of American POWs in Japan who held dual citizenship, and eventually released by President John F. Kennedy to be deported back to Japan.
* Martin James Monti - U.S. military pilot who defected to Germany and joined the Nazi SS. Not Japanese.

Persons who committed espionage for Japan:

* Tachibana spy ring - Japanese nationals who were arrested shortly before the Pearl Harbor attack and were deported.
* Velvalee Dickinson - sent information on U.S. Naval forces to a South American contact who forwarded the info to Japan. Not Japanese.
* Harry Thomas Thompson and John Semer Farnsworth - each sold information on U.S. Naval forces to Japan. Neither was Japanese.
* Kuehn Family - Germans who moved to Honolulu and easily found information to pass on to Japan.

The fact that the majority of American citizens inside the camps were minors who were kept with their parents is irrelevant as long as there were Japanese American citizen adults who also were forced into the camps based solely on their ethnic origin and not on an individualized determination. I find the repeated claim that it was actually so very kind of the U.S. government not to break families up, disturbingly similar to the "good" slaveholders who never sold mothers away from their children. That within an immoral action there was some sense of human decency does not lessen the inherent immorality.

That the U.S. government didn't want to be saddled with the personal care of thousands of children -- as well as the political opposition that the spectacle of children torn from their mothers' arms might have created -- does not make the government any less racist in its assumption that all Japanese were sufficiently likely to be traitors that they must be interned.

Posted by: PG at January 22, 2008 02:27 PM

The west cost was a military combat zone at the time. Due process is irrelevent in a military combat zone so that point is moot.

A military combat isn't a civilian court of law. It would have been nice to have names and addresses of disloyal ethnic Japanese but the government and military didn't have the luxury of such evidence. What they did have includes:

1.Office of Naval Intelligence memorandum for the Chief of Naval Operations, Feb 12, 1941,"Japanese Espionage Organization in the United States," which suggests that the information therein be brought to the attention of the President and stating that the Japanese government had decided to strengthen its intelligence network by, among other moves to employ "Nisei Japanese and Japanese resident nationals" using extreme caution in doing so.

2. The Tachibana case (March 1941) about which Peter Irons' wrote in his "Justice at War":
"...There was no question that Tachibana headed an espionage ring on the West Coast that enlisted a number of Japanese Americans, both aliens and citizens (sic), nor that the government knew the identities of its members..."

3. Military Intelligence Div. 336.8, Honolulu, 14 October 1941. "Japanese Ex-Service Men's Organization" which reports on two Japanese ex-military member groups active in the U.S. with 7200 members, stating in part: "...these two organizations have pledged to do sabotage (railroads and harbors)in the states mentioned (California, Washington, Oregon, and Utah) in time of emergency. Similar organizations are in Hawaii. Sixty-nine local units of these two organizations are said to be carrying on activities."

4. U.S.Army MID Information Bulletin No.6 of Jan.21, 1942,titled "Japanese Espionage," forwarded to Ass't SecWar John J. McCloy by Brig. General Mark J. Clark,then Deputy Chief of Staff, U.S.Army, which, among its conclusions states: "Their espionage net containing Japanese aliens, first and second generation Japanese and other nationals is now thoroughly organized and working underground."

Not to mention the MAGIC intercepts, the Nihau incident and the thousands of nisei at Tule Lake marching around demanding to be sent back to Japan to fight for the emporer.

Ethnic Japanese were not forced into camps, they were forced out of the military combat zone. At no point was the government interested in "locking up" the evacuated Japanese. From the beginning if the evacuation should occur the plan was to relocate them to areas in the interior with suitable farmland where the majority being in agriculture could continue producing for the war effort. From the begining religious, social service and even the JACL demanded that if the evacuation should occur the Japanese shouldn't just be "kicked out" of the combat zones.

The government should be responsible for feeding, housing, providing employment and medical care for the evacuated people - and assiting them in re-establishing themselves in the interior - in as humane an environment as could be provided. That is just what the government did with the Relocation Centers.

Hurling accusations of racism is hardly an argument. Ethnic Japanese outside the military combat zones were not affected at all.

Posted by: Bob at January 22, 2008 04:56 PM

Then you say, "yet do not mention that Germans, Italians, Hungarians, Romanians and other Europeans were all free to become naturalized citizens of the U.S, while Japanese were barred from this status. Of course, admitting that the U.S. government distinguished between Europeans and Asians would require admitting to the government's policy of racism."

Germans, Italians, Hungarians and Romanians who came to this country illegaly were not free to become naturalized citizens.

And why were Japanese prevented from becoming citizens? Because Japan sent Japanese nationals overseas in droves, including to the United States in violation of the First and Second Gentlmen's Agreements, a treaty between Japan and the United States that Japan openly and willfully ignored.

The issei were illegal aliens. The United States government then gave them permanent resident status (even though they were illegal aliens)and after Pearl Harbor their status changed to enemy aliens.

According to the U.S.Census, in 1940 there were approx 84,000 Issei in the U.S. and Hawaii, the bulk of them were under 50 years of age. By 1960 there were approx 101,000, no doubt including some war brides. According to INS publication "Persons Naturalized by Former Allegiance" only 32,168 Japanese-born became naturalized U.S.citizens between 1952-1960. That's only 32%.

To suggest that issei were falling over themselves to become American citizens is a myth.

Posted by: Bob at January 22, 2008 05:00 PM


See this post for an extended reply to your comments.

Posted by: PG at January 24, 2008 01:46 AM
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