By Presidential Decree — Part II

America in 1940

Following the Meiji Restoration in Japan and a devastating economic recession, people began migrating from the Japanese Islands because they needed jobs.  Between 1869 and 1924, some 200,000 Japanese arrived in the Hawaiian Islands.  An additional 180,000 migrated to the US mainland and the majority of those settled on the West Coast.  Many of these people started small businesses and farms.  Most arrived on the mainland before 1908.  In that year, the United States banned the immigration of unskilled workers.  A loophole in the law allowed the wives of men living in the United States to join their husbands — from this, the practice of women marrying by proxy and immigrating to the US, which resulted in a significant increase in the number of picture brides.

The increase of Japanese living in California resulted in steady resistance by European-Americans living on the West Coast.  It was purely and simply racialism, as evidenced by the Asiatic Exclusion League, California Joint Immigration Committee, and Native Sons of the Golden West — all organized in response to the so-called “yellow peril.”  These groups quite effectively influenced politicians to restrict Japanese immigrants’ property and citizenship rights in a manner similar to anti-Chinese migration.  The Immigration Act of 1924 restricted the Japanese in the same way as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

One effect of the 1924 ban is that it produced unusually well-defined generational groups within the Japanese-American community.  The Issei, for example, were exclusively those who immigrated before the ban, some of whom elected to return to Japan.  Because the United States placed a moratorium on Japanese immigration.  Within Japanese-American communities, they were called Nisei.  They were distinct from the Issei cohort — generally 15-20 years older than their wives.

Nisei were English speakers; Issei were generally not.  Because the 1924 law prohibited Japanese immigrants from becoming naturalized citizens, the Issei became dependent upon their children whenever they rented or purchased property. By 1940, most Nisei had married and started their own families.  Despite these handicaps, Japanese-Americans made significant contributions to California agriculture (and in other Western states), but overt racism forced them into establishing unique communities.  The communities were, in turn, divided into Japanese prefecture groups.  They also created Buddhist women’s associations, set up businesses to provide loans and financial assistance, and started Japanese language schools.

The rise of fascism in Japan in the 1930s prompted the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) to begin monitoring and surveilling Japanese-American communities in Hawaii.  In 1936, under the direction of Democrat President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the ONI began compiling “suspect lists” of Japanese-Americans — citizens of the United States whom Roosevelt intended to place in “concentration” camps in the event of war with Imperial Japan.

The FBI began working with ONI in 1939.  FDR commissioned a Detroit businessman named Curtis Munson to coordinate these efforts.  In 1941, Munson informed the President that the so-called Japanese-American problem was “non-existent.”  He reported “an extraordinary” degree of loyalty to the United States within Japanese-American communities.  ONI Director Kenneth Ringle made a similar report to the President in 1942.

Still, six weeks after Japan’s “sneak attack” on Pearl Harbor, Army Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt openly questioned the loyalty of Japanese-Americans and proclaimed, “A Jap’s a Jap.”  The State of California vigorously joined DeWitt in questioning Japanese-American loyalty by claiming that persons of Japanese ancestry were “totally unassimilable.”

FDR’s Executive Order 9066 (signed on 19 February 1942) authorized military commanders to designate military exclusion zones at their discretion.  DeWitt did precisely that on 2 March 1942, ordering all Japanese-Americans living within those zones to depart immediately.  Within a few weeks, however, DeWitt reversed himself.  After that, he prohibited Japanese-Americans from leaving these exclusion zones, imposed curfews, and placed restrictions on their freedom of movement.

Only one civilian official protested this treatment: Colorado governor Ralph Lawrence Carr.[1]  Meanwhile, DeWitt issued more than a hundred exclusion orders over the next five months.  By August 1942, federal officials moved American citizens of Japanese ancestry to far distant/remote locations.[2]

Toward the end of the war, the relocation centers began to close.  Of more than 70,000 Japanese-American internees, only three (3) challenged the constitutionality of Roosevelt’s order.  

America Today

Threats to American Constitutional guarantees and liberties continue today.  If the reader believes these historical examples were severe, some today argue that it’s getting even worse.  Certain political groups, activists, and other morons demand restrictions on freedoms of speech, association, and pamphleteering.  Political militants aside, there is no more significant threat to individual liberty than that imposed by the United States government, which conspires to undermine the rights and privileges of American citizenship.

The government’s intrusion into our private lives, as demonstrated by the so-called Patriot Act, the creation of secret courts, the policy of intercepting, reading, and storing data obtained from electronic media, and the government dictate that we (a free people) remain under arrest in our quarters — threatens our American Republic.  The preceding “case histories” serve as warnings to us about presidents and their henchmen who not only think they have extraordinary power over us — they do.

The Supreme Court may safeguard the Constitution, but it does nothing to safeguard the rights of citizens who became victims of the government’s unconstitutional overreach.  It did nothing to free those who sat in isolated cells while remaining uncharged, unindicted, and untried by a jury of their peers.  The high court did not prevent Woodrow Wilson from targeting Americans for expressing their dissenting opinions, and it did nothing to protect Japanese-Americans from President Roosevelt’s Gestapo.

We know what the federal government is capable of doing.  With this knowledge, every American must view politicians, bureaucrats, and government policy with deep suspicion.  No government is trustworthy.  After all, the government reintroduced blacks to the slavery of low expectation and government subsidy; in the same way, the government destroyed the American Indians.  It remains up to people who value their liberty to refuse to relinquish their human rights, their rights as citizens.  No one in the government will protect us.  Preserving our freedom is OUR duty.

Sources:

  1. Connell, T.  America’s Japanese Hostages: The US Plan for a Japanese Free Hemisphere.  Praeger-Greenwood, 2002.
  2. McGinty, B.  The Body of John Merryman: Abraham Lincoln and the Suspension of Habeas Corpus.  Harvard University Press, 2011.
  3. Hall, K. L. (Ed.)  The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States.  Oxford University, 1992.
  4. Lewis, W.  Without Fear or Favor: A Biography of Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney.  Houghton Mifflin, 1965.
  5. Robinson, G.  By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans.  Harvard University Press, 2009.

Notes:

[1] Carr also lost his bid for reelection because of his stance.

[2] Tule Lake, California, Minidoka, Idaho, Manzanar, California, Topaz, Utah, Jerome, Arkansas, Heart Mountain, Wyoming, Poston, Arizona, Granada, Colorado, and Rohwer, Arkansas.

My thanks to Mr. Koji KANEMOTO for his much-valued assistance and participation in the research, preparation, and editing of this post.


By Presidential Decree — Part I

America in 1860

No one can say that Abraham Lincoln didn’t have a full plate during the American Civil War and filling up that plate began even before he assumed office.  No one should have to endure that kind of stress — tensions that lasted for four long years — but it was Lincoln himself who signed up for that slog-fest.  In 1861, the nation’s capital lay in the center of southeastern slave territories.  Although Maryland didn’t secede from the Union, Southern sympathies were widespread in that state.  Maryland’s possible secession was one of many factors Lincoln had to consider in defining his domestic agenda.

John Merryman (1824-1881) was the father of eleven children, a farmer in Cockeysville, Maryland, and a president of the Board of County Commissioners of Baltimore County.  Before the outbreak of the Civil War, Merryman also served as Third Lieutenant of Baltimore County Troops.  In 1861, he served as First Lieutenant in the Baltimore County Horse Guards.  On Friday, 19 April 1861, anti-war Democrats (calling themselves Copperheads) joined with other Southern sympathizers to oppose certain Massachusetts and Pennsylvania militia members.  They were mobilizing in Baltimore as a defense force for the city of Washington.  Hostilities erupted when the Copperheads attempted to prevent the aforementioned Yankee militia from moving to Washington.

On 20 April, Maryland’s governor Thomas H. Hicks (a pro-slave/anti-secession Democrat) and Baltimore mayor George W. Brown dispatched Maryland State Militia to disable the railroad tracks and bridges leading out of Baltimore.  Hicks later denied issuing any such order.  In any case, one of the low-level Maryland militia leaders was none other than John Merryman.

On 27 April, President Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus.  This Latin phrase means, “We command that you must produce the body at court.”  The writ prohibits unlawful detention or imprisonment and compels “government authority” to produce a prisoner to the court so that the accused can appear before a jurist.  It is a mechanism for ensuring the right of an accused to have his day in court.

In suspending the writ, Lincoln’s purpose was to give military authorities power to arrest, detain, and silence dissenters and rebels.  Was Lincoln’s act lawful?  According to experts in Constitutional law — yes.  A president may suspend the Constitution when rebellion or invasion occurs, and public safety requires it.  

On 25 May, Union military forces arrested Mr. Merryman for his role in destroying railroad tracks and bridges and escorted him to a cell at Fort McHenry.  Merryman remained there for several months.  If it were up to President Lincoln, Merryman would stay in that cell to this very day.  Some would argue that the federal government violated Mr. Merryman’s constitutional rights.  Through his lawyer, Merryman petitioned the court for a writ of habeas corpus.  The petition was presented to, of all people, the Chief Justice of the United States, Roger B. Taney — a native of Maryland and the federal circuit court judge for Maryland.

We know from history that Lincoln’s election to the presidency led several states to secede from the Union.  We also know that the first hostile act of the Civil War occurred in Baltimore, which means that the bombardment of Fort Sumter was not the initiating action of the Civil War — so we should stop saying that.

Roger B. Taney was an anti-Lincoln jurist who saw it as his duty to remain seated on the high court rather than resigning his appointment to serve the Confederacy.  As with Governor Hicks (and many others of his day), Taney was a pro-slavery anti-secessionist.  As a jurist, he believed that states had a Constitutional right to secede from the Union.  As a man, he detested Lincoln, believing that he was responsible for destroying the Union.  From his position on the high court, Taney would challenge Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus, arguing that only Congress could do that.  And he loathed Lincoln’s interference with civil liberties.

Through non-acquiescence (where one branch of the government refuses to acknowledge the authority of another branch of government), Lincoln ignored Taney’s ruling.  Lincoln nevertheless addressed the issue in a message to Congress in July 1861.  In his letter, Lincoln cited Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution (previously mentioned).

Eventually, Lincoln doubled down on suspending habeas corpus by extending it on a much larger scale, which some would argue violated the rights of citizens throughout the war.  Eventually, Lincoln’s policy softened somewhat in Maryland, but only out of concern that Maryland might also secede from the Union.  After the Merryman arrest, however, Lincoln channeled such actions through Congress.  It was a workable arrangement because, in 1863, Congress passed the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act.

Chief Justice Taney passed away in 1864, aged 87 years.  He served as Chief Justice of the United States for 28 years, 198 days — the second-longest tenure of any chief justice and the oldest ever serving Chief Justice in United States’ history.

Ultimately, John Merryman was turned over to civilian authorities and allowed to post bail.  The government finally dropped its treason charges against Merryman in 1867; he was never brought to trial.  Six years later, in a case unrelated to Merryman’s, the high court ruled that civilians were not subject to military courts even in times of war.  As it turned out, the Merryman case was not the last time the federal government suspended American civil rights.

America in 1916

Americans saw no reason to involve themselves in Europe’s “great war” of 1914.  Few people knew where the Austro-Hungarian Empire was, much less who was in charge of it, so the assassination of the heir to the throne was a non-event.  Nor did many Americans care about the wartime alliances.  The whole affair, in the mind of most Americans, was none of our business.  President Woodrow Wilson, a progressive Democrat, proclaimed United States’ neutrality — a view widely supported by the American people — including many immigrants from the belligerent countries.

Yet, despite Wilson’s claim of neutrality, American capitalists were quick to take advantage of war-related opportunities.  Europeans needed food, materials, and American-made munitions.  Not only were American companies happy to sell these goods to the Europeans, but American banks were also happy to loan money to the Europeans so that they could purchase those goods.  This financial involvement gave the United States a stake in the winner of the Great War.  The trick for the Americans was to find a way to safely send American-made goods to the allied powers — through seas patrolled by German submarines.

When RMS Lusitania was laid down in 1904, the British government decided to subsidize its construction costs, provided that the Cunard Line agreed to allow Lusitania to serve as an Armed Merchant Cruiser (AMC) should Great Britain need her in time of war or other national emergencies.  The British government placed Lusitania on its list of AMCs in 1914, but Lusitania’s exorbitant operating costs caused the government to reverse that decision.  Whether the British ever got around to informing the Germans of this decision is unknown.

For their part, Imperial Germany gave due notice and warning to anyone booking passage on Lusitania: since a state of war existed between Germany and Great Britain, all Allied vessels were targets of the German Imperial Navy.  From Germany’s point of view, knowing full well that Lusitania’s holds contained U. S. manufactured war materials intended to aid the Allied powers, Lusitania became a legitimate target.  After all, Britain’s decision to allow passengers on a de facto AMC vessel wasn’t Germany’s problem — and besides — the United States’ claim of neutrality was laughable.[1]

It was no surprise to anyone in the hierarchy of either government when a German submarine torpedoed Lusitania on 7 May 1915.  Twelve hundred people lost their lives, including 128 Americans.  By this time, anti-German war propaganda was in full swing.  Stories of German military atrocities targeting civilians appeared regularly in the American press, such as the Rape of Belgium, which claimed that the German army was responsible for the death or injury to 46,000 innocents.  Even though President Wilson maintained his non-intervention policy, anti-German passions increased throughout the United States.

Meanwhile, the Mexican Revolution (1910-1921) was in full swing.  Mexican bandits attacked, murdered, and looted American homesteaders living along the US/Mexican border with increasing regularity.  In 1916, Wilson dispatched US troops to the southern border and ordered General “Black Jack” Pershing into Mexico to capture or kill Pancho Villa.  Anticipating conflict on two fronts, President Wilson asked for and gained congressional authority to increase the size of the U. S. Army, National Guard, and U. S. Navy.

American voters reelected Wilson to a second term in November 1916.  By this time, the anti-German passions led some Americans to join the French Army, French Foreign Legion, and French Air Service.

After the German Imperial government announced its intent to resume unrestricted submarine warfare, President Wilson severed diplomatic relations with Germany.  Germany responded by targeting American merchant ships in the North Atlantic.

In January 1917, British codebreakers intercepted an encrypted German telegram addressed to the German Ambassador to Mexico.  The telegram instructed the Ambassador to propose an alliance between Germany and Mexico against the United States.  In essence, should the United States join the allied war effort, Germany suggested a pact with Mexico with military assistance regaining the territory lost to the United States during the Mexican-American War (1848): Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.  History recalls this communique as the Zimmerman Telegram.

British diplomats handed the Zimmerman Telegram to Wilson on 24 February, and Wilson released it to the American press on 1 March.  The effect of publishing this information was, as anticipated, wide-scale public outrage toward both Germany and Mexico (even though Mexico never officially acknowledged the proffered alliance).  The United States declared war on Germany on 4 April 1917.

After declaring war, Wilson focused almost exclusively on his foreign policy agenda — leaving domestic affairs to his “war cabinet.”  The cabinet’s chief concern was the expansion of the military, food distribution, fuel rationing, and consumer conservation.  Within three years, America’s annual budget exploded from around $1 billion in 1916 to nearly $20 billion in 1920.  Congress raised taxes through the War Revenue Act of 1917 and the Revenue Act of 1918, increasing the top tax rate to 77% and expanding the number of citizens subject to personal income taxes.

Wilson’s tax scheme was unsettling from several points of view.  Because tax increases were by themselves insufficient, the federal government began issuing low-interest war bonds.  To encourage investment, Congress made the interest paid on these bonds tax-free.  One consequence of this policy was that it encouraged citizens to borrow money for the purchase of bonds.  This, in turn, produced two additional effects: an increase in inflation and (by 1929) the Stock Market crash.[2]

Not everyone was pleased with Wilson’s decision to enter World War I.  Without realizing their country’s economic involvement with European nations at war, many Americans demanded that the United States maintain its neutrality.  Other groups opposed the military draft (the first of its kind in the world).  Other opposition groups included pacifists, anarchists, socialists, labor union workers, Christians, anti-militarists, the so-called “Old Right,” and women’s peace groups.  Among the socialists were Irish, German, and Russian immigrants whose “loyalty” to the United States Wilson always questioned. While young Americans were fighting and dying for the American way, Wilson, fearing that dissidents would undermine his war effort, signed the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918.[3]  Both acts criminalized disloyal, profane, scurrilous, and abusive language toward the United States government, the military, or any speech or language intended to incite insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal of conscription.  They were among the most egregious of the government’s violations of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.  The Supreme Court upheld several convictions based on “limitations of free speech in a time of war.”  See also Schenck v. United States and Note 4.[4]

(Continued next week)

Sources:

  1. Connell, T.  America’s Japanese Hostages: The US Plan for a Japanese Free Hemisphere.  Praeger-Greenwood, 2002.
  2. McGinty, B.  The Body of John Merryman: Abraham Lincoln and the Suspension of Habeas Corpus.  Harvard University Press, 2011.
  3. Hall, K. L. (Ed.)  The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States.  Oxford University, 1992.
  4. Lewis, W.  Without Fear or Favor: A Biography of Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney.  Houghton Mifflin, 1965.
  5. Robinson, G. By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans. Harvard University Press, 2009.

Endnotes:

[1] The sinking of the Lusitania underscored Germany’s success in espionage, and America’s failure in counter-espionage.

[2] Wall Street investors were making large profits from their arrangement with the Allied Powers — even after federal taxes, but they would make a lot more money by investing in post-war reconstruction.  This would become part of the post-war boom that was so profitable, people borrowed money to invest in the stock market.  When the Stock Market crashed in 1929, due to the over-valuation of stocks, people not only lost their investments, they also became indebted with no way to repay their personal loans.  It was a behavior that caused investors to throw themselves off buildings.

[3] Later, partially in reaction against the Bolshevik Revolution and the rising tide of socialism in Europe, a more general anti-immigrant sentiment gripped America.  For example, through the Palmer Raids of the 1920s, the Department of Justice rounded up thousands of foreigners who were alleged communists, anarchists, labor reformers, or otherwise menaces to society. Many were forcibly deported.

[4] The years surrounding America’s involvement in World War I were a watershed for how the United States treated foreigners within its borders during wartime. Immigrants had flooded the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. When the United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, almost a third of Americans were either first or second-generation immigrants. Those born in Germany and even American-born citizens of German descent fell under suspicion of being disloyal.

My thanks to Mr. Koji KANEMOTO for his much-valued assistance and participation in the research, preparation, and editing of this post.


Those Other American Heroes

Origins

Japanese Temple

In the 1880s, scores of Japanese citizens made their way to the Hawaiian Islands and the western United States.  Amazingly, they arrived after the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.  Federal law prohibited Hawaiian plantation owners from hiring much-needed laborers from China, but nothing was to preclude them from engaging the Japanese.  About half of the Japanese workers arriving in Hawaii eventually made their way to California, Oregon, and Washington.  Within twenty years, around 100,000 Japanese had made their migration across the Pacific.  This migration would not have happened without the permission of Japan’s Meiji Emperor, of course, but by 1924, Japanese immigrants to Hawaii and the western states exceeded 200,000.  By 1920, around 40% of the population of Hawaii was Japanese.

The question is, why would so many Japanese want to immigrate to a land so foreign to them in language and culture?  One explanation is that the Japanese government pushed many of its citizens out of their own country.  The Meiji period was one of rapid industrialization and modernization.  The only people suitable for such a shift were educated individuals willing to open their minds to a new way of living.  But there was also a monetary cost to modernization — costs imposed on Japanese farmers in the form of high taxes.  In the 1880s, more than 300,000 Japanese farmers lost their farmlands because they could not pay the Meiji taxes.  When information arrived in Japan that Hawaiian pineapple producers needed laborers, it set into motion “netsu” fever — immigration fever.

Japanese who were of a mind to immigrate realized that if you snooze, you lose.  Hawaiian plantation owners offered the unbelievably high wages of $30.00 a month.  It was no sacrifice to the plantation owners, of course, who also had the advantage of circumstances that precluded the Japanese from forming labor organizations.  Initially, the immigrants were mostly men who, without women, became a lonely, unhappy lot in Hawaii.  This problem was solved when plantation owners devised a plan for “picture brides.”  Picture brides were encouraged by the Meiji government because — well, in Japan, women have limited roles.  Besides, the “picture bride” scheme fits somewhat nicely with Japanese traditional (arranged) marriages.

Institutional Discrimination

If the American people weren’t happy with Chinese folks, the die was cast when waves of Japanese people began moving to California, people who, in the eyes of that translated Oklahoma farmer looked the same as Chinese.  In 1906, the San Francisco School Board excluded 93 Japanese students from attending public school.  They should, instead, attend “Chinese schools.”  Japanese parents first tried to change the mind of school board members, who were under pressure from the Asiatic Exclusion League (AEL).  The goals of the AEL were simple enough: end Japanese immigration.  When the school board refused to reconsider their idiotic ruling, Japanese parents kicked up a fuss, prompting diplomatic problems in Washington.  President Theodore Roosevelt supported the Japanese, although not because he disagreed with racial exclusion, but because he was trying to broker a peace deal between Japan and Russia.  Eventually, San Francisco rescinded their segregation order, which enabled Roosevelt to negotiate a “gentleman’s agreement” with the Japanese government to stop issuing exit visas to Japanese laborers.

Today, school segregation might seem appalling, but in 1906, some Japanese (or other Asians) might have been just as happy with that arrangement as were the whites.  Asians value their culture and wish, whenever possible, to preserve it.  The formation of Chinese or Japanese districts in California wasn’t something simply imposed upon them by whites.  In 1906, Asians preferred their own company and still do.  A considerable section of the Westminster section of Orange County, California, now caters to Vietnamese.

In 1913, California’s legislature passed the California Alien Land Law.  The Webb-Haney Act prohibited “aliens ineligible for citizenship” from owning farmland or possessing long-term leases over it.  The law applied to Chinese, Indian, Japanese, and Korean immigrants — although the law was aimed directly at the Japanese farmer.  Of course, limiting land ownership to people eligible for citizenship does appear reasonable even if the average Joe living in California didn’t care who owned the land.  But white farmers cared.  They preferred not to compete with Japanese farmers for a share of the agricultural market — and wealthy white farmers and industrialists have a tremendous influence in California politicians.

If there was any question about institutional discrimination in 1920, the federal government put that issue to rest with the Immigration Act of 1924.  The Act was a combination of three federal laws that included a process of excluding Asians through quota limitations, by country, and through the creation of the US Border Patrol to enforce those limitations.  The Japanese government was not particularly happy with the Immigration Act of 1924, but there was little they could do about it beyond adding this irritation to a growing list of complaints about American policies.

The federal government doubled down on the Japanese-American population on 19 February 1942 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered 127,000 people of Japanese ancestry into internment camps.  Around 112,000 of those people lived on the west coast.  Roosevelt, by executive order 9066, ordered all of them to surrender to the War Relocation Authority.  The federal government took most of those on the west coast to about a dozen internment camps located in California, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, Arkansas, and Utah.

According to some (perhaps, even, many) proof of white racism in the United States was the internment of Japanese-American citizens during World War II.  There may have been racialists in the Roosevelt administration, and indeed, there probably were, but Franklin Roosevelt’s decision to act pursuant to the Alien Enemies Act (1798, amended) was legal — and prudent — on 12 December 1945.  Under this authority, the President may apprehend, restrain, imprison, or deport any non-citizen enemy of the United States.  President Roosevelt exercised this authority by issuing Executive Proclamations 2525 (Alien Enemies-Japanese), 2526 (Alien Enemies-German), and 2527 (Alien Enemies-Italian).  

As for interning citizens of the United States, Executive Order 9066 does not mention any person whatsoever.  It merely asserts the following: “Whereas the successful prosecution of the war requires every possible protection against espionage and sabotage to national-defense material, national-defense premises, and national defense utilities […] authorize and direct the Secretary of War, and the military commanders […] to prescribe military areas in such places and of such extent […] from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave, shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War […] may impose in his discretion.”

Were the President to intern only Japanese-American citizens, then we could make a reasonable claim toward racist policies of a white president toward Asian citizens of the United States, but in fact, citizens of the United States of Japanese, German,[1] and Italian ancestry were interned throughout the United States during World War II.[2]

The War

In 1940, there was no shortage of Americans who spoke fluent German, and there was no shortage of people who understood German culture.  However, one article in early 1942 claimed that no more than 100 non-Japanese persons could speak Japanese with any fluency, and none of them understood Japanese culture.[3]  This is an essential aspect of language proficiency because culture often dictates linguistic nuances and facial expressions while speaking.  It wasn’t long after the United States entered into World War II that the War Department realized that Japanese language specialists would become vital to winning the war against Japan.

Here’s what the War Department did know: that, beginning in early December 1941, Imperial Japan had handed the United States and its allies one major defeat after another, from the Japanese Navy’s attack at Pearl Harbor, to tossing the United States out of the Philippines. Japan’s assault was so sudden and unexpected that they destroyed nearly all MacArthur’s aircraft while they were sitting on numerous airfields. Japan also caused the British, French, and Dutch empires in Southeast Asia to fold like a deck of cards, and then on top of all this, the Japanese Empire threatened India, Australia, Alaska, Hawaii, and the West Coast of the United States.  Everyone living in California expected a massive Japanese invasion following Doolittle’s Raid on Tokyo.

American field commanders were desperate for information about Japanese intentions.  Only one group of people in the United States could help answer these questions: Japanese-Americans.  Despite the wholesale internment of Japanese-American citizens, there was not a single instance of any Japanese citizen acting against the United States’ interests in time of war.  None.

Still, until May 1942, the concept of using Nisei (the children of Japanese-born parents) as language interpreters, translators, and interrogators was untested.  The United States created the Fourth Army Intelligence School to test this hypothesis.  The initial results were so successful that the War Department stepped up the training of Japanese-American intelligence specialists.  The success in using Japanese linguists also led the War Department to employ Japanese as all-Nisei combatants in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT) and 100th (Independent) Infantry Battalion.

On 1 May 1942, the first 40 Japanese-American intelligence specialists (and two officers) graduated from an old, dilapidated hangar at the Fourth Army Intelligence School at Crissy Field.  But these graduates had no idea what awaited them after graduation — and neither did the War Department.  When orders finally arrived for these young men, they still didn’t know where they were going.  In a few weeks, the Navy would win two important sea battles, but only barely.  A few weeks later, Marines would land on Guadalcanal, but their hold on that god-forsaken island would remain tenuous for nearly half a year.  In mid-April 1942, even before class graduation, Army Lieutenant Colonel Moses W. Pettigrew, Head of the Eastern branch of the Military Intelligence Division, allocated one officer and five Nisei language specialists to the US 37th Infantry Division.  However, the division commander would only accept them once Pettigrew certified that these men were reliable, useful, and trustworthy.  Colonel Pettigrew had no hesitance in doing that.

But Pettigrew was hesitant to offer Nisei linguists beyond his capability to provide them.  Forty recent graduates weren’t many, considering the size of the battlespace.  In that first class, of 58 enrolled Nisei, only 40 graduated.  The washout rate was even worse for Caucasian officers.  Of 36 officers who volunteered for the course, only two graduated.  It was a situation that forced Pettigrew into making tough choices about where to send his limited number of Nisei.  One Caucasian officer and eight Nisei went to MacArthur’s headquarters in Australia.  One officer and three Nisei ended up with the US 37th; six Nisei went to New Caledonia.

None of Pettigrew’s graduates went to Hawaii.  The Military Department of Hawaii didn’t want any Japanese-American soldiers, no matter what their specialty.  In fact, after the start of the war, the Selective Service Board of Hawaii suspended inductions of Japanese-Americans, even after 2,000 Nisei were already serving in uniform.  Most of these men ultimately ended up in the 100th (Independent) Infantry Battalion.  Still, in the meantime, as Army and Navy commanders struggled to meet the growing demand for Japanese language specialists, a couple of thousand Nisei in Hawaii found themselves performing engineering tasks and guard duty assignments.

In April 1942, the Army’s Military Intelligence Division dispatched Nisei Masanori Minamoto to Bora Bora, where he was assigned to the 102nd Infantry.  Since Minamoto had no intelligence tasks and no prisoners to interrogate, the Army assigned him to drive a truck.  Driving trucks, standing guard duty, and digging ditches are all these young specialists did through 1942; no one was sure what they were supposed to do.  Occasionally, their commanders tasked them with translating Japanese magazines, books, and letters confiscated by residents — but beyond that, there were no “mission essential” tasks for them to perform.

In August, two American submarines carried a Marine raiding party to Makin Island in the Central Pacific to discover Japanese intentions.  One of these Marines was Captain Gerald P. Holtom, who was born and raised in Japan.  When the Marines returned to Hawaii, they had large quantities of captured Japanese documents, including Japanese plans, charts, orders of battle, and top-secret maps indicating air defenses, military strengths, methods of alerts, types of material, and so on forth.  What these Marines did not bring back with them was Captain Holtom; he was killed and left behind on Makin Island.

The Marines had a handful of men who could speak Japanese when they went ashore at Tulagi and Guadalcanal, but no Nisei.  While the Marines did capture a few prisoners, they could not extract any useful information.  The Marines might have taken a few more Japanese prisoners, but at this point in the war, Marines were in no mood for it, and Marine officers had yet to learn the value of interrogating prisoners rather than shooting them.  It wasn’t entirely the Marines’ fault.

On 12 August, the 1st Marine Division intelligence officer, Lieutenant Colonel Frank B. Goettge, led a combat patrol behind Japanese lines to capture enemy prisoners.  Accompanying the patrol was First Lieutenant Ralph Cory, a Japanese language officer.  Goettge and his Marines walked into a murderous ambush and had to withdraw.  Goettge and Cory were among the wounded men the Marines, out of necessity, had left behind.  Upon returning to friendly lines, the surviving Marines told their story of Japanese soldiers executing the wounded Marines in a most grizzly fashion.  The account spread throughout the command, which convinced Marines that the Japanese were untrustworthy, treacherous bastards.  Afterward, combat Marines were not inclined to take any prisoners.  This attitude was not lost on the Army’s Nisei linguists; they tended to give the Marines a wide birth.

Six additional Nisei intelligence specialists arrived on Guadalcanal between September-November 1942 (and several more school-trained Caucasian officers).  On Tulagi, Marines discovered a list of call signs and code names for all Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) ships and airbases.  The G-1 flew this information to Noumea, where Nisei worked for several days to translate it.  The primary translator, Shigeru Yamashita (California born but raised in Japan until the age of 19), testified to the task’s difficulty but stated that everyone realized the importance of their work and every Nisei wanted to prove their loyalty to the United States.  This is undoubtedly true, but the Marines and soldiers in the forward areas didn’t know that.

The only good Jap …

Captain John A. Burden was born in Japan and rated as an excellent speaker of Japanese.  The Army sent him to New Caledonia with three Nisei translators.  There was little work for translators on New Caledonia, but elsewhere, field commanders were begging for Japanese language specialists.  Despite this demand, Captain Burden languished on that isolated island.  In December, Admiral Halsey visited with the US 37th Infantry Division.  During his visit, the Division G-2 commented, “Sir, I understand you’re looking for a Japanese Language Officer.”  Admiral Halsey replied, “They’re driving me crazy for one, but I don’t know where to find one.”  The G-2 then introduced Captain Burden to Halsey, and the following day, Burden was en route to Guadalcanal.

On Guadalcanal, Burden found two Marine officers and five enlisted men working as interrogators.  Of the seven Marines, only one had any proficiency in the language.  To test their ability, Burden had each Marine interrogate every POW, but at the end of the day, the only information they had was the POW’s name and rank.  What Burden learned was that none of these Marine really understood Japanese.  Burden sent them back to the line.  When he interviewed the POWs, there almost wasn’t enough paper to write down all these prisoners had to say.

On 17 December, the US 25th Infantry Division joined the 1st Marine Division and Army Americal Division on Guadalcanal.  It wasn’t long before Captain Burden noted that soldiers were as reluctant as the Marines to take prisoners.  Burden heard one regimental commander berating his men for bringing in prisoners.  He told his men, “Don’t bother taking prisoners, just shoot the sons of bitches.  The only good Jap is a dead Jap.”  The standard excuse for not bringing in prisoners was that they were “shot while trying to escape.”  Eventually, Burden convinced regimental and battalion commanders of the value of Japanese interrogations and translating documents.  Afterward, field commanders promised ice cream and a three-day off-island pass to anyone who would bring in a live prisoner.  Within a short time, Captain Burden was processing an astonishing amount of information, and what Burden learned from this was that the Japanese were nearly manic in their penchant for writing things down.

Conclusion

Early in the war, the War Department saw propaganda value in forming and maintaining segregated units, generally divided into African, Puerto Rican, Filipino, and Japanese units.  Thus, during 1942, the War Department organized the 1st Filipino Infantry in California, battalion-sized units of Norwegians, Austrians, and Greeks.  Henry L. Stimson complained to Roosevelt about such formations.  He wanted to Americanize the U. S. Army, not segregate it.  Roosevelt demurred, essentially telling Stimson, “I must be the one to determine the advantages, if any.”  So, at the end of November 1942, the War Department decided to form a Nisei regiment.  In announcing the new unit, the always political Roosevelt said, “No loyal citizen of the United States should be denied the democratic right to exercise the responsibilities of his citizenship, regardless of his ancestry.”  The first Nisei volunteers reported to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, for training in April 1943.  The catalyst for this entire process was the initial graduates of the Fourth Army Intelligence School.  The Nisei of military intelligence may not have assaulted the German machineguns in Italy, but there is little doubt that these Japanese language experts saved American lives by providing critical information to field commanders on their march across the Pacific.  The definition of someone who saves lives is … hero.[4]

Sources:

  1. Connell, T.  America’s Japanese Hostages: The US Plan for a Japanese-free Hemisphere.  Praeger-Greenwood, 2002.
  2. De Nevers, N. C.  The Colonel and the Pacifist: Karl Bendetsen, Perry Saito, and the Incarceration of Japanese Americans During World War II.  University of Utah Press, 2004.
  3. Glidden, W.  “Internment Camps in America, 1917-1920,” Military Affairs, v.37 (1979), 137-41.
  4. Harth, E.  Last Witness: Reflections on the Wartime Internment of Japanese Americans.  Palgrave, 2001.
  5. Krammer, A.  Undue Process: The Untold Story of America’s German Alien Internees. Rowan & Littlefield, 1997.

Endnotes:


[1] According to the 1940 census, 1.2 million persons identified as being of German birth; 5 million persons claimed German-born parents; 6 million persons claimed one parent born in Germany.  A large number of these people had “recent connections” to Germany.  The numbers involved and their political and economic influences explain why there was no “large scale” relocation and internment.  However, an estimated 12,000 German-American citizens were interned during World War II.

[2] German-American citizens were similarly interned during World War I.

[3] Life Magazine, September 1942.

[4] This work was prepared as a collaborative effort with Mr. Koji Kanemoto, whose family endured the indignity of Roosevelt’s internment policies, and whose father served in the U. S. Army Military Intelligence Service.

Japanese-Americans and the Military Intelligence Service

Last week, commenting about Our Secret Fighting Womenmy good friend Koji Kanemoto reminded me of one of his earlier blog posts relating to a former member of the Military Intelligence Service during World War II.  In his comment, Koji mentioned a gentleman he met some years ago, a Japanese-American veteran of the war who served, as did Koji’s father (post-hostilities), in the U. S. Army’s Military Intelligence Service.  The man’s name was Grant Ichikawa.  His wife, Mildred (called Millie), also served in the Army’s MIS during the occupation of Japan.[1]  Both have since passed away.

Koji’s comment reminded me of his own family’s story.  If ever there was an American tragedy on the scale of the American Civil War, the Kanemoto family story is its modern version.  In brief, Koji’s grandfather, Hisakichi, migrated to the United States from Japan in the late 1800s and took up residence in Seattle.  He and his Japanese wife produced four sons: Yutaka, Hisao (who died in infancy), Suetoro, and Koji’s Dad, Koso.

In the 1920s, as was the custom in the Japanese-American community back then, Hisakichi’s three sons returned to Japan to visit their ancestral home in Hiroshima to learn Japanese.[2]  Koso Kanemoto returned to the United States before hostilities broke out with Japan in 1941.  Suetoro, for whatever reason, delayed his return to the United States until it was (quite suddenly) too late.  The Imperial Japanese Army conscripted Suetoro for service in World War II.

Koji’s father, Koso, having returned to the United States before Japan’s attack at Pearl Harbor, soon found himself and his family in an internment camp in California.  So much for the “land of the free.”  Eventually, Koso enlisted in the U. S. Army.  Because of his Japanese language skills, the Army assigned Koso to military intelligence.  He worked as an interrogator of repatriated Imperial Japanese soldiers and translated at hundreds of war crimes trials in Quonset huts during the occupation period.

Ultimately, however, Suetoro (who by 1944 was a senior NCO) was killed while fighting US forces in the Philippines.[3]  After the war, Koji’s father resumed his life in Southern California.  He passed away, aged 99 years, in 2018.  The final tragedy was that Koji’s father had little memory of his younger days in his later years.

The Kanemoto family story, while unique, was not entirely one of a kind.  A gentleman I met while stationed in Japan experienced similar circumstances.  His name was Ted Kobayashi, and you can find his story in my earlier post, All about Honor.

In addition to the preceding information, this week, I’m offering a link to one of Koji’s posts, which I found quite interesting.  It’s part of America’s story that few people know.  Feel free to leave Koji a comment on his blog, Masako and Spam Musubi.

Endnotes:

[1] Per U. S. Army Military Intelligence records: Yamamoto, Mildred S. (Ichikawa)

[2] Ironically, most of the Nisei’s assigned to Military Intelligence that were fluent in Japanese had Hiroshima as their ancestral home.  A number of these people had family members who perished in the atomic bombing of that city.

[3] Many Japanese-American U. S. Army veterans assigned to military intelligence duties in the Pacific War, later agonized over the possibility that their work in intelligence-gathering and analysis may have contributed to the death of their family members fighting on the Japanese side.