Civil Liberties: Round ‘Em Up? No

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Mr. Daniels is Charles Phelps Taft Professor of History at the University of Cincinnati.

Stephen Schwartz, early in his muddled account of"What we did with Aliens in World War II," in last week's edition of HNN, notes that"few of those who expatiate on the topic nowadays know very much about it." The same applies - in spades -- to his fantasies about"Japanese government-controlled Shinto religious temples in America," or his conflation of the internment programs of the Department of Justice [DOJ] and the measures applied by the United States Army in portions of the Western Defense Command.

The internment programs, traditional in the United States since the War of 1812, were applied to"alien enemies" in signed proclamations on December 7 & 8, 1941 which made all unnaturalized Japanese, Germans, and Italians over 14 years of age eligible for internment. [Japanese and other Asians were not eligible for naturalization.] Under the 1940 Alien Registration Act 695,363 Italians, 314,715 Germans, and 91,858 Japanese had registered so there were in the neighborhood of a million potential internees. The DOJ actually interned about one percent of that number, some 11,000 persons. What it did was legal, but hardly wise. The one fascist named in Schwartz's piece, Generoso Pope, was never interned. Some were hard-core Nazis, fascists, and believers in Japan's imperial destiny: others were caught up by a not particularly astute intelligence operation.

No one who has studied it seriously believes that the operation was well run and many of the post-war internal post-mortems came to a similar conclusion. Even during the war there were hearings for those who had been interned and some were actually released. All told perhaps 8,000 Japanese, 2,300 Germans, and a few hundred Italians were interned.


The U.S. Army's program on the West Coast was a different matter. It was directed chiefly against persons of Japanese ethnicity regardless of citizenship or age and unnaturalized Germans and Italians who lived in coastal areas which included the largest concentrations of Italians in the West. It was authorized, not in December 1941 but only on February 19, 1942 by Executive Order 9066. Eventually military orders rounded-up all Japanese who lived in the state of California, the western parts of Washington and Oregon, and a small portion of Arizona and moved them first to places that were called Assembly Centers and then to Relocation Centers. These were actually concentration camps. (This program is usually referred to, erroneously, as"the internment of the Japanese Americans.") Uninterned Italian and German alien enemies who lived in the coastal region eventually had to move unless granted exceptions by the army. No German American or Italian American citizens, either naturalized or native-born, were interned or forced to move, although some dependent family members - usually wives and children - in some cases" chose" to accompany their family members.

11For the record, I would not have voted for the" Wartime Violation of Italian-American Civil Liberties Act" had I been a member of Congress. That act was a to-be-expected reaction to the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 which was not about"internment" - although that is what Congress called it - but redressed the incarceration of Japanese Americans under Executive Order 9066. The DOJ report on Italian Americans required by Congress has been on the web at since Nov. 27. It is not a model of historical scholarship: its chief consultants seem to have been advocates for the bill.

11The whole subject of WW II internment needs further investigation. Some of the work that has been done is found or referenced in Kay Saunders and Roger Daniels, eds. Alien Justice: Wartime Internment In Australia And North America (St. Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 2000).

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