Japanese Internment: Why It Was a Good Idea--And the Lessons It Offers Today





Mr. Pipes is the director of the Middle East Forum. His website address is http://www.danielpipes.org.

For years, it has been my position that the threat of radical Islam implies an imperative to focus security measures on Muslims. If searching for rapists, one looks only at the male population. Similarly, if searching for Islamists (adherents of radical Islam), one looks at the Muslim population.

And so, I was encouraged by a just-released Cornell University opinion survey that finds nearly half the U.S. population agreeing with this proposition. Specifically, 44 percent of Americans believe that government authorities should direct special attention toward Muslims living in America, either by registering their whereabouts, profiling them, monitoring their mosques, or infiltrating their organizations.

Also encouraging, the survey finds the more people follow TV news, the more likely they are to support these common-sense steps. Those who are best informed about current issues, in other words, are also the most sensible about adopting self-evident defensive measures.

That's the good news; the bad news is the near-universal disapproval of this realism. Leftist and Islamist organizations have so successfully intimidated public opinion that polite society shies away from endorsing a focus on Muslims.

In America, this intimidation results in large part from a revisionist interpretation of the evacuation, relocation, and internment of ethnic Japanese during World War II. Although more than 60 years past, these events matter yet deeply today, permitting the victimization lobby, in compensation for the supposed horrors of internment, to condemn in advance any use of ethnicity, nationality, race, or religion in formulating domestic security policy.

Denying that the treatment of ethnic Japanese resulted from legitimate national security concerns, this lobby has established that it resulted solely from a combination of"wartime hysteria" and"racial prejudice." As radical groups like the American Civil Liberties Union wield this interpretation, in the words of Michelle Malkin,"like a bludgeon over the War on Terror debate," they pre-empt efforts to build an effective defense against today's Islamist enemy.

Fortunately, the intrepid Ms. Malkin, a columnist and specialist on immigration issues, has re-opened the internment file. Her recently published book, bearing the provocative title In Defense of Internment: The Case for Racial Profiling in World War II and the War on Terror (Regnery), starts with the unarguable premise that in time of war,"the survival of the nation comes first." From there, she draws the corollary that"Civil liberties are not sacrosanct."

She then reviews the historical record of the early 1940s and finds that:

  • Within hours of the attacks on Pearl Harbor, two American citizens of Japanese ancestry, with no prior history of anti-Americanism, shockingly collaborated with a Japanese soldier against their fellow Hawaiians.

  • The Japanese government established"an extensive espionage network within the United States" believed to include hundreds of agents.

  • In contrast to loose talk about"American concentration camps," the relocation camps for Japanese were"spartan facilities that were for the most part administered humanely." As proof, she notes that over 200 individuals voluntarily chose to move into the camps.

  • The relocation process itself won praise from Carey McWilliams, a contemporary leftist critic (and future editor of the Nation), for taking place"without a hitch."

  • A federal panel that reviewed these issues in 1981-83, the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, was, Ms. Malkin explains,"Stacked with left-leaning lawyers, politicians, and civil rights activists – but not a single military officer or intelligence expert."

  • The apology for internment by Ronald Reagan in 1988, in addition to the nearly $1.65 billion in reparations paid to former internees was premised on faulty scholarship. In particular, it largely ignored the top-secret decoding of Japanese diplomatic traffic, codenamed the MAGIC messages, which revealed Tokyo's plans to exploit Japanese-Americans.

Ms. Malkin has done the singular service of breaking the academic single-note scholarship on a critical subject, cutting through a shabby, stultifying consensus to reveal how,"given what was known and not known at the time," President Roosevelt and his staff did the right thing.

She correctly concludes that, especially in time of war, governments should take into account nationality, ethnicity, and religious affiliation in their homeland security policies and engage in what she calls"threat profiling." These steps may entail bothersome or offensive measures but, she argues, they are preferable to"being incinerated at your office desk by a flaming hijacked plane."

Related Links

  • Charles Burress: Michelle Malkin Defends Racial Profiling During WWII
  • Danny Westneat: Yes, the Internment of Japanese-Americans Was Wrong--And Schools Should Teach that
  • Eric Muller and Greg Robinson: On Malkin
  • Greg Robinson: Why the Media Should Stop Paying Attention to the New Book that Defends Japanese Internment
  • Eric Muller: So Let Me Get This Straight: Michelle Malkin Claims to Have Rewritten the History of Japanese Internment in Just 16 Months?
  • Jonathan Dresner: Bad History; Great Press Relations
  • Dresner v. Malkin




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    Brian Chiang - 7/1/2008

    In reply to Keith:
    Japanese-Americans were not interned in Hawaii because they constituted a majority of the demographic. Hawai'i's population was 40% JAPANESE-AMERICAN. This issue was discussed when the idea of Japanese internment was introduced. To take a 40% of a state's population would result in serious economic and social issues to deal with.

    Its also sad that almost nobody knows of Japanese-American contributions in WWII. The US Army 442nd RCT/100th Battalion is the most DECORATED U.S. military regiment-sized unit in U.S. military history. 442nd RCT decorations consists of a approximately 18,000 awards: 21 Medals of Honor, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses (19 of which were upgraded to MOH's), 560 Silver Stars (28 Oak Leaf clusters for a SECOND award), 22 Legion of Merit awards, 15 Soldier's medals, 4,000 Bronze stars (1,200 Oak Leaf clusters for second award, one award was upgraded to Medal of Honor), and 9,486 purple hearts.

    All 442nd soldiers were volunteers. Those from the mainland U.S. volunteered while interned, and soldiers from the mainland on leave visited families in their respective camps. Internment is a good idea? How hypocritical is it for a nation to intern its own citizens then ask for their military service?


    Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007


    A classic technique of a classic demagogue. He has appeared here on HNN about 50 times. When will Le Pen, Haider and David Duke join him ?


    Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

    Although I agree with most everything people have said here, I ran into an odd item in the NY Times relevant to the issue of "When looking for a rapist, one looks only at the male population." Here is the link:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/10/national/10cape.html?oref=login

    I'm not sure that link will work unless you are a registered Times reader, but it's a 1/10/05 story of a town in which all of the men are voluntarily being asked to give semen samples to identify semen found on the clothing of a murder victim (Pam Belluck, "To Try to Net Killer, Police Ask a Small Town's Men for DNA"). The first paragraph:

    --
    TRURO, Mass., Jan. 7 - In an unusual last-ditch move to find clues to the three-year-old killing of a freelance fashion writer, police investigators are trying to get DNA samples from every man in this Cape Cod hamlet, all 790 or so, or as many as will agree.

    Raising concerns among civil libertarians and prompting both resistance and support from men in Truro, the state and local police began collecting the genetic samples last week, visiting delicatessens, the post office and even the town dump to politely ask men to cooperate. Legal experts said the sweeping approach had been used only in limited instances before in the United States - although it is more widely used in Europe - and in at least one of those cases it prompted a lawsuit.
    --

    This is pretty intrusive, but not in my view literally violative of the Fourth Amendment. It's about as far as profiling can go without violating it.

    I can imagine a terrorism-related analogue, e.g., when there's a terrorist attack every Muslim in town is voluntarily expected to check in with the local PD. It's the voluntary equivalent of a registry. I wouldn't necessarily object to doing that (it depends), but I would definitely object to regarding voluntary non-compliance with it as the main evidence in an affidavit for probable cause.


    Michael Charles Benson - 1/14/2005

    I presume that Daniel Pipes, in an effort to not speak on a subject without thoroughly investigating it, has already read the substantial debunking of Malkin's book by Greg Robinson and Eric Muller available on his site (http://www.isthatlegal.org/Muller_and_Robinson_on_Malkin.html for those interested). I presume as well that since Malkin was never able to adequately respond to this criticism, Pipes must have some new argument I had never thought of. I, for one, would like to see a thorough debunking of the critical response to Malkin's book by Pipes.


    Keith P Knuuti - 1/13/2005

    Just to add to Adam's points, it is important to remember that in Hawaii Japanese-Americans (not Japanese) were *not* interned, even though Hawaii was actually attacked by Japanese forces. In fact, the U.S. military continued to employ large numbers of Japanese-Americans at U.S. military installations.

    If Hawaii, a state that had suffered direct military attack and that had a much higher percentage of Japanese-American citizens than any other state, was never brought under the umbrella of the relocation and internment system, then one has to seriously question almost every assertion Pipes makes in regard to this issue.


    Averill J Leslie - 1/12/2005

    "If searching for rapists, one looks only at the male population."

    I just want to complicate this statement. It is true that the large majority of sexual assaults are committed by men against women. (It is also true that the large majority of sexual assaults are committed by men who are WELL KNOWN to the women they assault--it might be interesting to consider what twists this second fact throws into Pipes' use of rape as an analogy.)

    Despite this majority, however, a blanket statement such as Mr. Pipes' carries the risk of covering up the existence of other types of assault--women most certainly can be and are the assaulters in some cases. I have encountered both men and women who have been raped by a woman.

    One of the major hurdles that a rape survivor faces is having her or his experience recognized and having it acknowledged as having really happened--not, in otherwords, having it be covered up or disbelieved or simply disregarded. The invisibility of assaults upon minority assault survivors (such as men, or women raped by another woman) places a double burden upon them. It is also a double stigma--rape is stigmatized to begin with, and minority-victim rape is additionaly stigmatized for not being "normal" rape. It is somewhat upsetting to think that even something like rape can have norms and must obey certain polite forms.

    That's why even a statement as small as this one that opens up Mr. Pipes' article (and it is especially concerning precisely because it IS the opener, and as such gets to slip in as something quickly taken for granted rather than something possibly up for contestation) is so concerning to me: because it suggests that real people's experiences do not exist or are not significant (perhaps THIS is a better analogy between Japanese internment and the pathology of rape).

    Certainly, in order to be able to deal successfully with the problem of rape, we must take account of the fact that the majority of assaults are in the direction Mr. Pipes describes, but that does not mean we can write the majority experience into the ONLY experience.


    Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 1/11/2005

    I agree with Derek on this issue 100%, and have just a few points to make on the article itself.

    1) “If searching for rapists, one looks only at the male population. Similarly, if searching for Islamists (adherents of radical Islam), one looks at the Muslim population.”

    The problem with this analogy is that it does not happen. When a rapist is on the loose, “men” as a general category are not targeted, interrogated, or harassed, unless the police have something else to go on (like clothing or description) or witness suspicious behavior.

    2) “Within hours of the attacks on Pearl Harbor, two American citizens of Japanese ancestry, with no prior history of anti-Americanism, shockingly collaborated with a Japanese soldier against their fellow Hawaiians.”

    If this is true, it means that the culprits were apprehended. Is there any reason to believe that the traditional process of investigation would have been ineffective in identifying spies? Furthermore, was there any reason to believe that this was not unique to Hawaii, since that is where the Japanese launched their attack?

    3) “The Japanese government established "an extensive espionage network within the United States" believed to include hundreds of agents.”

    Was this not also true of Germans and Italians? Furthermore, it seems to me like temporarily suspending all Japanese Americans from work in military areas would have been a far less drastic a response.

    4) “the relocation camps for Japanese were "spartan facilities that were for the most part administered humanely." As proof, she notes that over 200 individuals voluntarily chose to move into the camps.”

    Given that over 120,000 Japanese were interned, I have little faith on the decision of 200 people who went, particularly without any mention of their motives (perhaps the harassment of the government and their fellow citizens left them little choice).

    5) “The relocation process itself won praise from Carey McWilliams, a contemporary leftist critic (and future editor of the Nation), for taking place "without a hitch."

    That fact that some liberal supported it means absolutely nothing to me. Quoting conservatives to condemn Bush, or Jews to condemn Israel, or what have you have never impressed me.

    6) “A federal panel that reviewed these issues in 1981-83, the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, was, Ms. Malkin explains, "Stacked with left-leaning lawyers, politicians, and civil rights activists – but not a single military officer or intelligence expert."

    This may be a legitimate concern, but I do not believe that fact alone can erase their conclusions without some additional evidence other than simply calling the authors names.


    Derek Charles Catsam - 1/11/2005

    I'm not certain how anyone's security is protected when you take antire categories of people, all American citizens, with no documented security threat (as the American military established before, during and after internment, which was nothing more than a political palliative that had nothing to do with national security.) A policy that attacks particular classes and categories of people needs the strictest scrutiny. targeting all japanese-Americans was useless, it was ineffective, and it was racist. While a few foreign nationals in the Italian and german communities in the US also were interned, it is useful to note that almost no german-American or Italian American US citizens were interned. It was a colossally stupid, racist policy and Pipes is wrong to defend it.
    dc


    Chris Bray - 1/10/2005

    It would be nice to see Pipes bother to address Lt. Gen. John DeWitt's reasoning, from the official Army report on internment, and explain why this statement is not meaningful:

    "In the war in which we are now engaged racial affinities are not severed by migration. The Japanese race is an enemy race and while many second and third generation Japanese born on United States soil, possessed of United States citizenship, have become 'Americanized,' the racial strains are undiluted. To conclude otherwise is to expect that children born of white parents on Japanese soil sever all racial affinity and become loyal Japanese subjects, ready to fight and, if necessary,to die for Japan in a war against the nation of their parents. . . . It, therefore, follows that along the vital Pacific Coast over 112,000 potential enemies, of Japanese extraction, are at large today. There are indications that these were organized and ready for concerted action at a favorable opportunity. The very fact that no sabotage has taken place to date is a disturbing and confirming indication that such action will be taken."


    Chris Bray - 1/10/2005

    Daniel Pipes argues that we should "focus security measures on" a particular population, but doesn't give the slightest hint what that means. He has claimed, elsewhere, that he opposes internment and registration for American Muslims, but it's interesting that he offers this not-for-internment clarification so that readers don't misunderstand his essay in favor of, well, internment. (In the accompanying piece here, Irfan Khawaja makes a strong argument about Pipes' logic w/r/t internment. Enough said on that point.)

    So, for Daniel Pipes, a question: What "security measures," specifically, are implied by this vague "focus"? Do you support the covert surveillance of the Muslim population at large, for example?

    The Daniel Pipes trick, as I've seen it, is to deny specific suggestions about what he believes -- I do not support Muslim internment -- without ever actually identifying the precise, specific measures that he favors. It would be good to see the list of "security measures" that he would support.

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