Blogs > Cliopatria > on McCloy's Justification

Sep 7, 2005 10:51 am

on McCloy's Justification

In his July 23, 1942 memo, John McCloy ascribes the military removal of West Coast Japanese Americans to the influence of “our white citizens in California” who were out of control. Although Bruce Ramsey considers this remark to refer to their extreme political demands for the exile of their ethnic Japanese fellow citizens, I believe that McCloy’s comment refers to the government’s need to move Japanese Americans in order to protect them from mass violence. While this seems plausible, it is not founded in the available evidence, which does not reveal any suggestion of “protective custody” among the military leaders who discussed removal before the signing of Executive order 9066. If protection had been the real aim of the federal government, mass evacuation would have been totally different in character. There would doubtless have been no need for camps as the government would have had no hesitation about making a statement as to the inmates's loyalty, and would have been more forthright about ensuring immediate resettlement by Japanese American outside the excluded area. (as many Japanese Americans have pointed out, the guns operated by guards at the WRA camps, pointed inside at them, not outside at potential assailants).

There is a powerful exchange from right around the same time about the question of protective removal. On July 20, 1942, just one week after McCloy’s memorandum, the African American activist Pauli Murray, relying on testimony by a friend in Oregon, wrote what she later termed an "ill-conceived" letter to President Roosevelt. In the letter, Murray asked why, if the government could remove Japanese Americans from the West Coast for their own protection, it could not remove Negroes from the South to protect them against lynching. She enclosed a copy to Eleanor Roosevelt. Mrs. Roosevelt (who had previously struggled to dissuade her husband from approving Executive Order 9066) sent a response on August 3. In a rare open display of anger (mixed with some odd ethnic categorization) the First Lady rejected the entire premise of protective removal:

"I wonder how many of our colored people in the South would like to be evacuated and treated as though they were not as rightfully here as other people? I am deeply concerned that we have had to do that to the Japanese who are American citizens, but we are at war with Japan and they have only been citizens for a very short time. We would feel a resentment if we had to do this for citizens who have been here as long as most of the white people."
(The original document is in Eleanor Roosevelt's papers at Hyde Park, but it also appears in Pauli Murray's Memoir SONG IN A WEARY THROAT, (NY: Harper & Row, 1947, pp.188-189).

If protection was not a true cause of evacuation, then how do we explain McCloy’s statement? I think the most logical explanation was his mission to protect the military (and ultimately the federal government) from blame at all costs. McCloy was worried that if the government was adjudged to be acting illegally, the war effort would be discredited. McCloy’s mission to defend the government’s policy from attack led him, notably, to take charge of the legal defense of the policy in the U.S. Supreme Court in the cases of Gordon Hirabayashi and Fred Korematsu, two Japanese Americans who challenged Executive Order 9066. Most notably, in order to improve the government’s case in HIRABAYASHI, which was based on the claim of military emergency and insufficient time to adjudge the loyalty of Japanese Americans, McCloy engaged in egregious manipulation of evidence. Most notably, he ordered General John DeWitt to suppress his FINAL REPORT on evacuation because it stated clearly that time was not a factor—it was impossible on racial grounds to tell a loyal Japanese American from a disloyal one. It was the discovery of McCloy’s actions by Aiko Yoshinaga-Herzig and her husband, Jack Herzig (whose death last month is a source of profound sorrow to countless people) that was the principle factor in the CORAM NOBIS hearings that ultimately resulted in the overturning of the convictions of both Hirabayashi and Korematsu. At the same time that these convictions were overturned, the U.S. Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians CWRIC) in the 1980s made an official inquiry into the government’s wartime treatment of Japanese Americans. McCloy, by then in his late eighties, led the forces organized to defend the government’s conduct. So anxious was McCloy to concede nothing that in his testimony before CWRIC he stated flatly that Executive Order 9066 and its aftermath was just retribution for Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.

The reason that these matters are of more than passing historical interest is that the excuse of protective custody, despite its evident lack of credibility, has had its own pernicious life. It been used to shield the government’s actions since World War II, most famously by North Carolina congressman Howard Coble in his much-decried comments in 2003 that mass removal had been for the Japanese Americans’ own good, to protect them from injury. Once we accept such a rationale, we remove a large safeguard against arbitrary action, for it is easy to justify any violation of civil rights on the grounds that it serves the victims of the policy.

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Greg J Robinson - 9/8/2005

Where is this other blog debate taking place? It woudl be interesting to see it.

Greg J Robinson - 9/8/2005

The odds are very long against anyone but McCloy writing the postscript. It seems incredible that someone else would have gotten to and marked up the original letter on the same day McCloy wrote and signed it (since it was marked received, and the present file copy made, on the same day it was sent). That person would also have had to fail to sign the postscript in their own name, so as to deliberately lead Patterson (a supporter of military removal) to believe it reflected McCloy's views--something he could check at any time. Since the high-level Army people were presumably familiar with McCloy's handwriting (and McCloy presumably signed the original of his own memo), it is probable that any forgery would have had to have been an exceptionally good one. No, the writing being McCloy's is much more plausible. It also does not seem to be impossible for McCloy to have said what he did, since it tallies, as I stated, with the Stimson letter in spirit.

Michael Pullmann - 9/8/2005

Mr. Robinson:

I'm involved in a discussion of this document on another message board. An interesting question came up, and I thought I'd go to the source:

It's been posited that the handwritten postscript might have been added by someone other than McCloy. As the one who has studied this document: What leads you to believe that this is not the case?