Blogs > Cliopatria > More on the McCloy memo

Sep 26, 2005 9:15 pm

More on the McCloy memo

As many readers know, I recently discovered in the Library of Congress a memo from Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy to Undersecretary of War Robert Patterson, dated July 23, 1942. The memo is in the form of a typed file copy, made by Patterson’s office. In a postscript (which the memo notes was “handwritten in the original”), McCloy admits that military necessity was not the main factor in the wartime removal of 110,000 Japanese Americans: “These people are not ‘internees’. They are under no suspicion for the most part and were moved largely because we felt we could not control our own white citizen(sic) in California.” The revelation of this document, both in the SEATTLE TIMES and posted immediately on the internet, has led to a considerable amount of blogging. Many posts, I am glad to say, have been thoughtful. However, some other people have tried to cast doubt on the document, either by questioning its authenticity and my honesty--one blogger openly made charges of fraud and forgery against me on the grounds that the postscript uses the word “internees” while the rest of the memo speaks of “evacuees” ( by saying that the document does not say what it so clearly says. Reading these responses has been an interesting education for me, not only in our current age, but in the ingenuity of the human mind and its defense mechanisms.

The classic example is Michelle Malkin’s commentary (see Miriam Burstein’s link to it, below). I have not bothered to respond, as I have made it a practice not to respond to personal attacks, and I found her response fairly lame in substantive terms, for reasons Eric Muller reveals ( Yet her response is so psychologically rich that I feel now that it is worth examination on those grounds.

After beginning with a round of personal attacks on me, Malkin tries to cast doubt on the document’s authenticity (again calling me “sloppy or dishonest”) or my honesty by saying that the “postscript” is not labelled postscript, and could have been written by someone else or added years later:

“Jeffrey M. Flannery, Manuscript Reference Specialist in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress, and Tab Lewis, an archivist at National Archives, both examined the memo at my request. Both stated that they could not provide a definitive answer as to the author of the "postscript" without consulting the original.”

[I must at least thank Malkin for confirming the document’s existence in the Library of Congress files and thereby refuting accusations of fraud against me—and I thought I was going too far towards paranoia when I commissioned a researcher unknown to me to search the file in case independent verification of the document was needed!]

Since the document on its face states that it was received on “7/24”, the day after it was dated, and so the copy was made then, any addition would have had to be made within 24 hours of the memo’s drafting (and presumably in something like McCloy’s handwriting, since it would be obvious if the handwriting were different from the signature). Even ignoring that fact, what gets lost in this apparently scientific affirmation of uncertainty is the desperate reflex that causes this questioning—obviously, people in the ordinary course of business write postscripts to their own messages, while the mind reels trying to discern what earthly reason anyone other than McCloy could have for surreptitiously adding an anonymous comment at any time to his note to Patterson.

Even Malkin cannot maintain such a stance throughout, and she concedes that the memo is “probably” McCloy’s own words. Yet she then is caught in a dilemma—does she continue to deny that he meant what he said, or does she agree? Faced with the choice, Malkin takes both. (One is reminded of the defensive litany of a man accused of stealing a pot “I never stole the pot” “it was an old pot anyway” and “I gave it back to you in better condition than I found it”). First she insists that “in context”, McCloy could not have said what he clearly said:

“A handwritten note scrawled on the bottom of a memo about food is not the venue for discussing state secrets such as the MAGIC messages which revealed extensive Japanese espionage activity on the West Coast.”

Now, even assuming that the MAGIC messages, taken “in context” and as a whole, said what Malkin says they did, and that the decision for removal was made exclusively by McCloy and his higher-ups—both points that have been refuted countless times—this remark completely undermines her position, and the source of it is irrelevant. She cannot explain why, even in a memo on food, McCloy would have had any reason for saying what he did, especially when he need not have said anything at all on the subject. Even Malkin, though she brings up Robert Stinnett as authority for the proposition that Patterson was not on the recipient list for MAGIC (nor was McCloy, for that matter--but David Alvarez, a historian who has studies MAGIC at length, has told me that both men were “probably” privy to the information), cannot quite bring herself to argue with a straight face that McCloy was dissembling to his superior officer to protect the secret operation.

Thus stymied there, she agrees that the threat of mob violence was part of the reason for the decision (despite the lack of any concrete evidence that it played any part in the military’s actual decisions during February 1942) and praises Congressman Howard Coble for defending mass removal on such grounds in 2003. In her rush to turn the memo to her advantage, she blithely ignores the fact that Coble stated that protection was the sole reason for removal, and that her agreement with McCloy on this point destroys her argument that it was based on military security. (It is not entirely clear that by “control our own white citizens” McCloy meant the threat of mob violence, as Bruce Ramsey and David Neiwert noted, but I am fairly sure that such was his intention). Her attempt at squaring the circle may sound plausible to her fans, but one is left with the distinct impression that they wish to believe strongly enough that she need not try too hard.

In the end, I am disappointed by the lack of thoughtful consideration or historical examination in these replies. There has been little attempt to deal with the complexities of interpreting the document, a matter I discuss in my HNN editorial. Revealingly, what nobody (with a single exception) has bothered to ask, in all this debate about context, is just what it was that McCloy was responding to, and whether there is anything in the Library of Congress file that would illuminate this question. In fact, the trigger for McCloy’s memo was a memo the previous day, July 22, 1942, to Robert Patterson from his chief assistant John Hertz (the rental car tycoon who was working as a dollar-a-year man for the War Department). Hertz mentioned sensational news reports that showed “fancy rations being given interned Japanese.” He asked how these compared with the rations of interned Americans in Japan. Hertz then suggested that such news reports might be censored. “I suppose this matter is not within our control, but I believe that public reaction would not be good if this matter received publicity.” Obviously, after receiving the memo, Patterson asked McCloy for a report. The upper text of the resulting memo provided a careful discussion of the feeding of the confined Japanese Americans. Then, in the postscript, McCloy challenged the phrase “internees”, and Hertz’s offensive equation of their situation with that of Americans held by Japan, in the relevant—and revealing—passage. (Ironically, it was the U.S. government that decreed that neither U.S. citizens nor Japanese aliens were to be considered internees for legal purposes. If they had been internees, the government would have been required by the Geneva Convention to feed them at the same level—50 cents per day—that the Army fed its soldiers. Instead, according to the Western Defense Command’s 1943 FINAL REPORT, food costs in the Assembly Centers were kept to around 33 cents per day in the beginning, with the total ultimately rising to about 39 cents per day).

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Jonathan Dresner - 9/28/2005

My remark to you was critical -- if I wanted to be insulting, I would have used the more direct and personal term "troll" -- and if it was patronizing it is because you seem to be able to read your own writing, and Malkin's, but apparently have no reading comprehension with regard non-toadyish scholars, who have answered every substantive point with vigor and clarity.

You do, however, have considerable facility with pseudo-historical logic and source manipulation, little shame, and nearly inexhaustible time to spend on the subject.

Ralph E. Luker - 9/28/2005

Commander Hopwood, My colleague, Greg Robinson, has given a very clear answer to your question now. I should think that there no need to belabor it.

William Hopwood - 9/28/2005

Mr. Luker:

Nice of you to come to Prof. Dresner's defense. I'm sure he appreciates it.
Role model or not, his remark to me was patronizing and needlessly insulting. Sorry if you thought I shouldn't have said so.

As to the Seattle journalist's possible misunderstanding of when Robinson found the memo, let me quote excerpts from Robinson himself in a recent article on which you can read now on that site:

"A few years ago, I was at the Library of Congress researching my book By Order of the President...I discovered some documents in the papers in the papers of Robert Patterson...Among them was a file copy of a memorandum...that John McCloy sent Patterson...This was neither novel nor relevant to my project...Recently, I was surprised to discover that the memo also included a handwritten postscript. There McCloy admitted that military security was not a primary factor in triggering the removal of West Coast Japanese Americans."

I would think it an interest to other historians and to Prof. Robinson's readers how it was that he managed to read the McCloy memo four or five years ago without seeing the obvious postscript at the bottom of the memo. It stood out like a sore thumb. The memo was then, in his own words, "neither novel nor relevant" to his project. Why now is this memo so important to his thesis? Are Michelle Malkin's revelations getting to him?

I have researched this subject for close to 25 years, have lived through the era in question, and have a long memory. I have also learned from WWII documentation in my possession or to which I have access that sometimes professional historians, particularly some who were not yet born or are too young to remember World War II, are, despite an excess of self esteem, not always right.

So, sorry if you find my remarks exasperating but please forgive me for commenting on a subject about which I happen to know something about, and for asking questions or making statements which I think should be asked or made to clarify the historical record. Isn't that the objective of this forum?

Ralph E. Luker - 9/27/2005

Commander Hopwood, My colleague, Jonathan Dresner, is a role model for civility. Your spam-like comments provoke exasperation. You quote a Seattle newsperson's understanding of when Greg Robinson found the memo and find in that some evidence that you think undermines Robinson's argument. The journalist could be mistaken. Only someone, like yourself, who has never spent years in research on a subject, would mistake the journalist's offhand comment as historically signficant. You're hung up on a fairly inconsequential matter and beating it to death.

William Hopwood - 9/27/2005

"...If I went through my dissertation files now, I would be "discovering" all sorts of things I never really looked closely at before, because on the face of it they were only peripherally related to the questions I ultimately pursued."

That was my essentially my point. Thank you for making it. While researching for his book there is no doubt that Robinson was pursuing anything he could find in an attempt to support his theory that "racism" was the predominant cause of the
evacuation. You seem to be suggesting that on the original "discovery" of the McCloy memo while researching (if such was the case) that he considered it to be only "peripherally related" to what he was trying to prove. So why its resurrection and sudden importance now?

As for my other points, they have not been adequately addressed, at least not by you, so your frustration at having been unable to do so is understandable. However, your lack of civility is not.

Jonathan Dresner - 9/27/2005

Every historian has collected documents which they have not closely examined. If I went through my dissertation files now, I would be "discovering" all sorts of things I never really looked closely at before, because on the face of it they were only peripherally related to the questions I ultimately pursued.

Most of your other points here have been addressed elsewhere, and I won't dignify your near-spam by answering them again.

William Hopwood - 9/27/2005

Professor Robinson's most recent commentary with regard to the controversy over the McCloy memo raises some additional questions.

In Bruce Ramsey's column in the Seattle Times which brought the matter of the McCloy memo to light, it was said that "Robinson found the letter while researching his book, "By Order of the President" which was published in 2001. Mr. Robinson, however, claims here that the document was "recently discovered." Which was it?

Please correct me if I'm wrong but if the document really came to Mr. Robinson's attention four or five years ago while researching for his book, why can't I find it mentioned in the book? Nor do I find mention of UnderSecWar Patterson, whose name does not appear in the index. If not considered worth mentioning in the book, why is it considered such a "bomshell" now?

Indeed, the memo would not seem to be of much importance at all when viewed in the context of other comments by Mr. McCloy concerning the reasons for the Japanese evacuation. Historians Conn, Engelman, and Fairchild, for instance, note in "Guarding the United States and Its Outposts--Chapter V," that only several months after the memo in question, McCloy wrote another memo which indicated that the attitude of the local population was least in importance and behind military considerations in the evacuation decision.

That memo, on 16 November 1942, addressed to the Commanding General, Eastern Defense Command, Hugh Drum, said: "As you know, the Japanese were removed from the West Coast, first because of the proximity of the West Coast to the Japanese theater of operations and, second, because of the very large number of Japanese concentrated in that area, and thirdly, because of the fear that direct action might be taken against the Japanese as a result of the rather antagonistic attitude of the local population."

Furthermore, SecWar Stimson who was at least as much an architect of the evacuation decision as Mr. McCloy, later wrote in his memoir written in 1947 "...the War Department ordered the evacuation of more than 100,000 persons of Japanese origin from strategic areas on the west coast (because)Japanese raids...seemed not only possible but probable...and it was quite impossible to be sure that the raiders would not receive important help from individuals of Japanese origin."

Years later (1984)in Congressional testimoney Mr. McCloy said: "It was a fact that (the Pearl Harbor) attack was supplemented by information giving (top officials) clear knowledge of the existence of subversive Japanese agencies designed to operate in this country...The information...was available through "MAGIC," a system by which we were able to read intercepted Japanese coded messages before and during a large part of the war...the knowledge obtained by "MAGIC," more than supplied all the information needed to justify fully President Roosevelt's action."

Finally, I'm curious as to the source of Mr. Robinson's contention that the evacuees were not to be considered "internees" for legal reasons in order to avoid Geneva Convention feeding requirements. That seems far fetched to me. The War Relocation Authority definition of the difference between "evacuees" and "internees" is clear and makes more sense: "A sharp distinction should be drawn at all times between residents of relocation centers--even the aliens--and prisoners of war or civilian internees. The aliens residing at relocation centers have been found guilty of no crime...They have simply been evacuated as a group, in the interest of military security, from specific military areas....CIVILIAN INTERNEES ARE ALIENS OF ENEMY NATIONALITY-- JAPANESE, GERMAN, OR ITALIAN--WHO HAVE BEEN APPREHENDED BY THE FBI AND FOUND GUILTY BY ENEMY ALIEN CONTROL BOARDS OF ACTS OR INTENTIONS AGAINST THE NATIONAL SECURITY..." (Emphasis added). They are confined in internment camps...and not quartered at relocation centers.