Michelle Malkin's Rewriting of History
In Defense of Internment
by Klancy Clark de Nevers
The Colonel and the Pacifist:
Karl Bendetsen, Perry Saito and the Incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II
(University of Utah Press, April 2004)
Just as each generation has its holocaust deniers, apparently every generation must spawn a defender of the Japanese internment. In the 1970s and 1980s that defender was Lillian Baker, a Gardena, California woman whose earlier interests had run to hatpins and collectible jewelry, and who by opposing the Japanese American campaign for redress for the wartime injustice, may have thought she was avenging the death of her first husband at the hands of the Japanese forces in the Philippines during World War II. What the Americans of Japanese ancestry, long term U.S. residents and their American-born children, had to do with atrocities in the Far East she never tried to explain – but like Karl Bendetsen and John J. McCloy, two prime players in the events of 1942 that led to the forced removal of 110,000 members of one entire racial group from the West Coast, she felt compelled to make the connection.
Lillian Baker could be dismissed as an eccentric. Her books were largely self-published, her touted organization, Americans for Historical Accuracy, lacked much of a following. But Michelle Malkin, whose book In Defense of Internment: The Case for Racial Profiling in World War II and the War on Terror (Regnery, 2004) came out in August, can cause much more damage. She has a well-known and conservative publisher. She is a syndicated columnist with access to the Fox network and the national media. Malkin claims her book will “debunk the myths” about the decision to exclude Americans of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast in 1942 – what she terms the internment (incarceration is the accurate term).
Malkin’s first goal is to discredit every comment made after 9/11 that any racial profiling of Arab or Muslim Americans equates to the injustice forced upon America’s ethnic Japanese during World War II. Her second goal is ideological – to support racial profiling as a tool in the "War on Terror." She writes, “the ethnic grievance industry and the civil liberties Chicken Littles . . . wield reparations law like a bludgeon over the War on Terror debate.” Some commentators may have overstated the comparison between what is happening in the U.S. in recent times under the Patriot Act with what happened to Japanese Americans who were deprived of their freedom in 1942, but if any of these dare criticize Malkin’s book they will be lumped into this “grievance industry.”
Malkin’s main thesis is that the decision to exclude was based not on racism or wartime hysteria, as a government commission found in 1983, but on information obtained in translated cables of Japanese diplomatic traffic prior to December 7, 1941. She asserts with boring repetition and no convincing evidence, that the MAGIC translations were the real basis for the military necessity of the evacuation and internment of the ethnic Japanese (which they were not). She asserts that information in the cables PROVES that there were “espionage networks” among the Japanese communities and that this was sufficient reason for the mass incarceration. In order to argue that such a network could be dangerous she fills several chapters with accounts of the perfidious behavior of Japanese agents in numerous countries in South East Asia prior to Pearl Harbor. To support her contention that Japan was the “only Axis country with a proven capability of launching a major attack on the United States” (a claim she has had to withdraw) she mentions actions by Japanese submarines in the first weeks of the war and the shelling of Goleta, which occurred after the decision to exclude was made. She writes, “little-known Japanese submarine attacks are disregarded, downplayed, or denied altogether in the oversimplified, comic-book version of history plied by critics of the West Coast evacuation.”
Malkin herself totally disregards the climate of race-baiting, economic jealousies and vigilante attacks on members of the Japanese communities that by early February 1942 combined with war hysteria to cause many politicians and the press to demand that the government do something about the “Japanese problem.” The bulk of her book is devoted to rewriting the history of the internment decision and its impact on the evacuees so that she can wield that “internment” as a defense of racial profiling.
On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which permitted a designated military commander to exclude “any and all persons” from “certain military areas.” The order was almost exclusively applied on the West Coast to Japanese aliens, who by law were ineligible for citizenship, and to their American-born children, leading to the removal of more than 110,000 persons. Evacuees were not given hearings, as were enemy aliens interned by the Justice Department and there were no documented cases of espionage or sabotage. By June 1942, this entire population was incarcerated in temporary camps near their homes, and then transferred to one of ten permanent “relocation centers” in desolate locations in the interior of the West (except for two camps in Arkansas) where more than half of the original population still remained at the end of the war.
In 1980, the United States Congress created the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) to find out why this executive order had been promulgated, and to determine whether amends should be made to the affected Japanese Americans. After a year of hearings and extensive research, the Commission published its report, Personal Justice Denied, in 1983. Their conclusion was that “promulgation of Executive Order 9066 was not justified by military necessity, or driven by military conditions, but rather was based on “racial prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.” The U.S. Congress implemented the Commission’s recommendations in the Civil Rights Act of 1988 which called for a presidential apology and a redress payment of $20,000 to each qualified survivor of the incarceration.
Several scholarly works have been published recently evaluating reasons for the decision to exclude Americans of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast in 1942: Greg Robinson ( By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans (Harvard University Press, 2001) puts Roosevelt's approval of the internment into the context of the racism of the time and in Roosevelt’s background.
Tetsuden Kashima (Judgment Without Trial: Japanese American imprisonment during World War II (Seattle, University of Washington Press, 2003) argues that there was a bureaucratic inevitability to the incarceration based on his analysis of policies toward aliens in the twenty years prior to Pearl Harbor. Earlier Kai Bird (The Chairman: John J. McCloy & the Making of the American Establishment, Simon and Schuster, 1992) gave much responsibility for the decision to then assistant secretary of war John J. McCloy. In The Colonel and the Pacifist, I argue, based on telling evidence from Bendetsen's archive, that Karl Bendetsen considered himself the architect of the “military necessity” on which the evacuation and incarceration were based, that he was the man who made the difference in the handling of the “Japanese problem” on the West Coast. And I show, further, as do other scholars, that the necessity and the decision rested on a racist view of Americans of Japanese ancestry.
Malkin uses a broad brush to criticize the motives of those of us who have written about the exclusion decision and the incarceration. She claims she has no vested interest in “this subject,” and lists persons who do and therefore are not qualified to discuss it, such as evacuees, internees, or their families, attorneys representing any of the above, or professors “whose tenure relies on regurgitating academic orthodoxy about this episode in American history.” Such a mean-spirited attitude toward those who may or may not disagree with her shows a lack of respect for the work of others. Karl Rove would be proud of her.
Greg Robinson and Eric Muller (Free to die for their country : the story of the Japanese American draft resisters in World War II , University of Chicago Press, 2001) have written detailed critiques of Makin’s book in weblogs (summarized on Isthatlegal.com). They have pointed out numerous weaknesses and errors in Malkin’s arguments, many of which she has admitted. I concur with their analysis, but would like to extend the discussion.
Malkin persistently conflates the MAGIC translation of diplomatic cables up to and including December 7, 1941 with the wartime translation of Japanese naval radio messages, also termed MAGIC. David Kahn, author of Codebreakers (Macmillan, 1967), whom she misquotes, is more careful to refer to the latter when making his claims that the use of MAGIC translations shortened the war by at least one year.
In appendices, she includes thirty pages of cable translations and fifty pages of intelligence memos she claims demonstrate that they were based on knowledge of the cables. No one disputes the fact of the cables, or that intelligence officials saw them. The cables are a matter of public record. Knowledge of their existence and many actual cables were declassified during multiple hearings on the causes of Pearl Harbor in 1946. The full set of prewar diplomatic cables was published in 1978 and is available in most libraries. Many historians have evaluated them. What analysts such as the Army’s official historian of the internment, Stetson Conn, do not agree with the assertion that the cables were the basis, the causal factor, the inspiration for the decision to forcibly remove Americans of Japanese ancestry from their homes in 1942.
Malkin’s discussion of the MAGIC cables borrows heavily from the arguments and the pages of David D. Lowman’s posthumous and poorly researched book, MAGIC: The untold story of the U.S. Intelligence and the Evacuation of Japanese residents from the West Coast During WWII (Athena Press, 2000). In 1983 Lowman, a former official of the National Security Agency, challenged the validity of the CWRIC report, on the grounds that the Commission had overlooked the Japanese diplomatic cables. He put forward for the first time the claim that the cables proved that there had been extensive espionage networks among the Japanese population in the United States in 1941. Lowman, who lived in Hawaii in the 80s, did not bring this information to the attention of the commission (which was in fact aware of the cable translations), but went to the press with his assertions. Lowman’s arguments were fully discredited by scholars and retired intelligence officers during the investigations by the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Citizens (CWRIC) and in Congressional Hearings in 1983-1984.
To support her argument that MAGIC provided the basis for the military necessity of Executive Order 9066, Malkin asserts several times, without citation or with an incorrect citation, that both Karl Bendetsen and John J. McCloy said that MAGIC was an factor in the development of the evacuation policy. Malkin bases her claim on statements made by the two men for the first time in 1984 testimony before a Congressional committee. In this Malkin has made a huge mistake. If she had, as she claimed, truly done the research to establish causality for the exclusion decision, she would have applied some skepticism to any statements made in the 1980s by McCloy, and particularly by Bendetsen.
As demonstrated in The Colonel and the Pacifist, Bendetsen was not in full command of his faculties by 1984, and should not have been allowed to appear in 1986. Furthermore Malkin took out of context his statement that MAGIC had been a factor, perhaps because she accepted Lowman’s attributions without reading the full text of Bendetsen’s statement in the transcript of the hearing. Lowman had also accepted uncritically Bendetsen’s story-telling in his fallacious 1972 Oral History Interview with Jerry Hess of the Truman Library. It is well known that oral historians do no fact checking on the content of the statements they gather. Bendetsen was a supporter of Lillian Baker’s organization and got news of the hearings of the CWRIC in letters from her. (One can measure Bendetsen’s descent into Alzheimer’s in the 1980s by looking at the corruption of his signature on letters to Baker preserved in her archive at Stanford’s Hoover Institution).
1981 appearances before CWRIC
The Commission heard testimony from hundreds of persons who had been incarcerated during World War II. Bendetsen and McCloy appeared at the Commission’s last session in Washington, D. C. in 1981. Both were explicitly asked whether there was intelligence indicating that Japanese Americans had engaged in espionage or sabotage. Neither mentioned the MAGIC cables. Lowman credited the hostile audience with causing Bendetsen and McCloy to fail to mention MAGIC. Malkin argues old age to excuse McCloy for this so-called lapse. In fact, former Supreme Court Justice Arthur A. Goldberg spoke directly about intercepted messages, and McCloy said nothing about them. Senator Edward W. Brooke asked him if he had any knowledge of sabotage or espionage on the part of any Japanese American in the period under discussion (prior to February 19, 1942). McCloy’s answer was ‘no’ to sabotage, and the espionage he talked of was based on talk and rumor. He agreed that the decision was made primarily upon the potential threat the American Japanese might pose. McCloy revealed confusion over dates and facts in his testimony indicating that he thought that the Battle of Midway occurred in 1943 rather than in June of 1942.
The bulk of McCloy’s 1981 testimony was fixated on Pearl Harbor. He stated to the Commission that the Japanese Americans were removed and imprisoned as “retribution for the attack that was made on Pearl Harbor.” He, like Bendetsen, never seemed able to distinguish or separate the American Japanese population from the enemy forces of Imperial Japan. Bendetsen’s testimony showed he focused on the climate of hatred of all Japanese because of “the brutal treatment of U.S. citizens and U.S. troops by Japanese forces in the Pacific” but claimed that racial enmity was not a factor in the decision to exclude.
A full reading of his testimony gives a vivid picture of the unreliability of Bendetsen as a witness in the 1980s. He was received rudely in1981 by the audience of former ‘internees’ because his meandering statements seemed to have no connection with the reality of the experience of those former inmates in the incarceration camps he had organized. He claimed he had nothing to do with the decision and implied that perhaps he didn’t even agree with it, which surprised McCloy.
1984 testimony – A red herring!
A subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee conducted hearings in1984 to evaluate several bills on the Japanese-American and Aleutian Wartime Relocation. Lowman’s charges had just been publicized. Edward Ennis, in 1942 an assistant attorney general who had opposed the decision to exclude, testified that the MAGIC code argument “is a complete red herring. It has been brought in 40 years after the event as an additional justification for the evacuation.” Bendetsen immediately disagreed with Ennis’s assertion that General DeWitt didn’t have MAGIC. Every assertion Bendetsen made about MAGIC was weakened by his subsequent answers to questions from Rep. Sam B. Hall, Jr. and he finally admitted that he first became aware of the MAGIC cables “after the Battle of Europe, which I went through.”
Malkin excused McCloy’s testimony in 1981 because of his age. McCloy and Bendetsen were even older when they scrambled to get on the MAGIC bandwagon for the first time in 1984 – McCloy was 89, Bendetsen 75 and slipping – after Lowman’s charges were supposed to have jogged their memory. In his introductory remarks McCloy stated several times that “the proximate cause of the President’s order was the Japanese attack [at Pearl Harbor] and its terrifying consequences to the security of the country when it occurred.” He did say that he was cleared to see MAGIC, and that “President Roosevelt, in my mind, knew all about MAGIC, the essence of MAGIC, and knew that we had this invaluable asset to deal with in the course of the war,” a reference to the wartime MAGIC translations. The summary of points in his prepared material said only of MAGIC: “The fact that the relocation commission never disclosed the existence of ‘MAGIC’ is the clear indication of the unreliability of the commission’s so-called ‘investigation.’” In written remarks given to the committee he parroted arguments made by Lowman that the reading of MAGIC by a few officials gave a “clear knowledge of the existence of subversive Japanese agencies.” In hours of rambling testimony and exhaustive answers to the questions of the Committee, McCloy only once mentioned MAGIC in relation to Japanese Americans. Congressman Thomas Kindness of Ohio (a former business associate of Karl Bendetsen) asked:
Mr. Kindness: Do you recall any information from MAGIC that had to do with the internal security situation in the United States on the West Coast, that related to Japanese-Americans around that time?
Mr. McCloy: I think the only thing was that somewhere in MAGIC there was a statement going out from Tokyo to the command posts and embassies that the Japanese had entrained a subversive agency operating that would frustrate or interfere with any attempt that we might make to obviate the consequences of any other such attack. That’s all spelled out. Maybe they were boasting, I don’t know.
One should perhaps look at what motivated the late-in-the-day assertions by Bendetsen and McCloy that the MAGIC cables were the basis for the evacuation decision. Both men refused to say that the exclusion had been a mistake. They were incensed by the charge that a policy they had helped implement had been judged to be racist. Both opposed any kind of apology or compensation to their former charges, always minimizing the harshness of the camp experience and arguing that perhaps the evacuees deserved what they got because of the attack on Pearl Harbor. McCloy wrote, “The sacrifices of that segment of our Japanese/American population which was affected by the President’s order issued to counteract the consequences of the Pearl Harbor attack were not as severe as those suffered by many others including citizens of the U.S. due directly to the attack.” McCloy said he wanted “to protect the reputation of the people who made the decision.”
McCloy and Bendetsen each frequently equated persons of Japanese ancestry in their care with American internees and prisoners of war held by the Japanese military. Bendetsen many times argued, as did the State Department, that they must provide at least minimal humane treatment for the residents of the Relocation Camps in the hope that the Japanese, who would learn of camp conditions from the Spanish diplomats representing their interests, would do the same for their American internees and prisoners of war. In a recent book historian Brian Masaru Hayashi has argued that this was a reason that the internees in “American concentration camps” were treated relatively well, though their confinement “had many oppressive aspects to it.”
Accepting Bendetsen’s late-in-life assertions fatally damages Malkin’s arguments. Bendetsen’s son said that Bendetsen was hit hard by Alzheimer’s in the 1980s. In 1988 his secretary admitted to Lillian Baker that Bendetsen was afflicted with Alzheimer’s and unable to answer her letters, and he died in 1989. In all of his testimony in the 1980s, Bendetsen’s grasp of the basic facts of the incarceration was weak, and his desire to discredit the report of the CWRIC, Personal Justice Denied, was blatantly obvious. He was obsessed, as was Lillian Baker, with the effort to show that redress was unnecessary and that any financial payment was “an unwarranted raid on the U.S. treasury.”
Conditions inside the Camps
As did Lillian Baker before her, Malkin argues that conditions in the Relocation Centers were benign. She appears to have accepted uncritically Bendetsen’s delusional assertions in 1986 testimony that there was no internment, there were no guards, “they were free to go,” that students were released to go to college “at government expense.” The record in government archives and in Bendetsen’s own archive and testimony by those forcibly detained demonstrate the falsity of these claims. That Malkin would assert them so baldly suggests that her claimed “extensive research” was cursory at best.
Lillian Baker wrote a whole book to argue that the relocation camps should not be called concentration camps, though that was the term used by many including President Roosevelt. Malkin repeats Baker’s arguments. In another of her books, Baker republished the entire 1943-1944 yearbook of Manzanar High School to show, “what really happened at Manzanar Relocation Center.” Its pages show the activities of a group of very American teenagers, though every face is Japanese. This is the yearbook of a school made as American as possible, attended by students behaving as American as possible, and making the best of a bad situation. One could wonder why they needed to be there, what threat to American life they would have presented had they completed high school with their neighbors on the West Coast. Rather than showing what an easy life these students had, Baker made a good case for considering that their incarceration was unjust and racially motivated.
An organization of scholars and professional researchers recently declared in a letter to the press that Malkin's book represents "a blatant violation of professional standards of objectivity and fairness." They observed that Malkin’s work presents a version of history that is "contradicted by several decades of scholarly research, including works by the official historian of the United States Army and an official U.S. government commission."
Malkin’s In Defense of Internment has not made the case that the 1942 exclusion of Americans of Japanese ancestry was based on the MAGIC diplomatic intercepts and therefore justified. There is a threshold of scholarship and analysis that an honest author must meet in denying widely accepted history. Malkin has not met that test. Her renewal of the 1942 attacks on Japanese Americans respects neither her country nor history.
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In one of Regnery’s web pages the subtitle of Malkin’s book is: The World War II Round-Up and What It Means For America's War on Terror. In December 1944, 85,000 evacuees remained in government custody in Relocation Centers when the exclusion order was rescinded (a decision forced by the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of Mitsui Endo in her habeas corpus case). Translated intercepts of Japanese naval codes are credited with enabling the U.S. victory at Midway in June 1942 and with finding and shooting down Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s plane in April 1943, among other benefits.
-- Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians CWRIC Testimony, Washington D.C. hearing, November 1, 1981, National Archives.
-- Testimony, Subcommittee on Administrative Law and Government Relations of the Committee on the Judiciary, House of Relations, June 20, 21, 27 and Sept. 12, 1984.
-- Letter signed by 39 scholars is available online on History News Network.
-- Brian Masaru Hayashi, Democratizing the Enemy: The Japanese American Internment. (Princeton University Press, 2004).
-- Lillian Baker, American and Japanese Relocation in World War II: Fact, Fiction& Fallacy. Introductory Remarks by Karl R. Bendetsen. (Webb Research Group, 1990).