The Colonel and the Pacifist

Karl Bendetsen, Perry Saito and the Incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II

The Colonel and the Pacifist cover This book tells the story of two men from de Nevers's home town of Aberdeen, WA, who were caught up in an unfortunate incident of wartime history, one as captor and the other as captive. Karl Bendetsen was the colonel who had single mindedly, it seemed to Japanese Americans, pushed for the exclusion, and for a time took credit for the decision and its implementation. Perry Saito, his former neighbor, was incarcerated at the Tule Lake Relocation Center and struggled to get free to continue his education as a Methodist minister.

The Colonel and the Pacifist shows what can go wrong when a country is beset by war hysteria and the civilian heads of the military are swayed by a persuasive officer to set up a program that trampled the rights of a whole ethnic group. No charges of subversion or sabotage were ever filed against any of the 110,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry who were forcibly removed from the West Coast and incarcerated "for the duration" in makeshift camps. (There were arrests for violating the exclusion order and later for refusing to be drafted from an internment camp, or for disruptive behavior within camps.)


This book will engage a wide audience of critical and socially aware readers. Our government’s treatment of Japanese Americans in World War II is a blemish on our history. Readers will want to know why and how such an injustice happened, and how a mid-ranking officer could have been instrumental in imprisoning a large group of American citizens in spite of legal safeguards we take for granted. The Colonel and the Pacifist details how Bendetsen interpreted "military necessity" in the case of all Americans of Japanese ancestry in 1942, and allows the reader to decide whether those circumstances justified the internment.

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in New York and Washington D.C. have renewed interest in the incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II. America is again experiencing wartime hysteria. Many equate the World Trade Towers catastrophe with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and worry that it will cause Americans to demand removal of Arab-Americans from our country. The Colonel and the Pacifist provides a timely account of what can go wrong when overzealous government officials are allowed to ignore civil liberties.

The incarceration of the Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II was a monumental undertaking that cost the government $80 million (1942 dollars), tied up hundreds of able-bodied troops, and took away the freedom of some 70,000 American citizens of Japanese ancestry without charges or hearings. In late 1944 the habeas corpus suit brought by one of those citizens, Mitsui Endo, was decided in her favor by the US Supreme Court and the government was forced to hastily rescind the exclusion order. Not until 1988 did the government begin to make proper restitution to the eighty thousand surviving evacuees, at a cost to the US treasury of $1.25 billion.

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