electronic journal of contemporary japanese
Discussion Paper 3 in 2008
First published in ejcjs on
15 February 2008
How to contribute to
Issues of Historical Interpretation in Michelle
Malkin's In Defense of Internment
R. Paul Lege
e-mail the author
This essay discusses the controversial work by Michelle Malkin (2004)
entitled In Defense of Internment. Malkin is an ex-FOX news
commentator in the United States who supports racial profiling in the war on
terrorism. Malkin explores historical questions related to Japanese-American
internment during World War II as a justification for a new policy on racial
profiling. Her book offers us a chance to look at how history can be used to
buttress anti-democratic policies. Sharply rebuked by many American
historians, this treatise possesses problematic methodological issues and
raises serious questions in terms of the direction that democracy should
take with civil liberties. As part of the open debate that she promotes,
this paper addresses some of the more critical errors in her historical
analysis and polemical work, which she continues to promulgate on
personal website in rationalizing the concept of objective discrimination.
This essay discusses Michelle Malkin's work In Defense of Internment
(2004) in order to illustrate problems in her historical methodology, which
she uses to advocate a set of political objectives. Furthermore, Malkin ties
this issue in with her opposition to the fact that many of those who
suffered from the tragedy of internments have received reparations from the
United States government. Succinctly, she opposed reparations as a false
claim to injustice because the internments during World War II were for national defense as interpreted under the
Alien Enemies Act (1798). For these
reasons, in Malkin's logic, an "objective" form of discrimination or racial
profiling becomes an essential weapon in the present War on Terrorism.
While Malkin does not directly advocate internment, her tone and
arguments for racial profiling lend credence to those who continue to
recommend such a policy. Turley (2002) and Hennesy (2006) have followed
government contracts made to the US construction and services specialist Halliburton, which indicate that such camps are
already being constructed in anticipation that such a policy will eventually
become a reality. This paper, however, addresses some of the historical fallacies that Malkin invests in her formula for the
justification of racial profiling, including a misreading of the contextual
realities during WWII, a disingenuous debate over the nature of such camps,
and a lack of depth of analysis into the available empirical data of the
period, which are used to question the loyalty of those past and present who
express dissent over such policies.
Blurring the Context: Citizens and Aliens as Subversives
Malkin (p. xv-xx) charges that "ethnic activists" and "revisionist historians" have distorted the historical record in their
opposition to racial profiling. Rejecting the controversy over World War II
internment, and blaming "revisionist historians" for reparations to
Japanese-Americans, Malkin (pp. 81-94) leaped the historical debates
(1945-1988) and concluded that because civil liberties were curtailed after
Pearl Harbor, it is justifiable for the government to restrict freedoms
today. For Malkin (p. 163), the issue comes down to either civil liberties
or survival and she relies on the Alien Enemies Act (1798) and scraps of
military intelligence to construct a defense for separating liberty from
survival. Malkin (pp. xxi-xxix) "connects the dots" by using pieces of vague
military intelligence that impairs our understanding about what the issei
(first generation Japanese), nisei (second generation), and
kibei (those born in America but educated in Japan) endured during WWII.
This intelligence is then funneled into a black and white dichotomy that
links Pearl Harbor with the War on Terror; as popularly advocated by the
current Bush administration.
Ignoring the evidence to the contrary, Malkin rejects the
notion that the "relocation" policy during WWII was related to race and
hysteria. Levin (1971) had not only detailed a long history of hysterical
reaction to specific events in American history, but had also predicted that
the tendency to paint the world with such colorless strokes would hold
serious implications for the future of democratic principles. Moreover,
Scheuer (2004) stated that such historical comparisons were useless and
unwieldy in terms of both defining and combating a stealthy enemy operating
in a newer convention. Morris-Suzuki (2003) suggested that such narrow
political vision that exploits hysteria in America has grave consequences in
Japan, which has followed suit in terms of how it treats its minority Korean
population when diplomatic issues arise with North Korea. Interestingly, the
treatment of the Korean minority in Japan holds many analogies with how
minorities and aliens were treated in America prior to 1964 (Herzog 1993;
Malkin appears unconcerned with such broader
implications. The essence of her treatise rests on an interpretation that
significantly widens the meaning of the Alien Enemies Act (1798) to include
citizens as well as aliens. Used to interning Japanese-Americans as well as
aliens during WWII, she claimed this served the greater good of the nation
(pp. 60-63). Essentially defined, the act of 1798 gives the president the
power to arrest foreign nationals deemed a possible threat in a declared
war. While still in effect, this antiquated law has consistently run into
problems in terms of application (Stone 2004). However, Malkin (pp.54-55)
exhausts the debate by focusing on the technical differences between
internment and relocation rather than explaining how this law should apply
to citizens (pp. 95-112). Her introduction is entitled a "Time to
Discriminate," asserting that not only is racial profiling justified (p.
xxx) but that those who dissent put the nation in peril (pp. xxx-xxxv). Malkin labels those who attempted to attain justice as a result of past
internment as "ethnic activists" (p.113) directly responsible for hampering
the present administration's attempt to protect the homeland (p.114-115;
Compounding the discussion is the fact that the term
racial profiling did not emerge into the American lexicon until the 1990s,
so that the debate takes on an added complexity that blurs the moral issues
in the historical context (Anon. 2006). As a democracy, America has
attempted to move beyond this regressive form of policy formation. Wildavsky
(1979) has opined that policy analysis included a historical dimension with
an empathetic understanding of its formation and development for both the
policymaker and those affected by policy.
Yet, Malkin's work moves in the opposite direction by
diluting the moral issues and rejecting empathy for those who may have
suffered from such a policy (pp. xxiv-xxx). She proclaims that the stakes in
national security remain so high that it necessitates drastic measures
because "it is undeniable that ethnicity, national origin, nationality, and
religion are correlated with terrorism" (quoting Judge Bork in Malkin, p.
154). While this quote appears to cover just about everyone in its
vagueness, there is no misunderstanding that it reflects an us versus
them scenario in which civil liberties for them should be
discarded in policy formation (pp.163-165).
Written and released just prior to the Supreme Court's
ruling of Rasul vs Bush (2004), Malkin's book aspired to open the
debate for a "rationalized argument" for racial profiling on the grounds
that protests by "antiprofilers" might result in the freeing of suspected
terrorists and compromising the future of the United States in pursuing such
individuals (pp.158-159). Rather than exploring alternatives to such policy
formulation, Malkin, blamed the "antiprofilers" for failing to understand
the historical comparisons in the debate. Developing her own historical
parallels between World War II and the War on Terror, she concluded that
racial profiling represented the only real option in the discourse (pp.
Basically, Malkin (pp. 156-157) would grant the power to
the president to discriminate objectively not only against aliens but also
against US citizens suspected of subversion. Since the words suspect
and subversion are qualitative terms difficult to assess without
clear judicial evidence, the easier route is to circumvent civil liberties
and corral anyone perceived to be suspect based on racial identification.
That such a premise might (or in fact did) result in numerous abuses in
history remains beyond the author's scope of analysis simply because she
holds to the presupposed belief that when it comes to national defense,
civil liberties must recede to the will of the executive (pp. xxvi-xxix).
More problematic is the faith Malkin accords to imperfect
intelligence gathering organizations that affect this will to policy
(pp 45-53). Her analysis offers no critical assessment or possible
recognition that such organs of the state remain intensely secretive and
spend as much time creating disinformation as they do collecting selective
information. Few would deny the relevance of such government agencies;
however, even under the best of controls such organs rarely come to the
defense of individual or human rights (Harbury 2005).
During World War II, elements of the military advised the
president to sign Executive Order 9066 based on selective information, and
this lead to the relocation of a segment of a population on the grounds of a
perceived threat from a few. Despite the law, the issue came down to the
nature of citizenship and the issue in identifying suspected subversives. In
the case of the WWII internment policy, the executive orders failed to
distinguish between aliens suspected of subversion and US citizens alleged
to have engaged in such acts. Though Malkin wishes to believe there was a
difference between those individuals relocated (mostly issei) and
those evacuated (mostly nisei), the sting of being considered a
suspect was equally felt particularly given that the two groups lived
together, and there were few physical differences between the camps.
Moreover, Malkin skirts the legal research that
established just how problematic the internment policy during World War II
was in terms of setting precedent; one of the main issues being that
Congress and not the president can suspend habeas corpus (and only in
extreme cases). Critical of the courts for overturning key cases in the
1980s (the Yasui, Korematsu, and Hirabayashi cases), Malkin
refused to accept that the military destroyed documents that probably would
have vindicated the individuals in the original Supreme Court rulings of
1944 (pp. 273-279). While the 1944 rulings still exist on record, the recent
opinions in the district and appellate courts seriously undermined the
original significance of the Supreme Court decisions, and eventually had no
bearing in the Rasul Case (Duke Law Review 2004).
Blurring the distinctions on what defined a
Japanese-American, imposed by American restrictions on immigration prior to
1940, Malkin has no problem with lumping citizens in with aliens when it
comes to defending the nation. She insists that civil liberties are not
sacrosanct despite Supreme Court rulings to the contrary (p.xii). Napolitano
(2007) highlighted arguments that showed that with the exception of the
problematic rulings of internment during WWII, the courts have consistently
ruled since the Civil War that the protection of civil liberties hold under
all conditions. William Rehnquist (1998, pp 186-195) noted that while the
military may have been justified in relocating the issei, the
nisei were protected under the Fourteenth Amendment.
Historical Context and Revisionism
Rather than discussing the problems above, Malkin elected
to debate the meaning of the camps rather than the meaning of the experience
of those who endured them (pp. 95-112 and 281-285). In fact, the author
spends more time attempting to explain the technical and semantic
differences between relocation, internment, and concentration camps then
actually imagining what the internees must have experienced. She highlighted
the apparently wondrous features of such camps including running water, dirt
baseball fields, and tomato gardens (most of which were developed through
the ingenuity of the occupants), while forgetting that their liberty
and virtually all their possessions had been stripped away. Malkin further
argued that much of the misery experienced by the internees was brought on
by themselves (example, p. 115), while writing trite statements such as;
"the fencing, barbed wire, gun towers were primarily in place to keep
out wildlife and range cattle" (p. 108). For the author of In Defense,
such camps (though simple and rustic) were constructed for the defense
of the nation and unrelated to race or hysteria.
Dower (1986), Iriye (1981) and Chappell (1997)
detailed the issues of race and hysteria throughout the period 1930-1945.
Malkin, on the other hand, distrusts such investigative research and prefers
to lump it all into that clumsy and misunderstood term of revisionism
(pp. xvii, 113-128). With many types of revisionism, Malkin applies the term
in the derisive sense for those whom she disagrees with in the debate.
Macpherson (2003) postulated that revisionism reflected the "life-blood" of
understanding in historical scholarship because history represented a
dialogue between past and present, which remained open to interpretation and
continuous reappraisal. This is a problem for Malkin (pp. 143-148) who
charges that revisionism has infected the American educational system
particularly with respect to understanding the definition of a concentration
camp (pp. 95-111).
Actually, historians as a whole have indeed distinguished
between the work camps in the USSR, the Nazi death camps, and the camps
constructed and utilized by the United States (Crost 1994, p. 13). The real
problem may be one of classification or emphasis rather than of terminology,
but there is no denying historical record. Malkin conceded that Roosevelt
referred to these centers as concentrations camp. In addition, Justices
Black and Roberts described them as concentration camps; the Joints Chiefs
of Staff, Eisenhower, Tom Clark, Harold, Ickes, and Francis Biddle, also
used this concept when discussing the issue. Whether a person called them
relocation centers, internment camps, or concentration camps, the history of
such camps up to 1940 had been fairly dismal. It is doubtful that anyone
entering them in 1941 could have held anything less than fear upon
approaching these potential places of misery and death (Renteln 1995).
While Malkin's definition of internment is questionable
(p. xi), and open to debate, history affords us several examples of
concentration camps of the period. The Spanish introduced concentration
camps during its conflict with Cuba (1898) with an estimated number of
deaths at about 200,000. The British constructed concentration camps in the
Boer War (1899-1902) resulting in the death of 30,000 whites (23,000
children) and 15,000 black Africans. In 1901, the United States introduced
concentration camps in the Philippines, which in part led to the Moro Crater
Rebellion and Massacre (1906). While still unknown, the estimated number of
deaths in the Philippine camps was between 250,000 to 1 million depending
upon the source (Kumar 1999; Boot 2003; Bayor 2004). In all three cases, the
camps were adapted as part of a military strategy to intimidate as well as
to cut off support for local forces (Birtle 1997). They were poorly
administered; disease infested, and generally neglected and abused the
non-combatants. Given this historical experience, and the context of
prejudice of the period, one would be hard pressed to argue that
"relocation" promised much other than a concentrated death.
In fact, Malkin admitted that at least 1,800 of the Asian
internees in World War II died in the care of the "relocation centers"
during the period in question. In terms of the death rate in the
Japanese-American camps this reflected a 1.5% quantitative measure (using
her number that 112,000 were interned), but this could also be contrasted
with the 10% death rate in the camps for the Aleuts which challenges her
insistence that the camps were "humane" (Malkin pp. 59, 99-101). Moreover,
just because the Nazi's and USSR set the bar too high does not mean that
America can "revise" the definition of the camps because we are
uncomfortable with the implications that we might have to atone for the
deaths of thousands of non-combatants in our care. Granted the United States
was not endeavoring to commit genocide, and the internment camps may have
been run efficiently, but compared to what standard? In Hitler's world, the
Nazi camps ran efficiently based directly upon the American experience. To
quote John Toland (1976):
Hitler's concept of concentration camps as well as the
practicality of genocide owed much, so he claimed, to his studies of
English and United States history. He admired the camps for Boer prisoners
in South Africa and for the Indians in the wild-west; and often praised
this to his inner circle the efficiency of America's extermination,
starvation, and uneven combat of the red savages who could not be tamed by
However, the issue is not simply about empirical numbers
and statistical interpretation. Assuming the 1,800 deaths to be relatively
acceptable (given the notorious history of concentration camps prior to
1942), how can a democratic society justify such deaths when the evidence
only pointed to a handful of individuals who supposedly engaged in espionage
of whom no Japanese-American was convicted? For Malkin, the real
issue simply comes down to trusting intelligence reports and the intentions of
the government. While Malkin does not appear to advocate the introduction of
such camps, Turley (2002) reminded Americans that John Ashcroft announced
his desire to incarcerate US citizens that he deemed an "enemy" in camps
that would strip away all constitutional rights. With the controversies over
the camp at Guantanamo Bay (Miller 2002), and considering that American
prisons have enormous problems including an epidemic of HIV/AIDS (Maruschak
2001), one can only imagine how efficient such camps would be run in an
atmosphere of intolerance.
Military Intelligence: A Piece of the Historical Context
For Malkin, the issue of such camps had less to do with
impacting the lives of a specific segment of a population but rather
national defense, which she maintains was justified based on "solid
intelligence information" (pp. 37-45). The real problem is not her faith in
such agencies but rather that she constructs her case on a few pieces of
intelligence information and unrelated "incidences" in debating the point.
She maintains that civil liberties handcuffed the courts in pursuing
suspects by demanding evidence which at the time was classified (pp.
129-141). Now that the broken codes (called MAGIC) have become available, Malkin argues that American schools engage in
"educational malpractice" (pp.
38 and 143-148) for failing to teach that intelligence "proved" there
was espionage on the west coast justifying the relocation of all those
profiled as Japanese. This line of argument was proposed in David Lowman's
(1999) work MAGIC: The Untold Story of U.S. Intelligence, though most
historians remain unconvinced by his thesis (McNaughton 2003).
Lowman served in the intelligence service and spent his
latter days opposing the attempts of Japanese-Americans to achieve justice
through legal redress. While the MAGIC cables were not released until 1977, Malkin (p. 143) considers the lack of attention to this evidence as either
negligence or a conspiracy on the part of revisionist historians working in
concert with Japanese-Americans to "damn America". Published recently,
Lowman's work contrasts sharply with other notable studies on the subject;
for example, Ronald Lewin's (1982) book The American MAGIC gave scant
attention to the "evidence" promoted by Lowman but was highly praised by the
National Security Agency.
The cables in question centered primarily on only six
intercepted messages in 1940-41 indicating that the Japanese Imperial
Government endeavored to recruit individuals in the United States for
espionage. Interestingly, several of these cables evinced that the Japanese
government sought-out anyone they could for spying activities including:
"anti-semites, communists, labor unions, negroes, white persons and others
of alien race" (Malkin 2004, pp. 184-185). This, of course, makes for a lot
of suspects, but more importantly simply addresses the interest of the
Japanese government and is not actual proof of espionage. Historians do not
doubt that there were Japanese spies in America during World War II, but at
the same time there were spies from all over of the world, and plenty of
good-old American boys such as Whittaker Chambers engaging in espionage
(Moore 1987). By buying into Lowman's premise, however, Malkin's (pp.
134-135) work lacks depth of analysis in terms of what these cables meant as
an actual threat to the United States, as well as how they justified a
dismissal of civil liberties aimed at one specific group.
In addition, "for the sake of rectifying the grossly
distorted history," Malkin (p. xii) bends unrelated events to establish the
supposed network of a "fifth column" uncovered in the cables. Her book
opened with the insignificant Niihau Island incident on Hawaii, which
occurred in the opening days of the war. Extracting from Allen Beekman's
(1982) wonderful narrative of the events, Malkin highlights the actions of
two nisei who aided a downed Japanese pilot in December 1941 to
substantiate her argument. She failed to mention that Beekman, who adamantly
opposed the relocation centers, endeavored to illustrate that this was one
of only a few isolated incidents throughout the war in which either issei
or nisei participated in aiding the Japanese. Beekman's point was
that such an "incident" had no impact beyond Niihau Island, was unrelated to
any organized effort, and was rejected by the US command as a justification
for the camps.
The pieces of intelligence, combined with the weak
defenses of the west coast represented a stronger contextual case in
Malkin's arguments, but are not without problems. She correctly noted that
there were several submarine attacks along the west coast, but the number
paled in comparison to the 185 ships (986,000 tons) sunk by the Germans in
the Atlantic in the first six months of 1942 (Harris 2001). Furthermore, in
the first few months of 1942, individuals along the eastern seaboard
witnessed several sea battles from the beaches of New England, making
Malkin's (pp.7-16) thesis that the East coast was safer than the west coast
spurious at best. All together, the surprise attack on Hawaii, the weak
defenses on the west coast, and the long coastline, assist us in
comprehending the jittery nature of the American military command. For these
reasons, Malkin (p.56) defends General DeWitts's comments on January 21,
1942 that espionage networks were forming all over the area and that
"violence could be expected by the Japanese-American population" (Anon.
2004a), which were used to influence the president's signing of the
McNaughton (2003) noted that such attitudes in the
military leadership were pre-formed with an inclination to believe that
all Japanese (of whatever status) were an appendage of the imperial
regime without substantive evidence. Furthermore, the information that began
trickling in from MAGIC, Navy Intelligence, and the FBI was sporadic,
inconclusive, and spoke to the intentions of the Japanese government and not
to the alleged actions by Japanese-Americans. Despite Malkin's (pp.37-44)
arguments that intelligence clearly pointed to a network of espionage, the
FBI and military intelligence were not initially supportive of relocation as
they too found the information unclear and deficient (McNaughton 2003).
Despite the surprise attack on Hawaii, Beekman (1982, p.
116) quoted the head of military intelligence on Hawaii as saying: "there
have been no known acts of sabotage, espionage, or fifth column activities
committed by the Japanese in Hawaii, either on or subsequent to December 7,
1941." Beekman (p.116) also quoted the head of the FBI on Hawaii as a
concurring voice: "there has been no proven case of espionage or sabotage by
any resident of Japanese ancestry in Hawaii-either before, during or after
the war". Nevertheless, Malkin defended the bureaucratic rationale that
internment was a military necessity and a right to which the president has
(or should have) under the Alien Enemies Act (1798). Defending government
policy may have its place, but such a study narrows the objectivity of
historical analysis and holds little meaning if not discussed in the context
of its impact on society. Context in historical analysis, real and
perceived, cannot be dismissed, and this rule applies to both policy maker
and those affected by the policy (Wildavsky 1979).
For example, with the general atmosphere of indifference
and hostility toward other cultures that prevailed prior to 1941, it becomes
difficult to find an adequate relative comparison between the
lived-experience of Asians and that for the Germans and Italians in the
United States prior to the introduction of the camps. The period 1900-1940
included an increasing number of fascists in the USA after the Ku Klux Klan
peaked at about 5,000,000 members in 1930. The number of lynchings averaged
one hundred per year and laws also denied the rights to citizenship to
Asians (Wells-Barnett 2002). These represented just a few of the problems to
which many minorities labored under in this period and are significant
because they relate contextually with the conditions in America just prior
to 1941, to which Malkin only devotes a few pages to in her book.
Furthermore, even when the Japanese earned the right to
citizenship in 1924 there still remained many impediments to owning property
or interacting with whites. These points speak directly to assessing the
implementation of the Alien Enemies Act (1798), which not only restricted
the definition of alien but was expanded to intern U.S. citizens as well.
Many of the issei who desired citizenship, were denied the right, and
then labeled as alien in 1942. Such questions exemplify potential
moral issues and a lack of empathy in decision making that Wildavsky (1994)
considered critical to understanding policy formation.
Interpreting Empirical Data and Imperial Loyalty
Historians accept that numbers from the past are tricky
as such statistics remain incomplete and often in dispute. However, because
policy analysis affects the lives of individuals, greater care must be
included in the interpretation (Wildavsky 1979). For Malkin, "relocation"
and profiling during World War II occurred in defense of the nation.
Opponents claimed that the internment policy was grounded in hysteria and
racial stereotypes. Explaining how the policy worked in the historical
context remains awkward for Malkin (p.54), who insisted that the
"statistics" showed the policy had nothing to do with race. According to her
thesis, because German and Italian aliens were also interned this in
turn proves that the policy had no racial overtones. Malkin concluded that
because little attention was accorded to the question of the German and
Italian camps, this represented dishonesty on the part of those who sought
reparations and therefore this dilutes objectivity in assessing the present
day need for racial profiling (pp.115-118). The paucity of scholarly
research devoted to the tragedy of the 20-30,000 Germans and Italians
"detained" under the Alien Enemies Act does not warrant this conclusion. Holian (1998) and Fox (2000) deflate these points by postulating that the
injustices heaped upon German and Italians through the executive
proclamations were due to hysteria and racial stereotypes.
Despite such studies, Malkin (p.84) contended that there
were 52 million individuals of German and Italian descent during World War
II who simply could not have been relocated for practical reasons, though
25,000 aliens of descent were interned under the Act (1798). The
element of suspicion of subversion for such a huge population evaporated but
was magically magnified in the Japanese-American community who
numbered about 150,000 in the United States at the time (Thomas, 1975). If
anything, such data suggested that the policy targeted a smaller population
out of convenience. Justifying the "relocation" of Japanese-Americans, she
argued that the evacuation of the west coast was necessary because the
danger and the actual events from 1941-1942 proved that the threat was
greater than that to the east coast. Contrary to the facts, Malkin (p. 13)
construed that "Japan's unbridled ambition and ruthlessness Ė and its
hostility to America Ė were indisputable historical facts known well and
widely before Pearl Harbor".
Widening the scope of historical analysis, a different
picture comes into view. Japan's military excursions were ambitious and
ruthless but so were American activities in the Pacific. Philippine and
Hawaiian history offers insight into just how aggressive American actions
were in this region. By 1940, the United States was responsible for the
death of an estimated 500,000 Filipinos, many of whom died in concentration
camps (Brands 1992). In fact, Hawaiian's feared the intentions of caucasians
so much that on three occasions in the 1890s they sought-out Japan as a
protectorate (Stephan 1984, p. 19). In actuality, Japanese leadership sought
to avoid a war with the United States until it became evident that this was
the only option in order to sustain their objectives in China, and even then
many of the top military staff held little confidence in victory (Ienaga
1978, pp. 134-137).
While leaders and strategists on both sides of the ocean
believed that Pearl Harbor was key to the Pacific, and war was certainly
possible, both attempted to elude direct hostilities. Despite the intensity
of the rhetoric, the embargoes, and racist diatribes, on both sides, the
Japanese military debated the logic of attacking the United States as a
calculated risk (Ike 1967). The decision to attack Hawaii by the Japanese
military (primarily through the Navy) was based on an incorrect assessment
of the will of the American people, which assumed that by knocking out the
US Navy the Americans would not engage in a war. This in turn would have
given the Japanese unimpeded access to the oil in the Dutch Indies (Frei
1991, pp 143-149). However, the Japanese had no intention of invading the
mainland or even in engaging in a protracted war with the United States,
which many viewed as unwinnable (Agawa 1979, pp. 193-200). While the
Japanese held short term interests in Hawaii, a territory that
geographically was closer to Japan than to the USA, these delusions
evaporated a few months later at Midway (Stephan 1984, pp. 111-113).
Though the Roosevelt administration understood that war
with Japan was probable, particularly after the Japanese signed the
Tripartite Alliance (1940), the real threat had always been perceived as
Germany. This explains why nearly two-thirds of American resources had gone
to protecting the east coast (Conn, Engleman, and Fairchild 2000). In fact,
this imbalance in preparedness has repetitively been manipulated by
conspiratorial theorists on the political right to blame Roosevelt for the
disaster of Pearl Harbor (Rusbridger and Nave 1991; Stinnett 2000).
Meanwhile, it was Lt. General John DeWitt of the Western Command who began
to trumpet on December 8, 1941 that San Francisco was under attack by 100
Japanese planes, which then snow-balled into events such as the "Battle of
Los Angeles" (the attack on a weather balloon). While the media scoffed,
General DeWitt falsely exclaimed: "last night there were planes over this
community. They were enemy planes. I mean Japanese planes!"
(Anon. 2004b). Such fears engendered the proclamation that led to the
immediate evacuation of 110,000 issei and nisei, and the
eventual internment of 120,000 persons (McNaughton 2003).
Malkin disputes the interpretation of these numbers. She
obstinately sticks to a number of 112,000 while excluding the fact that
there were 5,981 births in the camps as part of the total interned. For Malkin, the statistical difference between original relocation as evacuation
and actual internment somehow merits weight in the argument; a distinction
not satisfied by the American Aleuts who also suffered from this policy (Hesse
2005). The facts were that slightly more or less than 120,000 were affected
directly by being in custody under internment at some point between 1942 and
While an objective study of the differences between the
types of camps might offer further insight into how they were run or how the
internees experienced them, such a study could never erase the injustice
regardless of the actual numbers under scrutiny (Hayashi 2004). Furthermore,
such a strategy in debating numbers in history is reminiscent of the
nationalists in Japan who dispute the Nanking Incident (Oh and Ishikawa-Grbic
2000). Clemons (2007) suggested that this systematic historical amnesia in
Japan was directly related to historical perspectives and policy
developments in the United States, and this concerns many Japanese scholars
In attempting to "set the historical record straight," Malkin buries her case by using data and information to question the loyalty
of the Japanese-Americans as well as to dismiss the concept of dissent in a
democracy. This begins with her use of the Niihau Incident where she omitted
explaining that the leader of the unit (Lt. Jack Mizuha) and other
volunteers charged with capturing the downed Japanese pilot (and the two
nisei culprits aiding him) were in fact Japanese-Americans. This latter
point is crucial because it exposes the complexity of the Japanese-American
community and points to the possibility of a stronger degree of loyalty
among those of Japanese descent than Malkin cares to admit. This is not an
exception in her work.
Malkin criticized historians for attempting to justify
the actions of some of "the resistors" in the camps who were labeled as
violently disloyal by those who favored internment (pp 104-109). She simply
argued that the estimated 5,000 individuals who renounced citizenship after
being interned proved the extent of danger to the nation (p. 111). While a
handful of individuals may have been loyal to Japan, alienation over being
imprisoned and the poor conditions enhanced many cases of "renouncement" (Weglyn
1976, pp. 122-124). In contrast, Muller (2001) provided a more thorough
analysis of some of the specific problems in camps such as Tule Lake, which
fomented resentment among many of the resistors who dissented on democratic
principle and not out of loyalty to Japan. Weglyn (1976) described one of
the leaders of the resistors at the Tule Lake camp as having actually served
in the American armed forces during World War I and whose loyalty was to the
democratic idea of dissent rather than the idea of false imprisonment.
Malkin refuses to make such distinctions, and she misdirects the emphasis by
focusing on numbers rather than explaining how renouncement occurred.
A more solid investigative approach might have yielded
some interest in the above problems. For one thing the nisei
population on the mainland was larger than in Hawaii, yet fewer volunteered
for the armed forces after 1943 (by a rate of 6-1). In addition, the number
who renounced American allegiance on the mainland (mostly from the Tule Lake
camp) contrasted with virtually none from Hawaii. These two facts alone
question the meaning and effectiveness of the camp concept, particularly in
the Tule Lake case. There were no "relocation" camps in Hawaii, and as a
result, a larger number of volunteers among the nisei joined the
American forces with virtually no renunciations. Rather than addressing the
possibility of a co-relationship between the establishment of camps and
renunciation, Malkin (p. 148) preferred to weave a sense of doubt in the
mind of the reader about the record of loyalty of the nisei
suggesting that much of the effort to understand this aspect of the
Japanese-Americans has been falsified.
Moreover, Malkin claimed that "the impressive record of
nisei military service had not occurred yet" (by 1942) and
therefore the government had no way of measuring the loyalty of the
Japanese-Americans (p. 125). With this statement, she obliterated their
pre-war record, inferring the nisei had to prove their loyalty in the
war, and then set out to diminish the role of the 100th and 442nd
Battalions which performed beyond expectation, given that many of their
family members were interned. McNaughton (2003) explained that approximately
1,600 Japanese Americans served loyally in World War I, several thousand had
been inducted after the 1940 draft and served honorably, and that by the
time of the attack on Pearl Harbor there were over 5,000 in service. Malkin,
however, assaulted the data in order to try to prove that "lies about the
past continue to color and poison the current national security debate"
From this, Malkin (p. 119) admits that the digression in
looking at the loyalty and service of the nisei has less to do with
understanding the problem than questioning who should have received
reparations (p.124). In addressing the question of loyalty, Malkin makes the
unsubstantiated assertion that "thousands" of nisei served in the
Japanese army (p. 125) to offset the post-facto awards, medals, and
decorations earned by those Japanese-Americans who fought in Europe. In this
manner, Malkin presumed that the complex nature of the numbers (which are
always one dimensional and never complete), proved that "those with
vested interests" were deliberately distorting the truth (p. 128).
These arguments merge and exaggerate the controversy in 2001surrounding the
Smithsonian Institute's exhibit on Japanese-Americans, which included a
display of an unconfirmed number of 9,486 Purple Hearts.
The dispute emerged over the fact that no official
military records existed on the complete number of Purple Hearts earned by
Japanese-Americans (Shirey 1946). Athena Press, which has been dedicated to
opposing redress to Japanese-Americans, pointed at the earliest work of
Major Orville Shirey as the single source of "fabrication". Shirey culled
incomplete information from divisional records in 1946 that showed the
number of Purple Hearts earned for the 442nd alone could have been between
3,600-4,600 medals. These numbers appear to contrast significantly with the
contemporary numbers of over 9,000 awarded by the military. Malkin's (p,
148) accusation that the Smithsonian's exhibit deliberately "inflated the
numbers" was simply incorrect. In the very least, Malkin should have traced
where the number 9,486 originated before making such charges. Rather than
doing the research herself, she simply bought the line of Athena Press
which reputedly remains the mouthpiece for David Lowman's opposition to reparations
for Japanese-Americans (p. 148).
Malkin apparently did not interview Shirey who was still
alive in 2003-2004 and had actually supported and edited Chester Tanaka's
(1982) book Go for Broke which clearly stated the number as 9,486
Purple Hearts (as well as other medals) earned in the war. Malkin appears
less interested in uncovering the discrepancy in the numbers (to enlighten
us) than exploiting the fact that in human affairs numbers are interpreted,
re-interpreted, and misinterpreted for a multitude of reasons; none of which
have to be conspiratorial or revisionist. That the same individual, Orville Shirey (of non-Japanese descent), buttressed two sets of numbers is less
interesting to Malkin then the charge that the exhibit was fabricated by
liberal revisionists and those of Japanese descent (pp. 147-148).
The irony was that Major Shirey served in the military
intelligence along with Colonel Lowman. Orville Shirey also spoke
passionately for reparations while Lowman vehemently opposed such redress
for Japanese-Americans. The opinions of these two men symbolize both the
complexity of understanding in such problems as well as the importance of
revisionism. While the actual number for the medals probably lies somewhere
between these views, the real point had nothing to do with such material
awards but rather the democratic spirit to which the individuals fought
under such duress. Even if the nisei had earned no medals this
would have changed little in their record and commitment to their country.
There remained a remarkable and critical difference between the Japanese
units and the caucasian units; liberty for the minority regiments was
crucially intertwined with their essence in living and not simply in defense
of a nation. For Malkin to argue that issues of personal liberty must be
unequivocally sacrificed in the name of national defense violates this very
point by building walls that intern our understanding.
Neustadt and May (1988) suggested that many modern
leaders often avoid academic historical texts in search of simplistic
interpretations that fit their present model for change. Such narrowly
formed interpretations can have disastrous consequences. Dean (2004) and
Woodward (2004) discussed in detail how a misreading of history with the
Iraq War has severely constrained the effectiveness of the current Bush
administration on many levels. Working from the same paradigm as the
president, Malkin's historical interpretations in defense of racial
profiling fail to enlighten or inspire much faith in the direction of
democracy. However, there exist even broader implications. Morris-Suzuki
(2003) noted concern over such rash policy considerations by which Japan and
other countries may emulate.
Malkins's treatise attempts to justify racial profiling
in America by showing a parallel between events surrounding Pearl Harbor and
the subsequent internment of Japanese-Americans and the recent acts of
"Arab" terrorism. Malkin decided to write this extraordinary manifest
angered that a few Japanese-Americans had the courage to dissent against the
reintroduction of such a policy by the Bush administration. This discussion
raised issue primarily with the way Malkin formulates her justification for
racial profiling through a misreading of the contextual realities during
WWII, a disingenuous debate over the nature of such camps, and a lack of
depth of analysis into the available empirical data of the period used to
question the loyalty of those who dissent. Concurring with Levin (1971),
individuals can never assume that democratic governments are incapable of
repression, and the lessons are drawn from the historical context.
1. Muller (2006) diminishes Malkin's comments on pp
273-279, which oppose the court rulings in the 1980s. The lower courts
cannot overturn the Supreme Court but they can rule on error of evidence
thereby diminishing the significance of an earlier ruling by the Justices.
2. Malkin (p. xi) defines internment as a precise legal term
for the "centuries-old, worldwide practice of detaining non-naturalized
immigrants during wartime". However, this contrasts sharply with the
definitions of internment in the Second Hague Convention (1907) and with
that of 4th Geneva Convention (1949).
3. The Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilian
Public Hearings, 1981 details the evacuation of Aleutian islanders, their
plight, and death rate in the camps. Health conditions and other problems
have been detailed in Loo (1993) and Renteln (1995).
4. See Athena Press Home Page.
Lowman's book was printed by a small private publisher (3 employees) in
Provo, Utah. The publisher Lee Allen along with Lowman have spent much time
lobbying against reparations for Japanese-Americans.. Also see
Americans for Historical Accuracy.
5. While there were a few "detention centers" in Hawaii, these largely
held Germans and Italians and a few unusual cases involving local issei
or nisei who found themselves in some compromising problem. However, as
Beekman (1982) noted the military command on Hawaii doubted the wisdom and
necessity of relocation for those of Japanese descent.
6. The KKK essentially imploded in 1930 because the Grand Dragon, David
Stephenson, who was also a leader in the Republican Party, was convicted of
the kidnapping, rape, and murder of Madge Oberholtzer. However, many of the
members jumped over to the various Brown, Black and Silver shirt (fascist
organizations) that formed in the 1930s (Lutholtz 1991).
7. There are few works on what transpired in the case of the Aleutian
islanders but they also sued for reparations and damages on the grounds of
poor treatment and loss of livelihood while in the camps (Mckinny 2005).
8. Malkin is also a fan of Stinnett's (2000) work which argues that
Roosevelt knew of the attack upon Pearl Harbor.
9. Historians generally agree that between 110,000-112,000 were first
evacuated, but then eventually nearly 120,000 were interned. Weglyn (1976)
gives the clearest breakdown of the numbers from the WRA statistics: 110,000
initially evacuated, 1,275 later removed institutionalized home, 1,118, from
Hawaii, 5,981 born in the camps, and 219 who volunteered to enter the camps.
Malkin admits these last two numbers but is unwilling to admit them to the
internment count because they were not "evacuated."
10. All but about 50 of those who originally renounced but were not
deported (about 3,400), regained their citizenship after the war as the
courts ruled that such renunciations occurred under duress (Kennedy 2006).
11. At present, there is little evidence that all but handful may have
been drafted into the imperial army. In general, the nisei were "tainted"
and un-trusted upon their return to Japan. Furthermore, Malkin's (2004) own
numbers do not compute as noted on page 345 because many of the only 2,000
deported were children.
12. Lee Allen who published David Lowman's book instigated the assault
on the Smithsonian which can be found at
Smithsonian Response to Critique forwarded from Congressman Cannon's Office.
13. It was Lee Allen of Athena Press who pointed to Shirey's early work
as supposedly problematic. The Smithsonian did not agree with Allen's
interpretations or his insinuations that there was a fabrication. The
Institution consulted with Dr. James McNaughton who made a revised
"estimate" for the exhibit, but the issue is unsettled. While the Institute
was gracious and professional in making the changes, the question of the
actual number of Purple Hearts earned remains unanswered. See the
response dated July 12, 2002.
14. For Shirey' comments and support of the book see; Sullivan, P.
Marketing consultant Orville Creap Shirey wrote of World
War II; Wasingtonpost.com December 11, B06. Retrieved August 30, 2007.
Ironically, Shirey passed away on December 7, 2004; see
15. Tanaka (1982) stated that the 442nd regiment suffered 650 deaths and
over 8,000 casualties. Added to the 100th Battalion's 1,700 causalities and
claims to Purple Heart then it was not impossible that the total number
could have been between 6,000-10,500.
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Back to Top
About the author
R. Paul Lege is an independent writer doing research in Japan. He is
presently pursuing a doctorate in education through the
Phoenix on Korean minority education in Japan. He has worked extensively in
the Japanese educational system, most recently for the University of Nagoya. Much of his
interests have been in the humanities particularly in the area of historical
methodology and philosophical questions.
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R. Paul Lege
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