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Discussion Paper 3 in 2008
First published in ejcjs on 15 February 2008

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Interned Minds

Issues of Historical Interpretation in Michelle Malkin's In Defense of Internment


R. Paul Lege

PhD Candidate
University of Phoenix

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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 her 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; Hicks 1998).

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; 156).

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. 150-151).

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),[1] 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.[2] 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).[3] 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 captivity. (p. 203)

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.[4] 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.[5]

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 proclamation.

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.[6] 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).[7] 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".[8]

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.[9] 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 1945.

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 (Morris-Suzuki 2003).

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.[10]

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" (p.150).

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.[11] 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".[12] 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.[13] 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.[14] 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.[15] 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 Institute's response dated July 12, 2002.

14. For Shirey' comments and support of the book see; Sullivan, P. (2004, December). 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 commemorative.

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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About the author

R. Paul Lege is an independent writer doing research in Japan. He is presently pursuing a doctorate in education through the University of 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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Copyright: R. Paul Lege
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