Earlier this month, Bruce Ramsey of the Seattle Times reported on a document that he says casts doubt on my argument in In Defense of Internment that the evacuation of ethnic Japanese during World War II was based primarily on legitimate military concerns rather than racism and wartime hysteria.
The document was called to Ramsey’s attention by Greg Robinson, the history professor at the University of Quebec at Montreal who made numerous false statements last summer about Japanese internment, repeatedly mischaracterized the arguments I made in my book, and falsely accused me of changing the topic of my speech at Emory University in response to the news that he planned to show up. Virtually all of his copious errors, mischaracterizations, and false allegations remain uncorrected to this day. (I’ve made errors, too, but unlike Robinson, I have acknowledged them.)
The document that Robinson touts is a July 23, 1942, memo from Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy to Undersecretary of War Robert Patterson. It is reproduced below (sent to me by Martha Nakagawa):
The part of the memo that Ramsey and Robinson highlight is the note as the bottom, which reads:
(Added in handwriting): These people are not ‘internees’ — they are under no suspicion for the most part and were moved largely because we felt we could not control our own white citizen (sic) in California.
This Howard Coble-like explanation is deemed significant because McCloy was the main architect of the evacuation policy (see Robinson, By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese-Americans, Harvard University Press, 2001, p. 165). It is also significant because it appears to contradict McCloy’s later sworn statements before Congress that the evacuation decision was based on bona fide national security considerations, especially top-secret communications by Japanese diplomats, codenamed MAGIC, that had been intercepted and decrypted by U.S. cryptanalysts. Here’s what McCloy told Congress in 1984:
I was cleared for MAGIC, and day after day and evening after evening I was reading from this thing. To say that wasn’t a major factor, it was a very important factor in considering where we stood and what we had to do in order to avoid the consequences of this disastrous surprise attack which had so deeply damaged and maimed our first line of defense on the west coast…
See also this exchange:
Mr. Hall: “Did the MAGIC cables help shape the decisions of those who ordered the evacuation of persons of Japanese ancestry persons from the west coast?”
Mr. McCloy: “Oh, I haven’t the slightest doubt about it.”
On the surface, it appears that the 1942 McCloy document undercuts these claims. But a deeper look suggests otherwise.
In the first place, it is important to note that the document is not an original memo, but a transcription typed up by a third party. Robinson and Ramsey assume the note at the bottom was written by McCloy, but whoever transcribed the note did not identify the author. Robinson calls the note a handwritten “postscript,” but the word “postscript” does not appear anywhere in the document.
The document does not say when the handwritten note was added. Perhaps it was written in July 1942. Perhaps it was written years or even decades later. We do not know when the copy was transcribed. It is not clear from the reproduction when the document was added to the files at the Library of Congress.
Jeffrey M. Flannery, Manuscript Reference Specialist in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress, and Tab Lewis, an archivist at National Archives, both examined the memo at my request. Both stated that they could not provide a definitive answer as to the author of the “postscript” without consulting the original.
I would venture a guess that McCloy probably wrote the note. But unless someone locates the original, we cannot be certain. In failing to acknowledge this uncertainty, Ramsey and Robinson are either being sloppy or dishonest.
Ramsey and Robinson barely discuss the context in which the note was written. From the body of the memo, it is clear that McCloy was trying to support what some critics considered excessively generous food to the evacuees. The handwritten note, whoever wrote it, was designed to bolster that position. A handwritten note scrawled on the bottom of a memo about food is not the venue for discussing state secrets such as the MAGIC messages which revealed extensive Japanese espionage activity on the West Coast.
(It is unclear, by the way, whether Patterson was privvy to MAGIC; he is not on Robert Stinnett’s list of 36 Americans cleared to read MAGIC messages in 1941; see Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor, pp. 317-8 of 2001 paperback edition. McCloy also is not on Stinnett’s list. He got the MAGIC messages from his boss, Secretary of War Henry Stimson, who had full clearance.)
The idea that most of the evacuees were not under suspicion is a widely-conceded point. The point about the evacuees not being internees, which is not accepted by many people nowadays, also is correct. So is the point that mob violence posed a threat to ethnic Japanese.
As I noted in my book:
Mike Masaoka of [the Japanese American Citizens League] noted hostility in areas where evacuees were moving and feared retaliatory “mob violence.” In a Feb. 25 memo updating the “Japanese situation,” ONI officer Kenneth Ringle noted with alarm that California was “tending toward civil strife” because of animosity by Caucasians towards ethnic Japanese, the vast majority of whom had not yet left the state. He also blamed the “failure of the federal government to apprehend or control any of the Kibei…the most dangerous element of the Japanese population.” A little over a week later, Ringle reported that unless the federal government took positive steps, “there will be uprisings, riots, lynchings, and vigilante committees active in California in 30 days.” A telegram from the San Francisco representative of the Office of Government Reports on March 5 echoed that warning, noting that there was a “serious possibility of mob violence and vigilante committees.”
I also noted:
At the Santa Fe, N.M., site, Japanese enemy alien internees actually demanded that the barbed wire fence surrounding the compound be made at least a foot taller after the camp received threats from an outside mob angered by a spring 1942 defeat by the Japanese in the Philippines. Antagonism was “so great,” according to historian Richard Melzer, “that most internees believed they were much safer within their fenced-off compound.”
Rep. Coble was excoriated for suggesting that such threats played a role in the decision to force ethnic Japanese into relocation camps. Ironically, some of Coble’s strongest critics are now are trumpeting the so-called McCloy postscript (which if anything supports Coble’s point).
What were the real reasons for evacuation? In letters written around the same time as the July 1942 memo, McCloy could not reveal the existence of MAGIC, but he did give many reasons for the evacuation, of which protection from vigilantes was just one. A June 16, 1942, letter to Reverend Charles F. Banning of Columbus, Ohio, stated:
You undoubtedly realize that a very difficult situation confronted us on the West Coast with the sudden outbreak of war with Japan, but I very much doubt if even you could have appreciated the extreme seriousness and difficulty of the situation. Not only did great cities exist along the sea coast with large populations subject to possible attack, but some of our most important manufacturing establishments from which the Army and Navy obtains vital munitions were in the same locality. A successful attack might well have had a disastrous effect upon the war. As a consequence, the entire American populations of the West Coast States were left in a condition of great excitement and apprehension, and the nature of the attack on Pearl Harbor tended greatly to inflame our people against all persons of Japanese ancestry, whether citizens or not, and irrespective of their good or evil records as citizens.
Thus, the evacuation of all persons of Japanese descent from the immediate neighborhood of these sensitive key points of our vital defense became at once imperative, not only for the safety of our country but for their own protection. The number of these persons was so large, amounting to over 115,000, that individual action which would afford adequate protection either to them or to us, was impossible in the emergency.
A January 18, 1943, letter to Congressman Louis Ludlow stated that the evacuation “was conducted by the Army as a measure of security for it was impossible to sort out the good from the bad as rapidly as the threat to the West Coast seemed to be developing after Pearl Harbor.”
Ramsey and Robinson believe the note on the bottom of an obscure food memo by an unknown author trumps everything else that McCloy said or wrote during the 1940s and the 1980s. At the same time, they breezily dismiss explicit statements of espionage in the top-secret official cables sent by Japan’s U.S.-based diplomats to Tokyo. Lest anyone forget the stunning evidence contained in those cables, I have included some excerpts in the Extended Entry.
* * *
Background (detailed responses to the critics of my book):
INFORMATION CONTAINED IN “MAGIC” CABLES (JAPANESE DIPLOMATIC COMMUNICATIONS THAT WERE SURREPTITIOUSLY INTERCEPTED AND DECRYPTED BY U.S. CRYPTANALYSTS JUST PRIOR TO WORLD WAR II)
Two cables sent from Tokyo on January 30, 1941, ordered the Japanese embassy and its North American consulates to begin establishing espionage nets designed to be able to function in a wartime environment. The first announced “we have decided to de-emphasize our propaganda work and strengthen our intelligence work in the United States.” Cable copies of the message were sent, as “Minister’s orders,” to Mexico City, San Francisco, Honolulu, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, New York, New Orleans, and Chicago. Detailed intelligence requirements followed, with directions to recruit agents from “our ‘Second Generations’ and our resident nationals”–as well as “U.S. citizens of foreign extraction (other than Japanese), aliens (other than Japanese), communists, Negroes, labor union members, and anti-Semites” with access to governmental establishments, (laboratories?), governmental organizations of various characters, factories, and transportation facilities.”
On February 5, a message from Tokyo to Mexico City focusing on the need to “investigate the general national strength of the United States” directed intelligence-gatherers to “organize Japanese residents, including newspaper men and business firms for the purpose of gathering information.” The message, relayed to eight Latin American consular offices, warned that “Care should be taken not to give cause for suspicion of espionage activities.”
Tokyo sent another cable to Washington on February 15 with more detailed instructions:
The information we particularly desire with regard to intelligence involving U.S. and Canada, are (sic) the following:
1. Strengthening or supplementing of military preparations on the Pacific Coast and the Hawaii area; amount and type of stores and supplies; alterations to air ports (also carefully note the clipper traffic).
2. Ship and plane movements (particularly of the large bombers and sea planes).
3. Whether or not merchant vessels are being requisitioned by the government (also note any deviations from regular schedules), and whether any remodelling (sic) is being done to them.
4. Calling up of army and navy personnel, their training, (outlook on maneuvers) and movements.
5. Words and acts of minor army and navy personnel.
6. Outlook of drafting men from the view-point of race. Particularly, whether Negroes are being drafted, and if so, under what conditions.
7. Personnel being graduated and enrolled in the army, navy and aviation service schools.
8. Whether or not any troops are being dispatched to the South Pacific by transports; if there are such instances, give description.
9. Outlook of the developments in the expansion of arms and the production set-up; the capacity of airplane production; increase in the ranks of labor.
10. General outlooks on Alaska and the Aleutian Islands, with particular stress on items involving plane movements and shipment of military supplies to those localities.
11. Outlook of U.S. defense set-ups.
12. Contacts (including plane connections) with Central and South America and the South Pacific area. Also outlook on shipment of military supplies to those areas.
Please forward copies of this message as a “Minister’s Instruction” to New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, (Chicago or New Orleans?) Vancouver, Ottawa, and Honolulu. Also to Mexico City and Panama as reference material.
The Los Angeles and Seattle consulates reported to Tokyo in May 1941 on their progress in setting up the spy network’s surveillance of military posts and bases, shipyards, airfields, and ports. A May 9, 1941, cable from the Los Angeles consulate crowed:
We have already established contacts with absolutely reliable Japanese in the San Pedro and San Diego area, who will keep a close watch on all shipments of airplanes and other war materials, and report the amounts and destinations of such shipments. The same steps have been taken with regard to traffic across the U.S.-Mexican border.
The message also stated that the network had Japanese-American spies in the U.S. armed forces, and that it was maintaining close connections with the Japanese Association, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Japanese-language newspapers. The message was translated on May 19, 1941. Just two days later, on May 21, the chief of the Military Intelligence Division’s intelligence branch completed a classified memo paraphrasing the contents of the May 9 decrypt. The memo specifically mentioned “second generation Japanese at present in the U.S. Army or working in aircraft factories.”
A May 11, 1941, message from the Seattle consulate to Tokyo was divided into five parts. The first part outlined the consulate’s efforts to collect “intelligences revolving around political questions.” The next part, headlined “Economic Contacts,” described efforts to procure intelligence regarding war-related production:
We are using foreign company employees, as well as employees in our own companies here, for the collection of intelligences having to do with economics along the lines of construction of ships, the number of planes produced for their various types, the production of copper, zinc and aluminum, the yield of tin for cans, and lumber.
The next portion of the message, entitled “Military Contacts,” stated:
We are securing intelligences concerning the concentration of warships within the Bremerton Naval Yard, information with regard to mercantile shipping and airplane manufacturer, movements of military forces, as well as that which concerns troop maneuvers.
With this as a basis, men are being sent out into the field who will contact Lt. Comdr. OKADA, and such intelligences will be wired to you in accordance with past practice. KANEKO is in charge of this. Recently we have on two occasions made investigations on the spot of various military establishments and concentration points in various areas. For the future we have made arrangements to collect intelligences from second generation Japanese draftees on matters dealing with the troops, as well as troop speech and behavior. ——- ——- ——-.
(A series of hyphens where words should appear means that a portion of the original encrypted text was not intercepted, was garbled, or could not be decrypted.)
The fourth section of the memo, entitled “Contacts With Labor Unions” stated:
The local labor unions A.F. of L. and C.I.O. have considerable influence. The (Socialist ?) Party maintains an office here (its political sphere of influence extends over twelve zones.) The C.I.O., especially, has been very active here. We have had a first generation Japanese, who is a member of the labor movement and a committee chairman, contact the organizer, and we have received a report, though it is but a resume, on the use of American members of the (Socialist?) Party. ——- OKAMARU is in charge of this.
“OKAMARU” was apparently “Welly” or “Welley” Shoji Okamaru, a Seattle labor union member identified by the Office of Naval Intelligence as a Nisei (second-generation Japanese-American, i.e., born in the U.S.) and a “Class ‘A’ espionage suspect.”
The final part of the message stated that “we are making use of a second generation Japanese lawyer” to collect intelligence on “anti-participation” organizations and the anti-Jewish movement. Though the name of the lawyer was not mentioned, a classified MID memo written the same day the decrypt was translated—June 9—referred to “a second-generation Japanese lawyer named Ito” who “collects information on anti-war-participation organizations.” This appears to be a reference to Kenji Ito, a Nisei lawyer who was later identified by ONI as a “Class ‘A’ suspect” and after Pearl Harbor was unsuccessfully prosecuted for failing to register as a Japanese agent.
By the summer of 1941, MAGIC messages sent by Japan’s Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles made it clear that Japan’s espionage network was up and running. Throughout the summer and fall, these three consulates sent dozens of cables providing detailed information on ship movements, aircraft production, and military-related construction activities.
The Seattle consulate seems to have been especially productive. A June 23, 1941, message to Tokyo read as follows:
(1) Ships at anchor on the 22nd/23rd (?):
(Observations having been made from a distance, ship types could not be determined in most cases.)
1. Port of Bremerton:
1 battleship (Maryland type)
2. aircraft tenders (one ship completed and has letter “E” on its funnel).
2. Port of —–:
11 coast guard cutters
(ships under repair)
11 (appear to be) minesweepers
3. Sand Point:
2 newly constructed hangars
4. Boeing: New construction work on newly built factory building #2. Expansion work on all factory buildings.
On August 16, the Seattle consulate informed Tokyo that, “according to a spy report, the English warship Warspite entered Bremerton two or three days ago.” An August 18 message reported on the whereabouts of military airplanes, and their likely destinations. A September 4 message described the movements of “the 39th Bombardment Group (44 planes), the 89th Observation Squadron (15 planes), and the 310th Signal Company,” all of Spokane. This message also stated that the “steering apparatus (?) (diameter 8 inches, double cylinders (?), gear ratio 410 to 1 (?) for the 312 10,000 ton freighters to be leased to England are to be manufactured in two factories, one in Everett and one in New York (?)” (emphasis in original) —information potentially of interest to would-be saboteurs. A September 20 message listed the ships at the Port of Bremerton and noted the departure of a New Mexico class ship.
The San Francisco and Los Angeles consulates sent similar messages describing ship movements and cargo loads. A June 2, 1941 message from Los Angeles stated, “On the 20th, the Saratoga, and on the 24th, the Chester (?), Louisville, the 12th Destroyer Squadron and Destroyers # 364, 405, 411, 412, and 412 entered San Diego, and all of them left on the 31st.” A September 18 message from San Francisco stated that “the English warship Warspite arrived here from Bremerton on the —– and is at present moored near the (naval arsenal at Mare Island?). It has been determined that it requires two more months for repairs at Liverpool.” That message was explicitly attributed to “a spy report,” underscoring the point that Japan was actively engaged in espionage activity, not merely discussing its hopes and intentions.blog comments powered by Disqus
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