6/4/12 - "a jap is a jap"

In today's excerpt - in 1942, in the wake of Pearl Harbor, 120,000 Japanese-Americans were forcibly removed from their homes -- primarily in California -- and relocated to squalid internment camps on Indian reservations and other areas. A contemporaneous Los Angeles Times editorial stated "A viper is nonetheless a viper wherever the egg is hatched.... So, a Japanese American born of Japanese parents, nurtured upon Japanese traditions, living in a transplanted Japanese atmosphere... notwithstanding his nominal brand of accidental citizenship almost inevitably and with the rarest exceptions grows up to be a Japanese, and not an American. ... Thus, while it might cause injustice to a few to treat them all as potential enemies, I cannot escape the conclusion ... that such treatment ... should be accorded to each and all of them while we are at war with their race." Anti-Japanese prejudice was already well-entrenched in California -- laws that banned marriages between Causasians and Asians and separated Japanese students from Caucasian students had been in place for years. Although the Supreme Court upheld these actions in 1944, and the U.S. Census Bureau assisted the internment efforts by providing confidential address information, reparations of $1.6 billion were eventually made beginning with President Ronald Reagan's signing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988:

"While [Milton Eisenhower's] brother [Dwight] was furi­ously planning the American role in the war against a virulently racist enemy, the United States was carrying out ... the forcible mass evacuation of Japanese and Japanese-Americans from the Pacific coast on racial grounds alone -- and Milton was play­ing an uncomfortable role in that disgrace. He was asked to do it, on March 10 or 11, [1942], by President Roosevelt himself. He was summoned into the Oval Office and told that his 'war job,' starting immediately, was 'to set up a War Relocation Authority to move Japanese-Americans off the Pacific coast.' The President said he had signed the executive order giving full authority to carry out this stunning project, and he insisted that great speed was essential. Roosevelt indulged in none of his usual bantering pleasantries, as Milton related the story of the interview in his book, but was grimly authoritative; Milton felt he had no chance to question, and certainly no room to decline. Milton clearly was troubled by what he had to do; but he does not come off as badly, in retrospect, in this sorry episode as do many others -- including some great liberals, starting with President Roosevelt himself and California governor Earl Warren. Milton told the story in a rueful chapter of his book about his service to several presidents.

"There was a strain of anti-Japanese racism already present in American attitudes, especially on the Pacific coast. Then Pearl Harbor frightened people, giving that bigotry a huge jolt. A government report on Pearl Har­bor alleged (falsely) that Hawaii-based Japanese-Americans had abetted the attack. Hysterical racial rumors led the general who headed the West­ern Defense Command to recommend to the president that those of Japa­nese ancestry be forcibly removed from the Pacific coast area. The general who held the Western Defense Command was ... Gen. John L. DeWitt [who] said, in re­sponse to the fact that two-thirds of the 120,000 evacuees were American citizens, 'A Jap is a Jap.'

"He reported to President Roosevelt that no sabotage by Japanese-Americans had as yet been confirmed, but he com­mented, in a circular response that itself has lived in infamy, that this fact only proved 'a disturbing and confirming indication that such action will be taken.' One learns from Milton's book that General DeWitt was not the only one to make this astounding argument; the nation's most distinguished political columnist, Walter Lippmann, favoring mass evacuation, wrote that the absence of sabotage by Japanese-Americans 'was an indica­tion that they were lying low and waiting for a signal from Tokyo.' Cali­fornia's attorney general, Earl Warren, testified that the absence of sabotage was 'the most ominous sign in our whole situation ... we are being lulled into a false sense of security.'

"Roosevelt allowed himself to be persuaded, by fears and threats and rumors, that people of Japanese ancestry had committed, or were about to commit, or might someday commit, acts of sabotage; he therefore signed Executive Order 9066, ordering their forcible removal from the Pacific coast. This he did in spite of the total absence of any sabotage, or any evident threat."


William Lee Miller


Two Americans: Truman, Eisenhower, and a Dangerous World


Random House


Copyright 2012 by William Lee Miller


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