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In Defense of Japanese Internment

[1]3,343 words

Michelle Malkin
In Defense of Internment: The Case for ‘Racial Profiling’ in World War II and the War on Terror [2]
Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 2004

The Alt Right is now a social movement whose adherents are moving close to being part of the governing class. The Alt Right would not be growing, however, if the problems stemming from immigration, “Civil Rights,” Mid-East Policy, birthright citizenship laws, and multi-culturalism weren’t apparent after 9/11.

One work that the Alt Right should look at is Michelle Malkin’s In Defense of Internment. Malkin is a basically neoconservative journalist of Filipino origins who is a post-9/11 national security hawk and immigration restrictionist. In Internment, she takes a sympathetic look at the US Government’s evacuation and internment policy regarding Japanese people residing on the West Coast. Malkin shows that the Japanese in America weren’t necessarily loyal, and the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Administration was right to intern them. Malkin believes that a nuanced view of internment will help with National Security. Policies related to internment such as racial and religious profiling should be used by the US Government in the Global War on Terror. Malkin was writing in response to the political circumstances related to 2001–2004, but the book’s ideas continue to apply to current circumstances.

The MAGIC Cables

Malkin argues, from the Fox News style of conservatism point of view, that the Japanese Internment didn’t occur due to “racial prejudice.” Instead, she focuses the reason for the internments on the MAGIC decryptions. The United States had cracked the Japanese diplomatic code in 1940 so intelligence agencies were able to read Japanese messages sent from Tokyo to the various Japanese embassies and consulates around the world. Those decrypted messages were codenamed MAGIC.

The decrypted diplomatic MAGIC messages showed that the Japanese government had embarked upon a serious and successful effort to recruit spies from the Japanese immigrant community in the United States and elsewhere. “Two MAGIC cables sent from Tokyo on January 30, 1941, ordered the Japanese embassy and its North American consulates to begin establishing espionage nets designed 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,[1] and anti-Semites with access to governmental establishments.’”[2] Other cables gave further guidance on using the Japanese immigrant community to further Japanese Governmental war aims.

In the United States, the Japanese Immigrant community was mostly located in two areas, the Territory of Hawaii and the West Coast. The Japanese were divided into three different groups, Isei, Nisei,[3] and Kibei. The Isei were Japanese residents of the United States who were born in Japan but who couldn’t naturalize due to laws against naturalizing non-whites, the Nisei were 14th Amendment “citizens,” and the Kibei were either Isei or Nisei who had gone to Japan for some sort of training, which included military training, and returned to the United States.

The fact that the Japanese diplomatic code was readable was a secret that the Americans couldn’t afford to lose. American counter-intelligence knew, or could have easily discovered, which Japanese-Americans were spies or subversives and arrest them, but they couldn’t afford to allow the Japanese to discover the code was broken by rolling up a network of enemy agents. Additionally, any Japanese person arrested in the United States would have been on trial where the rules of evidence and right for the defendant to confront his accuser would have applied, thus revealing the MAGIC secret.

Malkin bolsters her MAGIC argument by showing that senior US Government officials who had access to MAGIC supported the evacuation and internment, while officials without that need-to-know[4] access to MAGIC opposed it. “The three highest-ranking government officials who approved the decision to evacuate ethnic Japanese from the West Coast — President Roosevelt, Secretary of War Henry Stimson, and Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy — all had full access to MAGIC. McCloy later stated that he reviewed the MAGIC messages every day and night. By contrast, none of the prominent government figures who opposed the evacuation knew about MAGIC. Not FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Not Attorney General Francis Biddle. Not Office of Naval Intelligence officer Kenneth Ringle. Not special State Department representative Curtis Munson.”[5]

The United States Government chose to not press charges against any Japanese spies who were discovered by the MAGIC cables even as the Americans closed in on victory. Malkin writes, “There is still much that is unknown about the true scope of the espionage and sabotage threat from ethnic Japanese on the West Coast. Countless names of Nisei have been redacted from FBI and intelligence documents. Public disclosure requests take years to fill, if they ever are filled at all. On the other side of the ocean, Japan has destroyed or buried wartime records that could have answered questions that—contrary to the politically correct historians—have yet to be settled. And may never be.”[6]

Japanese Cultural Pull on the Nisei – And Immediate Examples of Disloyalty

The Japanese government of the 1930s embarked upon a deliberate effort to gain support from both the Isei and Nisei in the United States with cultural works and social connections. The Japanese government had newspapers and cultural works which supported Japanese policy. The theory that Nisei where fully assimilated “Americans” disconnected from the Japanese homeland is simply not true. Malkin explains, “Japanese-language schools, too, served as a powerful source of Japanese propaganda. Japanese consular agents, former Japanese army officers, and Buddhist priests often served as principals or teachers. Ostensibly, the purpose of these schools was to instruct young Japanese Americans about Japanese language, culture, and traditions, such as sushi, origami, and sumo wrestling. But the schools also disseminated ultra-nationalist cant, with a strong emphasis on Japanese solidarity and emperor-worship. The schools were ‘in practical fact agencies of Japanese nationalism . . .’”[7]

The schools and cultural works promoted by the Japanese government before 1941 had an effect. Japanese-American disloyalty became manifest on the sparsely populated Niihau Island on December 7, 1941. A Japanese fighter pilot, Airman First Class Shigenori Nishikaichi of the Imperial Japanese Navy Ship Hiryu,[8] crash-landed after his aircraft was damaged by American fighters. Nishikaichi’s papers and pistol was confiscated by a local native Hawaiian.[9] While the Niihau Islanders tried to figure out what to do with the strange pilot (word of Pearl Harbor had not reached them as there were no telephones) Nishikaichi met a Japanese couple, Yoshio and Irene Harada, and started to build a rapport with them. They were also aided by a Japanese man named Ishimatsu Shintani. On December 12th, and Airman First Class Nishikaichi and the Haradas made a move to get the confiscated papers back. “Nishikaichi and the Haradas launched a campaign of terror against the islanders. They overtook the guard on duty and locked him in a warehouse. Mrs. Harada cranked up a phonograph to drown out the commotion.”[10] The Islanders rallied and by the end of it Nishikaichi and Yoshio Harada, were dead and a Native Hawaiian was seriously injured. As the affair played out, the Harada’s had also burned property and fired wildly at the Niihau Islanders. The public was shocked by how quickly the Japanese who had lived so long in America turned to support Japanese troops.

The Niihau Island incident was not an isolated event. The Japanese community in Hong Kong supported the Japanese Military and contributed to the Japanese conquest.[11] In Singapore and Malaya, the Japanese community also aided the Japanese military, “Although most ethnic Japanese in Southeast Asia were not involved in espionage, sabotage, or fifth columnist activities, the conquering Japanese troops treated all resident ethnic Japanese as reunited comrades. Historian John Stephan notes that resident Japanese in Davao, Philippines, gave Japanese forces ‘a tempestuous welcome.’”[12]

The Nature of Internment

With that in mind it is simply no question that West Coast Japanese were supporting the Japanese government at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack and would have greeted Japanese invasion troops with applause if they had arrived.

The internment was by no means as harsh as that suffered by those captured by the Japanese. The internment was orderly, polite, and professional. Additionally, the Mexican and Canadian governments interned their Japanese. Other citizens of Axis powers, such as captured sailors, were also interned.

Internment didn’t occur in Hawaii, but that hardly mattered. The Territory was placed under Martial Law, and the writ of Habeas Corpus was suspended. Any Japanese Isei or Nisei deemed subversive was jailed without a hearing. Nisei were not allowed to take a government job, or otherwise be in a position of influence within the Territory. For the duration of World War II, Hawaii was an internment camp.

The Idea for Internment and Its Aftermath Was Part of a War within a War

While Michelle Malkin is able to make a case that the internment was based on real military concerns and wise governmental decisions, it is impossible to ignore the fact that there was a genuine racial conflict going on in the West Coast prior to World War II between whites and Asians, and that war within a war continued on after World War II.

The Japanese in America arrived in the United States as part of a wave of immigrants from Asia that started due to the California Gold Rush of 1849. Initially, the Asian immigrants were Chinese. American whites in California organized against them, and after decades of work, in 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was signed into law. In retrospect, it is clear the Chinese Exclusion Act was poorly thought through. It only applied to Chinese so other Asians could migrate, and the Japanese started to arrive in the early 1900s. President Theodore Roosevelt stopped the immigrant wave by negotiating a compromise with the Japanese Government. The United States would not specifically disallow Japanese immigration, and the Japanese would not issue exit visas for the Japanese to come to America.

Michelle Malkin doesn’t mention this in her book, but there were anti-Asian attitudes in California. Greg Robinson writes in his book By Order of the President, “Chinese laborers to the western United States during the third quarter of the nineteenth century had stimulated a backlash of resentment by white laborers and nativists. In order to justify their calls for the exclusion of Chinese immigrants, these groups helped manufacture and disseminate a series of racist stereotypes of Asians as treacherous, servile, and uncivilized.”[13] (Ignore the politically correct moralist language here, there was and is a genuine conflict of interest.) When the Japanese attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor, nearly the whole of California’s political elite had been involved in anti-Asian metapolitical activity for their entire career. California’s Attorney General Earl Warren[14] lobbied the Roosevelt Administration for internment. Warren was a member of The Native Sons of the Golden West, which opposed Asian immigration and Asian civic involvement. Thus, the Second World War gave a sense of urgency to the smaller, white-Asian mini war on the West Coast.

It is likely that President Roosevelt was able to make the internment decision because of the support and lobbying from California’s politicians. Greg Robinson says of the situation, “. . . in January 1942, a group of U.S. Army officers, anxious over a possible Japanese invasion of the West Coast and encouraged by California politicians and nativist interest groups eager to drive out the ‘Japs’ and seize their property, began to press for the removal from the coastal areas of all people of Japanese ancestry.”[15]

On the whole the camps were peaceful. Some of the camps had high fences, some had fences that were really only designed to keep out cattle or wildlife as well as mark the boundaries. In some cases, the guards were there to keep the Americans from attacking the Japanese, especially as news of atrocities such as the Bataan Death March became public. However, this doesn’t mean that the Japanese in every camp were loyal to the United States or even honest with each other. Malkin reports there were serious disturbances at Manzanar and Poston. There, the Kibei terrorized pro-American residents and drew up a hit list of Nisei whom they viewed as traitors.[16] At Tule Lake, the manager of the camp’s consumer co-op, Yaozo Hitomi, was murdered, and his killers were never found.[17] Other Nisei would swindle older Isei out of money by charging a “fee” to get government documents which were available for free.[18]

Much of the narrative surrounding the myth of unjust internment revolves around the solid war record of the 442nd US Infantry Regiment. This unit was made up of Japanese Nisei and they were immortalized in the movie Go for Broke! (1951). The tale of a plucky regiment winning the war for America while they face discrimination is indeed a powerful one, but the situation becomes more complex when the wider picture is looked at.[19] The US Government wisely kept Nisei out of the most sensitive jobs.  Nisei were barred from enlisting in the US Navy entirely and as cryptographers in any branch of service.  Also, more Japanese formally declared for Japanese citizenship and assumed enemy alien status than served in the 442nd Infantry.[20] All Nisei were kept out of the Pacific Theater except for a carefully vetted group which served as translators and advisors. Additionally, there were as many Nisei who went to Japan to serve in the Japanese military as there were in the 442nd Infantry.

The United States military is not just a fighting force dealing with foreign powers, it is also an instrument of domestic unity. Using the military for domestic aims is a two-edged sword. When arming an alien population, the government assumes a number of risks. A population that is only partially loyal such as the Japanese gets a veneer of the appearance of loyalty though this military service while legitimate threats continue to exist. Units of different races can mutiny, and/or individuals of different races can suddenly go rogue against whites. Asians don’t often embark on a blitzkrieg of violence, but there are issues surrounding espionage and corruption.[21] It is important to note that allied governments do spy on each other, but there doesn’t appear to be a major focus by the United States on current espionage efforts by Koreans or Japanese giving information to their homeland’s respective governments.[22]

After the end of the Second World War the Japanese were released, and by the 1960s they assumed a healthy place in the American Middle Class, and yet the tensions continued. American whites of later generations forgot the urgency of 1941 and 1942 and moved away from organizations such as The Native Sons of the Golden West which guarded the door of California. As American involvement in the Far East intensified through the 1940s and beyond, immigration restrictions were eased.

Nonetheless, many Japanese still harbored a grudge and picked up where the war within a war left off. During the Reagan Administration, the Japanese conducted a raid on the treasury where every interned Japanese person was given $20,000 – including those who were loyal to Japan. That sum exceeded the average annual wage in 1988.[23] The hearings related to the matter was packed with committee members who were supporters of reparations, and the audience booed, stopped their feet, and otherwise shouted down those individuals who were familiar with MAGIC and supporting the Roosevelt Administration’s case.

It is important to note that Roosevelt’s internment policy was determined to be constitutional by the US Supreme Court in Johnson v. Eisentrager and Korematsu v. United States.[24] Neither case has been overturned. Indeed interning potential enemies has a long precedent, Malkin mentions interring British Subjects during the War of 1812, but such tactics go back even further. During King Philip’s War (1675–1676) so called “Praying Indians” were interned on Deer Island.[25]

Other Options from the Alt Right Point of View

The case of the Nisei, especially those supportive of the Japanese during the War, was probably the first time the problems related to the birthright citizen clause within the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution bubbled up in a serious way. The Nisei should not have been made citizens. Indeed, it is arguable that policies towards the Japanese were too soft. It may have been better to deport the whole of the West Coast Japanese to Japan following the war than simply release them. Looking back, it is striking this didn’t occur. FDR was a dynamic reformer, unbound by tradition or strict constructionist views. FDR and Congress removed the 18th Amendment in 1933, and Roosevelt famously clashed with the US Supreme Court. Yet, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and members of his administration never thought to make reforms to the 14th Amendment.

Ultimately, as today’s lingering racial problems show, America has an identity, and that identity is white. America arguably continues to have a historical obligation to its African-American community, but casting a citizenship net so wide as to catch the whole of the world is a mistake. Latter day generations must face this Constitutional issue full on. From neoconservative point of view Malkin concludes, “While some people who cannot remember the past are merely condemned to repeat it, the civil liberties absolutists want to force us to commit new mistakes that previous generations were wise enough to avoid. If these forces prevail, Americans cannot expect the high level of homeland security that their parents and grandparents benefited from during World War II.”[26]


1. Hard hat-wearing white men who were Union members were not a threat. The problem was Japanese people in the Unions. Malkin quotes a decrypted cable, “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.” Malkin goes on to say, “OKAMARU” is apparently “Welly” or “Welley” Shoji Okamaru, a Seattle labor union member identified by the ONI as a Nisei and a “Class ‘A’ espionage suspect.” Kindle loc 1169

2. Kindle loc 1091 (my emphasisis)

3. Isei and Nisei are also sometimes spelled Issei and Nissei. In this review I used Malkin’s choice of spelling.

4. http://www.cdse.edu/multimedia/need-to-know/need_to_know.pdf [3]

5. Kindle loc 1078

6. Kindle loc 3011

7. Kindle loc 812

8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_aircraft_carrier_Hiry%C5%AB [4]

9. http://www.hawaiireporter.com/niihau-incident-benehakaka-ben-kanahele-wwii-medal-for-merit-purple-heart-1891-1962/123 [5]

10. Malkin, Michelle In Defense of Internment: The Case for ‘Racial Profiling’ in World War II and the War on Terror, Kindle location 503 2004

11. Kindle loc 689

12. Kindle loc 710 (My emphasis)

13. Robinson, Greg By Order of the President, FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans, Kindle 109

14. http://www.vqronline.org/essay/unacknowledged-lesson-earl-warren-and-japanese-relocation-controversy [6]

15. Robinson, Greg By Order of the President, FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans, Kindle loc 34

16. Kindle loc 2201

17. Kindle loc 2229

18. Kindle loc 2289

19. Additionally, Malkin reports on Kindle loc 2802 that in 2002 the Smithsonian Museum was caught exaggerating the accomplishments of the 442nd Infantry. This includes inflating the number of Purple Hearts and Silver Stars and false casualty figures.

20. On Kindle loc 2237 Malkin shows 5,620 Japanese declared for Japan in Tule Lake and another 2,031 from Fort Abraham Lincoln did so. It is possible approximately 4,000 could have served in the 442nd the regiment’s authorized strength was a bit over 1000 men. Additionally, it is likely 7000 Isei or Nisei served in the Japanese military though a complete accounting doesn’t exist. Malkin doesn’t say how these possibly 7000 Japanese-Americans got to Japan, presumably through a neutral nation.

21. One example is found here: http://www.vdare.com/articles/diversity-is-strength-it-s-also-a-corrupt-us-navy [7]

22. One issue with allied government spying is that the allied government can go on to sell secrets to an enemy power.

23. https://www.ssa.gov/oact/cola/AWI.html [8]

24. In some ways the Judicial Branch of government is the most potentially disruptive. Many US Supreme Court cases, such as the Dred Scott Case and Brown v. Board have led to appalling social calamities. I offer this. US SC cases don’t create calamities if the validate what the Executive or Legislative Branch is already doing.

25. http://www.unionparkpress.com/king-philips-war-commemoration-on-deer-island/ [9]

26. Kindle Loc 2837