Author Archive | Eric Posner


wherein Professor Robinson further disassembles Michelle’s assertion of a supposed military necessity to evict and detain all Japanese Americans (but not all German or Italian Americans):

The author’s case for military necessity–she claims there was a “West Coast under siege”–is fatally flawed, as it reposes on her dramatic account of the shelling by Japanese submarines of a refinery in Goleta, California (pp.7-8), which she called “the first foreign attack on the U.S. mainland attack since the War of 1812.” (No, it wasn’t, actually; Pancho Villa’s raid into Columbus, New Mexico set off panic and a large-scale punitive expedition led by General Pershing; but never mind). In fact, as the author states, this event took place on February 23, 1942, four days after Executive Order 9066 was signed, so it could not have played a factor in any of the decisions.

Not satisfied with describing this single (rather minor) incident, the author tries to disguise the lack of concrete military threat by claiming that this incident “was just one of many long forgotten (or deliberately ignored) attacks”(p.9). Long forgotten? Then where are the incident reports and media accounts at the time, when it was well remembered? Deliberately ignored? By whom? By the Californians who were so panicked over the spectre of a Japanese invasion that they spread wild stories that turned out to be untrue? By the West Coast defense authorities who were ready to make the most compelling case for mass evacuation? The author finishes with stories of Japanese submarines roaming free around Hawaiian waters, and mentions two sinkings of boats in the mid-Pacific. How then was the West Coast under siege? As the author confesses by omission, there were then no sinkings of ships by Japanese subs around the area of the West Coast. And if such sinkings in

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Professor Greg Robinson, author of “By Order of the President,” has more to say about Michelle Malkin’s book “In Defense of Internment”:

Michelle Malkin engages in overkill. Her stated purpose is to prove that the removal and confinement of Japanese American aliens, and particularly of citizens, was based on justifiable fears of espionage and sabotage, rather than racism (and thus to make the case for racial profiling by the Bush Administration). If this were all she wished to argue, she could have stopped with the signing of Executive Order 9066 itself. She could then more easily have made the case that the Army and the Executive felt obliged to act as they did considering the circumstances, though it was a terrible injustice to loyal citizens. After all, how the government’s policy played itself out afterwards is logically irrelevant to the initial cause. She would still have been mistaken, in my opinion, about the threat from the Nisei (more on the distinction between the confinement of Issei and Nisei later on) . However, she would have been able to summon up some reputable authority. This was, after all, the retrospective commentary of Secretary of War Henry Stimson, the most influential advocate of evacuation, in the memoir he wrote with McGeorge Bundy, ON ACTIVE SERVICE IN PEACE AND WAR. (P. 406). Because of this, Stimson supported compensation for losses suffered by Japanese American aliens and citizens in the evacuation. (On the other hand, Stimson went on to say that, more than the danger of disloyal activity, the anti-Japanese hysteria on the West Coast was so strong that Japanese Americans needed to be moved to protect them from illegal violence, a statement which throws into doubt Ms. Malkin’s insistence that racial bigotry played no factor in the evacuation).

In contrast, Malkin’s

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As I noted yesterday, in her new book “In Defense of Internment,” Michelle Malkin undertakes to “defend … the evacuation and relocation of ethnic Japanese from the West Coast (the so-called “Japanese American internment”).” (p.xii) (“Ethnic Japanese” here means the Nisei–American citizens born in this country to Japanese immigrant parents who had been forbidden by U.S. law from naturalizing as U.S. citizens because they were Asian.)

Michelle is undoubtedly aware that the two most prominently voiced criticisms of the government’s program are these:

1. The government evicted all American citizens of Japanese ancestry from their West Coast homes and placed them into camps, but took no action affecting American citizens of German or Italian ancestry. (In other words, if your name was, say Joe Kaminaka or Lou Matsumoto, you were evicted and confined; if your name was, say, Joe DiMaggio or Lou Gehrig, well, uh, you know.)

2. The actions taken against Japanese Americans were absurdly disproportionate to the scope of any security risks of which the government was even arguably aware.

If you’re going to defend the program, this is what you’ve really got to defend, because this is what scholars most commonly and cogently criticize.

How does Michelle’s book handle these two tasks?

The quick answer (a longer answer follows): As to (1), the 165-page text includes a single paragraph (on page 64). As to (2), the book says nothing at all.

Here’s the longer answer.

1. Why no similar treatment of similarly situated Americans of German and Italian ancestry? (Why, that is, did Joe Kaminika end up in Manzanar in 1942 while Joe DiMaggio ended up batting .305?) Here’s the lone paragraph on the point from “In Defense of Internment”:

The disparate treatment of ethnic Japanese versus ethnic Germans and ethnic Italians is often assumed to be

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If you were of a mind to unsettle the settled understanding of what led to the incarceration of Japanese Americans between 1942 and 1945, and restore some credibility to the now-discredited claim of military necessity, you’d need to do two things.

First, you’d need to make at least a prima facie case of causation–that is, you’d need to persuade people that the various government actors whose actions produced the decision had well-grounded suspicions of subversion by American citizens of Japanese ancestry, and that those well-grounded suspicions of subversion were what led them to take the actions they took.

Second, you’d have to undermine the settled understanding, supported by several decades of comprehensive research by numerous scholars, that racism, economic jealousy, and war hysteria led these actors to took the actions they took.

How does Michelle’s book try to accomplish these two things?

As to the first, the book quotes extensively from a handful of decyphered messages (the “MAGIC” cables) about Japanese efforts to develop some Issei and Nisei as spies for Japan. It really all turns on those MAGIC cables. The trouble is that the historical record tells us absolutely nothing more than that Roosevelt, the Secretary of War (Stimson), and his top assistant (McCloy) generally had access to the thousands of messages of which these concerning potential Issei and Nisei spies were a tiny few. The record tells us nothing about who actually reviewed which of the intercepts, or when, or what any reader understood them to mean. The record is just silent on these issues–reflecting, in a way, the silence of the actors themselves on MAGIC at the time. One might well say (and Michelle does), “but they couldn’t talk or write about the MAGIC decrypts; they were ultra-secret and everybody was keen to keep them that way.” [...]

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IN DEFENSE OF INTERNMENT, Part 4 (Or, “The Robinson Rebuttal”):

OK, enough about research methods and terminology and book covers. Let’s get to the meat of Michelle’s claim, shall we? Her argument is that intercepted and decrypted Japanese “chatter” about efforts (a small number claimed to have been successful) to recruit Japanese aliens (“Issei”) and American citizens of Japanese ancestry (“Nisei”) was “the Roosevelt administration’s solid rationale for evacuation.” (page 141) It’s a claim of causation she’s making: notwithstanding the scholarship of the last 30 or so years, based on exhaustive perusal of available archival records, which shows the overpowering influence of racism and various sorts of nativist and economically motivated political pressure on the various decisionmakers’ actions, these MAGIC decrypts, viewed by only a few of the key decisionmakers, were “the Administration’s rationale”–a rationale grounded in military necessity.
I’ll have a fair amount to say about this, possibly later tonight (it has been a long day), and definitely tomorrow.
Right now, though, I wanted to pass along to you a first reaction to Michelle’s book from my friend Greg Robinson of the University of Quebec at Montreal, whose book “By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans” is the definitive scholarly account of the genesis of the Administration’s decision to evict and detain all of the West Coast’s Issei and Nisei. (Here’s a review of Greg’s book from The Atlantic online, and here’s an excerpt from the book.)

Several years ago, I wrote a book on the decisions behind the mass removal and confinement of the Japanese Americans, commonly, if inaccurately, known as the internment, and in particular the role of President Franklin Roosevelt. I based it on several years of research in a number of archives around the country. The book was published by the Harvard University Press in 2001. In the time since,

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As I continue liveblogging my own thoughts about Michelle’s book “In Defense of Internment,” I’ll note a part of the book where I think Michelle is quite right. In her introduction (pages xiii to xxxv), or at least in certain parts of it, she makes the case that the civil liberties Left and representatives of the Japanese American community have not helped anyone think clearly about the Roosevelt Adminisration’s policies by attacking each step of the Bush Administration’s domestic antiterrorism policy since 9/11 as a reprise of the worst mistakes of WWII. This was one of the two main points I made in my article “Inference or Impact? Racial Profiling and the Internment’s True Legacy,” which Michelle graciously cites in her book.

A big part of what drove Michelle to write this book was her disgust with people on the left who have never met an antiterrorism policy they like, and who have trotted out the scary specter of the incarceration of Japanese Americans at every opportunity. In “Inference or Impact,” I worried about the Chicken Little effect of repeatedly claiming a replay of the WWII experience of Japanese Americans–that it might lead people to minimize the reality of that experience. Michelle is doing that in this book, and in at least a small way, I think the civil liberties left has some of its own rhetoric to blame. David Cole didn’t force Michelle Malkin to write this book, mind you. But maybe some of David’s rhetoric helped her build her head of steam.

Now I hasten to add that Michelle is also slaying dragons of her own creation. She’s outraged, she says (see pages 95-99), at all of the people who liken the War Relocation Authority’s “Relocation Centers” for Japanese Americans to Nazi death camps by naming them with [...]

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In her prefatory note to readers of her new book “In Defense of Internment,” Michelle Malkin says the following about the book’s goal:

“This book defends both the evacuation and relocation of ethnic Japanese from the West Coast (the so-called “Japanese American internment”), as well as the internment of enemy aliens, Japanese and non-Japanese alike, during World War II. My work is by no means all-encompassing; my aim is to provoke a debate on a sacrosanct subject that has remained undebatable for far too long.”

Read just a bit further, though, and you’ll see that the book is not just about “provoking debate.” It’s about “correcting the record” (page xv). By the time she finishes her retelling of the story of how the U.S. government decided to force 112,000 Japanese aliens and U.S. citizens of Japanese ancestry from their homes and into camps in the interior, she maintains that “it should be obvious to any fair-minded person that the decisions made were not based primarily on racism and wartime hysteria” (page 80), but were based instead on information in top-secret decrypted cables from Japan to its embassies around the world (the so-called “MAGIC” decrypts) suggesting that certain people in the Americas (both ethnically Japanese people, including primarily Japanese aliens but also a handful of American citizens of Japanese ancestry, as well as people of other races and ethnicities) were secretly working as spies for the Japanese government.

In other words, the government did what it did to people of Japanese ancestry in the United States from 1941 to 1945 because a select few officials at the very top of certain branches of the government (really a very few–the President, the Secretary of State, and a few War Department officials, but not the Attorney General or J. Edgar Hoover) knew that [...]

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OK, I said my first post on the subject of Michelle’s book would come in a couple of hours, and would be about the book’s goals and method. I lied.

I posted a message on my own blog yesterday that the cover of the book didn’t inspire much confidence that the book would be Fair and Balanced. I thought the visual equation of a Japanese American man with Mohammad Atta was a bit, shall we say, scandalous. Michelle disagreed.

Now I know who the Japanese American man on the cover is (Richard Kotoshirodo), and I still say that the cover is scandalous. Kotoshirodo was an American citizen of Japanese ancestry, educated in Japan (making him a “Kibei”–that is, a person born in the US to Japanese alien parents (a “Nisei”) and who was sent to Japan for his primary and/or secondary education) who, while employed by the Japanese consulate in Hawaii, was sent out by the consulate to observe various sites of interest to the Japanese consulate in the months before Pearl Harbor and told to report back on his observations.

The book’s cover compares this apparentlyly disloyal American citizen of Japanese ancestry who did some surveillance for his employers at the Japanese consulate before Japan’s surprise attack to Mohammad Atta, a Saudi citizen who piloted a plane into one of the World Trade towers, killing thousands of civilian innocents. A fair comparison? Not in my eyes. Maybe you see it differently.

One other thing: nobody who looks at this cover in a bookstore is going to have the faintest idea who the Japanese American face is; nearly everyone, it’s safe to say, will recognize Mohammad Atta. Coupled with the book’s title (“In Defense of Internment”) and its subtitle (“The Case for ‘Racial Profiling’ in World War II and the [...]

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Eugene was kind enough to invite me to guest-blog here today and tomorrow, and with the publication this week of Michelle Malkin‘s book “In Defense of Internment: The Case for ‘Racial Profiling’ in World War II and the War on Terror,” it looks as though I’ll have plenty to write about. About which to write, I mean. (How many times did my father drill into my head the rule that prepositions are incorrect words to end sentences with?)**

The last couple of days have been a bit of a whirlwind. It isn’t every day–or every decade, frankly–that a high-profile person like Michelle (syndicated columnist, frequent FOX News contributor) elaborately defends the eviction and incarceration of some 70,000 American citizens of Japanese ancestry from 1942 to 1945 as a military necessity. I got my blog started some 16 months ago when Rep. Howard Coble blunderingly offered his view on a radio program that Japanese Americans were justifiably rounded up because “it wasn’t safe for them to be on the streets”–a long-discarded justification for the government’s program that Michelle does not see fit to defend in terms (although she generally sticks up for Coble anyway–see page xvii of her book). I would have loved to get a review copy of the book from the publisher, as some bloggers on the right and some warbloggers did, but I didn’t. And it’s strange that I didn’t, given that (a) I’m the only person in the blogosphere who regularly blogs about the government’s wartime treatment of Japanese Americans, (b) Michelle wrote yesterday that it was my lengthy exchanges with Sparky at Sgt. Stryker 16 months ago that inspired her to do much of the research for her book, and (c) Michelle cites my work, both approvingly (where, on page 352, she speaks of [...]

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