By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese-Americans
The book starts out acknowledging that the internment of the Japanese Americans does not really compare to the Rape of Nanking or the deaths of Jews during the Holocaust, but it's a particular stain on American history since it was largely American citizens that were rounded up and interned, without any specific charges or trials and without any change to defend their own loyalty to the country.
As such, it was especially bad in that we were fighting the war to preserve democracy which supposedly guarantees the right of all its citizens to be treated equally under the law.
The book then goes into the history of the Roosevelt family itself and its ties to the Orient. This includes FDR's growing concern (as he himself grew up) with Japan's growing economic ability and military potential, especially after they defeated the Russians in their 1905 war.
The book also recounts the history of the anti-Japanese movement in California prior to the second world war. FDR as early as around 1913 considered that a U.S.-Japanese war was highly possible in the future.
More of the pre-WWII history of FDR is covered along with various books and people that influenced him in his view of Japan. There's a great deal of detail in this part of the book.
As the years went on Roosevelt became more and more worried about a possible war with Japan. As for what was happening in the U.S., he was hampered by the fact that there were no Japanese American or other Asian American people on the White House staff, nor were there even any links to the Asian communities in the U.S., meaning the White House was operating without knowing anything about what the Japanese-Americans were thinking or doing.
Roosevelt was quite concerned about the Japanese and Japanese-Americans in Hawaii and a study was done in 1933 by Army Intelligence. Displaying the usual lack of intelligence such a group generally has, the report noted Japanese "racial traits" such as "moral inferiority to whites, fanaticism, duplicity and arrogance." The Japanese-Americans there, the report claimed, were fiercely loyal to Tokyo and the majority of them would prove disloyal to the U.S. if war ever came.
Japanese ships put in at Hawaii and some of the sailors from the ships had relatives among the local residents. Concerned about this, FDR actually wrote:
"One obvious thought occurs to me-that every Japanese citizen or non-citizen on the Island of Oahu who meets these Japanese ships or has any connection with their officers or men should be secretly but definitely identified and his or her name placed on a special list of those who would be the first to be placed in a concentration camp in the event of trouble."
Thus. it was apparent that as of 1936 (the time FDR stated the above), he was already considering the use of what would later become the internment camps. The Japanese invasion of China in 1937 and especially the Rape of Nanking did not do anything to improve FDR's view of the Japanese.
A 1940 memo proposed various steps for dealing with preparations for war including "Prepare plans for concentration camps." A November report by the FBI in Hawaii, though, indicated that the earlier military report predicting disaster was wrong and that only a very small number of the Japanese and Japanese-Americans in Hawaii would pose any potential problem, and that, further, the group was not hard to identify at all, something which would prove useful in rounding up potential troublesome people.
FDR initiated a secret study in 1941 on Japanese Americans. A Midwestern Republican businessman named Curtis B. Munsen headed the study, using a number of special agents. The results of his study were very positive in relation to the Japanese Americans:
"We do not want to throw a lot of American citizens into a concentration camp, of course, and especially as the almost unanimous verdict is that in case of war they will be quite, very quiet.".
He added that, in case of war, there was a greater danger coming from violence against the Japanese Americans than from that group of people itself. As to those in Hawaii, he said that 98% of the Japanese and Japanese-Americans were loyal, and the other 2% was already being monitored by the Navy and F.B.I. Even as late as December 2 he told the President that the Japanese-Americans in both Hawaii and on the mainland would be loyal to the U.S. in event of war with Japan.
FDR was suspicious of all Japanese Americans, regarding them as potential enemies and servants of Japan. He ignored the fact that Japan itself regarded Japanese-Americans (first generation Issei, who could not have citizenship, and second generation Issei) as very suspicious a far as Japan was concerned. They were no longer really Japanese enough.
In other words, the President of the U.S. didn't trust them because he felt they would be loyal to Japan, and the country of their ancestry and/or birth, Japan, didn't trust them, feeling they would be loyal to the U.S.
The book then goes into the history of what happened right after the December 7 attack on Pearl Harbor, basically a day-by-day accounting of events. Reports supporting Japanese-American loyalty still came in to the President and there was still concern about anti-Japanese violence in the U.S. Then various groups began to cry for control of the Japanese-Americans, spearheaded by the West Coast Defense Command and DeWitt. Other groups had other reasons for hating the Japanese-Americans, and these included the Western Growers Protective Association and other farm-oriented groups, all envious of Japanese-American success on their own farms.
The main thing behind this was racial hatreds, although greed was also a major factor. This type of special interest group pressure spread through the United States and ended any chance of a more gentle type of solution to concerns over the Japanese-Americans.
FDR was also given a lot of misinformation, much as the U.S. government was given prior to the invasion of Iraq. Executive Order 9066 is the next thing discussed in the book. A major factor influencing FDR's decision to issue the order was Canada's program of internment that had already started. Bad counsel, political pressure, public outcry, misinformation and FDR's own views were other factors.
Apparently FDR considered the Japanese people to be "inherently savage", that they were a "treacherous people" and that aggression was "in the blood" of Japanese leaders.
Further, FDR didn't actually seem to be concerned about the rights of the Japanese-Americans and he even failed to follow advice and appoint an authority that could arrange for protection of the property of anyone interned. An excellent overview of his approach follows:
"...Roosevelt displayed a shocking unconcern for the negative effects and ramifications of the policy as it developed. He ignored the legal problems created by the institution of a policy of incarceration of citizens. Rather than declare martial law or endorse congressional efforts to legislate mass involuntary confinement of citizens without a charge-a power not granted by the Constitution nor contained in Executive Order 9066-he presided over a joint army-WRA police of denial and euphemism in which the indefinite incarceration of Japanese-American ‘evacuees' was termed ‘resettlement' and camps with armed guards and barbed wire were officially named ‘relocation centers.'"
FDR seemed to care nothing at all about the loss of personal property that the evacuees would suffer. It's also interesting that in other documents the term "concentration camps" was being used, and not "internment" or "resettlement" camps, for those interested in the argument over whether or not the term "concentration camp" should be used today to describe the places the Japanese-Americans were sent to.
FDR also wanted the Japanese Americans on the island of Hawaii evacuated to a smaller and separate island. Other's in the government disagreed with him and basically by dragging their feet little was done. Some 1,037 voluntarily went to the mainland (and had been lied to, told they would be set free once they got there to be with relatives, 1,500 were interned in Hawaii for the length of the war (without trial, of course), and 675 Issei had been transported to the mainland after Pearl Harbor and held throughout the war (and again, of course, without trial).
The next major argument was over whether or not Nisei should be allowed to join the U.S. military. Already the Japanese-Americans in the military had been kicked out and none had been allowed to join. Some in the government wanted the Nisei to be allowed to join again, but be confined to labor battalions. Arguments also raged on what to do about when to release any of the interned individuals who had already lost their jobs and their property.
One of the people disagreeing with FDR's policies was his own wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, who was much more tolerant towards the Japanese Americans and even visited one of the camps and wrote about them in her daily newspaper column, whereas FDR put off for as long as possible giving any speech showing any concern at all for the internees.
Late in 1943 FDR's attitude started to change, possibly due to racial riots going on in the U.S. (white/black and white/Hispanic) and DeWitt's departure. Also, the West Coast had been removed from its designation as a military theater of operations, weakening the government's original reason for evacuation of the Japanese-Americans.
The West Coast newspapers, though, continued and even strengthened their anti-Japanese American position, especially after unrest at the Tule Lake camp. Those who hated the Japanese Americans used the incident to drum up support for the continuing anti-Japanese-American policies.
The book goes on to examine some lying and deception that the government participated in over the issue of resettlement and examines the approaches to the issue of resettlement and how release of the interned people was considered to be a political problem. Everything became even more complicated as FDR's health worsened and he took less and less of an active role in running the country.
In July of 1944 FDR made a trip to the west coast and delivered some speeches which only served to strength anti-Japanese feelings. The ending of internment would not be stopped, though, and January of 1945 saw the beginning of the end for the policy. Those returning to the west coast, though, were met by the same type of racial hatred and violence they had confronted before their evacuation.
The book continues, noting, in effect, that much of what FDR did in relation to the entire internment issue was reactive rather than proactive, ruled by politics rather than by concern for people who were, mostly, actual American citizens.
By December of 1945 the relocation centers were emptied, and the Tule Lake detention center was closed in March of 1946.
This book is absolutely filled with details of FDR and his administration's dealing with the Japanese-Americans and the internment issue and is worth reading for anyone interested in the politics behind what was done.
Japan main page
Japanese-American Internment Camps index page
Japan and World War II index page