W. Edward Chynoweth
W. Edward Chynoweth is a graduate of West Point, and a retired deputy county prosecutor for San Francisco. He is the author of Masquerade: The Feminist Illusion, University Press of America, 2005.
Public Broadcasting has been airing Ken Burns's latest documentary The War, with scenes of an attack from "unknown planes," along with the stock inference of unfair "racism" and "shame" for the relocation of Japanese-Americans. What is "shameful" about evacuating those of questionalbe loyalty when imminent attack is expected from their aggressive native country? Many Japanese in America still lived in enclaves, and weren't well-known, a risk bearing on security for the west coast. Thousands bore allegiance to the Empire.
Though no fan of the evacuation, Sen. Hayakawa (California Republican serving from 1977-1983) realized its function, and even thought it the best thing that could have happened, since it broke up the enclaves and forced Japanese into the mainstream. Assimilating multi-nationalities in a healthy, productive way is not the simple matter many Americans now pretend.
How can we with any integrity celebrate Veteran's Day, pretentiously honoring the generation who defeated the totalitarian Axis powers, while at the same time judging their efforts "shameful"? Why demean the Kikkei,1 who endured the experience as loyal Americans, by depicting them as servile "victims" little different than cattle? There is either extreme duplicity or plain ignorance at work here, typical of all self-righteous judgments on unfamiliar times. As Edmund Burke put it:
We are too apt to consider things in the state in which we find them, without sufficiently adverting to the causes by which they have been produced, and possibly may be upheld.
Despite emphasis on the obvious discomforts, scenes from the documentary of the evacuation never show cattle cars, slave labor, emaciated prisoners, cruel guards, death camps, all in the Auschwitz style, but merely, healthy people being relocated -- along with fences, much like the fences millions of others, mostly GIs, experienced during the war. (Fenced encampments were quite standard during WW II!) Now, it's just another post-60s-style distortion -- of a justifiable wartime measure -- alleging American "racism." An injustice is being condoned that needs correction.
Common sense suggests that, to remain unified, a nation needs an honest consensus of belief about its history. For well-off younger people, oblivious to conditions long ago, to criticize past generations is a grave injustice, and an affront to honesty, amounting to what C. S. Lewis called "chronological snobbery." Unfortunately, this is the case with the stock "concentration camp" version of the Relocation, now being repeated in Burns/PBS's version. To younger editors, 1942's "dark period" is now the Relocation, not the thundercloud of a lurking enemy out to conquer us! In 1942, we were underdogs; things could have gone either way, respected leaders were charged with defense of our shores. Logically, the revised version and actual 1942 conditions cannot both be true. The disparity was born in the chaos of the 1960s, when anti-Americanism and youthful second-guessing of former leaders became fashionable. In their self-righteous eagerness, they miss the fact that the relocatees weren't hapless "victims" but citizens deserving respect for doing their wartime duty, like millions of others. Young revisionists (along with misinformed politicians, including even Ronald Reagan, who succumbed to misguided advice from Tom Kean) are dishonoring their own ancestors as well as WW II America!
Two important aspects are neglected: (1) Though the traumatic uprooting occurred, and often with great sacrifice, second-guessers ignore the fact that it wasn't America who brought on the relocatees' uprooting but a vicious assault on our people by forces of the relocatees' native land, a militaristic empire. The resulting war and bloody conflict hung over our lives and national policy for over four years. Countless lives were shattered, many worse than the relocatees.' Most relocatees accepted this in ways that younger citizens don't understand. Caucasian friends rendered much help. (2) The Founders' "more perfect union" is now being destroyed by discontents splitting America between the former republic and disgruntled factions who care nothing for cultivating the Founders' wisdom, good will, or common good necessary for an enduring nation.
Second guessers rely on misguided proceedings in the 1980s that produced a shameful distortion of the facts to show "racism." It's a disgraceful story, reported objectively by a few knowledgeable writers (Dwight Murphey, Joseph Fallon, Roger McGrath, William Hopwood, Ken Masugi, Lillian Baker, Michelle Malkin, etc.), but ignored by revisionists. In stark contrast to the 1944 U.S. Supreme Court's majority finding from still-fresh testimony that the wartime security measure was justified and not "racist," the 1980s hearings were conducted by a biased commission in a "scandalous," "predetermined," "pandering," "unprofessional," and "outrageous" manner, with testimony by government witnesses cut short or subjected to hisses, boos, stomping of feet, and indignities. Though such a railroad job hardly corroborates the revisionists (whom Sen. Hayakawa termed "a small wolf pack of dissidents"), they're allowed mistakenly to assume it does.
Thus the actual history fades into obscurity, reduced now to an overworked pattern of "American racism," and Americans of all races who won WWII are dishonored. What happened in 1942-45 was an example of American self-governance at its best. Despite revisionists' persistence in twisting an obviously trying wartime experience into an American Auschwitz, actually the U.S. government administered the measure as humanely as possible under difficult circumstances, well aware of civil rights. There were varying degrees of freedom and cooperation, including attending college, jobs, etc., depending upon the circumstances.
Numerous factual issues are twisted: (1) One revisionist ingenuously announces a "need for public education about the exclusion and detention" despite over four decades of his one-sided version ignoring the wartime necessity and focusing solely on obvious initial discomforts.
(2) The tired claim of "120,000 in custody" is at best a half-truth. Though 120,000 were initially involved in numerous ways, only around 85,000 were eventually housed in relocation camps (quite benignly, not in criminal "custody," since more than 20,000 eventually left the western danger zone to take up productive lives back east). There were only17,000 largely loyal to the Empire actually interned at Tule Lake (including families whose parents favored the Empire).
(3) The immediacy of risk demanded immediate action, making normal case-by-case handling unfeasible. The resulting initial discomforts diminished in later, permanent camps. Revisionists conveniently ignore the factors of espionage, known saboteurs, high-risk facilities, etc., and also the crucial need to hide our knowledge of individual saboteurs through the Empire's code, which provided information, saving countless lives later.
(4) Ritual mention of the famous Nisei Regimental Combat Team (RCT) always misses the point: The government knew that most Nisei2 were loyal, and hoped to prevent terrorist destruction by disloyal Nisei. Most RCT soldiers understood, and chose not to wallow in resentment, some even giving their lives. Ken Burns makes much of our sending the Nisei RCT "into danger," naively ignoring the fact that that is what RCTs are for! (They even erected a monument to FDR!) Why the resentment from younger Americans?
(5) Another lame argument is that no sabotage occurred, which only proves the effectiveness of the measure!
(6) While some degree of racism was inevitable, it was mainly because the Empire's soldiers were known to be aggressively vicious and some Japanese in the west were known to be disloyal.
(7) True, Hawaii "didn't relocate." It had martial law. Canada actually interned all of her Kikkei, and for a longer time than the U.S.
(8) Though much is made of "barbed wire and towers," they weren't the rule, and were primarily to protect relocatees.
(9) Known risks of other enemy nationalities were also interned, but weren't the same danger to the west coast as the Japanese. Also, as Sen. Hayakawa noted, the latter were less assimilated than, e.g., Germans and Italians. (Exorbitant reparations years later even for known disloyalists reflect a country lacking in common sense, but that's another story.)
All this only scratches the surface. The "darkest" aspect of the episode is the manner in which younger generations ignore the whole story, thus obscuring the sacrifices of the relocatees, the common good, the Nisei combat team, and dishonoring the wartime administration, and their own heritage as U.S. citizens. Even the 1942 ACLU and Japanese-American Citizens League (whose chairman now claims "racism"!) approved the evacuation! It will take wise, gracious citizens to understand the unselfish service of their forbears in the common interest. Only with such understanding can America endure as a nation. *
"Private and local independence, initiative, and pride withered as the power and functions of the state increased, and the wealth of nations was drained away by an ever-increasing taxation to support a self-multiplying bureaucracy and the endless offences of defense." --Will Durant on the decline of Rome, Caesar and Christ, p. 448
1"Kikkei" is the generic name that applies to all those in the U.S. who came from Japan.
2 "Issei" are those who came to this country as immigrants; the "Nisei" are the first generation born in the United States.