Thursday, August 05, 2004

More On Malkin's Pseudo-History Part II

Via the Neiwert post, I came across this evisceration of Malkin reprinted on the Volokh Conspiracy, by the historian Greg Robinson:
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, I have done further research in this area, which has confirmed me in my conclusions. Since the book was published, I have read a number of critiques by various defenders of Executive Order 9066, especially by bloggers, who seem to constitute a large and vocal group. I have preferred to let the work speak for itself, and I have never before responded to any critics, even when their comments distorted what I actually said. However, I feel that I must break my silence in the case of Michelle Malkin's book.

First, Malkin is a bestselling author whose book is being put out by an established publisher, and her status as a celebrity will make many undiscriminating or unknowing people buy the book and take her arguments at face value.

Also, Malkin, unlike all other writers I have seen, deliberately impugns the motives of those who disagree with her. Although she sets herself up as a disinterested seeker for truth with an open mind, she is gratuitously nasty towards all others: "Unlike many others who have published on this subject, I have no vested interests: I am not an evacuee, internee, or family member thereof. I am not an attorney who has represented evacuees or internees demanding redress for their long-held grievances. I am not a professor whose tenure relies on regurgitating academic orthodoxy about this episode in American history." Well, I am none of these things, apart perhaps from being a professor, and I was not even that when I researched and wrote my book. I am mindful, however, of the wise counsel of Sidney Hook, who in his "Ethics of Controversy" reminded people "[b]efore impugning an opponent's motives, even when they legitimately may be impugned, answer his arguments." Since there is a great deal to criticize in Malkin's arguments from a logical and historical point of view, I will start by focusing on that.

The analysis of the book should start with the material the author includes on MAGIC (the decrypted intercepts of the Japanese code), which by her own statement constitutes the heart of her argument. There is a certain boredom born of repetition in any such discussion, since the author's material is mostly if not entirely lifted from the work of the late David Lowman, to whom the book is dedicated. (As the author states in the August 3, 2004 entry on her blog: "After reading a book by former National Security Agency official David Lowman called 'MAGIC: The Untold Story of U.S. Intelligence and the Evacuation of Japanese Residents from the West Coast during WWII," published posthumously by Athena Press Inc., I contacted publisher Lee Allen, who generously agreed to share many new sources and resources as I sought the truth.") Lowman's work has frequently been refuted and discredited. (Lowman first tried to make the case that the evidence of the MAGIC cables justified Executive Order 9066 in testimony before the Subcommittee on Administrative law and Governmental Relations of the House Committee on the Judiciary in June 1984. At that time, John Herzig, himself a retired Lieutenant Colonel and former intelligence officer, and Peter Irons effectively rebutted his testimony. Lowman did not resurface until 2000, when he put the same information in the book Malkin mentions. According to the Los Angeles Times's review, the editor of Lowman's book himself expressed doubts as to the credibility of Lowman's conclusions.

Since there is nothing new in the author's case for MAGIC, my rebuttal will be brief. (For a more detailed presentation of the matter, John Herzig's "Japanese Americans and MAGIC," Amerasia Journal 11:2 (1984), is still unequalled).

Let me divide it into three parts: first, that the MAGIC cables do not present the image of a Japanese American spy network; Second, that the people who pushed the case for evacuation would not have had access to the MAGIC excerpts in any case; thirdly, that those who did have access to MAGIC did not base their decision on it.

First, an examination of the MAGIC cables provided by the author does not provide any case for implicating the Japanese Americans in espionage activities. Most of the cables discussed (a tiny handful of the thousands of messages decrypted) come from Tokyo or Mexico City and refer to areas outside the United States. Those cables that do speak of the United States detail various efforts by Japan to build networks, and list hopes or intentions rather than actions or results. For example, the author quotes (p. 41) from a January 31, 1941 cable from Tokyo which orders agents to establish espionage and to recruit second generations. It does not say that such recruitment took place, and furthermore that recruitment was to take place even more among non-Japanese. Similarly, the author cites excerpts listing census data transmitted on the Japanese population of various cities--hardly secret information. The author relies most strongly on a memo from the Los Angeles consulate to Tokyo from May 1941. The author claims "the message stated that the network had Nisei spies in the U.S. Army" (p. 44). In fact, the message states "We shall maintain connection with our second generations who are at present in the U.S. Army." This speaks again of agents to be recruited. There is no evidence that any individuals had been recruited as agents, still less that they were actively giving information. Replies back from Los Angeles and Seattle state that they had established connections with Japanese and with "second generations." The rest of the cables she cites recount information given to Japan in fall 1941, long after any discussion of recruiting Japanese Americans had ceased, with no clue as to the source of the information given. The sum total of the information is that Japan unquestionably tried to build a spy network in the US during 1941. It is also clear that the Japanese wished to recruit Japanese Americans, as well as non-Japanese.

Even assuming for the sake of argument that the MAGIC excerpts did show some credible risk of disloyal activity by Nisei on the West Coast, those who made the case for internment did not rely on them. The author herself notes that access to the MAGIC encrypts was limited to a dozen people outside the decrypters, and notably says that President Roosevelt, Secretary of War Henry Stimson, and Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy had access to the MAGIC cables. This leaves her in the position of asserting that the essential reflection and decision was made by those three figures, and the reasons or motivations of all other actors were irrelevant. However, the record amply demonstrates that West Coast Defense Commander General John DeWitt (and his assistant Karl Bendetsen) were largely responsible for making the case for evacuation, and that their judgment of the situation and their recommendation for mass evacuation overcame the initial opposition of McCloy and Stimson. DeWitt's motivations for urging evacuation--notably his comment to McCloy that "a Jap is a Jap," and his reliance on arguments about the "racial strains" of the Japanese in his Final Report--indicate that his conduct was informed by racism.

Finally, there is no direct evidence to support the contention that the MAGIC excerpts played a decisive role in the decision of the figures who did have access to them to authorize mass evacuation, and considerable evidence that leads to a contrary inference. Throughout all the confidential memoranda and conversations taking place within the War Department at the time of the decision on evacuation, transcripts which show people speaking extremely freely, the MAGIC excerpts are not mentioned a single time. In particular, there is no evidence that President Roosevelt ever saw or was briefed on the MAGIC excerpts the author mentions, let alone that he was decisively influenced by them. As I detail at great length in my book "By Order of the President," throughout the 1930s Roosevelt expressed suspicions of Japanese Americans, irrespective of citizenship, and sought to keep the community under surveillance. As early as 1936, he already approved plans to arrest suspicious Japanese Americans in Hawaii if war broke out. As of early 1941, before FDR could have received any MAGIC excerpts, the Justice Department and the military had already put together lists of aliens to be taken into custody (the so-called ABC lists). These were not based on suspicion of individual activities, but of the suspected individuals' position in Japanese communities. Roosevelt continued to believe in a threat despite receiving reports of overwhelming community loyalty from the FBI and his own agents, reports he called "nothing much new." [Emphasis mine.]


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