Read Infamy Online

Authors: Richard Reeves

Tags: #History, #Military, #World War II, #United States, #20th Century, #State & Local, #West (AK; CA; CO; HI; ID; MT; NV; UT; WY)

Infamy (6 page)

Despite her own fears, though, Mrs. Roosevelt traveled to California to publicly meet with prominent Nisei women in Los Angeles on Decemeber 11, and she then wrote in her nationally syndicated column My Day: “This is, perhaps, the greatest test this country has ever met.… Our citizens come from all the nations of the world … If we can not meet the challenge of fairness to our citizens of every nationality, of really believing in the Bill of Rights and making it a reality for all loyal American citizens, regardless of race, creed, or color, if we cannot keep in check anti-Semitism, anti-racial feelings, as well as anti-religous feelings, then we shall have removed the one real hope for the future on which all humanity must now rely.”




19, 1942

On the next to last day of 1941, December 30, Saburo Kido, the San Francisco attorney who was the president of the Japanese American Citizens League, had a visitor, his friend Fred Nomura, an insurance agent. “Sab,” Nomura said, “I hear they’re going to put all the Japanese in concentration camps. Do you know anything about that?”

“Who says so?” asked Kido.

“The chief of police in Oakland told me. He told me everybody—Issei, Nisei, even the little kids are going to be interned.”

“He’s crazy. They can’t do that to us. We’re American citizens.”

The first public call for all American Japanese, aliens and citizens, men, women, and children, to be moved into “concentration camps” was on January 14, 1942, in the
Placerville Times
, the newspaper in a small town forty miles east of Sacramento. Two weeks later, on January 29, California’s attorney general, Warren, who had been an important voice for moderation, essentially switched sides, issuing a press release that read, “I have come to the conclusion that the Japanese situation as it exists in this state today, may well be the Achilles Heel of the entire civil defense effort. Unless something is done it may bring about a repetition of Pearl Harbor.”

Governor Olson, a Democrat who expected that Warren, a Republican and a member of the whites-only Native Sons of the Golden West, would be his opponent in the election in November of 1942, did the same thing, testifying before a congressional hearing a week later, saying: “Because of the extreme difficulty in distinguishing between loyal Japanese-Americans, and there are many who are loyal to this country, and those other Japanese whose loyalty is to the Mikado, I believe in the wholesale evacuation of the Japanese people from coastal California.” Then the governor gave a statewide radio address, saying,

It is known that there are Japanese residents of California who have sought to aid the Japanese enemy by way of communicating information or have shown indications of preparation for Fifth Column activities.”

In Los Angeles, Mayor Fletcher Bowron, after dismissing all city employees of Japanese lineage, declared, “Right here in our own city are those who may spring to action at an appointed time in accordance with a prearranged plan wherein each of our little Japanese friends will know his part in the event of any possible attempted invasion or air raid.… We cannot run the risk of another Pearl Harbor episode in Southern California.” He later added, “There isn’t a shadow of a doubt but that Lincoln, the mild-mannered man whose memory we regard with almost saint-like reverence, would make short work of rounding up the Japanese and putting them where they could do no harm.” He continued by calling the Japanese Americans “the people born on American soil who have secret loyalty to the Japanese Emperor.”

California’s officeholders were soon joined by politicians from all over the country, particularly southerners in Congress. “This is a race war,” said Representative John Rankin of Mississippi. “I say it is of vital importance that we get rid of every Japanese, whether in Hawaii or the mainland.… Damn them! Let’s get rid of them now.”

One congressman, Jed Johnson of Oklahoma, was demanding the sterilization of all American Japanese. Talk like that, and some secret experiments as well, were part of American life then. Even the president, Franklin Roosevelt, was comfortable with the casual racial myths and theories, including eugenics, that had emerged in the United States in the 1920s—and were cited by Hitler when he came to power. By any modern standards, Roosevelt and millions of people who voted for him were racists and, often, anti-Semites. The president, in conversations with friends, speculated that the reason Japanese were “devious and treacherous” was the shape of their skulls—less developed skulls, “two thousand years behind Caucasians,” in the words of eminent anthropologist Ales Hrdlicka, director of the Smithsonian Institution and a friend of the president. “Could that be dealt with surgically?” Roosevelt asked in conversation with Hrdlicka in 1942. In August of 1944, at a cabinet meeting, Roosevelt talked of sterilizing fifty thousand German leaders and officers. A few days after that, the president told his secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau, “You either have to castrate the German people or you have got to treat them in such a manner so they can’t go on reproducing people who want to continue the way they have in the past.”

*   *   *

In California, the bigger city papers, following or leading their readers, were soon hardening their positions on the American Japanese. Both the
Los Angeles Times
San Francisco Examiner
published a column by a Hearst writer, Henry McLemore, that began:

Speaking strictly as an American, I think Americans are nuts.… The only Japanese apprehended have been the ones the FBI actually had something on. The rest of them, so help me, are free as birds.… I know this is the melting pot of the world and all men are created equal and there must be no such thing as race or creed hatred, but do these things go when a country is fighting for its life?… I am for immediate removal of every Japanese on the West Coast to a point deep in the interior. I don’t mean a nice part of the interior either.… Personally, I hate the Japanese. And that goes for all of them.… Let ’em be pinched, hurt, hungry and dead up against it.

The Examiner
’s rival the
San Francisco Chronicle
went the other way for three days, editorializing: “It is not necessary to imitate Hitler by herding whole populations, the guilty and the innocent together into even humane concentration camps.” But on its front page, the paper printed these headlines beginning on December 10, 1941, and continuing through January: “Crime and Poverty Go Hand in Hand with Asiatic Labor,” “Brown Men Are Made Citizens Illegally,” and “Japanese a Menace to American Women.”

Stories like that were standard newspaper fare going back to the turn of the century. The
had focused on the Japanese, editorializing: “The Chinese are faithful laborers and do not buy land. The Japanese are unfaithful laborers and do buy land.” The
Los Angeles Times
added: “Japanese males are taught by their elders to look upon American girls with a view to sex relations. The proposed assimilation of the two races is unthinkable. It is morally indefensible and biologically impossible.” The paper went on to defend “American womanhood,” which it considered “far too sacred to be subjected to such degeneracy. An American who would not die fighting rather than yield to this infamy does not deserve the name.”

mirrored the San Francisco papers with front-page headlines for the same period reading: “Jap Boat Flashes Message Ashore,” “Enemy Planes Sighted over California Coast,” “Caps on Japanese Tomato Plants Point to Airfields.”

California’s capital newspaper, the
Sacramento Bee
, had focused hatred on a small Japanese settlement called Florin, nine miles south of the capital city. The paper’s publisher, V. S. McClatchy, founder of the Japanese Exclusion League of California, who died in 1938, had as a boy delivered papers by bicycle to that little enclave, and written: “As soon as a Jap can produce a lease, he is entitled to a wife. He sends a copy of the lease back home, gets a picture bride and they increase like rats. Florin is producing 85 American-born Japs a year.”

And as early as February of 1940, William Randolph Hearst, the owner of the
Los Angeles Examiner
and its sister paper the
in San Francisco, wrote a page one editorial in both papers inviting cabinet members and military men to travel west: “Come see the myriads of little Japs peacefully raising fruits and flowers and vegetables on California sunshine and saying hopefully and wistfully, ‘Someday I come with Japanese Army and take all this. Yes, sir, thank you.’” He continued, “Then see the fleets of peaceful little Japanese fishing boats, plying up and down the California coast, catching fish and taking photographs.”

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the fear and the exaggeration ran up and down the coast into the new year. On February 21, 1942, the
went so far as to claim that the Japanese in Hawaii were at the ready before the attacks, accusing them of deliberately blocking traffic with their cars and trucks to trap navy and army officers and men from reaching their ships and stations during the bombings. The piece went on to say that “among all the Japanese who knew the plot there was not one, no matter where born, who came forward to warn the United States.” That was not true, but the editorial ended by saying, “This is a fight for survival.… We have to be tough, even if civil rights do take a beating for a time.”

Two days after that, the
editorialized: “The necessity for action has been growing for the past ten weeks as the possibility of a Japanese attack on the coast has loomed ever larger.… Californians never can feel secure until all enemy aliens and Fifth Column citizens, too—are put in place and surrounded with conditions which will make it utterly impossible for them to serve superiors in any totalitarian capital whose deadly purpose is to destroy the United States of America.”

The papers were joined by hundreds of California organizations, among them Lions and Elks clubs, the Supreme Pyramid of the Sciots, the California Townsend Clubs, and the Magnolia Study Club of Anaheim. Radio also joined in. A prominent Mutual Broadcasting Company commentator, John B. Hughes—“News and Views from John B. Hughes”—was telling the nation, west and east, day after day, that 99 percent of Japanese, alien and citizen, were “primarily loyal to Japan.… The Japanese are a far greater menace in our midst than any other axis patriots. They will die joyously for the honor of Japan.” One of the most famous of graduates of Washington State University, Edward R. Murrow of CBS News, said in a January 1942 speech in Pullman, Washington, “I think it’s probable that, if Seattle ever does get bombed, you will be able to look up and see some University of Washington sweaters on the boys doing the bombing.” To the south, in Hollywood, the fear was pervasive enough that film studios joined together to ship reels of their negatives to underground vaults in the Midwest.

There were few men in press or politics willing to stand up for the rights of the Japanese living on the West Coast. The
Santa Ana Register
in Orange County, with a daily circulation of about fifteen thousand, was probably the most conservative daily in the state. The paper was owned by R. C. Hoiles, an early libertarian whose columns and editorials argued for limited government, free markets, property rights, and individual liberty—and against public schools, collective bargaining, social-welfare laws, and taxes. As early as February 5, 1942, Hoiles wrote: “The recommendation of the grand jury to have all alien enemies removed from Orange County calls for a difficult undertaking. Every bit of wealth that these workers are prevented from creating, which we so badly need during the war, will have to be created by the labor of some other worker.” He went on to urge restraint: “It would seem that we should not become too skeptical of the loyalty of those people who were born in a foreign country and have lived in the country as good citizens for many years. It is very hard to believe that they are dangerous.”

A small number of national columnists and commentators in other cities also resisted the California hysteria, among them Ernie Pyle of Scripps Howard and Chester Rowell, whose columns appeared in the
San Francisco Chronicle

*   *   *

In Washington, D.C., meanwhile, the struggle for the mind of President Roosevelt continued. But he was a man with a lot on his mind. It was possible that he had already decided in favor of the idea of evacuation of the West Coast Japanese and intended to leave the details to others. He was absorbed with the logistics and politics of a two-front war—against the Nazis and Fascists across the Atlantic and Imperial Japan across the Pacific. The great oceans that had protected and isolated America for centuries had become the paths to World War II.

Attorney General Francis Biddle was against mass evacuation, in private, as were most of his young assistants at the Justice Department. Biddle was a Philadelphia lawyer of distinguished American lineage—his family traced its American heritage to 1671 and his great-great-grandfather Edmund Jennings Randolph was attorney general under President George Washington. And Biddle believed that the evacuation was unconstitutional if it included American citizens. The attorney general thought the real domestic danger was German and Italian aliens on the East Coast, where German submarines were in action torpedoing dozens of American supply ships headed for Europe. He was against evacuating the Japanese and Japanese Americans in the West, but he had been in office only five months and, as a man of the establishment, he deferred not only to the president but to most senior officials, particularly Secretary of War Henry Stimson.

Although Biddle did not make his own opposition public at first, the principal official dissent in the capital was coming from his department. Assistant Attorneys General Edward Ennis and James Rowe, and J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the FBI, were against talk of evacuation. “I must say,” said Ennis, director of the Justice Department’s Enemy Alien Control Unit, “it looked to me as if the army was itching to do something. They couldn’t fight the Japanese in California, so they found someone else to fight, and that was the Americans of Japanese ancestry.” Rowe sent a memo to the president’s secretary, Grace Tully, asking her to tell the boss that California politicians were likely to call for “one of the great mass exoduses of history.” Hoover, whose agents were doing double duty, was rounding up aliens on their “danger lists” and insisting that they could handle any disloyalty cases on the West Coast or Hawaii without military help.

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