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 (8 page)

When Bendetsen said he wanted to remove “anyone” of Japanese ancestry, he meant what he said: old people in hospitals were scheduled for evacuation and were kept under military guard until they died or were able to travel. Grace Watanabe of Los Angeles, along with her mother, were loaded aboard a troop train to an unknown destination. She was forced to leave her father, a Methodist minister suffering from cancer, in a hospital. Two soldiers guarded the door of his hospital room. He was one of more than one thousand Japanese too sick to travel—each one guarded by soldiers, as if they could escape.

Japanese infants were included in the evacuation and so were children adopted by Caucasian parents. And orphans, too. Federal agents visited West Coast orphanages looking for children with Japanese features. A Catholic priest in charge of an orphanage, Father Hugh Lavery of the Maryknoll Center in Los Angeles, said that Bendetsen “showed himself to be a little Hitler. I mentioned that we had an orphanage with children of Japanese ancestry, and that some of these children were half Japanese, others one-fourth or less. I asked which children we should send.… Bendetsen said, ‘I am determined that if they have one drop of Japanese blood in them, they must go to camp.’”

The new colonel did not make any distinction between the forces of Imperial Japan and American Japanese. He wrote: “The Army’s job is to kill Japanese not to save Japanese.… If the Army is to devote its facilities to resettlement and social welfare work among Japanese aliens, it will be that much more difficult for it to get on to its primary task, that of winning the war.”

*   *   *

As Attorney General Biddle’s opposition to mass evacuation became public, he became a principal target not only of the army but of the West Coast press. In the
San Francisco Examiner
and other newspapers around the country, the Hearst columnist Henry McLemore wrote on February 5: “Mr. Biddle could not even win the post of third assistant dog catcher in charge of liver-spotted Airedales. That’s the way they feel about Mr. ‘Blueblood’ Biddle out here.… It would be a shame wouldn’t it, and an affront to civil liberties, to move the Japanese from in and about defense centers without proper warning. It might even upset their plans of sabotage.”

In Washington, the embattled attorney general lunched with the president on February 7, saying, according to his notes, that “there was no reason for mass evacuation and I thought the army should be directed to prepare a detailed plan for evacuation in case of an emergency caused by an air raid or attempted landing on the West Coast.” He then wrote a letter to Secretary of War Stimson the next day repeating his position. Stimson shared some of the concerns of the attorney general about the forced evacuation of American citizens being unconstitutional. “We cannot discriminate among our citizens on the basis of racial origin,” he told members of his staff and a few officers on February 4. But the aides, particularly McCloy and Gullion, were pressing him every day, arguing that there was indeed a possibility that the Japanese could invade the West Coast.

In his diary that night, the secretary of war wrote, “The second generation Japanese can only be evacuated either as part of a total evacuation, giving access only to the areas only by permits, or by frankly trying to put them out on the ground that their racial characteristics are such that we cannot understand or trust even the citizen Japanese. The latter is the fact but I am afraid it will make a tremendous hole in our constitutional system to apply it.”

Meanwhile, important figures from Washington were traveling across the country to meet with General DeWitt and Attorney General Warren. Among the visitors to California in those frenzied February days was Walter Lippmann, the most respected newspaper columnist in the nation’s capital. He arrived on February 8 and had dinner with Warren and Percy Heckendorf, the district attorney of Santa Barbara County, who later said the columnist wrote almost word for word what Warren told him. This is what Lippmann wrote for publication in his column Today and Tomorrow in the
Washington Post
, the
New York Herald Tribune
, and 250 other newspapers on February 13, 1942:

The Pacific Coast is in imminent danger of a combined attack from within and without.… It is a fact … [that] there has been no important sabotage on the Pacific Coast. From what we know about Hawaii and about the fifth column in Europe, this is not, as some would like to think, a sign there is nothing to be feared. It is a sign that the blow is well organized and that it is held back until it can be struck with maximum effect.

Lippmann went on to say, “There is the assumption that if the rights of a citizen are abridged anywhere they have been abridged everywhere.” He concluded: “Nobody’s constitutional rights include the right to reside and do business on a battlefield.”

Enraged by the column, Biddle sent a memo to the president, saying that Lippmann and other commentators were “Armchair Strategists and Junior G-Men.… It comes close to yelling ‘FIRE!’ in the theater.”

The attorney general was too late. The column had tremendous impact in Washington and the rest of the country. Others followed, notably columnist Damon Runyon in New York and Westbrook Pegler, a Hearst columnist, who wrote that if the great Lippmann expected sabotage and infiltration, it must be true, writing, “Do you get what he says? This is a high grade fellow, with a heavy sense of responsibility.… We are so damned dumb and considerate of the minute political feelings and influence of people.… The Germans round them all up and keep them in pens.”

Lippmann was essentially writing to an audience of one: Franklin D. Roosevelt. What happened next was predictable. On the day after the Lippmann column, all members of Congress from California, Oregon, and Washington signed on to a letter to the president saying, “We recommend the immediate evacuation of all persons of Japanese lineage and all others, aliens and citizens alike, whose presence shall be deemed dangerous or inimical to the defense of the United States from all strategic areas.”

*   *   *

Secretary Stimson asked for a meeting with the president but was told there were many more pressing concerns than the “West Coast problem.” The president and the secretary spoke by telephone instead. Stimson was an elder statesman, a seventy-four-year-old Republican, who had served as secretary of state in Republican administrations. He was personally close to the president and he was an old-fashioned “president’s man,” loyal to the chief, even if he was not comfortable with what was happening. During their telephone call, Stimson asked whether Roosevelt was prepared to remove both citizens and aliens from the West Coast. The president, certainly influenced by the news that day that Japanese troops were invading Singapore and other Asian targets, told the secretary of war to make the decision himself on how to handle Japanese citizens at home. “But…” the president added, “be as reasonable as you can.”

Stimson called in his deputy McCloy, who was also a Republican, and told him what the president had said. McCloy interpreted that to mean Roosevelt was giving them, in McCloy’s words, “carte blanche” to deal with the West Coast problem. McCloy then called Bendetsen and DeWitt, saying, “We talked to the President, and the President, in substance, says go ahead and do anything you think necessary.… If it involves citizens, we will take care of them too. He says there will probably be repercussions, but it has to be dictated by military necessity.”

The secretary of war and his aggressive deputy understood that the president wanted to stay as far from the operation as possible, and that the military side—Stimson, Gullion, DeWitt, and Bendetsen—would be in charge of the evacuation. Beyond the Bendetsen-DeWitt declaration that all of the West Coast was a “War Zone,” no real preparations had been made for such a complicated operation. In the beginning, even though American Japanese were prohibited from traveling more than five miles from their homes and were subject to an 8:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. curfew, DeWitt also announced that Japanese and Japanese Americans were free to move “voluntarily” from the new West Coast “War Zone” to states and places east of the zone. But move where? Few of the West Coast Japanese, a clannish bunch, had family or knew anyone in other parts of the country. And they were afraid, expecting open hostility across the country. One of the army’s arguments for what Roosevelt himself had called “concentration camps” was to protect the Japanese from their fellow Americans. Lippmann and McCloy were among those who would later maintain that their primary concern was to protect the American Japanese from the potential vigilante violence of their white neighbors.

On February 17, Roosevelt officially told Stimson and McCloy to draft an executive order authorizing evacuation—without informing Biddle. The matter, if not the manner, was settled. Roosevelt had made it as clear as he could: he did not want to hear any more of this. Stimson began working on an executive order that declared the evacuation “a matter of Military Necessity.” The final draft of the executive order did not mention the words “Japanese,” “Japanese American,” or “citizen.” Internal memos referred to American citizens of Japanese descent as “non-aliens.”

That evening, Colonel Bendetsen and Assistant Attorney General Clark, who had flown into Washington the night before, went to Biddle’s home to meet with the attorney general, McCloy, and Gullion. After two of Biddle’s assistants, Ennis and Rowe, laid out the legal case against incarceration, Gullion pulled out the draft order approved by both War and Justice. Biddle’s assistants were stunned. Ennis was near tears. The attorney general himself said nothing, although he had sent a memo to the president that same day, saying: “A great many West Coast people distrust the Japanese, various special interests would welcome their removal from good farm land and the elimination of their competition.… My last advice from the War Department is that there is no evidence of imminent attack and from the FBI that there is no evidence of planned sabotage.”

There was no answer from Roosevelt. The next day, Biddle said he and the Justice Department would have nothing to do with any evacuation. Gullion was beside himself, telling General Mark Clark that he had called Biddle and said, “‘Well listen Mr. Biddle, do you mean to tell me that if the Army, the men on the ground, determine it is a military necessity to move citizens, Jap citizens, that you won’t help me?’ He didn’t give a direct answer, he said the Department of Justice would be through if we interfered with citizens and the right of
habeas corpus
, etc.”

Biddle also received a call from California congressman Leland Ford, who had originally opposed evacuation and attacked Southern advocates of the idea as racists. Now, switching sides, Ford told his staff:

I phoned the Attorney General’s office and told them to stop fucking around. I gave them twenty-four hours’ notice that unless they would issue a mass evacuation notice I would drag the whole matter out on the floor of the House and of the Senate and give the bastards everything we could with both barrels. I told them they had given us the runaround long enough … and that if they would not take immediate action, we would clean the god damned office out in one sweep. I cussed at the Attorney General and his staff … and he knew damn well I meant business.

So the military was going to have its way on evacuation. All Japanese, citizens and aliens, were going to be removed from the Pacific Coast.

*   *   *

On February 19, without comment, the president of the United States signed Executive Order 9066, which read, in part:

Authorizing the Secretary of War to Prescribe Military Areas

I hereby further authorize and direct the Secretary of War and the said Military Commanders to take such other steps as he or the appropriate Military Commander may deem advisable to enforce compliance with the restrictions applicable to each Military area herein above authorized to be designated, including the use of Federal troops and other Federal Agencies, with authority to accept assistance of state and local agencies.

In California, the district attorney of Santa Barbara County, Percy Heckendorf, who had been at dinner with Warren and Lippmann, congratulated the California attorney general, saying, “I have no doubt that the presidential order stems back to the article written by Lippmann following the talk with you.”

The day after the president signed Executive Order 9066, Secretary of War Stimson authorized General DeWitt to carry out the intent of the order. Within two weeks, DeWitt designated the western halves of California, Oregon, and Washington as well as southern Arizona as Military Area No. 1 of the Western Defense Command. At the same time, California attorney general Warren called a conference of the state’s district attorneys and sheriffs. Warren used, almost word for word, the line DeWitt and he had been feeding in private to the War Department and the press: the fact that there had been no sabotage was proof there would be. Warren told them that he considered “fifth column activities” to be “a tremendous problem in California.” He considered it to be “significant” that California hadn’t had any such activities nor any sabotage reported, and went on to say that “it looks very much to me as though it is a studied effort not to have any until the zero hour arrives.… That is the history of Pearl Harbor. I can’t help believing that the same thing is planned for California.” Warren concluded that “every alien Japanese should be considered in the light of a potential fifth columnist.”

Then, testifying before congressional committees, Warren, this time in public, repeated the argument that he and DeWitt had been making in private meetings: “The only reason we haven’t had disaster in California is because it has been timed for a different date.… For us to believe to the contrary is just not realistic.” He compared the situation in his state with that of countries occupied by German troops in Europe.

Warren continued his argument, saying, “It is certainly evident that the Japanese population of California is, as a whole, ideally situated, with reference to points of strategic importance, to carry into execution a tremendous program of sabotage on a mass scale.” He went on to warn, “I believe that we are just being lulled into a sense of security. Our day of reckoning is bound to come.… We are approaching an invisible deadline.”

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