A Conservative Hails FDR's Concentration Camps
by Anthony Gregory
by Anthony Gregory
No Democrat, liberal, or socialist could possibly defend Franklin Delano Roosevelt more passionately than does conservative Michelle Malkin in her new book, In Defense of Internment: The Case for ‘Racial Profiling' in World War II and the War on Terror (Washington, DC: Regnery), 2004.
After decades of scholarship questioning Roosevelt's New Deal programs and wartime tactics, it is refreshing finally to see an unwavering defense of one of FDR's most universally discredited policies: the forced evacuation, relocation, and internment of 112,000 innocent Japanese American civilians, citizen and non-citizen alike. FDR is the quintessential hero of modern Democrats, but his camps, according to Malkin, warrant bipartisan applause. In four hundred pages of text, government documents, and photos of happily interned Japanese Americans, Malkin gives us plenty to consider.
So Much More Than Just Japanese Internment
Malkin explains that the term "Japanese Internment" is loaded, because there are technically different correct names for all the distinct policies Roosevelt had for relocating and detaining people without trial. Not all ethnic Japanese who were "relocated" were technically "interned." In a series of charts in Appendix F, Malkin lists the many "relocation centers," "citizen isolation camps," "internment hotels," and other places at which FDR detained people without charging them of crimes. Malkin insists repeatedly that lumping all of the detainment policies and centers in the "internment" category is not only technically inaccurate, but, in some way or another, it aids the enemy.
In fact, Roosevelt — always inclusive and progressive — not only interned and detained those with Japanese heritage; he had the multicultural good sense also to intern Germans, Italians, Hungarians, Romanians, and Bulgarians. More than one might gather from the conventional wisdom, FDR practiced Equal Opportunity Internment.
Malkin shows that the Japanese were not the only ones who had to sacrifice for the Good of the Fatherland:
"Enemy aliens from all Axis nations—not just Japan—were subjected to curfews, registration, censorship, and exclusion from sensitive areas… And beginning in September 1940, more than a year before Pearl Harbor, more than 10 million young men of all backgrounds were conscripted into our nation's armed forces. Approximately two-thirds of the 292,000 Americans killed and 671,000 wounded in the war were forced to serve."(xiv)
So there you have it! Roosevelt wasn't just picking on the Japanese. Even before the war he had the foresight to begin drafting young men (just in case the Japanese ever attacked in a surprise strike of which FDR had no expectation whatsoever). And by the end of the war he had forced nearly 200,000 young men to fight to their deaths! Compared to the conscripted war dead, the internees were lucky FDR didn't kill them.
Malkin also points out that the United States wasn't the only country to detain "enemy aliens" without trial. "During World War II," she writes, "virtually every major country — from Japan to Germany, from China to Egypt, from Holland to New Zealand — interned its enemy aliens." (54)
Even the Germans and Japanese did it during World War II! So it's not like the US government did something the Nazis weren't willing to do.
FDR Destroyed the Bill of Rights, But Did He Save America?
Malkin explains somewhat convincingly that there were in fact Japanese Americans who sympathized with Japan. There was a startling incident on Niihaua Island when a whole handful of Japanese Hawaiians assisted a downed Japanese fighter pilot who planned to attack Pearl Harbor. And if even Hawaii — which the non-imperial United States had acquired fair and square, along with the Philippines, during the non-imperial Spanish American War — contained a few people who weren't completely loyal to the United States, certainly no person of Japanese descent living in California could be trusted!
Malkin even shows that during the 1930s many Japanese Americans living in the continental United States tended to sympathize with Japan in its war against China. (This, of course, was treasonous, seeing as how the US government was supposed to be neutral, its support of the Flying Tigers in China notwithstanding.)
Malkin goes on, and on, and on, to show that (1) some Japanese Americans and ethnic Japanese living in America had loyalties to Japan, and (2) FDR was aware of Japanese espionage as a threat to America. In making this latter point, Malkin shows that government officials who opposed internment, like J. Edgar Hoover, were unaware of the US government having cracked the MAGIC code. On the other hand, the top leaders in the administration, such as War Secretary Henry Stimson, who were aware of the code breaking, also tended to support internment. Hmmm. I wonder if the same people were also privy to the naval code that revealed Japan was going to attack Pearl Harbor. How interesting, if the same people who knew about all these codes also happened to support Japanese internment. Hmmm. (Stimson was also strongly behind the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, unlike many leaders at the time. Hmmm. That Stimson character was always ahead of the game.)
All in all, Malkin's obsessive attempts to prove a real threat of Japanese invasion or destruction of the US war effort are futile. As has been pointed out succinctly by Vox Day, there was no real threat of Japanese invasion, and FDR and his corrupt administration knew it.
Shattering the "Concentration Camp" "Myth"
Malkin punctures the myth, supposedly believed far and wide, that FDR's relocation centers were as bad as Nazi death camps. She explains:
"It is true that many politicians and public officials, including President Roosevelt himself, used the phrase ‘concentration camps' to describe the relocation centers. But it wasn't until the liberation of the Nazi death camps beginning in 1945 that the phrase took on the popular meaning that it retains today — that is, places of barbaric cruelty and torture on the order of what the Jews and others suffered under Hitler. In no way should the real suffering of ethnic Japanese evacuees and all Axis internees be minimized. But to compare American's (sic) internment and relocation centers to the Third Reich's extermination camps is to recklessly distort history and to trivialize the experience of Holocaust victims."(96)
In other words, although FDR himself called them concentration camps, and although no one would really confuse them with Hitler's concentration camps, and although we shouldn't trivialize the suffering of FDR's victims (though we should, of course, say such suffering was necessary), the fact is that calling them concentration camps, the way FDR did, distorts the way that we don't look at history. Or something like that.
And thus, the "myth" of "concentration camps" blows away as surely as a man of straw.
Another myth, according to Malkin, is that Japanese internment was "racist." As she points out, the government also detained other people based on their national origins, not just Japanese. (Interestingly enough, she includes in her appendix an official Navy Department document from December 4, 1941, which details the Japanese "Relations With The Negroes": "[I]t became apparent that representatives of the Japanese government in the United States were attempting to organize Negroes for the purpose of retarding National Defense efforts and to commit sabotage." (223) See? The US government was neither paranoid nor racially motivated; it had a rational interest in national security, that's all.)
Those Whining, Politically Correct Anti-Internment Fuzz-brains
Malkin describes in length how terrible it is that victims of Japanese internment received restitution for what they endured. In 1988, Ronald Reagan signed a bill that awarded $1.65 billion in reparations. Malkin, the conservative FDR-lover, is quite harsh on Reagan for such irresponsible, leftist behavior. Just think of how many "internment hotels" $1.65 billion could purchase. (Of course, as a libertarian, I think tax dollars shouldn't go to FDR's victims. Money from his estate should, followed by government assets if his estate is inadequate. I'd start with selling the FDR memorial.)
The Modern Lesson of Japanese (and non-Japanese) Relocation
The importance of reconsidering FDR's concentration camps is that "the prevailing view of World War II homeland defense measures has become the warped yardstick by which all War on Terror measures today are judged." (xvii)
Of course, this is very true. Instead of looking at Roosevelt's Japanese Internment, his Office of Censorship, his conscription of 10 million young men, his food rationing and nationalization of the economy, his civilian bombings, and his income tax withholding as bad things, we should realize that the U.S. government must do anything up to and including such extreme measures in order to protect us from outside enemies, no matter how dubious the threat and how irresponsible and dishonest our government officials.
We can't let the "political correctness" exemplified by the knee-jerk opposition to rounding up tens of thousands of innocent people without due process and forcing them into camps disrupt our modern efforts to secure our nation. As Malkin says:
"In a time of war, the survival of the nations comes first. Civil liberties are not sacrosanct. The ‘unalienable rights' that our Founding Fathers articulated do not appear in random order: Liberty and the pursuit of happiness cannot be secured and protected without securing and protecting life first." (xiv)
Surely, during the American Revolution, when the Founders were championing free speech, the right to bear arms, and the right to a trial, they didn't think such rights should interfere with the government's priorities during wartime! It's not like they ever had an enemy invasion to fear.
Malkin finds it un-American that some folks have been upset about Bush's detainment of so many people without trial after 9/11. She doesn't seem bothered by the fact that the administration has found virtually nobody worth accusing of a crime among the thousands detained unconstitutionally, and has been releasing prisoners who were apparently locked up all this time under harsh treatment for no reason.
Malkin cheers on the Supreme Court for upholding government secrecy after 9/11, indicates that the exclusionary rule and Miranda rights are anachronistic, and explains that America must make a choice between "civil liberties or survival":
"[In] times of crisis, civil rights often yield to security in order to ensure the nation's survival. What is legal and what is necessary to preserve the Republic sometimes diverge…. In defying a Supreme Court order to restore habeas corpus, Lincoln refused to let the ‘government itself go to pieces' for the sake a (sic) single law." (163)
What "single law" was it that protected habeas corpus? Oh yeah, the Constitution — the document that brought the government into existence and supposedly gives it its power. We can't let the Constitution get in the way of the government. To do so would be "politically correct," right?
The Real Meaning of Malkin's Book
It's hard to know what Malkin is trying to say. On the one hand she says that Japanese Internment is a false analogy for what we face today, and yet she wrote a whole book on it laying out the parallels.
I gather one underlying lesson from the book: America as we know it is in great peril. Conservatives can be expected to hail and glorify Franklin Roosevelt, and defend some of his worst domestic policies. For many years Japanese Internment was one of the few government atrocities whose evil was really understood by most Americans, on the Left and Right. It was always a good example to explain to liberals why FDR was no saint, and why his other policies should be seriously reexamined. It was a good way of keeping in mind that it can happen here. When conservatives celebrate a book written to defend the most destructive and horrid president of the 20th century and his concentration camps, we're in trouble.
If it's "politically correct" to stand by the Bill of Rights and against the hysterically draconian policies of FDR and Bush II, I'm glad that, for once, the politically correct crowd is on the side of reason and liberty. It's all for the good that FDR's concentration camps are still taboo. Jefferson's America was never meant to have Gulags, or anything close.
September 15, 2004
Anthony Gregory [send him mail] is a writer and musician who lives in Berkeley, California. He earned his bachelor's degree in history at UC Berkeley, where he was president of the Cal Libertarians. He is an intern at the Independent Institute and has written for Rational Review, Strike the Root, the Libertarian Enterprise, and Antiwar.com. See his webpage for more articles and personal information.
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