Was the internment defensible?

During my vacation, I had the pleasure of reading Michelle Malkin’s In Defense of Internment. I strongly recommend this book. Among other things, Michelle demonstrates that, contrary to what millions of schoolchildren have been taught, (1) there was substantial evidence of ethnic Japanese disloyalty and espionage before, during, and after Pearl Harbor, (2) President Roosevelt was not hoodwinked by bigoted military leaders, and (3) there is no reason to conclude that the decision to evacuate and relocate ethnic Japanese living on the West Coast was motivated by racism or hysteria. (More on the third point below).
The book, however, did not persuade me that the “internment” was justified based on the information available to the government at the time. From what I can tell, the government did not have evidence that disloyalty on the part of ethnic Japanese was widespread. Rather, the best information it had (which admittedly may have consisted of little more than educated guesses) was that such disloyalty was not widespread at all. Under these circumstances, it was improper in my view for the government to evacuate and relocate all ethnic Japanese living on the West Coast. Instead, the correct approach would have been some combination of the measures urged by high government officials who did not support internment — such as excluding ethnic Japanese from sensitive jobs, evacuating them from highly sensitive areas, and/or interning those among them as to whom there was some reasonable suspicion of disloyalty, including perhaps those active in certain organizations where disloyalty was widespread.
If, as I believe, the government committed a major error to the detriment of an ethnic minority of a particular race, why isn’t it reasonable to ascribe this error to racism? First, I am not aware of any direct evidence that the real decisionmakers (Roosevelt, Stinson, and McCloy) were racists. Second, the indirect evidence of racism generally cited seems unpersuasive. Ethnic Germans were not similarly situated to ethnic Japanese living on the West Coast. For one thing, the administratiion had no reason to believe that Germany was in a position to launch attacks on areas where ethnic Germans could provide assistance. But the administration did have reason to believe that Japan could attack the West Coast, that ethnic Japanese were in a position to help them do so, and that at least some of them would likely provide that help.
Finally, there is a good, non-racist explanation for the course of action Roosevelt selected — civil libertarian interests were not taken seriously enough in that era. As Michelle shows, Roosevelt’s actions were consistent with those taken by other western democracies, including Canada, during World War II. Unless one takes civil liberties quite seriously, the internment makes good sense because, even granting the arguments I make above, it nonetheless was the safest course of action. Thus, our government need not have been racist to act as it did, and Michelle has performed a great service in demonstrating that, in all likelihood, the internment was not motivated by racism. Even more invaluably, she has shown how the internment of ethnic Japanese is being misused by those who today oppose a vigorous war on terrorism.
I understand that Michelle will appear today on the Northern Alliance radio program.
HINDROCKET adds: On our show this afternoon, Michelle referred admiringly to Deacon’s post. My sense is that she generally agrees with Deacon’s conclusion, as do I. I would only add that it is easy for us to see, with hindsight, that there wasn’t much danger of a Japanese invasion of the West Coast. This wasn’t obvious in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. And while there is no doubt that the vast majority of Japanese Americans were loyal, there is equally no doubt that some were not. It is impossible to know what injury to our war effort may have been prevented by the relocation. Having said that, I don’t think the evidence of danger was sufficient to justify the measures taken. But that is a judgment call on which reasonable minds can differ.


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