Wednesday, August 04, 2004

More on MAGIC

I've been somewhat remiss in failing to cite Tetsuden Kashima's definitive text, Judgment Without Trial: Japanese American Imprisonment during World War II, which I mentioned earlier in my post responding to Michelle Malkin's text on the Japanese-American internment. In fact, let me recommend it strongly to all my readers as a potent antidote to Malkin's nonsense.

Kashima, as I explained, thoroughly examines the evidence regarding the long-term plans for internment that ultimately led to the incarceration of 122,000 Nikkei during World War II. Unlike Malkin's agenda-driven work, Kashima examines the entire array of prewar planning, including the Special Defense Unit's prewar investigations and classifications of potential suspects and Office of Naval Intelligence work -- as well as the MAGIC cables, about which he writes (pp. 38-39):
American cryptoanalysts had successfully decoded one of the highest-level Japanese foreign office diplomatic codes by fall 1940. This project, named Magic, was so sensitive that only a handful of people in the U.S. government knew of its existence, and fewer still were privy to the information derived from it. The distribution of the information was limited to nine: the secretary of war, the army chief of staff, the director of military intelligence, the secretary of the navy, the chief of naval operations, the chief of the navy's war plans division, the director of naval operations, the secretary of state, and President Roosevelt.

A few of these messages dealt with intelligence agents. Few Japanese names are mentioned: one is "Iwasaki," who "had been in touch with William Dudley Pelley, leader of the Silver Shirts, a fascist organization in the United States." Iwasaki was apparently an agent sent by Japan who returned home prior to December 7; he was not a permanent resident Issei.

There is no indication among all the messages of any plan to organize sabotage activities. The messages emphasize the gathering of information from available sources such as publications and journals. Of the nineteen suspects convicted of committing acts of espionage in the United States in the years before and during World War II, none had a recognizably Japanese name.

Malkin makes much of FDR's keen interest in the MAGIC cables, but there's nothing extraordinary in this, given what we know about FDR's predilection for 'Yellow Peril' and related theories (an unsurprising fact, incidentally, given that many liberals, including much of the labor movement up through the 1920s, were intimately involved in anti-Asian racial agitation).

It's important to understand that the evacuation and incarceration of citizens was a plan cooked up not by FDR but under the purview of War Secretary Henry Stimson and his Assistant Secretary John McCloy, primarily at the behest of a trio of officers: Lt. Gen John L. DeWitt (head of the Western Command), Lt. Col. Karl Bendetsen (the "architect" of the internment), and Provost General Allen Gullion, who for some time had been looking to establish a precedent regarding military control of civilian populations in non-combat situations. It was this coterie that largely made the internment a reality; the only cabinet officer who stood up to them was Attorney General Francis Biddle, who argued consistently against it. However, FDR overruled him and agreed to the Bendetsen/DeWitt plan. Of all these men, only FDR and Stimson had access to the MAGIC cables.

Moreover, as I previously noted, and as Kashima thoroughly documents, the MAGIC cables were hardly the only intelligence influencing FDR's decisions. Nor, for that matter, is there any evidence that they played any significant role in FDR's decisions -- except, perhaps, to buttress his well-established prejudices.

Kashima has more on this, particularly details on the Curtis Munson intelligence report (mentioned previously) that concluded that "We do not believe that they would be at least any more disloyal than any other racial group in the United States with whom we went to war." Kashima concludes (p. 41):
The president and his cabinet thus had reports on the "Japanese situation" from a trained navy intelligence officer and a trusted civilian investigator months before war was declared. Both Ringle's and Munson's reports exonerated the majority of the Japanese American population of constituting a threat to national security. Yet, this had little effect in sparing them the onus of being labeled a suspect group. President Roosevelt made no such effort to keep watch on Americans of German and Italian ancestry. Greg Robinson [By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans, Harvard University Press, 2001] argues convincingly that Roosevelt's anti-Japanese views from the early 1930s carried over to persons of Japanese ancestry in the United States and resulted in his making no distinction between the Issei and the Nisei. For this reason, "during the prewar years the President consistently regarded Japanese Americans as adjuncts of Japan and therefore as potential enemies, despite their American birth or decades-long residence in the United States."

FDR indeed was fascinated by the MAGIC cables, and evidently read them avidly. But this does not, as Malkin suggests, exonerate him of the charge of racism in his decision to incarcerate 120,000 people in concentration camps.

[UPDATE: Eric Muller has obtained a copy of the text and is now reviewing it at Volokh Conspiracy, where he's guest-blogging. And be sure to check out Greg Robinson's withering response.]

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