Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Malkin and McCloy

Michelle Malkin dedicated her book In Defense of Internment to the memory of two men: David Lowman, author of the oft-debunked MAGIC: The Untold Story of U.S. Intelligence and the Evacuation of Japanese Residents from the West Coast during WW II and Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy, who in later years -- attempting to defend the internment as well -- would claim that he and other officials were indeed heavily influenced by the MAGIC decrypts that form the core of Malkin's thesis.

Malkin takes McCloy's claims at face value, and throughout her text depicts him as the chief driver of the decision to incarcerate 120,000 Japanese Americans for the duration of World War II. From pp. 76-77:
Under normal operations in the military, the local commander -- in this case [Lt. Gen. John] DeWitt -- would be the one to make the recommendation based on his evaluation, which he would then send to War Department officials in Washington, D.C., for approval. This has been the assumption of virtually every popular account of the West Coast evacuation, written by historians convinced that DeWitt's alleged racism and West Coast hysteria drove the decision. In truth, the push came from higher up, where knowledge of the MAGIC intelligence outlining Japan's alarming espionage operations rested. Army historian Stetson Conn's account makes this clear. On February 11, 1942, McCloy informed Bendetsen that Roosevelt "had specifically authorized the evacuation of citizens." This was two days before DeWitt's final recommendations had been sent to Washington, dated February 13. ...

When McCloy testified before Congress in 1984, he affirmed that the MAGIC cables helped shape the decisions of those who ordered the evacuation. He stated that he read MAGIC messages on a daily basis, and that it was a "very important" factor in the development of the evacutation policy.

There are many problems with this account, not the least of which is that the document trail makes clear that the actual architects of the internment were Provost Marshall General Allen Gullion and his protege Lt. Col. Karl Bendetsen, both of whom agitated for mass evacuation from early on in the process, and whose advice profoundly affected the decisions made by both DeWitt and McCloy. Even more dubious, though, is Malkin's credulousness about McCloy's later testimony.

Now a document has surfaced that makes plain that McCloy at the time was not affected by the MAGIC decrypts -- a fact that seriously undermines Malkin's whole thesis.

In today's Seattle Times, Bruce Ramsey reports that historian Greg Robinson uncovered the following document during recent research:

This is a memo from McCloy to his immediate superior, War Undersecretary Robert Patterson, describing his view of then-current agitation (which I describe in Strawberry Days) to make conditions for the Japanese American internees actually harsher. Note particularly the handwritten lines at the bottom of the memo:
These people are not 'internees' -- they are under no suspicion for the most part and were moved largely because we felt we could not control our own white citizens in California.

This directly contradicts McCloy's later claims that the intelligence, particularly MAGIC, led officials to have concerns about the security risk presented by the entire Japanese American population on the West Coast. The second half of the note is also, as Robinson notes, not very accurate; the official pretense was a nonexistent "military necessity," and there is no evidence that white vigilantism was anything more than a peripheral concern for the officials who made the decision.

Like Eric Muller, Ramsey notes that the meaning of this second half-sentence may have been more along the lines of acknowledging the political realities that government officials faced regarding the racial hysteria that swept the Coast after Pearl Harbor:
I see another meaning in the words, "we could not control our own white citizens." McCloy may have been saying the government could not control its white citizens' political demands.

The sense of alarm ran deep. After the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, people were told the West Coast was undefended.

A map in The Seattle Times showed likely invasion beaches at Grays Harbor, with big black arrows sweeping toward Seattle and Portland. Japan had no capability of launching an invasion across the Pacific, but the article gave the impression that maybe it did. Another article told of Japanese Americans arrested in Seattle for attempting to sell gasoline tanks to Japan; the tanks, it said, would hold enough fuel for bombers to fly all the way from Tokyo to Seattle and back. Japan didn't have bombers that could fly that far, but the article gave the impression that maybe it did.

Editorially, The Seattle Times was neutral on the internment (though its news coverage does not feel neutral). But the Los Angeles Times was beating the drums for it. The entire Pacific Coast congressional delegation was for it. The mayor of Seattle told a congressional committee the people here were for it.

It is, in any event, already abundantly already clear that there is little actual basis for Malkin's claim that McCloy, reading those decrypts, was the man who decided that rounding up citizens en masse according to their race was the appropriate policy. Indeed, as Muller and Robinson explained previously:
One of the two or three most significant historical claims that Michelle makes is that it was Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy who pressured others in the War Department for wholesale eviction of all people of Japanese ancestry because of his access to MAGIC.

In 1992, Kai Bird, a distinguished biographer, published The Chairman, a definitive 663-page biography of McCloy.

Here's what Bird has to say about McCloy and MAGIC:

"The signing of Executive Order 9066 later came to be regarded as one of the most controversial decisions associated with McCloy's career. . . . More than any other individual, McCloy was responsible for the decision, since the president had delegated the matter to him through [Secretary of War Henry] Stimson. . . . Why ... did McCloy become an advocate of mass evacuation? One answer is simple racism, particularly evident in Stimson's attitudes. Another is that McCloy and Stimson were 'led by the nose by second-rate people like Colonel Bendetsen.' And it was true ... that at the time, McCloy was 'distracted and distraught with a large number of problems.' But he also possessed a unique combination of predilections that made him particularly vulnerable to Bendetsen's and [Provost Marshall General] Gullion's arguments [for mass evacuation]. [Gullion] had convinced him that the enemy would inevitably engage in sabotage. Ever since Amherst and his enthrallment with the military-preparedness movement, he had been instinctively swayed by national-security arguments. Theoretical objections to strong action on civil-libertarian grounds were indications of soft thinking. ... "Another major factor was McCloy's exposure to intelligence sources. Some observers in recent years have cited evidence of Japanese American disloyalty in such special intelligence resources as the Magic intercepts. There is no doubt that McCloy was reading Magic intercepts of Japanese diplomatic traffic at the time of the evacuation decision. But, as in the question of how much warning the Magic cables should have given him regarding the attack on Pearl Harbor, it is difficult to determine whether this intelligence information was a factor in his thinking. McCloy himself, in testimony before a congressional commission forty years later, did not mention the intercepts. "Only a handful of Magic cables, out of thousands intercepted, might have conveyed the impression that Tokyo had recruited both alien Japanese and Japanese American citizens for espionage work. . . . "Prior to Pearl Harbor, there had been no systematic analysis of Magic intercepts. So any references McCloy saw in the Magic intercepts to Japanese American espionage were fleeting and impressionistic. A meticulous analysis of the intercepts, in fact, would have shown that the intelligence information cabled back to Tokyo came almost exclusively from 'legal' espionage conducted by Japanese diplomats out of their embassy and consulates. Even the covert, 'illegal' espionage coordinated out of these Japanese consulates was not very sophisticated or extensive. One Magic intercept, for instance, reveals that, as late as May 1941, the Japanese Embassy was reporting that 'only about $3,900 a year is available for actual development of intelligence ...' The few agents hired were invariably Caucasian Americans or German nationals. "Whereas such Magic evidence was highly ambiguous, McCloy also had access to intelligence that firmly dismissed the potential for sabotage. ... "It is hard not to conclude that McCloy allowed his fears of sabotage and his penchant for decisive action to sweep aside any other considerations." (from pages 154-56)

In earlier pages of the biography (145-51), Bird depicts McCloy as racked by indecision about what sort of action to take against ethnic Japanese--and favoring far more narrowly targeted action than that ultimately taken--until as late as February 6 to February 10, 1942. He says that it was unremitting pressure for mass eviction from Provost Marshall General Gullion that finally led McCloy to settle on that course of action.

Michelle dedicates her book to the memory of John McCloy (and David Lowman). But Kai Bird's biography of John McCloy does not appear in her bibliography.

They are not, of course, the only historians to question this point, which is the real linchpin to her claim that the MAGIC decrypts provided the "real" reason for the internment. Another is Klancy Clark deNevers, author of the definitive biography of Bendetsen, The Colonel and the Pacifist.

DeNevers also examined Malkin's text, and thoroughly eviscerated it in a separate critique:
Malkin's main thesis is that the decision to exclude was based not on racism or wartime hysteria, as a government commission found in 1983, but on information obtained in translated cables of Japanese diplomatic traffic prior to December 7, 1941. She asserts with boring repetition and no convincing evidence, that the MAGIC translations were the real basis for the military necessity of the evacuation and internment of the ethnic Japanese (which they were not). She asserts that information in the cables PROVES that there were "espionage networks" among the Japanese communities and that this was sufficient reason for the mass incarceration. In order to argue that such a network could be dangerous she fills several chapters with accounts of the perfidious behavior of Japanese agents in numerous countries in South East Asia prior to Pearl Harbor. To support her contention that Japan was the "only Axis country with a proven capability of launching a major attack on the United States" (a claim she has had to withdraw) she mentions actions by Japanese submarines in the first weeks of the war and the shelling of Goleta, which occurred after the decision to exclude was made.

Moreover, as Charles Lofgren points out, Army historian Stetson Conn found that the evacuation plan originated primarily with Bendetsen. Malkin's claim that Stetson's account makes McCloy out to be the chief driver of the evacuation plan is simply false.

Malkin has turned a pretty penny selling fraudulent history. She cannot evade this reality forever.

Update: Robinson has more here and here.

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