Monday, June 12, 2006

'Scoop' and the internment camps

Atrios directs us to Mark Schmitt's recent take on Peter Beinart's lionization of Henry "Scoop" Jackson -- the Washington senator (or, as he was known in these parts, "the senator from Boeing") who ran for the presidency in 1972 and 1976 -- in his recent book, The Good Fight:
There are perhaps several bits of Beinart's history that I'm tempted to challenge, but I'll pick on just one of them here because it's been bugging me for years. It's a fairly small thing, just a few pages in the book, but it is an essential pivot point for the argument and, frankly, for the New Republic view of the world. And that is the counterfactual proposition that if only, if only Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson had been the Democratic presidential nominee in 1972 or 1976, all would be right with the world.

This is an essential myth to many of the liberal hawks, to the neocons when they still considered themselves Democrats, and to some extent to the predecessors of the Democratic Leadership Council. (the Schachtmanite Committee for a Democratic Majority). And it's central to Beinart's argument. But it's not just wrong, it's ridiculous. If I went around arguing that if only Bill Bradley, who I worked for, had been the Democratic nominee in 2000, the world would be better, I might -- in some unprovable sense -- be correct, but people would still laugh at me. Because he didn't get many votes. (And that was only six years ago, not 30.) Scoop Jackson wasn't robbed of a nomination that was rightly his, or shot to death after winning the California primary. He just didn't get many votes. He fell completely flat in 1972. And in 1976, he botched the tactics, unwisely skipping Iowa and New Hampshire and so by the time he won two primaries, Jimmy Carter had already consolidated the support of conservative Democrats while the liberals were split. Scoop Jackson's not the great lost hope; he's merely one of about two dozen capable, non-brilliant Senators since 1972 who saw a president in the mirror each morning, but couldn't persuade anyone else to see the same thing. Would he have won those elections, if nominated? Who knows? Nor was Jackson some sort of foreign-policy visionary. He was a classic Western New Dealer (the really, really big spenders), who also happened to represent the biggest defense contractor of his era. The unsustainability of his pork-barrel "Guns AND Butter" policy would have tripped him up in the 1970s as surely as it did LBJ in the 1960s. If there is a deeper legacy that Jackson represents, it is uniformly a despicable one, in the form of people like Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz who used him as a vehicle for their emerging theories, and if their later careers are an indication of what a Jacksonian America would have been like, then we should be thankful he was a dud as a candidate. His dud candidacy deserves no more attention than those of Lloyd Bentsen, John Glenn, Fritz Hollings, and many others.

The "liberal hawk" fondness for Henry Jackson is terribly revealing, because it displays a kind of corruption of the values they supposedly espouse. Not only did so much of the neoconservative power cadre emanate from the Scoop Jackson worldview, but so did the entire prowar faction's predilection for indulging in grotesque historical mistakes and then refusing to either acknowledge them later or admit to any accountability afterward.

Consider, if you will, Jackson's history as a congressman from Everett in the 1940s, when he not only strongly advocated the internment of Japanese Americans, but actually agitated in Congress for worsening conditions in the camps and placing greater restrictions on internees.

While researching my book Strawberry Days: How Internment Destroyed a Japanese American Community, I spent considerable time poring through the archives of Miller Freeman, president of the Anti-Japanese League of Washington and one of the most powerful men in the state at the time. It included a file of his correspondence with Jackson, with whom he shared a friendly relationship, though Freeman was a Republican and Jackson a Democrat. Most of all, there was a great deal of correspondence on an issue about which the men were clearly like-minded: the "Japanese problem."

As I described in Chapter 6:
The absence of the Japanese from their longtime communities during the war had not necessarily made hearts grow fonder for them. Indeed, though the frequency of the hysteria was certainly lessened by the fact the Japanese were no longer present and visible, the war-born hatred of all things "Jap" had transformed them into demon-things in the popular mind, and the dearth of daily, real-life examples to the contrary only made things worse.

Headlines reporting on the war front regularly referred to the enemy "Japs" -- as did headlines reporting on events in the WRA's relocation centers. Consistent with popular sentiments prior to the war and during the evacuation debate, letters to the editor as well as political pronouncements made no differentiation between the citizens who once had been their neighbors and the foreign enemies their sons were fighting.

Washington's congressional delegation had a particular propensity in this regard. In addition to the damage already wrought by Democratic Senator Mon Wallgren, who had chaired one of the early congressional committees recommending evacuation in 1942, then-Rep. Henry Jackson, a respected Everett Democrat, took up the anti-Japanese cause with particular relish for the war's duration. Not only was he an enthusiast of the evacuation, he was a stern advocate of the campaign to keep the Japanese from returning to the Pacific Coast -- both during and after the war. He was often seconded in this regard by his Seattle colleague, then-Rep. Warren Magnuson, who had a habit of raising groundless alarms about an imminent invasion of the Pacific Coast by the Japanese.

But it was otherwise anonymous men like Joe Matsuzawa who spurred Jackson to headline-grabbing action. In May 1943, Jackson began protesting in Congress against the Army's policy of allowing Japanese-American soldiers to visit the Pacific Coast on furlough; apparently, wearing an American uniform wasn't assurance enough of Nisei loyalty. Jackson sponsored a resolution calling for a complete investigation of "the Japanese situation," and his congressional colleagues were critical of the use of any Japanese-Americans in combat. Rep. John Costello of California sounded the familiar refrain that "you can't tell a good Jap from a bad Jap."

Jackson penned a speech that he never delivered on the subject, but it was clear he was opposed to Japanese-Americans ever returning to his home district:

What is to be the eventual disposition of the Japanese alien and native ... is the second aspect of this problem of the Pacific. Are we to return them to their former homes and businesses on the Pacific Coast to face the active antagonism of their neighbors? Shall they again, as happened in World War I, compete economically for jobs and businesses with returning war veterans?

The House Committee On Un-American Activities chaired by Texas Democrat Martin Dies also joined in on the action, partly at the urging of Jackson and others. A New Jersey Republican named J. Parnell Thomas flew out to Los Angeles and, without visiting a camp, declared that the WRA was pampering the internees. Thomas also demanded the agency halt its policy of "releasing disloyal Japs" -- that is, end its policy of relocating evacuees in jobs outside the camps.

The Dies Committee hearings provided a steady stream of scandalous headlines for a few months, bolstered by the reports of the unrest at Manzanar and Tule Lake. The most sensational of these reports involved a former motor-pool driver named Harold H. Townsend -- described in press reports as "a former official of the Poston, Ariz., relocation center" -- who told the credulous congressmen that Japanese subversives were secretly conducting Army training drills inside the relocation centers so that evacuees could spring to the aid of an invading Japanese army when it attacked the coast. What the reports also neglected to mention -- besides the lack of a shred of evidence -- was that not only had Townsend been present at the violence in Poston, but had been fired for panicking and fleeing the scene.

Dies himself held press conferences demanding that the WRA bring back all the Japanese it had relocated out of the camps and keep them interned for the duration of the war, claiming he had evidence that race riots in Detroit the week before had been the secret handiwork of an officer in the Japanese Army. Subsequent headlines detailed more wild allegations, including tales of elderly Issei secretly plotting a kamikaze attack on local forests, setting the West ablaze; caches of food being buried in the desert in a plot to aid the invading Japanese; and claims that the Japanese internees were being fed better in the camps than were American G.I.s (which may have been true, since much of the camps' food source was the farms that were operated at each of the camps by evacuees). Dies wrapped up his exploration of the "Japanese question" later that summer by reiterating its demands the WRA alter its policies -- but besides making headlines in the press, these pronouncements had little apparent effect on the changes that were already in motion at the WRA. And the Dies Committee would soon be more stridently focused on the looming "Red Menace."

The interest groups chimed in as well. The American Legion joined in on the rising anti-Japanese sentiments with its denunciation of the WRA's policy of "coddling the Japs," and longtime anti-Asian groups like the Native Sons of the Golden West (whose demeanor historically suggested vigilantism) became active in agitating alongside newer groups like the Pearl Harbor League. Some of these groups distributed signs proclaiming: "We don't want any Japs back here -- EVER!" These signs gained prominence in places like Kent, in the heart of what had been a thriving Japanese community in the White River Valley; the town's mayor, a barber, displayed the warning prominently in his shop, and earned a Time magazine appearance for it, pointing at the sign.

Jackson's definitive biography, Robert G. Kaufman's Henry M. Jackson: A Life in Politics, discusses this, noting that Jackson's senatorial colleague Daniel M. Inouye -- a decorated Japanese American veteran -- took a generous view of Jackson's wartime attitudes, noting that they were widespread and common. But Kaufman says [p.36]:
He is, however, too magnanimous. Jackson was not just an advocate of the internment, but an enthusiast, and he justified his attitude with a logic and rhetoric that still makes chilling reading:

We first heard much of Japanese infiltration tactics on Bataan and in the Philippines, but the Japanese had for many years practiced a different kind of infiltration -- infiltration into the vitals of our economic, political, and domestic structure. The principles of Bushido, by insidious and indirect means inserted themselves in a great many organizations in much the same fashion as the Nazis utilized their front organizations. In our great Pacific coast cities, they controlled much of the hotel and restaurant business although there was always a white manager who would front for them with the general public. They lowered the prices to their own countrymen in the fresh produce and vegetable field, ofrcing our their white competition, only to raise prices as soon as they had monopolized that sphere of business. Always they had prominent civic leaders as their attorneys, paying them on a retainer basis. Whenever a situation came up in which they were interested, they had only to contact these individuals with their specious reasons to have them immediately come forward in their interest. Investigations will show that the Japanese counsels in our large cities lavished expensive and sumptuous gifts on a great number of prominent citizens at Christmas and other appropriate occasions.

It's clear that Jackson's enthusiasm for the internment, as with so many of its advocates on the Pacific Coast, was directly predicated on the "Yellow Peril" mythology and its attendant propaganda. This isn't terribly surprising -- after all, FDR, whose administration was responsible for the internment, held similar views.

In all my research, I could, however, find no evidence that Jackson ever expressed any regret for his wartime activism against Japanese Americans, even as reparations were being discussed late in his career. He remained mum, hoping no one would remember his own role in the affair.

It is this propensity -- this refusal to acknowledge, or be held accountable for, the wrongs they've inflicted -- that sets the Jacksonites apart. Everyone can make mistakes, and Jackson's guilt would at least have been ameliorated later if he had simply acknowledged it. But he couldn't, which reveals a real blindness to the misery and suffering that politicians can intentionally inflict, and a gaping hole in their humanity.

Henry Jackson's politics represented a strain in the Democratic Party that has never gone away: a willingness to sacrifice core principles in the pursuit of an ephemeral vision of America as a benign global superpower. Because of that corruption, it's a vision doomed to collapse in a heap of hubris.

What's strangest, I suppose, is that these same people are the first ones to start talking about driving out the very factions of their own party who were right about their fearmongering all along.

Maybe they just hate being reminded of their mistakes. Or maybe they're just hoping it makes everyone else forget.

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