Tuesday, January 14, 2003

The waste

A fellow named Trevor -- evidently he is an Army captain -- offered this post in Atrios’ comments:

I am willing to stake our civil liberties on the possibility of another attack, because those civil liberties were never the cause of the problem. The problem in this and many other intel arenas is not a lack of information but an inability to process it - an inability that is exaggerated by failure to cooperate among our intel agencies and fatheadedness within those agencies (didja notice that the FBI director most fingered for 'intel failures' got a big fat bonus in December?).

Registering all Muslims, just like interning Japanese, or probably more relevant, just like racial profiling, is really just a way to avoid thinking about the issue at all (kinda like blaming Clinton). Oh look! We did something about those damned terrorists! Never mind that nothing gathered would identify a terrorist any more than it would identify an Iranian coffee-shop owner whose permanent green card application got lost by the INS. The Iranian fiasco has been truly sickening (see original post), and highlights my feeling of what this country should NOT be about.

What this problem poses is not questions about how to deal with immigrants, but how to coordinate and understand the intel we have. And if another terrorist incident occurs on our soil (assuming the North Koreans don't get us first), it will be the failure of our intelligence agencies, not the failure of our free society.

This is a point that can’t be stressed enough.

There’s a fantasy that lingers out there that perhaps the Japanese-American internment might have actually prevented at least some sabotage. Certainly there’s a lingering belief the Nikkei community hosted at least some vestige of a fifth column; it shows up, after all, in that specious scene in the recent Pearl Harbor showing devious Japanese-American saboteurs at work in Hawaii.

But this is highly unlikely, in fact, considering the weight of the postwar evidence against any kind of potential sabotage from either Issei or Nisei immigrants. The overwhelming weight of evidence is that the internment prevented very little, if any, sabotage or espionage. Put it this way: There were 14 people arrested on U.S. soil by the FBI during the war for spying for Japan. None of them were of Japanese descent.

Moreover, even beyond its transparent unjustness, the damage to the integrity of the Constitution, and the dangerous precedents it set, the internment of the Japanese-Americans was an unfathomable waste. It demonstrably undermined the war effort, and proved not to be worth a penny of the billions of taxpayer dollars it wasted.

In addition to the hundreds of millions of dollars the actual enterprise itself cost -- rounding up 120,000 people by rail car and shipping them first to “assembly centers”; building ten “relocation centers” in remote locales, and then shipping the evacuees into them; maintaining and administering the centers for another three years, which included overseeing programs to help internees find work outside the camps; feeding the entire population of internees during this time; and then helping them to relocate near their former homes once the camps closed -- there were millions more in initial reparations costs, and then hundreds of millions more in the later reparations approved by Congress in the 1980s

At the same time, the Japanese population on the Pacific Coast actually was responsible for the production of nearly half of all the fresh produce that was grown for consumption on the Coast (the Japanese also shipped out a great deal of produce to the Midwest and East). Indeed, Nikkei farms held virtual monopolies in a number of crops, including peas, green beans and strawberries, and a nearly 80 percent of the lettuce market.

When these farmers were rounded up and interned, a handful of enterprising whites decided to try running their farms with the hope of making a killing from the crops. But labor was so short that not one of these enterprises lasted beyond about five weeks, and none of them had a successful harvest. Nearly all of these farms lay fallow for the next four years. This major loss of production of fresh vegetables clearly harmed the national war effort, and played an important role in triggering the rationing that came during the war years.

It’s hard to compare precisely, because of course the economic circumstances are different, but there is a high likelihood that a Muslim-American internment would be every bit as wasteful, and probably as fruitless.

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