Wednesday, October 17, 2007

When government probes our loyalties

-- by Dave

I'm excited by the release of Eric Muller's new book, American Inquisition: The Hunt for Japanese American Loyalty in World War II, just released this week.

I've just received my copy and will be commenting on it later. Here's the blurb from Amazon:
When the U.S. government forced 70,000 American citizens of Japanese ancestry into internment camps in 1942, it created administrative tribunals to pass judgment on who was loyal and who was disloyal. Muller relates the untold story of exactly how military and civilian bureaucrats judged these tens of thousands of American citizens during wartime. This is the only study of the Japanese American internment to examine the complex inner workings of the most draconian system of loyalty screening that the American government has ever deployed against its own citizens. At a time when our nation again finds itself beset by worries about an "enemy within" considered identifiable by race or religion, this volume offers crucial lessons from a recent and disastrous history.

You'll recall Eric Muller, of course, from our protracted battle with Michelle Malkin over her book defending the internment, and for his many fine years of blogging at Is That Legal?

He's already put up some early posts explaining what American Inquisition is all about, beginning here and here and here. I particularly was intrigued by the most recent, which describes the point system by which bureaucrats could assess the loyalties of the Japanese Americans whose possible prolonged imprisonment they were determining:
The first idea was a point system. Bureaucrats in the PMGO would go through individual files – especially the loyalty questionnaires that the internees had filled out – and assign positive and negative point values to the answers, producing a net loyalty score for each file.

So, for example, a Japanese American who was a Christian got a plus-2; a Japanese American who was a Buddhist got a minus-1. If he was "an instructor in Japanese hobbies or sports" such as judo, he got a minus-2; if he was "an instructor in [an] American sport or hobby," he got a plus-2. For each Japanese-American periodical he received, he got a minus-1. If he'd never traveled to Japan, he got a plus-1. One trip to Japan earned him a minus-1. Two trips to Japan got him a minus-3. More than three years in a Japanese-language after-school program in the United States got him a minus-3. And so on.

You get the idea.

For reasons that the archival record does not disclose, the JAJB ditched the point system after a while and shifted instead to a system that looked for particular patterns of factors and then broke the files into three large groups – a "white" group that merited an automatic stamp of loyalty, a "black" group that merited an automatic stamp of disloyalty, and a "brown" or "tan" group that required case-by-case scrutiny of files. (Yes, that's right: the color between "black" and "white" was not "gray" but "brown.")

Evidently, Joseph Heller wasn't writing fiction.

It's all very promising. Given the current state of our national discourse on the loyalty of suspected "enemies," it looks incredibly timely. More soon.

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