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Japanese Internment: Why It Was a Good Idea--And the Lessons It Offers Today

For years, it has been my position that the threat of radical Islam implies an imperative to focus security measures on Muslims. If searching for rapists, one looks only at the male population. Similarly, if searching for Islamists (adherents of radical Islam), one looks at the Muslim population.

And so, I was encouraged by a just-released Cornell University opinion survey that finds nearly half the U.S. population agreeing with this proposition. Specifically, 44 percent of Americans believe that government authorities should direct special attention toward Muslims living in America, either by registering their whereabouts, profiling them, monitoring their mosques, or infiltrating their organizations.

Also encouraging, the survey finds the more people follow TV news, the more likely they are to support these common-sense steps. Those who are best informed about current issues, in other words, are also the most sensible about adopting self-evident defensive measures.

That's the good news; the bad news is the near-universal disapproval of this realism. Leftist and Islamist organizations have so successfully intimidated public opinion that polite society shies away from endorsing a focus on Muslims.

In America, this intimidation results in large part from a revisionist interpretation of the evacuation, relocation, and internment of ethnic Japanese during World War II. Although more than 60 years past, these events matter yet deeply today, permitting the victimization lobby, in compensation for the supposed horrors of internment, to condemn in advance any use of ethnicity, nationality, race, or religion in formulating domestic security policy.

Denying that the treatment of ethnic Japanese resulted from legitimate national security concerns, this lobby has established that it resulted solely from a combination of"wartime hysteria" and"racial prejudice." As radical groups like the American Civil Liberties Union wield this interpretation, in the words of Michelle Malkin,"like a bludgeon over the War on Terror debate," they pre-empt efforts to build an effective defense against today's Islamist enemy.

Fortunately, the intrepid Ms. Malkin, a columnist and specialist on immigration issues, has re-opened the internment file. Her recently published book, bearing the provocative title In Defense of Internment: The Case for Racial Profiling in World War II and the War on Terror (Regnery), starts with the unarguable premise that in time of war,"the survival of the nation comes first." From there, she draws the corollary that"Civil liberties are not sacrosanct."

She then reviews the historical record of the early 1940s and finds that:

  • Within hours of the attacks on Pearl Harbor, two American citizens of Japanese ancestry, with no prior history of anti-Americanism, shockingly collaborated with a Japanese soldier against their fellow Hawaiians.

  • The Japanese government established"an extensive espionage network within the United States" believed to include hundreds of agents.

  • In contrast to loose talk about"American concentration camps," the relocation camps for Japanese were"spartan facilities that were for the most part administered humanely." As proof, she notes that over 200 individuals voluntarily chose to move into the camps.

  • The relocation process itself won praise from Carey McWilliams, a contemporary leftist critic (and future editor of the Nation), for taking place"without a hitch."

  • A federal panel that reviewed these issues in 1981-83, the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, was, Ms. Malkin explains,"Stacked with left-leaning lawyers, politicians, and civil rights activists – but not a single military officer or intelligence expert."

  • The apology for internment by Ronald Reagan in 1988, in addition to the nearly $1.65 billion in reparations paid to former internees was premised on faulty scholarship. In particular, it largely ignored the top-secret decoding of Japanese diplomatic traffic, codenamed the MAGIC messages, which revealed Tokyo's plans to exploit Japanese-Americans.

Ms. Malkin has done the singular service of breaking the academic single-note scholarship on a critical subject, cutting through a shabby, stultifying consensus to reveal how,"given what was known and not known at the time," President Roosevelt and his staff did the right thing.

She correctly concludes that, especially in time of war, governments should take into account nationality, ethnicity, and religious affiliation in their homeland security policies and engage in what she calls"threat profiling." These steps may entail bothersome or offensive measures but, she argues, they are preferable to"being incinerated at your office desk by a flaming hijacked plane."

Related Links

  • Charles Burress: Michelle Malkin Defends Racial Profiling During WWII
  • Danny Westneat: Yes, the Internment of Japanese-Americans Was Wrong--And Schools Should Teach that
  • Eric Muller and Greg Robinson: On Malkin
  • Greg Robinson: Why the Media Should Stop Paying Attention to the New Book that Defends Japanese Internment
  • Eric Muller: So Let Me Get This Straight: Michelle Malkin Claims to Have Rewritten the History of Japanese Internment in Just 16 Months?
  • Jonathan Dresner: Bad History; Great Press Relations
  • Dresner v. Malkin