Thursday, June 09, 2005

Piece from a Bainbridge Islander

Friends of Historical Accuracy regarding the ethnic Japanese Evacuation of 1942

Nice piece from Bainbridge Island, Washington expresses the sentiments of many old timers....

Whenever the kids and I visit Battle Point Park, I try to sneak away from the soccer fields and stroll down near the entrance of the old base. There you will find a rose garden surrounding the flag, and a plaque provided by the Naval Cryptologic Veterans Association that reads:

"Ear to the Pacific

Bainbridge Island was the site of one of the navy’s “listening posts” to Japanese radio communications during WW2. Sailors at Fort Ward were trained in Japanese communications, the exploits of these communications provided U.S. military commanders with vital military intelligence.

This plaque is dedicated to members of the NCVA in remembrance of the friendship of the residents of Bainbridge Island.


As a very young child, I remember my dad taking us to Battle Point, and of being awed by the enormity of the complex. The four 300’ towers and the 800’ foot tower were special, and I was sure we’d driven a hundred miles to visit such an important place.

It was in that rose garden recently that I reflected on the war, the role of Battle Point and Fort Ward, and especially on the evacuation of ethnic Japanese from the West Coast. A few old timers supported by local media and a chorus of newcomers have been portraying events that are historically not true. This is disturbing to fellow islanders, many who lived here during the war. It’s an emotional issue, but it’s time to speak up. As a community we need to clear the air.

To clarify terms from the era is a good place to start.

The term “enemy alien” has a specific legal meaning derived from the Alien Law enacted in 1798: “Whenever there is a declared war between the United States and any foreign nation or government….all natives, citizens, denizens, or subjects of the hostile nation or government, being of age fourteen years and upward, who shall be within the United States and not actually naturalized, shall be liable to be apprehended, restrained, secured and removed as alien enemies.” The Supreme Court in Johnson vs. Eisentrager said, “Executive power over enemy aliens, undelayed and unhampered by litigation, has been deemed, throughout our history, essential to war-time security…The resident enemy alien is constitutionally subject to summary arrest, internment and deportation whenever a declared war exists.”

It has become fashionable to substitute the term “permanent resident alien’ with “enemy alien”. This is misleading and historically inaccurate. The United States Constitution does not protect enemy aliens.

“Relocation” and “Internment” are different terms.

“Relocation” refers to voluntary or enforced movement from the West Coast exclusion area to locations in non-affected states from which movement to jobs and schools in other states was arranged. The West Coast exclusion area consisted of the western halves of Washington and Oregon, California and the southern third of Arizona. Approximately 9,000 ethnic Japanese relocated voluntarily between the signing of Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942 and the first forced removal from Bainbridge Island on March 25, 1942. Further, more than 30,000 relocated from centers to other states and 4,300 left centers to attend college.

The civilian War Relocation Authority ran relocation centers. Originally the centers were to be temporary points that evacuees could relocate from, not points that they were to relocate to. This was an admitted failure from the beginning as some uprooted ethnic Japanese didn’t speak fluent English, had few relatives or friends east of the exclusion area and were greeted with hostility from many locals. The alternative was to wait out the war in the centers.

Internment camps were run by the Department of Justice and held only enemy aliens who had been deemed security risks and their U.S. citizen family members who were allowed at their choice to stay with them. Internees included 10,995 Germans, 16, 849 Japanese (5,589 who voluntarily renounced U.S. citizenship and became enemy aliens), 3,278 Italians, 52 Hungarians, 25 Romanians, 5 Bulgarians, and 161 classified as “other”. Only a small fraction of enemy aliens were interned. Japanese citizens with families were sent to Crystal City, Texas and lived side-by-side with German and Italian families. Single men were sent to internment camps in other states. Not all enemy aliens were placed in internment camps, and no American citizen was forcefully placed in an internment camp. If you were interned it was determined that you, a spouse or parent was an enemy alien and a security risk.

It should be noted that all 16,849 Japanese enemy-aliens including the 5,589 that renounced American citizenship were eligible for an apology from the United States and a $20,000 reparations payment while the Germans, Italians, Hungarians, Romanians and Bulgarians received nothing.


Battle Point and Fort Ward comprised one of sixteen major listening posts located on the East and West coasts of the United States, Panama Canal Zone, Guam, Hawaii, and the Philippines. For reasons not completely known to this day, Fort Ward provided an ideal location in which to intercept radio transmissions. Signals broadcast via high frequency Morse code could be intercepted at these listening posts and sent back to Washington D.C. for decryption and analysis. To ensure against a security breach when transmitting enciphered traffic back to D.C., secure teletype was installed. As of December 7, 1941 only two of these machines existed, one in San Francisco and the other on Bainbridge Island.

Unfortunately for the Americans, this didn’t mean a whole lot back in late 1940. It was at that time the Imperial Japanese Navy began using a new, difficult code that American intelligence named JN-25. As cryptanalysts attempted to decode JN-25, the Japanese changed code again just before December 7, 1941. In the year leading up to Pearl Harbor, American ability to read all major Japanese naval code was basically zero. JN-25 would not be broken until March 13, 1942, only to have a new code appear again on May 27th, a week before Midway.

Back in Washington D.C. nine people using nothing but their intellects and common electronic components were working on a program that is arguably one of the most important achievements in American history.

They were the SIS, (Signal Intelligence Service), located within the Army Signal Corps. In March 1939, a new code emerged providing Japanese diplomatic communications between its embassies and consulates throughout the world. Led by William Friedman and Frank Rowlett, it was the responsibility of the SIS to break the code and develop an analog machine that could decipher the diplomatic messages. It took eighteen months to crack the code, and they named it PURPLE. At the cost of $684.65 in taxpayer money, they built the first machine to decipher Japanese diplomatic messages. It was named PURPLE analog. PURPLE analog performed the exact function of the Japanese code machine – in reverse. Certainly the most bang for the buck in the history of the United States taxpayer.

All high level Japanese diplomatic traffic intercepted and decrypted by the Americans came to be known as MAGIC. It was said only magicians could produce such an accomplishment! Navy cryptanalytic unit OP-20-G (which focused on Japanese naval code starting June, 1942), and SIS produced all MAGIC intelligence that in its raw form was available to just ten men. Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, Director of Naval Intelligence Admiral Theodore Wilkinson, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Harold Stark, Army Chief of Staff George Marshall, Army Director of Military Intelligence General Sherman Miles, Chief of Army War Plans General Leonard T. Gerow, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of State Cordell Hull, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt – they were the only men in a position to make a knowledgeable decision.

MAGIC was “sanitized” to ensure the secrecy of the source and disseminated to the FBI, lower levels at the Office of Naval Intelligence and Army Military Intelligence, to use in conjunction with their own information. The order was use phrases such as “highly reliable sources,” “various sources,” and “highly confidential sources” when preparing their confidential reports.

The MAGIC program was second in secrecy only to the Manhattan Project. Great pains were taken to ensure the Japanese never discovered their diplomatic code (or any code) had been cracked. After the war the Japanese developers of PURPLE refused to accept the Americans had cracked their code. They went to their deaths believing they had been betrayed.

MAGIC and the Relocation

The months following Pearl Harbor were miserable. Suspicion of ethnic Japanese intensified. Innocent people became suspect. An ethnic Japanese off to a lodge meeting in his uniform was thought to be an Admiral in the Imperial Japanese Navy. Another guy trying to fix his window shade was thought to be signaling submarines off the coast. An air raid over Los Angeles turned out to be a false alarm, but the cover of the Los Angeles Times screamed the headline “L.A. RAIDED”.

That’s not to say all instances of paranoia were unjustified.

In early 1942, the Seattle Field Division of the FBI searched residences of 28 Japanese and German enemy-aliens on Vashon Island. Two Japanese and one German were in possession of prohibited contraband, (under Presidential Proclamation 2525), including one revolver, two cameras, one short-wave radio set, approximately twenty feet of fuse, one hundred dynamite blasting caps and half a box of dynamite. Just enough firepower to take down a radio tower on an island to the immediate north.

The Portland Field Division arrested four enemy-aliens in vicinity of the Bonneville Dam, illegally possessing twenty-one sticks of dynamite and one hundred forty feet of fuse.

The Los Angeles Field Division arrested 17 enemy-aliens in the Palos Verdes Hills. Seized contraband included: seven radio sets capable of receiving short-wave, one radio oscillator, four boxes of assorted radio equipment, two cameras, twenty-three flashlights, four large searchlights, three telegraphers’ keys, one small radio transmitting set, one microphone, one .38 caliber revolver, fifty cartridges, one .22 caliber rifle, four blasting caps, three pounds of black powder, three feet of fuse, and two reels of 8 millimeter film containing photographs of battleships and fortifications.

Word was leaking into newspapers of American defeats in the Pacific and brutality inflicted upon Allied POWs. The behavior of Japanese residents in Hong Kong, Singapore and the Philippines was not encouraging. The 30,000 Japanese residents of Mindanao welcomed the Imperial Japanese Army with open arms. The Japanese-Filipino community’s knowledge of geography and language in the area was invaluable. One commander of the notorious Cabanatuan POW camp owned a bicycle shop in Manila in civilian life. Asians were shocked to find many of their resident Japanese neighbors dressed in military uniform after the arrival of the Imperial Japanese Army. A Japanese pilot involved in the attack on Pearl Harbor crashed on the island of Niihau, taking over the community with a seemingly loyal Japanese-American. With the aid of the Japanese-American and another Japanese (neither with a known predisposition of disloyalty to the United States), the pilot held the people on Niihau hostage for six days. A Hawaiian couple finally succeeded in killing the pilot, the Japanese-American committed suicide and the Japanese national was taken into custody.

The public was frightened and rumors were flying. “The Japanese will poison our water! The Japanese are hoarding goods! They’re radioing ships and submarines off the coast!” Folks who in calmer times were not predisposed to bigotry found themselves making unnatural accusations against their neighbors. “Something has to be done! Can’t trust ‘em!” Animosity was at a fever pitch.

As it turns out, many of the rumors were unsubstantiated, the product of a hysterical public.

It takes more than rumor to force a decision in the Federal Government, however.

The government required evidence, and MAGIC provided it. The Americans had been listening in on Japanese diplomatic traffic since early 1941. In January, MAGIC revealed the Japanese embassy and its consulates were moving to wartime footing in regard to their information-collecting procedures. Part of the change included recruiting first and second generation Japanese (among others) in espionage activities for the Empire of Japan. Intercepted transmissions disclosed that the Empire of Japan was successful in recruiting local ethnic Japanese-Americans working in airplane factories and the U.S. armed forces to provide intelligence. Other ethnic Japanese locals were hired to gather information on military posts, bases, shipyards, airfields and ports.

The revelation that intelligence agents had infiltrated the Japanese-American community put the Federal Government in a predicament. American citizens protected by the Constitution were actively recruited in espionage against the United States. The citizens were of an ethnic group with close ties to an enemy wielding future potential to invade the West Coast. The ethnic Japanese population had grown to over 100,000 in its 60 year history in continental America and was not entirely assimilated. Of the ten men with access to raw MAGIC intelligence not one opposed the evacuation of ethnic Japanese from the West Coast exclusion zone. J. Edgar Hoover waffled on the issue, but his San Diego and Seattle offices were fully in support of the evacuation. The Portland and Los Angeles FBI field offices leaned heavily in support. One of the brightest in the Office of Naval Intelligence questioned if an entire evacuation would be too severe. Unofficial ONI intelligence suggested a 25% disloyalty rate among Japanese-Americans but the figure was sure to decrease through time and assimilation. An official ONI report released a month later painted another dim picture.

Should the government arrest only known suspects? Should the government just keep a close eye on the ethnic Japanese community? Should a panel be formed to decide on individual cases? Should the Department of Justice utilize the Sedition Laws? It was decided that these options could jeopardize intelligence, sap resources better used elsewhere, and fail to solve the immediate problem. The relocation of 112,000 ethnic Japanese inland would begin.

Japan discovering its diplomatic code broken would be a disaster for the Americans. It would mean that Japan’s military codes could also be suspect, leading to new and possibly more difficult code systems. This would mean no intelligence of Japanese naval positions at Coral Sea or Midway, and no intelligence regarding the merchant fleet for American submarines. The Japanese are fastidious information collectors. German intelligence volunteered (or otherwise) was meticulously documented by the Japanese embassy in Berlin and intercepted when transmitted back to Tokyo. It’s not an overstatement to say the loss of this intelligence could have changed the course of the war.

Justifying the relocation to the general public without compromising the reason for the decision was given to Commander of the West Defense Command and Fourth Army, General John L. DeWitt. His response was a document titled, Final Report: Japanese Evacuation from the West Coast, 1942. It was a terribly written document in its portrayal of ethnic Japanese. In fact it was just terribly written, but it was just what a shaken, panic-stricken public wanted to hear. Their fears had been justified. Better yet, the document drew no suspicion from the Empire of Japan – only outrage. As far as the government of Japan was concerned, most ethnic Japanese living abroad would stay loyal. As was taught in a Japanese “language school” in Hawaii, the location of ethnic Japanese was but a trick of fate, but when Japan called it was Japanese blood that flowed in their veins. Until 1924 regardless of the country born, if the father was Japanese the child was a Japanese citizen. By 1942, 50%-60% of ethnic Japanese born in the United States still held dual-citizenship for no other reason than it required only a visit to the consulate and made life easier. MAGIC transmissions constantly refer to all ethnic Japanese as “our people”, an unfortunate circumstance for Japanese-Americans. Japanese propaganda exploited the relocation to justify the “savagery” of the Americans.

In reality the relocation and internment may have improved conditions for civilian Americans stranded in Japanese internment camps, due to Japanese fear the Americans might treat interned or relocated ethnic Japanese in the United States cruelly. The U.K and Australia also interned Japanese nationals but the numbers were insignificant compared to the United States. Neither country had experienced the mass immigration of ethnic Japanese such as the United States, Brazil or the Philippines. Conditions for ethnic Japanese internees were as humane as possible and lacking malice, unlike Japanese civilian internment camps that promoted a policy of persistent and irritating humiliation intended to strip away the humanity of the civilian allied internees.

Atrocities committed by Japanese against American civilians were less heinous in number compared to atrocities committed against Dutch, Australian and British civilians. At Port Blair in the Andaman Islands in August 1945 civilian internees including women and children were put on board a ship, taken out to sea and forced into the shark-infested water in a mass drowning. Similar atrocities (the details too horrific to mention here) by Japanese against civilian women and children occurred July 1945 at Loa Kulu on Borneo and Cheribon on northern Java. These are just a few of many accounts.

American military personnel were in less fortunate circumstances than civilians. A particularly cruel and premeditated massacre of American prisoners occurred on December 14, 1944 on the island of Palawan in the Philippines where 145 American POWs were burned alive or shot to death trying to escape the flames. In the European theatres of war, 4 percent of British and American POWs died in captivity. In the Pacific theatres, the percentage was 27.

The decision of our wartime leaders in relocating West Coast ethnic Japanese-Americans was decided via hard intelligence derived from intercepted Japanese diplomatic traffic. It stated Japan had recruited intelligence agents within the Japanese-American community to provide sensitive information. Based on intelligence available up to February 1942; based on events as they were occurring at the time, the removal of all ethnic Japanese from the exclusion area inland for reasons of security and efficiency was in the best interest of the security of the United States

There, I said it!

Saying some in my family are adamantly against my writing this piece is an understatement. “Forget it!” they said. “Why open a can of worms? What’s the point?” The point is I didn’t open the can of worms.

When a local author wrote a book of fiction portraying Caucasian islanders as bigots, I was mortified. As segments of the community lovingly embraced it, I was repelled. When my neighbors showed up on local cable referring to the relocation centers as concentration camps, I was deeply offended. When a recent program utilized local high school kids to perpetuate a myth, I was outraged! Time to speak up!

I fully expect to be denounced, discredited and attacked as a racist. Maybe in a softer tone I’ll just be considered an unwitting dupe. Those of you whose opinion I value know me better than that. Read the documents for yourself. Over 160,000 have been declassified and are available through the Freedom of Information Act.

To use these documents as a weapon to embarrass is not my intention. The relocation was a miserable experience as a result of the war. Everyone made sacrifices. Nobody is saying ethnic Japanese didn’t feel demeaned and humiliated. No one is saying Japanese-Americans should remain silent about their experiences. No person is denying another the right to shed tears or vent anger. But to distort the history of the era, to make unsubstantiated and politically motivated accusations of malice, to produce outright fabrication, serves the interest of no one. The war was a long time ago. The role of the majority of innocent Americans of Japanese ancestry, the cooperation they provided (no matter how demeaning) to ensure the security and future of our country will not be forgotten. In a March 24, 1942 Seattle Times article, Mr. Jitsuzo Nakata said, “ It’s for the good of the country – so we’ll move.” Having returned to Japan from the Pacific Northwest to fight in two separate wars, he must have been aware of the necessities and sacrifices such an endeavor entails. The exact same picture of Mr. Nakata in that Seattle Times article hangs in the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum today, minus his words. In the same article, Mr. Hayashida said, “They tell you one thing then they tell you another, and a fellow doesn’t know what he’s going to do. But if the country thinks it is best for us to move, why, that’s all right.”

Unfortunately, one section of the Japanese-American community has elected itself spokesman for the entire community, and it’s the (unspoken publicly) opinion of many that they are doing a poor job. They are sowing resentment in the community. If the goal of this movement is to demonize our wartime leaders, to teach our children to hang their heads in shame at the mention of those who saved the United States from Totalitarianism – their plan is going to backfire in a big way. I will not believe that all Japanese-Americans support what these people are doing in their name. They have taken your history and distorted it! This is a dishonor to all Americans.

Japanese-Americans who disagree with these folks need to speak up!

Senator S.I. Hayakawa said, “…my flesh crawls with shame and embarrassment” to see this unconscionable raid on the U.S. treasury by “a wolf-pack of dissident young Japanese-Americans who weren’t even born during World War II”. Arguably one of the greatest American statesmen and educators of Japanese ancestry, Hayakawa was immediately branded a “banana” by the movement. Yellow on the outside, white on the inside! That’s it! His whole life defined in one slur. Just a “banana”! The issue of money is past. The next goal is to rewrite the history books and you can’t put a price on that. These folks are part of an organized movement and they’re on a mission. I don’t want to be called a “white racist” anymore than you want to be called a “banana”. Courage is required. If you truly believe the behavior of the movement is wrong, you have to say something.

So next time you’re down at Battle Point Park, I hope you’ll walk down to the rose garden. Read the plaque. Notice the war era buildings, admire the roses and look up at the flag. None of us have reason to hold down our heads in shame.


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