John Leo

 Thanks to columnist Michelle Malkin, we are at last moving toward our first national discussion on the wisdom and fairness of interning 100,000 ethnic Japanese during World War II. For at least a generation, the issue has been positioned as closed and undebatable--the evacuation of Japanese aliens and Japanese-American citizens from the West Coast was simply due to racism and wartime hysteria. This orthodox view is reflected in histories, textbooks, fiction, and museums. Plausible reasons for the evacuation are almost always dropped from these presentations, and racism is simply assumed (?Ancestry Is Not a Crime? is one curriculum title).

In her book In Defense of Internment, Malkin argues that President Roosevelt?s order to move ethnic Japanese from the coast was at the very least a close call and can be viewed as a reasonable and mild decision, given the vulnerabilities of the United States to raids and attacks supported by a small minority of Issei (Japanese aliens) and Nisei (Japanese-Americans, many of whom held dual citizenship).

 With most of the U.S. fleet destroyed at Pearl Harbor, the Pacific became a Japanese pond, and in a series of raids, Japanese subs sank U.S. ships off the coast, shelled California?s Goleta Oil Fields, and torpedoed a ship that escaped by running aground in the mouth of the Columbia River. In the view of Secretary of War Henry Stimson, ?It was quite impossible to be sure that the raiders would not receive important help from individuals of Japanese origin.?

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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