I recently spoke with a group of bright, young law students and undergrads from the best schools in the country, including Yale, Georgetown, the University of Chicago and William and Mary. We discussed my new book, "In Defense of Internment: The Case for 'Racial Profiling' in World War II and the War on Terror."
When I mentioned that a large number of those interned in U.S. Department of Justice camps were of European descent, the students showed surprise. "I didn't know that," someone said aloud.
Thanks to a left-wing monopoly on the teaching of World War II history, not many other Americans know about these long-forgotten internees, either.
Generations of schoolchildren have been taught to believe that our government threw only ethnic Japanese into camps because of wartime hysteria and anti-Asian bigotry. It's a convenient myth that allows today's civil liberties absolutists to guilt-trip America into opposing any use of racial, nationality or religious profiling to protect the homeland.
In fact, enemy aliens from all Axis nations -- not just Japan -- were subjected to curfews, registration, censorship, exclusion from sensitive areas and internment during World War II. Enemy aliens from Europe and their family members (many of whom were U.S.-born) made up nearly half of the total internee population.
Among them was Arthur D. Jacobs, an American-born son of German immigrants. Jacobs' father was rounded up in Brooklyn and sent to a temporary internment camp on Ellis Island in late 1944 after his name inexplicably showed up on a Nazi Party list. Though Jacobs later learned that the case against his father was weak, the entire family was resettled at the Crystal City, Texas, internment camp, where he and other ethnic German internees lived side-by-side with ethnic Japanese internees. In January 1946, Jacobs and his family were repatriated to Germany. Just 12 years old, Jacobs was separated from his parents and brother and briefly confined in a German prison called Hohenasperg.
After a harrowing bureaucratic nightmare, he and an older brother, both U.S. citizens, were returned to the United States more than a year later without their parents. Jacobs enlisted in the Air Force and served honorably until 1973, when he left the military to embark on a distinguished business and academic career. He now resides in Tempe, Ariz.
Jacobs has dedicated his retirement years to dispelling politically correct myths about the World War II internment. After President Reagan signed a reparations law in August 1988 that awarded nearly $1.65 billion in restitution to ethnic Japanese interned or evacuated from the West Coast, Jacobs went to court. Motivated not by financial gain but by the drive for historical accuracy, Jacobs argued pointedly that the reparations law unconstitutionally discriminated against internees of European descent in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. Jacobs' lawsuit was fiercely opposed by every major Japanese-American leader and group in the country. The D.C. Court of Appeals ruled against him, and in October 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court refused without comment to hear Jacobs' appeal.
The apology and reparations for ethnic Japanese (including those born in the camps, those who resisted the draft, those who renounced their U.S. citizenship and those who had gathered intelligence for Japan) perpetuated anger and frustration among European internees and their families, none of whom received an apology or compensation. Even worse, the law created a historical blind spot about the World War II internment episode in the courts and classrooms that persists today.
"Hopefully, history will overcome our nation's current obsession with the alleged victimization of racial minorities to the extent that the wartime suffering of non-minority citizens such as Arthur D. Jacobs and the thousands of others like him will finally be recognized," wrote World War II veteran and retired U.S. Naval commander William Hopwood in the afterword to Jacobs' autobiography. "Fairness and common decency call for it, and our nation owes them no less."