[This review was published in the March/April 1994 issue of Conservative Review, pp. 36-37.] 

 

American and Japanese Relocation in World War II; Fact, Fiction and Fallacy

By Lillian Baker

Medford, OR: Webb Research Group, 1990

 

The jappaning of America: Redress & Reparations Demands by Japanese-Americans

By Lillian Baker

Webb Research Group, 1991

 

Dishonoring America: The Collective Guilt of American Japanese

By Lillian Baker

Webb Research Group: Americans for Historical Accuracy, 1988

 

Reviewed by Dwight D. Murphey 

 

            Readers of Conservative Review will recall that we ran an article entitled “Issues in the American Cultural War: The World War II Relocation of Japanese-Americans,” written by this reviewer, in the January/February 1993 issue.

            When I went to the library to do the research for the article, I found several books on the subject.  All of them, however, shared the same point of view: that America had stuck the west-coast Japanese-Americans away in “concentration camps” for the duration of the war, horribly violating our professed ideals.  To get the other side of the story, I had to order copies of typewritten transcripts of the testimony of Col. Karl R. Bendetsen, who handled the evacuation for the Army prior to the relocation’s being turned over to civilian authorities, from the National Archives.  It was essential to have that “other side” if I was to know how the United States government had perceived the problem of a large Japanese and Japanese-American population on the west coast at the advent of the war with Japan and how it had perceived its treatment of the evacuees during their relocation.

            What I didn’t know—because the books weren’t there in the library—was that a remarkable American author and patriot, Lillian Baker, had been trying to inform the American public on the issue for several years.  Indeed, she had written and edited a series of books compiling materials on the subject.

            Before telling about these books, let me first say a word about Lillian Baker herself.  It is a considerable attestation to the value of her work that the Hoover Institution at Stanford University has established a Lillian Baker Collection in its archives; and that the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge presented her with its 1991 George Washington Honor Medal for the first of the books listed above.

            And although she has devoted herself extensively for several years to the pursuit of “historical accuracy” on the Japanese-American relocation issue, she is a woman of highly diverse interests.  She has written extensively on collectible jewelry, including even such exotic things as hatpins; and I have had the pleasure of reading her novel The Common Doom (named after a line in Melville), a delightfully introspective insight into the life of a young woman from age 10 to her early 30s.  Mrs. Baker managed to find time, by the way, to serve as the South Bay chairman of the successful U.S. Senate campaign of S. I. Hayakawa.  To mention these things is, however, to barely scratch the surface of her activity. 

“American and Japanese Relocation…”

            The first of the three books listed above is an excellent source-collection, with enough explanation to lead the reader through the various documents that are set out in appendices.  An introduction by Col. Bendetsen and chapters comparing facts with fallacies about the relocation are particularly helpful.

            Perhaps the most remarkable things about the book, though, is that Mrs. Baker has included, as her first appendix, the entire school yearbook for the high school at the Manzanar relocation center in 1943-4.  Nothing better refutes the hate-America allegation that the relocation centers were “concentration camps.”  As with any school yearbook, we see the students rehearsing a drama; having their pictures taken as members of the Latin Club or Spanish Club or Home Economics Club; taking part in a variety of sports; and standing, ready for graduation, in cap and gown.

            The book gives many details about the relocation and about the military situation, including the deciphered diplomatic cables, code-named MAGIC, that most persuaded the Roosevelt administration of the necessity of evacuation.  Some of it, of course, is information I didn’t have when I wrote my article for Conservative Review.  One of the more significant additions is the fact that, under the ineptly-named Civil Liberties Act of 1988, $20,000 “reparation” payments—tax-free and accompanied by a letter of apology—have been going to whole varieties of people who were by no means the typical Japanese-American evacuee.  The recipients include, the book tells us, “1,370 enemy aliens who were interned by the FBI for valid security reasons in Department of Justice Internment Camps,” after having been picked up immediately following the attack on Pearl Harbor; “3,500 American Japanese who renounced their allegiance to the United States and requested repatriation to Japan”; “160 members of the Black Dragon Society, an anti-American pro-Japan organization”; and “18,000… whose adult members declared allegiance to Japan and refused to take a loyalty oath to the United States, or promise to abide by this nation’s laws.”

             Other recipients, with payments still being made in 1994, include 6,000 people who were born in the centers and experienced the war as babies, and 4,300 people who attended American colleges during the war.  The very first 495 checks were sent to people who have long since gone to live in Japan.  Isn’t it great that these people are receiving payments out of the pockets of American taxpayers!  How genuine is the American “budget crisis”?   

The jappaning of America…”

            The name of this second book is explained in the Preface: “For decades past, Japan has processed coal oil to make a varnish which blackens fabric or metal.  The product of coal oil is called ‘japan’; the process is called ‘jappaning’… The title of this book, The jappaning of America, relates directly to the varnishing of truth and blackening of America’s honor by dissident Japanese-Americans demanding ‘redress and reparations’ based on a falsification of World War II history.”

            As with the first book, this volume consists of explanatory chapters followed by extensive appendices providing documents relevant to the issue.  Of especial value is the chapter on “Military Necessity in Wartime: U.S. Intelligence and the Evacuation Decision,” combined with the following chapter on the deciphered dispatches, MAGIC.  Considerable attention is given, too, as before, to refuting the many fallacies that have been spawned about the relocation; and to how anyone who has sought to defend the United States’ actions has been repeatedly squelched.  Somehow, for example, the media don’t find a press conference put on by the National American Ex-Prisoners of War newsworthy. 

“Dishonoring America…”

            The chapter “Rewriting Recent U.S. History” is a point-by-point refutation of the 100-minute “documentary” entitled The Color of Honor shown at the Smithsonian Institution’s 1987 exhibition “A More Perfect Union: Japanese Americans and the Constitution.”  “The film rewrites history by making ‘folk heroes’ out of those who refused to serve the United States” in our armed forces; and it exaggerates and falsifies the accomplishments of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, made up in large part from the small percentage of Japanese-American men who were willing to serve.  (The 442nd did serve valiantly, but Mrs. Baker wants the story told accurately, without the lavish embellishment of propaganda.)

            Again, there is information beyond what is available elsewhere.  I found fascinating a letter, set out among the appendices, by a Department of Justice representative in early 1945 that analyzed the psychology of the young Japanese-Americans who strutted and paraded to the tune of the Japanese national anthem at the Tule Lake segregation camp during the war.  The letter explains that they were largely self-servers: they had left Japan, where they were going to school, shortly before the war to avoid serving in the Japanese army; and then when they had returned to this country they put on a great show of Japanese patriotism.  (Infuriatingly, each of these, if still alive, has recently received his $20,000 and letter of apology from the United States government.)

            “Americans for Historical Accuracy,” which Lillian Baker co-founded, sent me copies of each of these books to place in the library at Wichita State University.  The hope is that future researchers will be able to obtain more than just the one, hatefully alienated, side of the story.  I would encourage all interested Americans to purchase copies to place in their own local libraries.  It’s the least we can do.