In Defense of Our Own Freedoms

By Carl Watner

Hans Sherrer, a long-time subscriber and contributor to THE VOLUNTARYIST lives in Seattle, and mentioned a new book that he heard about which documents the evacuation of all people of Japanese ancestry from Bainbridge Island, Washington in early 1942. The book is titled IN DEFENSE OF OUR NEIGHBORS: The Walt and Milly Woodward Story, written by the Woodward’s daughter, Mary Woodward. The Woodwards were coeditors and copublishers of the BAINBRIDGE REVIEW from 1941 until 1963. “During World War II, they used the paper to speak out against the exclusion of their Japanese American friends and neighbors” of whom there were some 270 among 50 families on the island. (Woodward, p.16) The Japanese Americans had few defenders at this time, so this extended report of their support is welcome. Nonetheless, the story of the internment of American citizens of Japanese ancestry in concentration camps on US soil is just another proof that “war is more destructive of freedom than any other human activity.” (Linfield, p. xvii)

For those not familiar with this history the brief facts are: Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese Air Force on December 7, 1941. As documented in declassified information and numerous books, President Roosevelt and his foreign policy advisers maneuvered Japan into striking an American port in the Pacific, in order to justify the United States’ entry into World War II. Executive Order 9066 was issued by President Franklin Roosevelt on February 19, 1942. It established defense zones within the United States, and gave military commanders authority to exclude people from such areas. (Linfield, p. 92) On March 19, 1942, both houses of Congress approved Public Law No. 503 (77th Congress). This legislation made it a federal offense for any person to violate restrictions issued by a military commander in any defense zone established under the earlier Executive Order. (Weglyn, p. 72) Subsequently, over 110,000 Japanese Americans were removed from their residences to a number of camps in the western United States, and many of them were held there for the duration of the war.

This episode presents a number of interesting anomalies: Among others –

…..The Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor not only brought about America’s entry into the war, but served as a catastrophic excuse to imprison Japanese Americans and confiscate their property.

….. Italian and German Americans were not rounded up en masse during the war.

….. The confinement was racially motivated. As Lt. General De Witt wrote in 1943, “A Jap’s a Jap. It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen or not …”. (Weglyn, p. 201)

….. When several Japanese Americans challenged their confinement in the civil courts, government officials responsible for the internment lied to the courts (and the American public) about the military dangers presented by the Japanese in this country.

….. Both the Executive Order and Congressional law clearly violated the constitutional requirements that “the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it”; and that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, and property without due process of law. Not only is this an example of the government violating its own constitutional rules, it goes far in demonstrating that limited government is not possible, because every government always seeks to expand its powers.

….. Leaders of the Japanese American community supported the government crack down, hoping that their willing cooperation would prove their loyalty. (This is reminiscent of what Hannah Arrendt observed about the leaders of the Jewish community: they, too, willingly cooperated with the Nazis and urged their co-religionists to peacefully enter the ghettos.)

….. After being imprisoned, the American-born males were required to register for the draft. Those who refused to register or report for induction were given extended criminal sentences.

….. The Constitution and constitutional safeguards it embraced were held in disdain by government officials. “Assistant Secretary of War [John] McCloy clearly stated his position: ‘[I]f it is a question of the safety of the country [and] the Constitution . . . . Why the Constitution is just a scrap of paper to me.'” (Hirase, pp. 149-150)

….. Military officials explained the absence of sabotage by those of Japanese ancestry on the west coast as evidence that they were planning attacks. No evidence has ever surfaced supporting such a bizarre explanation. As Lt. General DeWitt wrote: “The very fact that no sabotage has taken place to date is a disturbing and confirming indication that such action will be taken.” (Rostow, p. 521)

From a voluntaryist perspective, this bit of American history supports Theodore Lowi’s contention that “every action … of government … contribute[s] to the fulfillment of its fundamental purpose, which is to maintain conquest.” While other governments “have used war and the threat of war to stifle freedom” in their own countries, the United States has been at the head of the pack, in “proclaiming freedom to be our national purpose.” (Linfield, p. xv) If ever the American citizenry were to see through the facade of governmental legitimization, they would soon realize that the greatest threat to their freedoms comes from their own government.

In my article “Vices Are Not Crimes” defending Walter Block’s book, DEFENDING THE UNDEFENDABLE, I recounted the story of H.L. Mencken (so far as I know he never criticized the internment of Japanese Americans) who was accused of being a Nazi supporter because he never spoke out against Hitler. When he was asked if he was an anti-semite, Mencken replied:

I believe in only one thing and that thing is human liberty. If ever a man is to achieve anything like dignity, it can only happen if superior men are given absolute freedom to think what they want to think and say what they want to say. I am against any man and any organization which seeks to deny or limit that freedom.

When questioned whether he would limit that freedom to superior men only, Mencken replied: “The superior man can be sure of his freedom only if it is given to all men.” Or as Benjamin Constant wrote in “On Conquest and Usurpation,” “Freedom cannot be denied to some men and granted to others.” The message is clear: We need to take a principled stand against all violations of individual rights; we need to defend our own freedoms, as well as those of our neighbors regardless of their race, ancestry, creed, political belief, or religion. There will always be criminals among us, but our hope, as voluntaryists, is to rid ourselves of criminal institutions by abandoning our reliance on coercive governments. When that occurs, both our freedom and the freedom of our neighbors will become far more secure than it is now.

Short Bibliography

Joanne Hirase, “The Internment of Japanese Americans: The Constitutional Threat Fifty Years Later,” 19 JOURNAL OF CONTEMPORARY LAW (1993), pp. 143-183.

Michael Linfield, FREEDOM UNDER FIRE: U.S. Civil Liberties in Times of War, Boston: South End Press, 1990.

Edward S. Miller, WAR PLAN ORANGE: The U.S. Strategy to Defeat Japan, 1897-1945, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1991.

Eric L. Muller, FREE TO DIE FOR THEIR COUNTRY: The Story of the Japanese American Draft Resisters in World War II, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2001.

Eugene Rostow, “The Japanese American Cases – A Disaster,” 54 THE YALE LAW JOURNAL, June 1945, pp. 490-533.

Michi Weglyn, YEARS OF INFAMY: The Untold Story of America’s Concentration Camps, New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1976.

Mary Woodward, IN DEFENSE OF OUR NEIGHBORS: The Walt and Milly Woodward Story, Fenwick Publishing Group, 3147 White Point Drive # 100, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110,, 2008, ISBN 978-0-9749510-7-2

[Thanks to Jim Russell and Hans Sherrer for their helpful suggestions.]

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