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The end of World War II brought a whole new era for people of
Japanese ancestry in the United States. With peace, for thousands of
U.S. military people serving in Japan, came a new awareness of Japan,
its people and its culture. At home, the hate-filled wartime caricature
of the Japanese enemy disappeared almost overnight. In its place arose
the image of a hard-working, friendly, law-abiding and even genteel
people. Traditional Japanese art suddenly became fashionable.
Besides the forced evacuation of Japanese residents from the West
Coast of the U.S., we had the ugly sedition trials of Japanese Americans
named by the FBI and we had the conviction of “Tokyo Rose” for treason.
But, gradually, U.S. public opinion made a 180-degree turn. The Nisei
(those of Japanese descent actually born in the U.S.) were becoming the
dominant force in the Japanese-American community, assimilating into
American society in a way their parents never had. All in all, the
future of Japanese-Americans looked bright.
Now, half a century after the event, David Lowman has published a
brilliant book with the facts of the case. The title is “MAGIC” (Athena
Press) — the name given by the U.S. to all the secret cryptographic
Japanese code materials that Washington gathered, which was an enormous
amount: troop movements, ship sailings, Japanese espionage in the U.S.
Most of this is now being declassified for the first time.
Deep down, however, there was a resentment, and Americans felt a
sense of shame, particularly at two decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court,
in 1943 and 1944, that the deportation of Japanese from their homes on
the West Coast was necessary for military reasons. Launched with an
intensity and organizational skill unmatched by any earlier ethnic
group, this issue found its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where, in
time, the Japanese eventually received financial compensation.
All in all, the outcome was a strange one, as our Naval Intelligence
intercepts proved with no doubt whatever that, during the war, the
Japanese had an extremely effective espionage network in the U.S. and
that the U.S. government had in its possession names and identification
of innumerable active Japanese agents. So as not to stir up race riots or
any such disturbances, the U.S. has never released the names of the
extraordinarily numerous Japanese agents in the U.S. The American
public consequently remains, to this day, ignorant of the massive
wartime Japanese intelligence operation in the United States.
Among the people hired to do research on the episode, 40 percent had
Japanese names — and many were militant civil rights activists who had
strongly spoken out in support of the Japanese and in favor of
reparations. These people were generally added to the hearings staff as
advisers. On the other hand, at the hearings, no reference whatever is
made of such works as John Costello’s excellent “The Pacific War.” “The
rising current of fear on the West Coast, and the evidence from the
MAGIC intercepts the previous year of espionage organizations” had been
key factors in ordering Japanese out of the West Coast. “MAGIC” was the
secret code word for top-secret American intercepts of Japanese military
communications. There are other books, studies and documents that could
have been consulted for the hearings. But they were not. Never.
The one man who everyone thinks could have shed the most light on the
compulsory evacuation of the West Coast by the Japanese was John J.
McCloy, assistant secretary of war at the time and, later, high
commissioner for Germany, U.S. disarmament coordinator, and president of
the World Bank. McCloy wrote to Sen. Charles Grassley:
From my personal appearance at the hearings of the Commission, I
believe its conduct was a horrendous affront to our tradition of fair
and objective hearings. Whenever I sought in the slightest degree to
justify the action of the United States, which was ordered by President
Roosevelt, my testimony was met, by hisses and boos such as I have never
been subject to. … It would have been quite simple for an objective
examiner of the Commission to have dug up the so-called MAGIC
The few witnesses willing to testify on behalf of the government
complained that they were cut short, humiliated and sometimes lectured
by members of the commission. It is well nigh impossible to find
statements suggesting in any way that the government’s actions may have
been legitimate. Former Sen. Hayakawa was possibly the most
distinguished Japanese-American in the country, but no comment from him
can be found in the reports. Completely frustrated in making his views
known, Hayakawa finally sent a letter to the White House in which he
Japanese and Japanese-Americans in the Western states were relocated
during World War II for their own safety at a time when the U.S. and
Japan were at war. The relocation was in no way punitive. It was to
remove the Japanese from the coastal areas for fear of what might happen
to them if a hostile Japanese invasion force was to land on our shores.
Henry Stimson, FDR’s secretary of war, gave a similar protective
argument: “Anti-Japanese feeling on the West Coast had reached a level
which endangered the lives of all (Japanese) individuals.”
Stimson could not, of course, mention MAGIC — the breaking of the
Japanese military code, which might have been the best-kept secret of
the war. The U.S. military’s greatest wartime coup in the Pacific, in
fact, was the breaking of MAGIC. Although now declassified, and one of
the keys to our victories in the Pacific, MAGIC is never referred to.
The public’s indifference, perhaps in comparison with the tremendous
amount of publicity given to Germany and Auschwitz, is something of a
mystery. The only explanation that suggests itself is that Nazi policy
was unquestionably racist. Could Japan too have been infected by the
racist germ? To the Americans of the time it seemed implausible.