Friday, April 16, 2010

Was FDR an Immigrant Hater?

NPR commentator Cokie Roberts and her husband Steve suggest that internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II was part of an anti-immigrant wave.
"American history has been scarred by outbursts of anti-immigrant sentiment. In the 1840s, the Know-Nothing Party flourished by denouncing Irish and German Catholics. In the 1940s, we interned Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast.

"The haters were wrong then, and they're wrong now. The 'dreamers and fighters' who constantly renew our strength and our spirit have always blessed America. We need them more than ever."
But, internment of Japanese-Americans on the West Coast was not the result of some nativist movement. It was the result of Presidential Executive Order 9066* signed by Roosevelt on February 19, 1942. President Roosevelt alone was responsible for the action. Congress later approved it and the Supreme Court ruled it constitutional (Korematsu v. United States, 1944), but it was Franklin Roosevelt's policy.

Roosevelt claimed the order was given:

1. to successfully prosecute the war
2. to provide every possible protection against espionage and sabotage

But, if Japanese internment was based on hatred of immigrants, Franklin Roosevelt was the primary hater and anti-immigrant leader.

I don't believe Roosevelt was a hater. He was a great war leader because he took the United States from a position of military weakness and vulnerability to winning World War II. That effort required 16 million servicemen and women--both volunteers and conscripts--who were removed from their homes and families and many sent into battle. This resulted in 400,000 U.S. military deaths and over 670,000 nonmortal woundings. That's a lot of pain and suffering.

Roosevelt used hard, even harsh, measures. Not only the internment, but the conscription act which forced dislocation of 16 million people and required a good number of them to risk their lives. Roosevelt also required an undefined period of service (for the duration of the war plus six months). In civilian life there was a severe clamp down on civilian industry and products as well as stringent rationing of the consumption of many of the limited products available.

Roosevelt forced all Americans to make sacrifices and young American men to make life threatening sacrifices. This was done to win a war which was very uphill for the first two years. It even looked foreboding in 1945 for American forces before the atomic bombs were dropped. Invading Japan with ground forces would have cost millions of lives--both Japanese and American.

Roosevelt's internment decision has to be viewed in the larger context of the sacrifices he required of all Americans and the life threatening sacrifices for those in military service.

But, if the Roberts are right that Japanese internment in the 1940's was the result of hatred and anti-immigrant sentiment, Franklin Roosevelt and the Democratic Party of the 1940's were the leaders of the anti-immigrant hatred--not some unnamed group of American nativists.
Executive Order No. 9066

The President

Executive Order

Authorizing the Secretary of War to Prescribe Military Areas

Whereas the successful prosecution of the war requires every possible protection against espionage and against sabotage to national-defense material, national-defense premises, and national-defense utilities as defined in Section 4, Act of April 20, 1918, 40 Stat. 533, as amended by the Act of November 30, 1940, 54 Stat. 1220, and the Act of August 21, 1941, 55 Stat. 655 (U.S.C., Title 50, Sec. 104);

Now, therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States, and Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of War, and the Military Commanders whom he may from time to time designate, whenever he or any designated Commander deems such action necessary or desirable, to prescribe military areas in such places and of such extent as he or the appropriate Military Commander may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion. The Secretary of War is hereby authorized to provide for residents of any such area who are excluded therefrom, such transportation, food, shelter, and other accommodations as may be necessary, in the judgment of the Secretary of War or the said Military Commander, and until other arrangements are made, to accomplish the purpose of this order. The designation of military areas in any region or locality shall supersede designations of prohibited and restricted areas by the Attorney General under the Proclamations of December 7 and 8, 1941, and shall supersede the responsibility and authority of the Attorney General under the said Proclamations in respect of such prohibited and restricted areas.

I hereby further authorize and direct the Secretary of War and the said Military Commanders to take such other steps as he or the appropriate Military Commander may deem advisable to enforce compliance with the restrictions applicable to each Military area hereinabove authorized to be designated, including the use of Federal troops and other Federal Agencies, with authority to accept assistance of state and local agencies.

I hereby further authorize and direct all Executive Departments, independent establishments and other Federal Agencies, to assist the Secretary of War or the said Military Commanders in carrying out this Executive Order, including the furnishing of medical aid, hospitalization, food, clothing, transportation, use of land, shelter, and other supplies, equipment, utilities, facilities, and services.

This order shall not be construed as modifying or limiting in any way the authority heretofore granted under Executive Order No. 8972, dated December 12, 1941, nor shall it be construed as limiting or modifying the duty and responsibility of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with respect to the investigation of alleged acts of sabotage or the duty and responsibility of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice under the Proclamations of December 7 and 8, 1941, prescribing regulations for the conduct and control of alien enemies, except as such duty and responsibility is superseded by the designation of military areas hereunder.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

The White House,

February 19, 1942.
H/T Warner Todd Huston

No comments: