This essay is a review of:
By the Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans
In the book, By the Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans, Greg Robinson describes the factors that contributed to Franklin D. Roosevelt's decision to pass, “Executive Order 9066.”1 This order allowed for the removal of Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans to be put into concentration camps during WWII. Before the start of World War Two, there was much anti-Japanese sentiment in the United States by both the public and the government. Japanese Americans suffered resentment that ranged from economical, to political, to social issues. Few examples are, the Exclusion Act and National Origins Act of 1920. Years after the dispersal of the Japanese internment camps, many Japanese had cried out for an apology. Finally, the government offered a formal apology and paid $20,000 in compensation to each surviving victim. This law was only approved after a decade-long campaign by the Japanese-American community. The government has yet to make adequate reparations for its actions. Senior curator Bruce Bustard, who was a driving force of these reparations, stated when regarding the document, "They are filled with legalese, and again that to me reinforces the idea that from these sorts of legal decisions that our government makes, these kinds of consequences can happen."2 Analyzing from all aspects, from racial fear to the aftermath, Robinson explains the story of one man’s approval of an order that would affect thousands of innocent lives.
During the start of World War II, FDR was given the authority to pass numerous orders based on his discretion, such as the infamous Executive Order 9066. His decisions were more often than not, influenced by public opinion or personal advisors. FDR believed in preserving racial purity, which clearly showed his racial bigotry. He believed that the white race must remain “pure.” It has been argued that his actions are justifiable because the, “eugenicist idea and gentlemen racism were widespread among White Americans of his background and period.”3
FDR’s views have been identified as ambiguous due to lack of opinion regarding these matters. Espionage was a huge concern for the United States government concerning the Japanese Americans, especially those living in the Hawaiian Islands. However, FDR's personal advisers who had the most influence on him did not accurately report the facts, often leaving out key points. Before Pearl Harbor occurred in 1941, the Office of Naval Intelligence and the FBI created an ABC List of the, “suspects to be arrested.”4 The government eventually arrested these suspects and placed them in several internment camps spread across the United States where they were, “promised fair treatment of Japanese enemy aliens.”5 These internment camps were makeshift barracks, with families and children cramped together behind barbed wires. One of FDR’s advisors, Munson, who was well educated with the most accurate facts, voiced opinions, was often ignored. Munson stated that Japanese-Americans were, “pathetically eager to show their loyalty.”6 He estimated the ninety to ninety eight percent of the Japanese Americans were, “universally loyal.”7 Furthermore the FBI, “noted that the Japanese suspected them [Japanese Americans] as potential American agents.”8 Even after hearing all of these points, FDR still chose to approve the camps due to public anti-Japanese sentiment. The treatment that Japanese Americans experienced was unjustified. They were, “insulted and spat on in the streets, and shots were fired...at their homes in southern California. Newspapers and magazines ran wild stories about spy rings, alleging falsely that the FBI agents confiscated navy signal flags, illegal radios, and ammunitions from Japanese American homes.”9 Much of this time was filled with anti-Japanese hysteria. Many have seen internment camps as necessary steps to win World War II; however FDR saw the, “evacuation as entirely a matter of military judgment.”10 His nonchalant and careless attitude was a clear underlying factor. FDR saw it as, “part of the price of winning the war”11 and remarked, “ It is a small matter compared to the war itself”12 sums up FDR’s view of, “not one of malice but of indifference.”13
FDR’s self interest was pushed into greater importance. FDR addresses issues, “only when they did not hinder his larger objectives of winning the war and maintaining public unity.”14 He stated the initial purpose for having tense relations with Japan was the concern of imperialism. With Japan, “emerging as a serious power”15 the United States was fearful due to the successful military actions of Japan. When Japan took over China, the United States had refused to acknowledge it. However, that is extremely hypocritical of the United States because the majority of the land that makes up the United States today was taken or stolen by but military force. FDR “did not hate Japanese Americans or seek to punish them. He asked that they be treated fairly… however, he refused on racial grounds to accept them on equal terms as Americans.”16 Often he withheld citizenship, which essentially withheld equal right, integral to the United States. The refusal connected him to the, “invidious and undemocratic character of the repressive actions he and the government took, and led him to abdicate responsibility for the treatment of the internees.”17
FDR later publicly announced, “the vast majority of the Japanese Americans were loyal and had been subjected to harsh by the government.”18 The positive actions FDR took were, “largely by accident.”19 Often certain actions were taken to prevent or lower criticism. The majority of the predicaments that Roosevelt faced were created on his own accord. The ending of the internment camps could have been achieved much sooner. However, his, “wish to be elected or belief that internees were not really Americans”20 was costly. Once the Japanese Americans were released for the camps, FDR made no attempt to assist them of reintegrating into society. Any attempt or action that FDR attempted to aid the Japanese Americans was outshone by Truman, who was elected after FDR, who did whatever he could to aid the Japanese Americans.
By Order of the President attempts to explain how a great humanitarian leader and his advisors, “who were fighting a war to preserve democracy”21 could have implemented such a, “profoundly unjust and undemocratic policy” 22 toward their own people. Robinson states the factors that contributed to FDR’s actions did not excuse the actions that FDR committed, however, he does illustrate that FDR’s opinion regarding racial issues was not uncommon. It is clear that during that time racial issues were common because Franklin D. Roosevelt refers to the Japanese as, “Japs.”23 It is a reminder of the power of a president's beliefs to influence and determine public policy and of the need for citizen vigilance to protect the rights of all against potential abuses.
Greg Robinson was born in New York. He is a specialist in North American Ethnic Studies and U.S. Political History. Robinson teaches courses on African American history, Twentieth-Century U.S. Foreign Policy, American Immigration History, and visible minorities/racial groups, among others. By being exposed to various culture and perspectives, he has reached his full potential as a writer. By studying another culture and becoming educated, he is able to write from a standpoint away from white supremacy. He has written several other books such as, “ A Tragedy of Democracy: Japanese Confinement in North America and After Camp: Portraits of Midcentury Japanese American Life And Politics.”24 He has written on various topics that many whites are uncomfortable with addressing. There is not much written about Robinson, however, due to his excellent commentary and topics that he address, many respectfully analyze and eagerly wait for his next book.
This book was published in 2001. During this year various important events occurred: For example the most important, 9/11. Due to that terrorist attack, much hatred arose and white supremacy sentiment started to rise again. The majority of the United States population was shaken and grew suspicious towards Middle Eastern ethnicities. Even to day at various locations, such as airports, restaurants, and even in the streets Middle Eastern ethnicities are viewed with more caution. It was an unfortunate occurrence that forever embedded a stereotype to Middle Eastern ethnicities. Thus fear of, “ instability and cultural resentment” was similar to what the Japanese went through during World War II.25 Also, China entered into the World Trade organization (WOT), which showed the rise of the east as a serious power. In conclusion many things were changing around the world, including the awareness that the “white” skinned people were no longer the top dog.
Blanche Wiesen Cook and Charlotte Sheedy were both amazed at the in-depth-look of the role FDR and his advisors had in committing this horrendous act. Cook a distinguished, “professor of history at John Jay College in the City University of New York” is the author of Eleanor Roosevelt.26 She was amazed at Robinson's skill at telling a vivid, compelling account of FDR and the Japanese American internment. It changed her view and taught her to look further past the surface. Charlotte Sheedy, from Publishers Weekly states that, Robinson maintains that Roosevelt's decision was, in fact, "not fundamentally inconsistent with his overall political philosophy and worldview."27 Rather, a deep-seated belief that Japanese-Americans were biologically "incapable of being true American”28 enabled FDR, even though he "deplored open prejudice," to be "willingly misled"29 by uneducated advisors about the perceived Japanese-American threat. Since childhood, FDR had admired Japan's naval strength, but following Japan's victory over Russia in 1904–1905 and its invasion of China in the 1930s, Roosevelt saw Japan as a potent economic and political rival. Consequently, after the Pearl Harbor attack increased anti-Japanese hysteria, West Coast politicians and the military pressured FDR to take action at home; the president's racist views, compounded by what Robinson describes as his loose administrative style and lack of moral leadership, contributed to his passive indifference toward the physical and psychological fate of a group of Americans. Robinson's arguments and meticulous documentation clarify a failure of American democracy.
By the Order of the president: FDR and the internment of Japanese Americans was a well-written book. It was includes sources at the end of the book to validity details. In the beginning of the book, it was it was easy to misunderstand where the author was leading. In the first chapter, it often sounds as if the author is excusing FDR’s action. However, as the book progresses, it is clarified that the author does hold FDR responsible for his poor choices by critically analyzing, “FDR’s decisions.”30 By writing from a non-white perspective it is a refreshing change. By being critical with FDR’s decisions the reader is able to see that facts as they are. In clear light it is easy to identify the injustice of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s choices. The book was well organized going in chronological order.
To a degree, Robinson supported both standpoints during the 1960’s, turning from liberalism to conservatism. United States was much more liberal before Japanese Americans were ever considered a threat. The white citizens had nothing to fear. The position of staying at the top of the totem pole socially was practically secured. However, after the, “emergence of Japan as a serious power on the international stage “31 much concern rose from the United States. As more and more Japanese immigrants had the opportunity to come to America, the white nativists started to become upset mostly due to the already increasing job competition, which eventually lead to the Gentlemen's Act (limited the amount of Japanese immigrants to the United States) With several laws passed to prevent the immigration rate from increasing due to hysteria and stereotypes, it is clear to see the resentment and racial tension growing.
The United States has committed numerous crimes to various ethnicities. Tragically, the US has not come close to giving a, “sufficient apology and reparations to attempt to fix their past mistakes.”32 There is a saying in Japanese culture, 'kodomo no tame ni,' which means, 'for the sake of the children. The price that many Japanese Americans paid, for this tragic event, was with their own live. By pushing for equal rights during their generation, the parents attained a freedom for their children that they themselves never got to taste. The government should do more aid and prevent from another horrendous act, such as Japanese Internment Camps, from ever occurring again.
1. Robinson, Greg. By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2001.6.
2. Robinson, Greg. 64.
3. Robinson, Greg. 65.
4. Robinson, Greg. 67.
5. Robinson, Greg. 72.
6. Robinson, Greg. 89.
7. Robinson, Greg. 123.
8. Robinson, Greg. 124.
9. Robinson, Greg. 176.
10. Robinson, Greg. 8.
11. Robinson, Greg. 176.
12. Robinson, Greg. 176.
13. Robinson, Greg. 197.
14. Robinson, Greg. 206.
15. Robinson, Greg. 239.
16. Robinson, Greg. 11.
17. Robinson, Greg.149.
18. Robinson, Greg. 71.
19. Robinson, Greg. “Greg Robinson.” Greg Robinson. Département D’Histoire Université Du Québec À Montréal, n.d. Web. 25 May 2016.
20. Robinson, Greg. By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans. 82.
21. Robinson, Greg. 233.
22. Robinson, Greg. 168.
23. Robinson, Greg. 254.
24. Robinson, Greg. “Greg Robinson.” Greg Robinson. Département D’Histoire Université Du Québec À Montréal, n.d. Web. 25 May
25. Salo, Jackie. “Americans’ Fear Of Terrorism At Its Peak Since 9/11, New Poll Says.” International Business Times. IBT Media Inc., 10 Dec. 2015. Web. 25 May 2016.
26. Wikipedia. “Blanche Wiesen Cook.” Goodreads. Goodreads, n.d. Web. 25 May 2016.
27. Sheedy, Charlotte. “By Order Of The President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans.” Publishers Weekly. PWxyz, n.d. Web. 25 May 2016.
28. Robinson, Greg. By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans. 202.
29. Robinson, Greg. 176.
30. Robinson, Greg. 53.
31. Robinson, Greg. 73.
32. Kirtley, William M. America Cries: “I’m Sorry!”: US Apologies for Japanese Internment, Hawaiian Annexation, Slavery, Treatment of Native Americans, and Chinese Exclusion - A Collection of Essays. Arizona: CreateSpace Independent Platform, 2016. Print.