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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

"American Inquisition": Buddhists Lose One Point; Christians Gain Two

I've been blogging this week about the findings and claims in my new book "American Inquisition:  The Hunt for Japanese American Disloyalty in World War II."  In my most recent post, I sketched a picture of how the government went about gathering data on the loyalties of the incarcerated Japanese Americans.

With data in hand, the government next confronted the problem of processing it.  This task initially fell to a loyalty tribunal that the War Department created specifically for this purpose:  the Japanese American Joint Board ("JAJB"). 

The JAJB was a tribunal with voting representatives from one civilian agency (the War Relocation Authority, which ran the "relocation centers" where Japanese Americans were detained) and a number of military units, including the Provost Marshal General's Office ("PMGO") (which was responsible for industrial security).  The FBI was to have been a voting member as well, but J. Edgar Hoover pulled his representative out after just a few weeks.

If you have ever been on, say, an admissions committee or a hiring committee, you will quickly recognize the problem that the JAJB faced.  It had tens of thousands of loyalty files to review, but it lacked the time and manpower carefully to review each file.  So it did what admissions and hiring committees do in these situations:  it tried to come up with a template that would allow it to process the files without having to review each one.

The first idea was a point system.  Bureaucrats in the PMGO would go through individual files – especially the loyalty questionnaires that the internees had filled out – and assign positive and negative point values to the answers, producing a net loyalty score for each file.

So, for example, a Japanese American who was a Christian got a plus-2; a Japanese American who was a Buddhist got a minus-1.  If he was "an instructor in Japanese hobbies or sports" such as judo, he got a minus-2; if he was "an instructor in [an] American sport or hobby," he got a plus-2.  For each Japanese-American periodical he received, he got a minus-1.  If he'd never traveled to Japan, he got a plus-1.  One trip to Japan earned him a minus-1.  Two trips to Japan got him a minus-3. More than three years in a Japanese-language after-school program in the United States got him a minus-3. And so on.

You get the idea.

For reasons that the archival record does not disclose, the JAJB ditched the point system after a while and shifted instead to a system that looked for particular patterns of factors and then broke the files into three large groups – a "white" group that merited an automatic stamp of loyalty, a "black" group that merited an automatic stamp of disloyalty, and a "brown" or "tan" group that required case-by-case scrutiny of files. (Yes, that's right: the color between "black" and "white" was not "gray" but "brown.")

Using this system, the JAJB processed files for well over a year.

It ended up condemning more than one in every four American citizens of Japanese ancestry as disloyal.

This was not, however, the final word on Japanese Americans' loyalties in World War II. The JAJB was so wracked by conflict between its civilian member, the War Relocation Authority, and its military members, that its authority quickly slipped away. By the end of 1943, as a practical matter, the constituent agencies on the JAJB were quietly making their own loyalty judgments and disregarding the conclusions of the JAJB.

More on that later, or tomorrow.

Posted by Eric Muller on October 17, 2007 at 03:18 PM in Books | Permalink

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