Internment Archives

Critique of the Smithsonian Institution's Exhibit:
"A More Perfect Union: Japanese Americans and the U.S. Constitution"

(page 4 of 21)

Analysis of the Exhibit


The entrance to the exhibition includes audio which sets the stage. The evacuation is portrayed solely as a violation of constitutional rights. No effort is made to place the event in the context of war as a military emergency resulting from Imperial Japan's actions in our country (Appendix 2, Smithsonian briefing sheet on exhibit, 1987).

How Bad the United States Was

The museum ignores the truthfulness of statements by the president, in Executive Order #9066, the secretary of war and others who explicitly, and with reason, feared the likelihood of espionage. No mention is made of MAGIC messages, which were declassified in 1977 and gave details of Japanese operations along the West Coast (Appendix 3, Three MAGIC messages dealing with Japanese intelligence intentions and capabilities, 1941).

No mention is made of the testimony given before congress in 1984 by former Assistant Secretary of War, John J. McCloy, the only high-level member of the Roosevelt administration who was still alive, who stated that it was the MAGIC intelligence that led President Roosevelt to order the evacuation (Appendix 4, McCloy testimony).

Absent any recognition of the security needs of the country, the exhibit then ignores the legal aspects of the case. No mention is made of the legal status of the majority of adult Japanese who were not U.S. citizens. Indeed, as the attached letter from Tom Crouch shows, the issue of Enemy Alien designation, by Presidential Proclamation (Appendix 5, Presidential Proclamation 2525, December 1941), is purposefully ignored because, "That was only the case because Asian immigrants were forbidden citizenship" (Appendix 6, Crouch letter, March 9, 1987).

Indeed, this legal aspect of the event, which is crucial to an understanding of the entire episode, is dismissed because it doesn't fit the theoretical and extra legal concept of the curator and others about how the country should have been run and the appropriateness of its laws, which are still in effect having been reaffirmed by the Supreme Court after WW II (Appendix 7, Quote from Johnson v Eisentrager).

As late as 1998 Chief Justice Rehnquist in a book entitled, All The Laws But One, concluded that the Constitution and U.S. law explicitly provided for treatment much harsher than that visited on most of the enemy aliens involved. He also concluded that relocation of citizens could have been constitutionally justified if sufficient threat could be shown. And, indeed, the Supreme Court upheld the evacuation in 1944. That intercepted and decoded Japanese messages revealed widespread espionage efforts by individuals and organizations is not mentioned in the exhibit.

Other aspects of the evacuation which benefitted those involved, namely, protection from threats and violence, provision of subsistence for many who lost their jobs and had no other means of support, and the humanitarian effort to keep families together by not separating citizen children from Japanese citizen parents in an effort to meet some idealized concept of justice are either not emphasized or go unmentioned.

The facilities provided by the government and treatment given evacuees are portrayed in the worst possible light. Few, if any, photographs or displays show the brighter side of life in the centers or the tremendous efforts made by the government and evacuees to establish productive communities. One display shows a chamber pot and complains, by implication, that the government didn't even give the evacuees a pot to pee in.

The 30,000 plus who were relocated to jobs outside the West Coast exclusion area and the 4,000 students, citizens and aliens alike, who attended college during the war are given short shrift. The many who appreciated the centers and the security they provided, the thousands who were reluctant to leave when the opportunity presented itself and the testimonial ceremonies honoring the War Relocation Authority leaders after the war are ignored. Certainly, emphasis is not given to the 5,000 plus who renounced their U.S. citizenship and the many who demanded to be repatriated to Japan so they could fight against the United States. Obligatory and militant Emperor worshiping drills and the pro-Japan coercion visited upon loyal evacuees is omitted.

While there was no reference to concentration camps in last year's version of the exhibition, past versions have made a big point about the centers really being concentration camps. This despite the fact that the Supreme Court explicitly refuted this claim in a 1944 decision (Korematsu v. United States).

All in all, relocation is not portrayed as a difficult situation met with fortitude by most evacuees who made the best of their situation and a government that made extraordinary efforts to establish viable communities for those involved. Rather it is portrayed as an unjustified and "racist" act by our wartime government and a violation of the Bill of Rights: "They were presumed guilty by reason of race."

How Good The Japanese Americans Were

In 1943 the very national leaders who had ordered the evacuation offered Japanese Americans an opportunity to show their loyalty by forming a combat unit, the 442nd Combat Team, a segregated unit with mostly Caucasian officers. (Prior to the commitment in combat of the 442nd a similar unit, the 100th Battalion made up primarily of Hawaiian Japanese Americans fought with distinction in North Africa and Italy. The 100th later joined the 442nd as the 1st Battalion in that regimental formation. In recognition of its prior service its designation as 100th Battalion was retained.)

The 442nd participated in the last nine months of the war. During that time it established an outstanding reputation and its soldiers and units received many decorations and awards. Other Japanese Americans served in the Military Intelligence Service where their language skills were put to good effect with units throughout the Pacific Theater.

The Smithsonian exhibition dishonors the accomplishments of these brave soldiers by grossly exaggerating their record or claiming fabricated achievement. The following examples are used to illustrate this point.

Purple Heart Medal

The bravery of the 100th Battalion and later the 442nd CT led to the taking of large numbers of casualties for which Purple Heart Medals were awarded. The Smithsonian exhibit claims that 9,486 Purple Hearts were awarded and that the 442nd had a casualty rate of 300 percent (Appendix 8, Exhibit photo).

The official records of the 442nd CT reflect that as of April 30, 1946 a total of 2,490 Purple Hearts and oak leaf clusters, each one representing an additional award, were recorded. The record further states that because of awards given to soldiers at hospitals for which the unit had no records, "It is believed that the correct figure for total number of Purple Heart awards should be approximately 3,600, including approximately 500 Oak Leaf Clusters..." (Appendix 9, Extract from April, 1946 Monthly Historical Report, 442nd CT).

"AMERICANS, The Story of the 442nd Combat Team" Washington Journal Press, December, 1946, page 101, contains the same statement about Purple Heart awards quoted above (Appendix 10, Extract from "Americans"). The Smithsonian exhibit contains an error of 5,886 Purple Heart Medals incorrectly attributed to the 442nd. The actual casualty rate was around 100 percent not the phenomenal 300 percent claimed. The total number of individual decorations, which is claimed to be 18,143 is considerably larger than the 3,909 shown in the official record as of 30 April 1946.

Silver Star Medal

The Smithsonian exhibit claims awards of the Silver Star Medal, the third highest decoration for bravery, totaled 560 (Appendix 11, Exhibit photo). The official record cited above lists the number at 356 and the history lists 354, oak leaf clusters included (Tabs 9 & 10). The Smithsonian fails to mention that about 10 percent of the Silver Stars were awarded to the non-Japanese Americans of the unit.

This is an error of 206 Silver Star Medals incorrectly attributed to the 442nd.

Casualties rescuing the "Lost Battalion"

The Smithsonian exhibit claims that 814 casualties were taken by the 442nd during the valiant rescue of the "Lost Battalion" (Appendix 12, Exhibit photo). This rescue was a magnificent effort on the part of the 442nd but the unit did not take 814 casualties conducting it. During the month of October, 1944 the Combat Team was in action a total of 17 days sustaining 814 total casualties (Appendix 13, Extract of October, 1944 Monthly Historical Report, 442nd RCT). The unit was engaged in the "Lost Battalion" action for six days. While a review of morning reports at the National Personnel Records Center would be needed to establish the exact number of casualties sustained, it was certainly far fewer than the number claimed. A review of KIA's during the month reveals that about half were sustained before the "Lost Battalion" action. It is likely that the number of WIA's were in similar proportion.

This is an error of approximately 400 casualties attributed to the "Lost Battalion" action. Because of this error it has become common for those unfamiliar with casualty terminology to assume from the exhibit that 814 men were killed in the rescue of 200 countrymen, which is incorrect.

Achievements of the Military Intelligence Service

The Smithsonian exhibit claims, "General MacArthur's intelligence chief [Major General Charles A. Willoughby] credited the MIS with shortening the war by two years and averting one million U.S. casualties" (Appendix 14, Exhibit photo). This claim is total fabrication. You don't have to have more military experience than watching the first twenty minutes of "Saving Private Ryan" to know that prisoner interrogation, document translation and other language activities such as those conducted by the MIS, while important, didn't shorten the war by two years or avert a million casualties. This claim is an outrageous falsification.

In point of historical fact it was MacArthur's operation's chief who attributed the shortening of the war and the saving of lives to signals intelligence codebreakers of all services, including those working on MAGIC. Japanese Americans were not involved.


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