U.S. policy toward Japan in war stands test of history

December 07, 1996|By GREGORY KANE

Lest any of you forgets that today is the 55th anniversary of the Japanese attack on American naval forces at Pearl Harbor, I feel compelled to remind you.

It was indeed Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese -- led by Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto -- bombed Pearl Harbor in what has been described as a sneak attack. If you're Japanese, the attack on Pearl Harbor is the brilliantly conceived and flawlessly executed pre-emptive strike to save Asia from white domination.

That goes to show you how history can be rewritten from almost any point of view. And there have been several attempts lately to rewrite the history of our war with Japan, some of them actually sympathetic to the Japanese. We Americans have no one to blame but ourselves for this sorry state of affairs. We older Americans fail to remember our history, and the younger ones figure if it happened before they were born it's not worth knowing.

Thus we have the sorry spectacle of some Americans arguing that President Franklin D. Roosevelt goaded the Japanese into attacking Pearl Harbor by slapping an unjust oil embargo on them. Fortunately, we have Winston Churchill, Britain's prime minister during the war years, to give us a more cogent account of just what was going on in the world during 1941:

"... the embargoes which the United States, Britain, and Holland had enforced cut off from Japan all supplies of oil, on which the Navy, and indeed the whole war-power of Japan, depended. ...It was evident that this was a stranglehold, and that the choice before them was either for Japan to reach an agreement with the United States or go to war. The American requirements involved Japanese withdrawal not only from their new aggression in Indo-China, but from China itself, where they had already been fighting at heavy expense for so long. This was a rightful but a hard demand. ..."

We should all thank the good prime minister for clearing up this matter. It wasn't just the United States, but Britain and Holland as well, that imposed an oil embargo on Japan. And for good reason: Japanese aggression. Churchill was by today's standards a sexist and a racist, but aren't you glad he -- and not historical revisionists -- was around during the war years to oppose both the Nazis and the Japanese?

For at least a generation, we Americans have been wringing our hands over whether we should have dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One could argue (and I'm sure some have) that the bombing wouldn't have been necessary if the United States had dropped its demand for an unconditional Japanese surrender. But after Pearl Harbor and the Bataan Death March -- during which hundreds of American prisoners of war died -- the United States didn't owe Japan any favors. Demands for an unconditional surrender and the dismantling of the Japanese war machine were perfectly justified.

Heading the list in the Great American Self-Flagellation Orgy is our internment of some 110,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II. A gross violation of habeas corpus and civil rights, wussy civil libertarians have called it. Flagrant racism, others have called it.

Perfectly justified under the circumstances, I contend. It occurs to me that the first order of business in fighting a war is to win the war, not protect civil liberties. If I'm President Roosevelt hTC during World War II, I do the same thing he did and intern the Japanese. I do this especially with the benefit of more than 50 years of hindsight.

Why? Anyone who has read the history of the Battle of the Bulge knows what havoc only a handful of English-speaking German soldiers wreaked once they got behind Allied lines. The Nazis almost won that December 1944 German offensive and the war. While it's true that the Japanese-Americans interned were loyal citizens, we can only imagine what havoc Japanese intelligence could have wreaked by slipping English-speaking agents in among native-born Japanese.

And here's a point those hand-wringers still bemoaning Japanese internment some 54 years after the fact probably haven't taken into account: The internment may actually have saved Japanese-American lives. After Pearl Harbor and the Bataan Death March, there may have been lawless elements among white Americans seeking revenge. We already know what such mobs have done to African-Americans (immediately after the Civil War, through and after Reconstruction and well into this century). And Mexican-Americans no doubt still have their memories of the carnage committed by Texas Rangers during the early 1900s.

More than one American ethnic minority of color can testify that sometimes an internment camp may be the safest place for you.

Pub Date: 12/07/96

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