American Inquisition: The Hunt for Japanese American Disloyalty in World War II

American Inquisition: The Hunt for Japanese American Disloyalty in World War II

American Inquisition: The Hunt for Japanese American Disloyalty in World War II

American Inquisition: The Hunt for Japanese American Disloyalty in World War II

Synopsis

When the U. S. government forced 70,000 American citizens of Japanese ancestry into internment camps in 1942, it created administrative tribunals to pass judgment on who was loyal and who was disloyal. In American Inquisition, Eric Muller relates th

Excerpt

ASKED TO NAME a time when the government judged the loyalty of large numbers of American citizens, most people would probably cite the period often called “the Second Red Scare.” By this they would mean the time in the Cold War when the government subjected all Executive Branch employees and job applicants to FBI investigation to determine whether there were “reasonable grounds” to believe that they were “disloyal to the Govern- ment of the United States.” This “loyalty-security” program led to some four million investigations, more than 12,000 hearings by “loyalty boards” within federal agencies, and adverse findings in the cases of more than 500 Ameri- cans. It was the most expansive government program to assess the loyalty of citizens that the country has ever known.

But it was neither the most burdensome such program nor the most suspicious of the loyalty of American citizens. Those dubious honors go to a system that preceded the Red scare by five to ten years: the multi-agency apparatus that judged the loyalty of American citizens of Japanese ancestry during World War II. This program condemned more than one out of every four Americans whose cases it reviewed. And it imposed some very severe consequences: a finding of disloyalty could lead not just to the loss of a job but to exclusion from a broad swath of the country and even to prolonged incarceration.

This study examines the mechanisms that the federal government created to judge the loyalty of tens of thousands of American citizens of Japanese ancestry during World War II. This story is not well known, even in the sizable literature on the Japanese American internment. To the extent that that literature has focused on issues of loyalty, it has principally explored the demoralizing effects of the loyalty questionnaire that the government re- quired all internees to fill out while behind the barbed wire of the so-called relocation centers in early 1943. What scholars have not done, however, is to follow those completed questionnaires into the bowels of the wartime bu- reaucracy, where midlevel government officials actually used them to pass . . .

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