Internment Archives

Bainbridge Island Japanese American Memorial Ignores Wartime Realities

(page 2 of 5)

The Japanese

Information concerning the movement of naval vessels and other intelligence on naval activities in the Seattle-Bremerton area was of great value to the enemy.

Not surprisingly, the Japanese Consul had an "Annex," or summer residence, on the island's southwest shore overlooking traffic through both passages. [Note 6]

According to the "Bainbridge Review," of the 274 Japanese evacuated from the island, 83 were Japanese citizens and 191 were U.S. born American citizens. [Note 7] In a 3 February 1942 FBI raid, 12 island Japanese were arrested for possessing contraband property, mostly guns, which had been prohibited to all Italian, German and Japanese citizens by Presidential Proclamation almost two months before. [Note 8]

Prior to those arrests, the Japanese American Citizens League had collected a truck load of contraband items from Japanese islanders and turned it in to authorities. Those arrested had failed to participate in that collection and were in open defiance of a wartime Presidential Proclamation.

Imperial Japan was notorious for its use of overseas Japanese to gather intelligence and provide support for Japanese attacks and invasions. Malaya, Singapore, Thailand (Siam), the Dutch East Indies and the Philippines were a few of the places where this technique was used to great effect.

The eminent historian, John J. Stephan, of the University of Hawaii, notes in his book, Hawaii Under the Rising Sun, that overseas Japanese "in areas under Japanese occupation were not only cooperative but useful because of their knowledge of local conditions. Japanese forces in the Philippines received a tempestuous welcome from resident compatriots in Davao on Mindanao on 20 December 1941."

On the small Hawaiian island of Niihau a crippled Pearl Harbor attacker made a crash landing. The pilot was aided in the armed takeover of the island by a Japanese American. The pilot was later killed by a local and the Japanese American, named Harada, committed suicide. [Note 9]

The U.S. Government would have been negligent if it had not taken preventive action against such eventualities in the U.S. after the attack on Pearl Harbor, particularly in view of the many signs that Japan intended to follow the same strategy in America.

Many thousands of students attending Japanese schools in the U.S. were taught, as Sen. Daniel Inouye described in his book, Journey to Washington, "You must remember that only a trick of fate has brought you so far from your homeland, but there must be no question of your loyalty. When Japan calls you must know that it is Japanese blood that flows in your veins."

Approximately 20,000 young Japanese-Americans had been sent by their families to Japan for their education, which included heavy doses of militaristic indoctrination and emperor worship. By the time of Pearl Harbor almost 6,000 students who had been taught in Japan had returned to the United States. [Note 10]

Naval Intelligence Officer, Lt. Cmdr. K.D. Ringle, of the 11th Naval District in Los Angeles, described these individuals as:

"...the most potentially dangerous element of all are those American citizens of Japanese ancestry who have spent the formative years of their lives, from 10 to 20, in Japan and have returned to the United States to claim their legal American citizenship within the last few years. These people are essentially and inherently Japanese and may have been deliberately sent back to the United States by the Japanese government to act as agents...." [Note 11]

Events later in the war confirmed government suspicions.

Twenty-eight percent of military-age male citizens refused to renounce loyalty to the emperor. Thousands petitioned the U.S. Government to return to Japan to fight for the emperor, and participated openly in military demonstrations in support of the enemy and their emperor. More than 5,000 of both sexes renounced their U.S. citizenship when given the opportunity. (Some had been coerced to renounce, which gives an idea of the influence the disloyals had on the loyal Japanese Americans.) [Note 12]

Pro-Japan demonstrators at Tule Lake Segregation Center

Some of the many Japanese Americans who would not renounce allegiance to the Emperor, petitioned the government to be sent to Japan to fight against the U.S., renounced their U.S. citizenship, participated in military style, pro-Japan drills and ceremonies and coerced loyal Japanese Americans to do the same. Tule Lake Segregation Center, Jan. 26, 1945. (National Archives)

Before the war many thousands of Japanese Americans and Japanese citizens living in the U.S. belonged to militant and patriotic organizations such as the Imperial Comradeship Society and the Japanese Military Servicemen's League (approximately 9,500 and 7,200 members respectively). These organizations were known to be involved in the collection of intelligence information and the collection of money to support the Japanese war effort in China.

A 14 October 1941 War Department intelligence report stated that there were 69 local units of these organizations and that,

"these two organizations have pledged to do sabotage (railroads and harbors) in the states mentioned above, [northern California, Washington, Oregon and Utah] in time of emergency." [Note 13]

Japanese apologists sometimes claim that these and other threats were mere "puffery" and should not have been taken seriously. After Pearl Harbor it was hard not to take these threats seriously.

When it became obvious that major intelligence operations were being developed along the West Coast, ethnic Japanese were put in a difficult position. While large numbers were involved, exactly who was involved was not knowable. Imperial Japan was willing to risk retribution against those it considered its people for the sake of intelligence and support.

Evacuation of all Japanese, the majority of innocents along with those involved, was the only way to solve the problem quickly.

Only those in designated military zones on the West Coast were affected. Persons of Japanese ancestry living elsewhere in the U.S. were not affected by the evacuation at all.

Approximately two-thirds of the adults evacuated were not U.S. citizens, but were Japanese nationals, enemy aliens, subject to internment in wartime under long-standing U.S. and international laws, laws still in effect to this day.

The vast majority of U.S. citizens involved were minor children, evacuated not because of any threat they posed, but to keep families together. This humanitarian effort on the part of the government to help make the best out of a bad situation has in more recent times been distorted and portrayed as a racially motivated violation of "civil rights." [Note 14]

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Reference Notes

Note 6

See handwritten note on Bainbridge Island Assessor’s record of the property.

Note 7


Note 8

See these two news clippings

Note 9

Naval Intelligence report of the incident.

Note 10

Statistics on schooling in Japan.
Statistics on those who requested repatriation to Japan during the war and the time they had spent in Japan before the war.

Note 11

See page 3 of the report for the quote. This report is very significant to the study of the evacuation. The Commission quoted it selectively. Sen. Spark Matsunaga misrepresented it before the Senate to claim the Office of Naval Intelligence had assured the President there was no problem with Japanese Americans. In the Corum Nobis court case which over-turned the wartime conviction of Korematsu, lawyers claimed that a government conspiracy prevented Ringle’s evaluation from being heard before the Supreme Court. Edward Ennis made this charge saying he only learned about Ringle’s evaluation from reading Harper’s Magazine. The first page of the document shows distribution to “Enemy Alien Control Unit, Department of Justice.” Edward Ennis was the head of this unit. Ennis further claimed that the memo represented the position of the Office of Naval Intelligence. The letter of transmittal clearly states that the opinions are those of Ringle and “does not represent the final and official opinion of the Office of Naval Intelligence” QED: If there was any conspiracy related to this case it was contrived by the lawyers pleading on behalf of the convicted Japanese Americans. This fabrication has since been incorporated in various school history books.

The Coram Nobis cases did not reverse the Supreme Court decisions but related to the underlying, wartime convictions.

Note 12

Discussion of the loyalty question and statistics.
Statistics on number requesting repatriation or expatriation to Japan during the war.
References to Japanese petitioning the government to return and fight for Japan.
Data on citizenship renunciation
Photos of military style demonstrations and drills

Note 13

The cited report is here.
Those who wonder if Japan felt there was an obligation to the Fatherland by some in the U.S. should carefully read this “Title” block which identifies an organization entitled “Association of Japanese in America obligated to Military Duty.”

Note 14

Statistics on nativity by age