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Military Necessity as a factor in the decision to intern Japanese-Canadians

Ottawa had no evidence about the disloyalty of Japanese-Canadians, other than suspicions about a few individuals who were already well-known to the local RCMP. Moreover, no one was ever charged with treason. Yet Mackenzie King's government suspended the civil liberties of the entire Japanese-Canadian population...(28)

The second half of this essay will show that the initial decision to intern Japanese-Canadians can be reasonably defended on the grounds of military necessity. Most essays on the topic of internment focus solely on racism, and base their condemnation of the decision solely on these grounds. The failure on the part of historians to account for the possible serious military justification is a critical error. In academia only J.L. Granatstein and Johnson(29) have been found by this author to have seriously considered the possibility. This error is not to be considered lightly. Military justifications often form the underlying assumption in internment issues, even if not currently present in academic discourse. If it cannot be found that military justifications are reasonable, then the obligations towards those Japanese-Canadians who unfairly lost their rights as citizens place an even larger duty on the Government to compensate for this loss. If however the initial decision for internment can be justified on a military basis, the Government's obligations rests with the subsequent treatment, and the extent with which internees can claim that racism directed the internment process, and not with the actual act of internment per se. In considering the following points, it must be remembered that the status of being a racist has no bearing whatsoever on the decision to intern, unless racism is found to be the only cause. If a racist believes in a round world, this does not automatically suggest the world is flat. Views must be specifically countered on their logical and factual grounds.

In considering Military Ethics a streamlined and condensed view will be adopted for this essay. Most condemnations of internment suggest that internment in and of itself violated individual human rights, and is therefore immoral a priori. This view is a comfortable one, and draws from our everyday experiences in a nation at peace. Our soldiers fight in 'peacekeeping' missions, and never in the defence of house or home. This strict deontological perspective ignores the common assumption of utilitarian ethics in wartime defence, or the deontological allowance of collective rights over individual rights. In a place and time where perilous threat to the country or group is imminent or possible it will be assumed that the rights of the group claim a higher priority than that of the individual. This is a fairly standard view in military ethics, and it is consistent with the historically collectivist Canadian view,(30) as opposed to our individualistic cousins across the border.

In considering military justifications the following points will be considered: Canadian intelligence, Japanese assimilation, actions of the Japanese Consul, where the loyalties of the Japanese could be expected to lie, wartime acts committed by the Japanese Empire, and the likelihood of a Japanese attack.

Canadian internal intelligence largely consisted of the RCMP during this period, and many historians have claimed that the RCMP cleared Japanese-Canadians of any suspicion of possible treachery(31). A paper on the abilities of the RCMP to investigate adequately possible German or Nazi subversives in Canada at this time clearly shows that the RCMP were severely understaffed, and they consistently were unable to meet the new wartime obligations(32). It is unlikely that the RCMP were any more accurate in their Japanese risk assessment. Research that has examined specifically the effectiveness of the RCMP with possible Japanese-Canadian subversives has arrived at similar conclusions(33). This research has drawn from sources that have come from relatively recently declassified RCMP, Department of External Affairs, Department of National Defence and National Archive records. These records show that at most the number of officers in charge of Japanese intelligence was seven, and most of these were busy with other duties as well. Only two agents had any experience with the Japanese language, and it is unlikely either one could read or write Japanese with any degree of proficiency(34). To have shown that the RCMP was incompetent however is not sufficient cause to assume that this is reasonable grounds to intern the Japanese-Canadians. The fact that the leaders of the time both distrusted RCMP reports, and assumed theme incompetent is sufficient. Advisors to Prime Minister King were certainly aware of the inadequacies of RCMP Intelligence. As early as November of 1940 a report to the Prime Minister criticised the intelligence work of the RCMP, ascribing to them the lack of ability or insight necessary for intelligence work(35). In considering the positive statements of the RCMP on Japanese risk assessment one must realise that the military and political leaders were aware that any decisions made about Japanese internship had to be made without the RCMP's potentially inaccurate evaluations.

What then could the decision be based on, and what would a political or military leader know about the Japanese community on the West Coast? The Japanese-Canadians in British Columbia numbered over 23,000, composed of about 7000 Japanese Nationals and a large number that possessed dual citizenship(36). Previously, many Japanese immigrants had arrived with the intention of 'striking it rich' and returning to Japan(37). As a result few Japanese-Canadians learned English, or made any attempt to assimilate into the surrounding community as a whole. This eventually resulted in a system of Japanese 'bosses' who procured Japanese workers at low pay for white employers. Any newly arriving Japanese immigrant could be employed by a Japanese-Canadian with a common language and cultural understandings(38). Although many of the 'Nisei' or second-generation Japanese-Canadians born in Canada could speak both languages, one must remember that at the time of Pearl Harbor many of the Nisei were under the age of twelve(39). Although unassimibility is not itself a crime, this resulted in an insular community on which there was little information to make a decision on a cultural basis. The Issei's (first generation) outward actions all gave grounds for reasonable suspicions, a topic that will be examined in the next section. Some historians have suggested that military historians failed to consider the customs and beliefs of the Japanese-Canadians, and painted the whole community with too 'broad a brush'(40). It is difficult to see how the military at that time could have done otherwise, given the limited time constraints at their disposal, and an isolated, closed Japanese-Canadian community. The beliefs and customs of the Japanese-Canadians are irrelevant, as they were not part of the working knowledge of the leaders at the time. It has also been previously been shown that the intelligence service of Canada was incapable of providing the missing data. Any military decision had to be made without the understanding of the Nisei 'psyche', and without an insider viewpoint or feeling.

This brings us to the question of Japanese-Canadian loyalties, and the relevance to actions of the Japanese consul. Initially the loyalties of most Japanese-Canadians were immediately in question as roughly thirty percent were Japanese Nationals, and a large unknown number held dual citizenship. With the advent of modern warfare in World War I and the concept of conscription of civilians for wartime services, each person holding Japanese citizenship would be regarded as a possible enemy belligerent. In the 1920's any Japanese citizen, dual or not, was eligible for the draft, subject to the exemption of the Japanese Consul(41). In World War II any Canadian leader would have had to have assumed that this was still the case. Under this understanding, their innocence, rather than their guilt, must be proven. Many of the young Canadian born Nisei have also spent almost half their life being educated in Japan(42). Of further concern were those who went back to Japan in the militaristic period following 1931. Although this would not have been explicitly known to leaders at the time, this group was known as the 'Kibei'. The Kibei had very strong sympathies for Japan and were actively interested in promoting Japan's interests. This group is still not discussed among the Canadian-Japanese community today(43). Given the influence of Japanese educated students, and the isolated nature of the Japanese community, it would be reasonable for any military leader to suppose that even those who had spent all of their lives in Canada could be expected to harbour strong cultural and linguistic ties to Japan.

Evidence from the activities of the Japanese Consul would also have given evidence to question Japanese-Canadian loyalties. The Consul and the Japanese Association were very influential in the lives of the Japanese in Canada. Although the Japanese Association was ostensibly a Canadian organisation with "guarantor authority" and provided authorised approval for legal documents, it was under the direct control of the Consul. The Consul determined who could be drafted to Japan, controlled visa's and the immigration of wives to Canada. For many items requiring Consular approval, one had to apply through the Japanese Association. Although an attempt was made in the late 1920's to remove Consular control over the Association, this democratic reform was quickly squashed(44). Through the Association, and directly through the Consul, emphasis on the glory of the Japanese Monarchy, and the notion that Japanese immigrants were still sons and daughters of Japan was strongly stressed(45). Whether it can be assumed that this was common knowledge among Canada's leaders is uncertain. However it was not very different from the actions of the German or Italian Consuls in the pre-war period(46). Furthermore, intercepted messages from the Foreign Office in Tokyo to the Japanese Embassy in Washington were found to explicitly encourage the recruitment of the Nisei and resident Nationals(47). Further examination of these messages also mentions deliberate attempts of the Japanese Embassy to fund dissident isolationist groups and prominent African American leaders in an effort to promote racial discord(48). Any risk assessment made in the light of this knowledge would have been strongly in favour of internment.

The most significant event in the decision to intern the Japanese-Canadians was the attack on Pearl Harbour on December 7th, 1941, the second being the fall of Hong Kong, defended in part by Canadian troops in late December(49). Thailand, Guam, Wake, Manila and Singapore were also all under Japanese control by February 1942(50). Well publicised comments by a high ranking American official about the presence of a Japanese 5th column in Hawaii further escalated the possible danger posed by Japanese-Canadians(51). In February 1942 the federal government ordered the internship of all Japanese-Canadians.

Some historians have argued that this internment was unjustified since the allegations of 5th column activities were later proven to be groundless, and that the actions of the Imperial Japanese should have no bearing on Japanese-Canadians. This is an unrealistic assumption. In the winter of 1941/42 the events clearly showed that the Allies were losing the war. Canadian and British soldiers had suffered grievous defeats, and Canada's reliance on the American navy for Pacific defence had been shattered. Given that the Japanese Navy now appeared to be able to strike at any objective, an assault upon the West Coast would indeed appear possible. Although historians like Adachi feel that military necessity is a rationalisation,(52) since some military commanders did not perceive a threat to the West Coast, this use of 'selective history' does not take into account the uncertainties of the time. Although the Allied victory at Midway has been celebrated as the turning point of the war, this was by no means as clear then as it is now. The Japanese invasion fleet that attacked Midway was initially believed by Washington to be headed for the Pacific coast, an opinion in opposition to its own decryption team(53). As Washington was sharing military intelligence on pacific naval operations with Ottawa it is likely that this threat to the West Coast was communicated to Ottawa. Furthermore, Allied army commanders on the West Coast did not have access to the same data that the Navy commanders did. As a result, the army commanders based their risk assessments on enemy capabilities rather than probable intentions(54).

Most American army commanders (Chief of Staff Marshall, Secretary of War Stimson, General Douglas McArthur, General Emmons, and General Arnold) expected Japanese attacks on the Pacific coast in the early summer of 1942, and likely shared this view with their respective Canadian counterparts(55). Convincing Washington that the fleet was actually heading to Midway took time and involved the incredibly secret 'Ultra' intelligence, a fact that made it unlikely that the Canadian government was made aware of this change of events(56). Knowledge of this invasion fleet preceded its late May, early June sailing. This points to the possibility that the Japanese-Canadians were given so little time to evacuate (sometimes as little as 24 hours(57)), because Ottawa feared a very real threat. This analysis of the significance of the Midway invasion fleet on Japanese internment has not appeared elsewhere, but it is a plausible assumption given the facts available.

The scenario outlined above gives the credible basis for the internment of Japanese-Canadians. Earlier it was stated that the collective rights of the group would supersede the rights of the individual if it could be shown that the survival of the group was at stake. Given the real possibility of a Japanese attack, combined with the inability of the intelligence community to determine which Japanese-Canadians posed an internal threat, the decision to intern was not only justified, it was mandated.