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Was the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII moral?

I tend to think that it was, given the desperate situation. I'm basing that on two assumptions because while our government has done alot of bad things, it has always had either an element, an intention, or a misconception of good to go along.

I do not know any specifics regarding how many Japanese Americans were spies or military personnel planted ahead of a Japanese invasion, but there mere almost certainly at least some. Also, I don't know how sophisticated our domestic intelligence was back then, but it must not have been very good if the best plan they could come up with would be to relocate an entire ethnic group.

So, assuming that there was substantial evidence that the Japanese had infiltrated our country covertly, as well as assuming that internment was simply the best solution available at the time, I don't see any problem.

I don't think that you could have held the US Government morally culpable for what they did. It was either risk violating the rights of some innocent, loyal Japanese Americans or risk having every American's rights violated through the invasion of a military dictatorship.

I realize that what I just said may seem like pure Utilitarianism - the greatest good for the greatest number - but that's not what I mean. Instead, I mean that the Japanese military posed a direct threat to the rights of individual non-Japanese Americans, and so those individuals - albeit acting in the form of an organized government - decided to mitigate that threat as much as possible by intering Japanese Americans.

Weren't they forced to do it by the threat of the Japanese Government and so shouldn't it be held responsible?

-Grant

Then again, in hindsight, there's alot of evidence to suggest that Japan never wanted to invade or even attack the Continental US. All they wanted to do was to fight us long enough so that we would give up and let them keep what they had already conquered in the Pacific. I would say that if this were known, or could have been easily inferred in 1941, then of course internment would have been wrong.

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I know it's early on Sunday morning still, but you're going to have to do better than that.
Why? I stated the two essential facts. If you'd like to elaborate a bit, the fact that somebody initiates force against you does not give you moral carte blanche to completely disregard man's rights and go on a right-violating spree, saying "the aggressor made me do it".
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While our government has done alot of bad things, it has always had either an element, an intention, or a misconception of good to go along.
justifying internment with good intentions?

I don't know how sophisticated our domestic intelligence was back then, but it must not have been very good if the best plan they could come up with would be to relocate an entire ethnic group.
Don't assume that just because the US chose to intern some Americans, there must have not been a better option available.

The Japanese military posed a direct threat to the rights of individual non-Japanese Americans, and so those individuals - albeit acting in the form of an organized government - decided to mitigate that threat as much as possible by intering Japanese Americans.
I see the rationale of keeping suspected individuals from critical military positions. I don't see how interning a grocer or pharmacist would be beneficial. What access would they have to nuke technology, military positioning, etc?
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Hunterrose,

I was not attempting to justify internment simply because our government had good intentions. I was pointing out that because our government has always done things with good intentions, it would be reasonable to assume that when they interred Japanese Americans, it was because they couldn't conceive of any other means of protecting against the threat of Japanese spies.

While, like you, I don't hold the American Government in very high esteem, I don't think that it has reached the point yet - and certainly hadn't 60 years ago - where it feels it can act like a tyranny without at least paying lip service to the need to protect rights and freedom.

As for your point about grocers and pharamicists, it's a good one. I would tend to agree with you except I have two reservations. First, when you say you see the rationale of keeping suspected individuals from critical military positions, does that mean keeping Japanese people away? Did the US Government then have a right to explicitly discriminate against Japanese Americans in their hiring of personnel working with sensitive military equipment - regardless of their qualifications? Remember, the context I am asking this question in is 1940's America.

The second reservation I have is that spies, by definition, assume false personas to avoid detection. So, if 1940's era intelligence techniques and technologies weren't sophisticated enough to adequately rule out individuals on the basis of what they do during the day (bagging groceries or filling perscriptions), what basis do they use?

Unlike a German spy, who could have easily embedded himself in an Italian or an Irish neighborhood, even if they wanted to, Japan could have never inserted a completely unsuspicious spy into American society. Simply looking Japanese created a level of suspicion that could not be made to go away without simultaneously making the person go away.

My point is that because our government rightly did not dictate where certain ethnic groups could live, it should not be blamed for dealing with the political implications of the geographical choices of the individuals making up those ethnic groups. Because German Americans spread throughout the country, rarely concentrating in large, exclusively German neighborhoods, they made it virtually impossible for the government to intern them even if it had wanted to. The Japanese Americans, on the other hand, chose to remain in tight-knit, ethnically exclusive communities.

Of course, communities and ethnic groups are not actual entities and don't actually make choices. So why should an individual Japanese American be made to suffer simply because his neighbors look like him? Well, he shouldn't. Unfortunately, however, a bunch of people that look just like him decided to start a war and unfortunately they started it with a country that had no way of telling the good Japanese Americans apart from the bad Japanese Americans.

- Grant

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You might be interested in Michelle Malkin's book, In Defense of Internment. I haven't read the book and I'm not familiar enough with the historical facts to make a judgement about internment during WWII, but I sure as hell do believe that all American Muslims should have been interned right after 9/11/01.

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LazloWalrus,

Thank you but when I posted my original question, I wasn't looking for a show of hands. Instead, I was asking for an identification of the principles involved and maybe even an integration of them into the context of 1940's America.

I wanted this because I want to make sure that I come to the proper, logical conclusion about this issue.

- Grant

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Instead, I was asking for an identification of the principles involved and maybe even an integration of them into the context of 1940's America.
Are you asking for a "historical autopsy", as in "what actual facts and principles resulted in concentration camps for Japanese? That is quite a different thing from asking whether the internment was moral. Or, do you mean "the principles which should have been involved"?
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Lets not forget the German/Italian American round up that took place that same year.

Right at 50 percent of those in internment camps were in fact of those ethnic groups.

Of course the history books kinda leave that part out, its after all not very much fun, nor does it help propagate the "America is nasty to the brown people" thing we have going.

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Yeah, there were German/Italian roundups as well. As far as the principle involved, I agree with Nicholas Provenzo. He writes:

"There is a difference between sharing a common race with an enemy and sharing a common ideology. The first may make one a legitimate object of suspicion for the latter, but when it comes to the application of government force against its own people, suspicion is not a proxy for proof. The Americans of Japanese descent interned by the government were guilty of sharing the same race as the enemy and they should never have been incarcerated on that basis alone. The thinking that led to the internments should not be praised; it should be studied so that the same mistakes are never made again.

Additionally, Malkin misses a key strategic point. The Japanese were not defeated through the interment of American citizens--they were defeated through the destruction of the Japanese state. The war was not won on our shores--it was won on the shores of Midway, Guadalcanal, and Iwo Jima. Malkin, wittingly or not, has fallen into the trap of becoming an apologist for the policy of homeland defense, a strategy of permanent siege instead of forward offense and victory."

You can read the whole article here:

http://www.capmag.com/article.asp?id=3874

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Lets not forget the German/Italian American round up that took place that same year.

Right at 50 percent of those in internment camps were in fact of those ethnic groups.

Do you have a credible source on this? From some brief internet scouring, it seems as if there was an estimated of 120,000 Japanese Americans interned during World War II and at most 15,000 - 20,000 Americans who were either of Italian and/or German ancestory total.

Stating that fifty percent of those Americans who are interned are of German or Italian descent not only sounds high as an estimate, but it also sounds infeasible. Unlike the Japanese-Americans in the contiguous forty-eight states who were largely concentrated on the West Coast, German Americans and Italian Americans were scattered throughout the country. Rounding them up would have been significantly more arduous.

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I wasn't looking for a show of hands. Instead, I was asking for an identification of the principles involved ...
The basic principle is that the government must protect rights. On the one hand there is the principle that one does not punish one individual for the crime of another. Punishing Muslims who do not support violence in any way and who speak out against it, is unjust. On the other hand, it might be necessary to do certain things to innocents -- e.g. to search them as they board planes -- as a practical means of protecting rights.

Internment is a serious curtailment of rights. I strongly disagree with the following:

...all American Muslims should have been interned right after 9/11/01.
I personally have a few acquaintances who are "nominal muslims" in the way that some are nominal Christians. It would be a huge miscarriage of justice to order the internment of such folk.

Sometimes -- as in a refusal to "profile" passengers for searches, the U.S. government is being stupid. Much more than profiling needs to be done, including special rules that force mosques and muslim charities to reveal their flows of funds (and such). However, there's a huge leap from measures that honest people would experience as incoveniences and invasions of privacy to measures like internment which turn their lives upside down.

If the U.S. government were to pursue a morally confident policy in their dealings in Iraq etc., they would not need to focus as much on the home-front. If they do not pursue such a policy, then what is the chance that they will intern people?

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but I sure as hell do believe that all American Muslims should have been interned right after 9/11/01.

On what basis, irrational fear or objective proof for violating their rights as individuals and citizens? Should we have interned every white man after Oklahoma City? Every school kid after Colombine or every farmer after Bath?

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There is no justification in jailing people because of their ethnicity.

Jailing is not the same thing as internment. Under a proper government, a jailed person is a convicted criminal, and is treated as one. An interned person is presumed innocent, but his movements are constrained for security reasons. There is a big difference.

Likewise, someone who is Muslim is not necessarily a terrorist. I do agree with profiling measures, however.

And why do you agree with profiling measures? Because someone who is a Muslim may be a terrorist. By choosing to be a Muslim, he has voluntarily associated himself with an ideology that has led, and if we don't stop it will continue to lead, many of its followers to the mass murder of innocent Americans and Israelis.

In a free country, you are free to choose what ideas you hold, but you are not free from the consequences of your ideas. If your ideas lead to acts of war against America, you should not be suprised if America treats you as an enemy.

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I agree with Nicholas Provenzo. He writes:

"There is a difference between sharing a common race with an enemy and sharing a common ideology. The first may make one a legitimate object of suspicion for the latter, but when it comes to the application of government force against its own people, suspicion is not a proxy for proof.

You cannot apply the principles of criminal justice to warfare. A war is an emergency; it is like an individual self-defense situation, only on a national scale.

Suppose for example that you are at a playground with your daughter. Two men come along, talking to each other and generally looking like friends, and then one of them tries to rape your child. In this situation, you may rightfully draw your gun and keep the offending one away from your daughter--and you may also rightfully use the same kind of force against his friend, even though you can only suspect that he could be a danger to her. He may be perfectly innocent for all you know, and you're restricting his rights by not letting him near your daughter--but a moral and responsible parent would not hesitate to use force if he thought the man was a danger to his daughter.

Additionally, Malkin misses a key strategic point. The Japanese were not defeated through the interment of American citizens--they were defeated through the destruction of the Japanese state. The war was not won on our shores--it was won on the shores of Midway, Guadalcanal, and Iwo Jima.

Even without reading her book, I am quite confident that Miss Malkin is very well aware of how Japan was defeated. As far as I know, her main argument is that the purpose of internment was to prevent espionage. The battle of Midway could have ended very differently if the Japanese had known all about America's plans.

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I personally have a few acquaintances who are "nominal muslims" in the way that some are nominal Christians. It would be a huge miscarriage of justice to order the internment of such folk.

How about a test like this: If you are willing to show that you are indeed just a nominal Muslim, for example by eating some pork, then you won't be interned.

If the U.S. government were to pursue a morally confident policy in their dealings in Iraq etc., they would not need to focus as much on the home-front.

That is true, of course. This whole war could have been avoided by showing some more backbone in the past--starting with the 1950s, when they nationalized the oil wells.

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Did the US Government then have a right to explicitly discriminate against Japanese Americans in their hiring of personnel working with sensitive military equipment?
I don't think anyone has an explicit right to serve in the military, so banning Japanese-Americans from some (or all) military operations would have been ethically O.K. However, I don't think it would have been effective or smart in the least.

If 1940's era intelligence techniques and technologies weren't sophisticated enough to adequately rule out individuals [as spies]on the basis of what they do during the day, what basis do they use?
I would argue that they make do with whatever techniques and abilities they had.

"Adequate" as in necessary? or beneficial? A situation in which our survival could come if and only if we interned Japanese-Americans would have to be analysed in a different manner than a situation in which interning might help, but victory was attainable without doing so.

[Our government]should not be blamed for dealing with the political implications of the geographical choices of the individuals making up those ethnic groups.
If, by "political implications," you mean that Americans wanted the internment of Japanese-Americans, I don't think the politicians who caved in to such irrationality should be exonerated just because public hysteria and the geographical choices of Japanese-Americans made them an easy target.

If, on the other hand you mean the government, had it been feasible, would have also interned German-Americans to the same degree, and thus should not be blamed for only interning Japanese-Americans on a large scale, I wouldn't accuse the government of inconsistency, but it'd still remain a question as to whether they should have interned any ethnic group in the first place.

If your ideas lead to acts of war against America, you should not be suprised if America treats you as an enemy.
Which ideas did all Japanese-Americans hold that they should have been interned and treated as enemies?

A war is an emergency; it is like an individual self-defense situation.
Every self-defense situation is not an emergency. What if the man takes your child's ice cream cone?
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I think Capitalism Forever identified the crux of this issue when he said "You cannot apply the principles of criminal justice to warfare. A war is an emergency; it is like an individual self-defense situation, only on a national scale."

When I created this thread, I was doing it in order to validate another, similar situation that I suspected was analogous in terms of the principle involved.

For the longest time I was completely against any and all forms of imminent domain. I believed that the forcible confiscation of an individual's property for a public purpose - even a legitimate government purpose - was nothing more than theft. Later on, however, I realized that it's not always so.

Suppose for a moment that America was being threatened by the Navy of a foreign nation that had ammassed off of it's coast. In order to defend against this threat, a specific piece of equipment needed to be used. Also, in order to use this equipment, it has to be positioned on a piece of land that was uniquely strategic. If the government came to the owner of this land, explained the situation, and offered to buy it from him, any reasonable citizen would recognize the greater threat posed to not only his property and his means of defending it (his government), but also his life itself by the foreign military. However, if for whatever reason he refused to believe the government, or he simply didn't care, and refused to sell, he puts the government - which is charged with protecting all citizens - in a difficult situation.

I would contend that, if there was no other known or readily available way to defend against this threat, it would be in every American's interest - soldier and civilian, for and opposed - for the government to take this individual's property.

Furthermore, even if somehow it could be demonstrated that by taking this person's land you would be doing irrepairable damage to him (although I can't imagine how), it would still be morally acceptable since, in an emergency situation such as this, the blame lies with the foreign aggressors, not those individuals in the government who are doing everything in their power to protect the rights of American civilians, not to mention their own.

I think that - assuming the facts show that in 1941 there was no other way - this is the principle justifying the interrment of Japanese Americans, and is a powerful way of showing just how contextual principles really are.

- Grant

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Which ideas did all Japanese-Americans hold that they should have been interned and treated as enemies?

As I said, I don't have enough historical information to judge the Japanese internment. It may have been completely unjustified for all I know.

But I can point out two problems with your question: First, the use of the word "all." Without implying any praise for the Roosevelt administration, I don't think they were as stupid as to want to intern all Japanese Americans for the sake of interning all Japanese Americans. The goal was to win the war, and if the Roosevelt administration had a good reason to suspect that any specific person may be hindering the war effort by treasonous activities, then they were justified in interning that specific person. Now the way of selecting the specific internees may have been rather primitive ("we suspect anyone who is of Japanese descent"), but if that was the best they could do within the time and with the resources available to them, then I don't blame them for it.

The other problem I see with your question is that you seem to think that seeing a person as an enemy is a necessary condition for interning him. It isn't; for the same reason I mentioned above: the government is not likely to have the time and resources to decide with certainty about each individual whether or not he is actually an enemy.

Every self-defense situation is not an emergency. What if the man takes your child's ice cream cone?

That would be different--so much so that it wouldn't serve as a good analogy for the acts of war we are talking about.

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Suppose for a moment that America was being threatened by the Navy of a foreign nation that had ammassed off of it's coast. In order to defend against this threat, a specific piece of equipment needed to be used. Also, in order to use this equipment, it has to be positioned on a piece of land that was uniquely strategic. If the government came to the owner of this land, explained the situation, and offered to buy it from him, any reasonable citizen would recognize the greater threat posed to not only his property and his means of defending it (his government), but also his life itself by the foreign military. However, if for whatever reason he refused to believe the government, or he simply didn't care, and refused to sell, he puts the government - which is charged with protecting all citizens - in a difficult situation.

Exactly. Generally speaking, the seizure of eminent domain is justified--and this is the ONLY situation in which it is justified--if it is necessary for the protection of individual rights and prevents a greater harm than it causes to the owner. Even in this case, the government must return the property to the owner after the danger is over, in addition to remunerating him for the use of his property. (The same applies to assets like vehicles and weapons as well, BTW.)

Speaking of remuneration, it goes without saying that wartime internees should be paid compensation too, unless they are proven in court to actually have worked for the enemy.

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Suppose for a moment that America was being threatened by the Navy of a foreign nation that had ammassed off of it's coast. In order to defend against this threat, a specific piece of equipment needed to be used. Also, in order to use this equipment, it has to be positioned on a piece of land that was uniquely strategic. If the government came to the owner of this land, explained the situation, and offered to buy it from him, any reasonable citizen would recognize the greater threat posed to not only his property and his means of defending it (his government), but also his life itself by the foreign military. However, if for whatever reason he refused to believe the government, or he simply didn't care, and refused to sell, he puts the government - which is charged with protecting all citizens - in a difficult situation.

Ayn Rand's essay, "The Ethics of Emergencies" in The Virtue of Selfishness, is particularly good concerning situations such as this.

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