Sunday, November 21, 2004

Conservative Revisionism, Conservative Backlash, or Conservative Righteousness?

Cathy Young, writing from her libertarian perch at reasononline, asks "Why are conservatives trying to rehabilitate McCarthyism and the Japanese internment?" Young refers specifically to Michelle Malkin's In Defense of Internment: The Case for "Racial Profiling" in World War II and the War on Terror and to Ann Coulter's Treason.

I have yet to read either book (though I've followed the debate about Malkin's), so I'll defer to Young's summary of their theses. She says of Malkin's book:
Malkin believes our safety is being compromised because any common-sense proposal that involves profiling -- be it extra-vigilant screening of Middle Eastern passengers at airports, targeted monitoring of visitors with guest visas from countries with terrorist links, or special scrutiny of Muslim chaplains in the armed forces -- is shouted down by invoking the specter of internment camps.
That leads Malkin to a defense of the internment of Japanese-Americans who were living on the West Coast.

As for Coulter's book, Young characterizes it as a
rehabilitation of Sen. Joseph McCarthy and a debunking of "the myth of ‘McCarthyism.’" McCarthy, Coulter proclaimed, was a true hero in the struggle against communism, and the only unjust persecution was that of Tail Gunner Joe himself by his left-wing, America-hating enemies.
Although she is unsympathetic (hostile, really) to Malkin and Coulter's theses, Young seems to grasp their essential point:

Why the rush to defend what was only recently seen, across the political spectrum, as indefensible? Partly, it’s the sheer appeal and satisfaction of skewering sacred cows, liberal ones especially -- and there are, God knows, so many that deserve skewering. Indeed, in the case of McCarthyism, the stubborn blindness of leftists and many liberals both to the brutality of the Soviet regime and to the extent of Soviet espionage during the Cold War undoubtedly helped create fertile ground for Coulter-style polemics.

A similar dynamic may be at work with the Japanese internment issue. Some of the history textbooks Malkin indignantly quotes probably do err on the side of dismissing all World War II-era concerns about subversive activities by Japanese ethnics as unfounded paranoia....

It is useful, too, to remember that defending the indefensible has long been a popular sport on the left, whose own revisionist historians are busy trying to sugarcoat not McCarthyism but Stalinism....

Also at work, however, is the dark side of modern American conservatism. The left’s obsession with America’s allegedly unique evilness, and in particular with real or imagined racism, has prompted a fully justified backlash. But that backlash can morph into an ugly and disturbing mind-set -- one that regards all efforts to confront America’s past wrongs as the province of sissy liberals and wild-eyed lefties....

I agree with "fully justified backlash." As for the notion that "all efforts to confront America’s past wrongs [are] the province of sissy liberals and wild-eyed lefties," I'll say that all efforts to blacken Americans as a benighted, racist, ravening pack of fundamentalist yahoos are, indeed, the province of liberals and lefties. Conservatives, for the most part, have done a pretty good job of confronting America's past wrongs and moving beyond them.

On the substance of Coulter's book, McCarthy was right, but his methods backfired and caused otherwise sensible people to conclude that the "witch hunt" was nothing more than that. From Wikipedia, here:

In 1995, when the VENONA transcripts were declassified, it was learned that regardless of the specific number, McCarthy consistently underestimated the extent of Soviet espionage. VENONA specifically references at least 349 people in the United States--including citizens, immigrants, and permanent residents--who cooperated in various ways with Soviet intelligence agencies.

It is generally believed that McCarthy had no access to VENONA intelligence, deriving his information from other sources. VENONA does confirm that some individuals investigated by McCarthy were indeed Soviet agents. For example, Mary Jane Keeney was identified by McCarthy simply as "a communist"; in fact she and her husband were both Soviet agents. Another individual named by McCarthy was Lauchlin Currie, a special assistant to President Roosevelt. He was confirmed by VENONA to be a Soviet Agent.

And here:
The VENONA documents, and the extent of their significance, were not made public until 1995. They show that the US and others were targeted in major espionage campaigns by the Soviet Union as early as 1942.

The decrypts include 349 individuals who were maintaining a covert relationship with the Soviet Union. It can be safely assumed that more than 349 agents were active, as that number is from a small sample of the total intercepted message traffic. Among those identified are Alger Hiss, believed to have been the agent "ALES"; Harry Dexter White, the second-highest official in the Treasury Department; Lauchlin Currie, a personal aide to Franklin Roosevelt; and Maurice Halperin, a section head in the Office of Strategic Services. Almost every military and diplomatic agency of any importance was compromised to some extent, including, of course, the Manhattan Project. Even today, the identities of fewer than half of the 349 agents are known with any certainty. Agents who were never identified include "Mole", a senior Washington official who passed information on American diplomatic policy, and "Quantum", a scientist on the Manhattan Project.

Some known spies, including Theodore Hall, were neither prosecuted nor publicly implicated, because the VENONA evidence against them could not be made public. VENONA evidence has also clarified the case of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, making it clear that Julius was guilty of espionage while Ethel was guilty of cooperating, while also showing that their contributions to Soviet nuclear espionage were less important than was publicly alleged at the time. In fact, Ethel had been only an accomplice, and Julius' information was probably not as valuable as that provided by sources like "Quantum" and "Pers" (both still unidentified.)

This is an extremely different picture from the one that which had developed over most of 50 years in the absence of solid evidence. While critics debate the identity of individual agents, the overall picture of infiltration is more difficult to refute. The release of the VENONA information has forced reevaluation of the Red Scare in the US....

Tell me, again, why I shouldn't consider FDR a Soviet dupe and why McCarthy was merely a publicity-seeking loudmouth.

As for the internment (or exclusion) of Japanese-Americans, there's this from Wikipedia:

The attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 led many to suspect the Japanese were preparing a full-scale attack on the West Coast. Further attacks, such as the submarine shelling of a California oil refinery in 1942 redoubled these suspicions. Also, Japan's rapid military conquest of much of Asia made their military machine seem to Americans frighteningly unstoppable. Civilian and military officials had concerns about the loyalty of the ethnic Japanese on the West Coast and considered them to be a security risk.

Critics of the exclusion argue that the military justification was unfounded, claiming that there are no cases of military espionage that were attributable to Japanese Americans. David Lowman has, however, asserted that the decryption of the MAGIC codes suggested to the military and political leaders at the time that there was a substantial spy network of Japanese Americans feeding information to the Japanese military. Lowman's claims have been controversial with others pointing out that much of the information that the Japanese officials obtained may have come from public sources such as newspapers, and that communications by Japanese consular officials stating an attempt to recruit Japanese-Americans did not necessarily mean that those attempts were successful. However, historical revisionists who rely on Lowman's claims point to his assertion that some of the intercepted messages specifically said that the information had come from Japanese-American spies. One captured Japanese officer who had graduated from UCLA, and spoke fluent English specifically reported attempting to cultivate contacts for such spying, as reported in a letter sent to Congressman Wallop of Wyoming by a serviceman.

Lieutentant Commander Kenneth Ringle, a naval intelligence officer tasked with evaluating the loyalty of the Japanese American population, estimated in a 1941 report to his superiors that "better than 90% of the Nisei [second generation] and 75% of the original immigrants were completely loyal to the United States." A 1941 report prepared on President Roosevelt's orders by Curtis B. Munson, special representative of the State Department, concluded that most Japanese nationals and "90 to 98 percent" of Japanese American citizens were loyal. He wrote: "There is no Japanese `problem' on the Coast ... There is far more danger from Communists and people of the Bridges type on the Coast than there is from Japanese."

Historical revisionists state that approximately 20,000 Japanese-Americans in Japan at the start of the war joined the Japanese war effort, and hundreds joined the Japanese Army. They also state that Tomoya Kawakita, an American citizen who worked as an interpreter and a POW guard for the Japanese army, actively participated in the torture (and at least one death) of American soldiers, including survivors of the Bataan Death March.

In January 25, 1942 the Secretary of War reported that "on the Pacific coast not a single ship had sailed from our Pacific ports without being subsequently attacked". Due to this, espionage was suspected.

In addition to espionage, there was also concern that in the event of an invasion there could be sabotage of both military and civilian facilities inside the United States. Military officials expressed concerns that California's water systems were highly vulnerable, and there were concerns about the possibility of arson, brush fires in particular....

In early 1944, the government began clearing individuals to return to the West Coast; on January 2, 1945, the exclusion order was rescinded entirely. The internees then began to leave the camps to rebuild their lives at home, although the relocation camps remained open for residents who weren't ready to make the move back. The fact that this occurred long before the Japanese surrender (see V-J day), while the war was arguably at its most vicious, weighs heavily against the claim that the relocation was an essential security measure....
However, the outcome of the war in the Pacific had ceased to be in doubt since the Battle of Midway, which
took place on June 5, 1942 [when] [t]he United States Navy defeated a Japanese attack against Midway Atoll, marking a turning point in the war in the Pacific theatre....

...The loss of four carriers stopped the expansion of the Japanese Empire in the Pacific, and put Japan on the defensive. It had been six months to the day since the attack on Pearl Harbor. Admiral Yamamoto had predicted to his superiors that Japan would prevail for only six months to a year against the United States, after which American resources would begin to overwhelm the Japanese Navy. He had been exactly correct....
Thus, by 1944, Japanese forces were in vicious retreat, a threat to Allied forces but no longer a threat to the American homeland.

War (hot or cold) is not an academic debate. It is a life-and-death struggle, conducted in the midst of great uncertainty, without a lot of second chances. It is better to act somewhat rashly than not to act at all; the enemy whose life (or feelings) you spare will rise up to stab you in the back.

Wars aren't won by scrupulous self-doubters, they're won by the bold and brave. I want Malkin and Coulter on my side in the heat of battle, not a bunch of liberals, lefties, and libertarian doves.