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By Order of the President

By Order of the President


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On February 19, 1942, following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed a fateful order that allowed for the summary removal of Japanese aliens and American citizens of Japanese descent from their West Coast homes and their incarceration under guard in camps. Amid the numerous histories and memoirs devoted to this shameful


On February 19, 1942, following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed a fateful order that allowed for the summary removal of Japanese aliens and American citizens of Japanese descent from their West Coast homes and their incarceration under guard in camps. Amid the numerous histories and memoirs devoted to this shameful event, FDR's contributions have been seen as negligible. Now, using Roosevelt's own writings, his advisors' letters and diaries, and internal government documents, Greg Robinson reveals the president's central role in making and implementing the internment and examines not only what the president did but why.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In 1942, FDR authorized the army to evacuate more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans from the Pacific Coast states, stripping them not of their citizenship, which he considered "absolute," but of their civil rights, which he considered "contingent." Robinson, a historian at George Mason University, argues that, because of FDR's deserved reputation as a humanitarian, this action has been treated as an aberration and, therefore, not thoroughly explored. In this lucid, comprehensive and balanced examination, Robinson maintains that Roosevelt's decision was, in fact, "not fundamentally inconsistent with his overall political philosophy and world view." Rather, a deep-seated belief that Japanese-Americans were biologically "incapable of being true Americans" enabled FDR, though he "deplored open prejudice," to be "willingly misled" by bad counsel and misinformation about the perceived Japanese-American threat, despite reliable reports, including one by J. Edgar Hoover, to the contrary. Since boyhood, FDR had admired Japan's naval strength, but following Japan's victory over Russia in 1904-1905 and its invasion of China in the 1930s, Roosevelt saw Japan as a potent economic and political rival. Consequently, after the Pearl Harbor attack incited anti-Japanese hysteria, West Coast politicians and the military pressured FDR to take action at home; the president's racist views, compounded by what Robinson describes as his loose administrative style and lack of moral leadership, contributed to his passive indifference toward the physical and psychological fate of a group of Americans. Robinson's conscientious arguments and meticulous documentation movingly clarify a little-understood failure ofAmerican democracy. Agent, Charlotte Sheedy. (Oct. 26) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Although Roosevelt had maintained a longstanding friendly relationship with Japan, the situation began to change in the 1930s as Japan cast her eye on her resource-rich neighbors. War with Japan seemed to be inevitable but FDR wanted Japan to make the first strike. This book examines the people, places, and events surrounding the internment of West Coast Japanese civilians during WW II. It should appeal to serious future history and political science majors, students of WW II, and others who are interested in learning about the mistreatment and confinement of this segment of the population. Terms like "concentration camp" and "the Japanese problem" may conjure up images of Nazi Germany. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which provided the legal base for interment. It was met with opposition, its constitutionality was questioned, and there was no evidence that the West Coast Japanese were a danger to the nation. Once the Japanese were interned, it was difficult to reverse the process and the reasons were not only security: prejudice and greed played a part. The author explores FDR's own prejudices and concerns as well as the events following his death in 1945. He concludes that the president could have done more to protect the rights of those of Japanese ancestry. The writing style and format make it unlikely that YAs are the target audience but those with a serious interest in the topic will find it rewarding. Some will be intimidated by the length, fine print and lack of illustrations. Sections could easily be turned into graduate-level lectures. This is definitely not recreational reading but it might serve as a research tool for topics related to Japanese-American relations from1900—1950. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2003, Harvard Univ. Press, 336p. bibliog. index., Ages 15 to adult.
—Prof. John E. Boyd
Library Journal
Robinson (J.N.G. Finley Fellow in History, George Mason Univ.) focuses on one aspect of Roosevelt's presidency during World War II, the internment of Japanese Americans. Two recent books, Kenneth S. Davis's FDR: The War President, 1940-43 (LJ 10/15/01) and Thomas Fleming's The New Dealers' War: F.D.R. and the War within World War II (LJ 6/1/01) only briefly mention the internment. Using memos, reports, diary entries, letters, and other documents written by FDR and his staff, this book offers the first in-depth look at the role of Roosevelt and his advisers in making the decision to intern. While racist attitudes were widespread and many people influenced the final decision to issue Executive Order 9066, Robinson also cites Roosevelt's long-held belief that the Japanese were innately different and therefore did not deserve citizenship. This refusal to accept them as citizens along with considerable war hysteria allowed him to strip them of their rights for the duration of the war. The book sheds some light on a dark episode in our history. For academic and large public libraries, especially World War II and constitutional history collections. Katharine L. Kan, Allen Cty. P.L., Fort Wayne, IN Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A thorough, scholarly, and troubling analysis of FDR's decision in the early days of WWII to hold in internment camps more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans. Robinson (History/George Mason Univ.) begins with an FDR news conference on November 21, 1944, one of the few public occasions when the President even mentioned the internment of tens of thousands of loyal American citizens-a disturbing episode that Robinson calls "a tragedy of democracy." Robinson endeavors to uncover the causes of the decision. He notes that FDR's first government appointment was as an assistant secretary of the Navy, a position that led him to worry about Japanese aggression in the Pacific. In the 1920s, FDR urged a conciliatory position toward the Japanese, hoping that liberal elements in Japanese leadership would be able to soften their government's foreign policy. But in 1924, a US immigration act froze Japanese arrivals, legislation that outraged the Japanese. As their military became more adventurous in the Pacific, anti-Japanese attitudes in America hardened, and racists (especially in California) began to sing their ugly songs. According to Robinson, FDR viewed Japanese-Americans as Japanese first, American second. Despite virulent rumors to the contrary, there was no sabotage of US facilities by Japanese-Americans (as J. Edgar Hoover repeatedly informed FDR), but wartime paranoia (especially after Pearl Harbor) soon held sway. The author also believes political pressures from the West Coast influenced FDR, as did his unenlightened racial views (views not shared by his wife, who crusaded for the release of those interned). The president seems to have been uninterested in hearing contrary opinions-even whenhis principal advisers were urging him to rescind Executive Order 9066, the internment authorization, which he signed on February 19, 1942. It wasn't until late summer of 1944 that the releases began. Splendid scholarship shines a harsh light on one of the darkest episodes in American history.
Los Angeles Times
Robinson focuses not on the internees but on the president who signed Executive Order 9066 that put them in internment camps. If internment is now seen as a blot on the Roosevelt era, the president himself has generally been viewed as above the fray. Robinson's judicious exploration of the record shows that Roosevelt was, in fact, deeply involved, his racial attitudes helping to determine the fates of nearly 120,000 Japanese American internees.
— Tom Engelhardt
USA Today
By Order of the President by Greg Robinson is a harsh but well-documented indictment of a great president, Franklin Roosevelt, for moral and administrative failures in "the most tragic act of his administration." The book's strength is that it doesn't excuse Roosevelt, but places his actions in the context of their times and his background. Long before Pearl Harbor, racist views of Asians were widely accepted.
— Bob Minzesheimer
National Journal
An outstanding new book by historian Greg Robinson...By Order of the President...revisits this disturbing period and the President's role in it...Robinson sees a complex intersection of economic and social forces behind the President's decision to intern Japanese-Americans. Feeding these forces was racism...The author avoids the trap of branding FDR as an out-and-out racist. Instead, his portrait of Roosevelt is carefully nuanced...This is an extremely valuable book. It is well written, balanced--and disturbing.
— S. Scott Rohrer
The WWII internment of Japanese Americans may be extensively documented, but Robinson's book is an original contribution. The strength of his work is its focus. By scrutinizing Franklin Delano Roosevelt's views about Asian immigrants before military conflict with Asia, Robinson...demonstrates how FDR came to decision-making with certain racial assumptions. He does not characterize FDR as a simple bigot, but shows how respect for Japan and friendship for individual Japanese were compatible with antipathy toward Japanese immigrants and fear of intermarriage...Well written and based on thorough research, this book joins the many studies by Roger Daniels and Justice at War, by Peter Irons...as necessary to any complete collection on American history.
— F. H. Wu
The Economist
What Greg Robinson shows, in this careful and fair-minded study, is that Roosevelt himself, far from being the scourge of racism portrayed in New-Deal hagiography, had a long history of racial prejudice against the Japanese, which had been exacerbated by the Japanese attack on China...Robinson indulges Roosevelt somewhat when he absolves him of the charge of racism, and convicts him only of a blend of weak administration and deadly indifference, which, he says, was informed by racial hostility but not synonymous with it.
Financial Times
Robinson argues persuasively that Roosevelt, who shared the anti-Japanese prejudices of his age and class, played a vital role, sometimes actively, more often passively, in the sorry affair. He went along with the War Department and west coast politicians who favoured internment; took very little interest in the way that the policy was carried out and failed to take a lead in bringing the policy to an early end or in defending Japanese-Americans against the charge of disloyalty at a time when only he could offer such a lead. The very qualities, Robinson suggests, that made Roosevelt a great president--his pragmatism, devotion to compromise and interest in results--in this instance proved disastrous. This is a thorough, persuasive and, as it turned out, extremely timely book.
— Ben Rogers
Christian Science Monitor
Greg Robinson's By Order of the President provides a thoughtful analysis and adapts a psycho-historical approach to help unlock the clues to an ostensibly inexplicable act by FDR, an ardent defender of human liberty. By delving first into FDR's early years, Robinson proceeds to other experiences that may have shaped his thinking and led FDR to ultimately ink Executive Order 9066...In the end, with his lucid writing style, Robinson's gift is an ability to cogently present the dilemmas of the time and show how FDR erred: "Two closely interrelated elements stand out strongly as determinative in the President's decision and his subsequent actions. One of these was undoubtedly Roosevelt's own negative beliefs about Japanese Americans, while the other was a failure of political and moral leadership that resulted from weaknesses in his presidential style and administrative organization." This analysis is particularly thought-provoking in light of recent events, and it echoes George Santayana's warning for those who forget history.
— Mark T. Fung
Find Law's Book Reviews
By Order of the President is a fascinating and powerful examination of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's involvement in (and responsibility for) the military orders that led to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Lucidly organized, well written, fair minded, and extensively researched, Greg Robinson's work was a pleasure to read.
— David C. Lundsgaard
Nations and Nationalism
Robinson's book provides a meticulous and fascinating account of the personal and political decisions that led to the de facto imprisonment of an entire section of the American population. By comparing the treatment of Japanese Americans to their German and Italian counterparts throughout the book, Robinson's argument that racism was largely to blame for their mistreatment is sustained...Robinson provides not only a compelling account of the internment process, but also a comprehensive argument for the reassessment of Roosevelt's role in supporting and driving that process forward.
— George Lewis

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Chapter One


FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT grew to adulthood at the end of the nineteenth century, a period marked by the emergence of Japan as a serious power on the international stage. In the decades that followed the "opening" of Japan by a fleet of American gunboats in 1853, the Japanese undertook a drastic program of social and technological reform. Japanese leaders sought at all costs to protect the nation's independence and avoid the colonization or quasi-colonization to which most other Asian countries had been subjected. Within fifty years, Japan had developed a modern bureaucracy and navy, defeated China in two short wars, begun to compete with European nations for trade, and claimed special interests in China and Korea. In 1904-05, Japan defeated Russia in the Russo-Japanese War, becoming the premier military force in East Asia.

    led to tension with the established powers. Although the European nations admired the Japanese for their achievement in forging a new society, they were reluctant to grant the upstart nation an equal place, especially as Japan's status as an Asian nation challenged their notions of white racial superiority. Japanese sensitivity to discrimination compounded the problem. Having struggled valiantly to industrialize and "catch up" with the West, many Japanese considered racial prejudice and unequal treatment of Japanese nationals an unbearable affront to the honor of the nation.

    States. At first, most Americans sympathized with Japan. Not only had the United States "opened" Japan, but in their own drive for empire during the late 1890s, Americans had also been forced to struggle for acceptance by the Europeans. However, as Japan rose to power, U.S. leaders began to focus on Japanese expansionism as a potential threat to national security.

    Japanese, which triggered a host of negative images and reactions in the American psyche. Generations of settlers from Europe had transplanted into the culture of their new country a traditional European "orientalist" view of Asia as an exotic, backward, and barbaric land. In addition, the migration of a sizable population of Chinese laborers to the western United States during the third quarter of the nineteenth century had stimulated a backlash of resentment by white laborers and nativists. In order to justify their calls for the exclusion of Chinese immigrants, these groups helped manufacture and disseminate a series of racist stereotypes of Asians as treacherous, servile, and uncivilized. In 1882, the year Franklin Roosevelt was born, Congress obliged nativists by passing the first of several Chinese Exclusion Acts. In addition, by the turn of the century "scientific racism" had become a dominant force in American thought. Adapting and distorting the work of Charles Darwin and his followers, some social scientists asserted that human life was governed by the evolutionary competition for resources between opposing "races" and that therefore the Japanese were innately hostile to people of European descent. Prominent Americans, drawing on elements from all these sources, warned that Japanese expansionism represented a "yellow peril," an Asian challenge to "Anglo-Saxon" and Christian civilization.

    Asian civilization from his earliest days. Roosevelt's fascination with Asia was nourished by numerous family connections. His maternal grandfather, Warren Delano, was involved in the China trade (in which he made, lost, and remade a fortune) and lived for ten years in Canton (now Guanzhou). Roosevelt's mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt, often recounted to her son vivid stories of the girlhood trip she had made with her father to the Far East in the mid-1860s. The Roosevelt estate at Hyde Park, where FDR grew up, was full of vases and artifacts that his grandfather Delano had brought back from China, including a large temple bell which dominated the front room. Because of his family background, Roosevelt in later years referred to himself as an "old China hand" (although he never visited China or studied Chinese culture in any formal way), and he spoke frequently, if sometimes paternalistical1y, of his attachment to China.

    of both sides of Roosevelt's family had traded with or visited Japan, and the Hyde Park estate contained Japanese porcelains and other cultural artifacts. Warren Delano had been part-owner of the boat that brought over Manjiro Nakahama, the first reported Japanese to settle in the United States, in 1843. In 1934 Roosevelt proudly wrote Nakahama's son that he remembered his own grandfather's stories of the elder Nakahama as the Japanese boy who lived across the street from the Delano house in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, and often went to church with the Delano family

    1902, during his college years at Harvard University, Roosevelt met and grew close to Otohiko Matsukata, the son of a distinguished Japanese mercantile and political family, through Matsukata's friendship with Roosevelt's cousin Lyman Delano and his family and through Matsukata and Roosevelt's common membership in Harvard's Delphic Club (where they each gained a reputation for generously providing liquor). Roosevelt also became friendly with Ryozo Asano, a friend of Matsukata who was a Harvard classmate and friend of FDR's brother-in-law G. Hall Roosevelt. In 1911 Asano and Hall stayed with FDR and his family at their summer home at Campobello, New Brunswick. In 1915, during his tenure as assistant secretary of the navy under President Woodrow Wilson, Roosevelt became friendly with Captain (later Admiral) Kichisaburo Nomura, the Japanese naval attaché in Washington. In addition to their professional relationship, he and Nomura met socially on several occasions over the following two years, and Nomura also became acquainted with Eleanor Roosevelt (possibly at a dinner which the Roosevelts attended at the Japanese Embassy in November 1915).

    1919 Matsukata wrote asking FDR to assist one of Matsukata's colleagues in lobbying the Wilson administration to approve the laying of a new trans-Pacific wireless cable. The following year, he sent a telegram congratulating FDR on his nomination for the vice presidency. Matsukata and Asano again renewed their contacts with Roosevelt after he entered the White House in 1933, and he conferred privately with each of them in order to keep himself informed on the state of Japanese liberal opinion. Meanwhile, Roosevelt and Nomura kept up their relationship through correspondence. In 1937 Roosevelt wrote Nomura, "As I have often told you, I hope the day will come when I can visit Japan. I have much interest in the great accomplishments of the Japanese people and I should much like to see many of my Japanese friends again."

    share popular racist views of Asians as innately menacing or uncivilized. Still, despite his friendships with Japanese and his genuine interest in Japanese culture, Roosevelt adopted an increasingly wary position toward Japanese power during the first decade of the twentieth century. This shift has often been interpreted as a by-product of FDR's Chinese chauvinism. He favored China over Japan whenever the two countries were compared—in a letter he wrote in 1898, he told his parents that a Groton lecturer on China "ran down the poor Chinaman a little too much and thought too much of the Japs." In 1923 he admitted that the pro-Chinese attitude of many Americans, among whom he clearly included himself, made it difficult for them to see the Japanese point of view.

    China in his foreign policy. A more important cause of Roosevelt's shift was his evolving perception of Japan as a potential military and economic rival of the United States, a view catalyzed by his reading of the works of Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan. In his seminal books The Influence of Sea Power on History (1890) and In the Interest of America in Sea Power, Past and Present (1897), Mahan had promulgated the thesis that a nation's greatness was directly dependent on its control of the seas, and he strongly urged the United States to live up to its potential greatness by augmenting its naval strength and joining other nations to preserve a stable world order. Mahan's books and articles were enormously influential. In the United States, they were largely responsible for reviving the navy, which had shrunk significantly in size and power after the Civil War. Under the leadership of Mahan's disciple President Theodore Roosevelt, the American navy attained an unprecedented level of technical and strategic capability. On the international level, Mahan inspired several other countries—notably Japan—to concentrate on naval strength as a source of national prestige and political power.

    at the age of eleven, and he reread it repeatedly, to the point where, as Sara Delano Roosevelt later recalled, he had practically memorized it. He received a copy of Mahan's Interest of America in Sea Power at Christmas 1897 and quickly absorbed it as well. The following spring, he cited Mahan in his first surviving public "speech," a Groton debate in which he was assigned to oppose the annexation of Hawaii. Roosevelt continued to rely on The Influence of Sea Power on History in later years. In 1922-23, he several times spoke of his plans to draft and publish an updated edition of the work.

    naval power in international relations, FDR grew concerned that the Japanese naval buildup might presage expansionist ambitions in the Pacific. Many years later, in 1934, Roosevelt would recount a conversation he had had in 1902 with a Harvard classmate, a "Japanese boy of Samurai class" (obviously Otohiko Matsukata, who had an aristocratic background and was the only Japanese student then at Harvard). This "boy" told him of the existence of a secret Japanese fifty-year plan to establish complete dominance over East Asia and the Western Pacific through a naval buildup, war with an Asian and a European power, and then a takeover of Manchuria, China, and the Philippines. Whatever was in fact said during the conversation, the young Roosevelt clearly took away from it the conviction that Japan's desire for naval power was not designed simply to protect against encroachment by the Western powers.

    after Japan's victory in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. When Japan first became embroiled in a war with Russia, virtually no one believed that the small island nation could defeat a major European power with an imposing army and fleet. Many Americans felt great sympathy for the Japanese "underdogs" confronting the Russian empire; they included Eleanor Roosevelt, who wrote her fiancé Franklin: "Everyone is talking war madly at present, and the Japanese certainly seem to have made a good beginning. I do hope they will win for I suppose that their defeat might bring about an international war. Besides they are, from a distance at least, such a plucky and attractive little people, don't you think?"

    their honeymoon cruise to Europe, Japan was close to victory. FDR showed his budding political and strategic interests during the voyage by befriending a group of six Japanese naval officers en route to England, from whom he sought information on Japan's strengths and motives. He wrote to his mother from the ship, "I have had several interesting talks with [the Japanese] though their English is not voluble, and I find myself giving out more information than I receive." Eleanor added in her own letter to Sara that Franklin had spent a great deal of time "trying to talk to the Japs."

    support to the Japanese cause, grew concerned that the total defeat of Russia would destroy the balance of power in Asia. He thus offered to act as a mediator between Russia and Japan, and he succeeded in brokering the Treaty of Portsmouth, which ended the war without crippling Russia's strength in the Far East. "It's nice news, isn't it?" Eleanor and Franklin wrote to Sara from England when the news of the treaty reached them. "We had really begun to think it would not be and Uncle Ted must be gratified to have done so much toward it."

    Eleanor later recalled that he was more interested in the unexpected efficiency of the Japanese navy and in the implications of the Treaty of Portsmouth on the naval balance of power, particularly its provisions granting Japan de facto control of southern Manchuria and awarding the Japanese new naval bases in Asia. Like Mahan, who had written a series of articles on the war for Collier's Weekly and the National Review, he now considered Japan to be America's chief rival in the Pacific.

    the New York State Senate. Although no record remains of his views about Japan during this period, FDR evidently remained heavily influenced by the personality and ideas of his cousin and hero President Theodore Roosevelt. The young FDR admired TR so greatly that he cast his first vote for President for him in 1904, despite the Democratic voting tradition of the Hyde Park branch of the Roosevelt family, and he attended the inauguration in March 1905. The young Roosevelt also enthusiastically supported TR's imperialist foreign policy, including his subjection of the Philippine independence movement. It is therefore important to examine the evolution of TR's own policy toward Japan.

    esteemed Japan. The Japanese "character," with its military spirit and emphasis on honor, epitomized his vision of national greatness. TR was so impressed by Bushido: The Soul of a Nation, Inazo Nitobe's 1905 book on Japan's warrior code, that he ordered sixty copies for friends, and he tried to persuade Americans to take up judo as a popular sport. He sympathized with Japanese resentment over unfair treatment by Europeans. However, despite his affection for the Japanese, TR considered Japan a potential rival for world power. In 1905 he told a friend, "What a wonderful people the Japanese are! They are quite as remarkable industrially as in warfare. In a dozen years the English, Americans and Germans, who now dread one another as rivals in the trade of the Pacific, will have each to dread the Japanese more than they do any other nation."

    the Japanese threat, TR sought to build up a strong naval fleet in the years after 1905. In 1907, in a gesture meant to demonstrate America's strength in the Pacific, the President sent the navy's "Great White Fleet" on an around-the-world cruise, including a stop in Japan. In the meantime, TR sought to placate Japan and avoid war in order to give the navy a chance to complete its building program. He negotiated the Taft-Katsura Agreement of 1905 and the Root-Takeshira Convention of 1908, in which both countries pledged to maintain the status quo in Asia and the Pacific. TR likewise encouraged the Japanese to establish a protectorate over Korea and to increase their trade with China. He believed that these actions not only would distract Japan from challenging American interests in the Pacific but also would exert a civilizing influence on the backward Koreans and Chinese, just as U.S. occupation acted as a "civilizing" force in the Philippines.

    undermined by domestic events, in the form of controversy over Japanese immigrants in the United States. As Japan industrialized during the last third of the nineteenth century, many impoverished farmers and factory workers sought to improve their prospects by emigrating to Hawaii and the United States, as well as to Canada, Brazil, Peru, and other nations. By the early 1900s, some 150,000 people of Japanese ancestry lived in Hawaii, more than any other ethnic group, and Japanese workers dominated the islands' plantation labor force. Meanwhile, another 150,000 Japanese had settled on the U.S. mainland, mainly on the West Coast. The immigrants were initially welcomed for their willingness to work long hours for little money However, as the number of immigrants increased and as the Japanese farm workers began to use the savings they had accumulated to buy land of their own, self-interest, greed, and bigotry fanned the flames of anti-Japanese sentiment among white commercial, labor union, and nativist groups. Mobilizing the same hostile stereotypes that they had employed a generation before against the Chinese (whose exclusion had created the very demand for agricultural workers that the Japanese had originally filled), anti-immigrant agitators conjured up racist images of the Japanese as menacing and immoral. Nativist forces also drew on the "yellow peril" anxieties aroused by Japan's new power in the Western Pacific by claiming that the immigrants had been sent to the West Coast to prepare the way for a future Japanese military conquest. Ignoring the fact that Japanese farmers owned barely 10,000 of California's 500,000,000 acres of farmland, white agitators charged that the Japanese were seizing control of the state's food supply.

    passed an official resolution calling for the legal exclusion of Japanese immigrants. A year later, in October 1906, San Francisco's school board (encouraged by the labor-friendly San Francisco Chronicle as well as by Mayor Eugene Schmitz and local political leaders) issued an order providing that children of the Japanese "race" would henceforth be required to attend the separate Asian schools to which children of Chinese ancestry had already been relegated. The board's avowed purpose for this action was to reduce Japanese immigration.

    Americans. However, it aroused immediate and impassioned protest from the Japanese government, which followed the treatment of its overseas nationals with intense interest. In the eyes of many Japanese, discrimination against Japanese people anywhere was not only an insult to their human dignity but an intolerable reminder of the days of unequal treaties and Western domination. Such an assault on the nation's honor could be avenged only by war against the perpetrator.

    Despite his concerns over war, the President was sympathetic to the idea of restricting Japanese immigration. Like most educated Americans of the period, TR's views on society were heavily marked by the work of Herbert Spencer, William Graham Sumner, and other Social Darwinists, who had adapted Charles Darwin's biological theories of evolution and natural selection to the study of human society. According to these so-called Social Darwinists, humanity was divided into different races, which were made up of groups of people living in separate environments. Over multiple generations, these races evolved specific biological characteristics which promoted survival in that environment. Each member of such a race inherited these physical and character traits from birth and passed them on to their children. Unlike the majority of Social Darwinists, who used the Darwinian principle of "survival of the fittest" to justify notions of white supremacy, TR considered the Japanese substantially equal to whites in their level of civilization, and he in fact believed that Japan had much to teach the West. Nevertheless, he shared the Darwinists' view that the Japanese were fundamentally different according to what he termed "the great fact of race." That is, over the generations that the Japanese "race" had remained isolated from the West, the Japanese people had developed personality traits that were distinct from those of whites.

    when it was a matter of interaction between small numbers of educated people, but that large-scale immigration of Japanese was not possible because the two populations could not be merged. Ordinary Americans naturally felt hostility and resentment when forced into contact with large numbers of people whose essential nature diverged so strongly from their own, and the Japanese could not undo in a few generations the biological conditioning they had acquired over countless centuries. TR likewise opposed immigration because it would likely lead to intermarriage, which he wished to avert at all costs. According to Social Darwinist theory, social cohesion within a "race" grew out of its members' shared biological characteristics. Intermarriage between different races led to the birth of "hybrids"—children who possessed no clear and unified set of racial characteristics and who thus remained without any social identity. TR warned that "it is not only undesirable but impossible that there should be racial intermingling and the result is sure to bring disaster."

    by his distress over the San Francisco school board's segregation policy. TR was offended by the naked racial bigotry of Californians, and he privately fumed that the board had enacted a provocative policy without considering the injury it would inflict on the national pride of the Japanese. If the policy was not halted, the President warned his advisors, it might well draw Japan into declaring war on the United States, which was unprepared for such a conflict. The President's fears were shared by his longtime friend Admiral Mahan. Mahan wrote TR that he took the possibility of war seriously, although he believed that war was ultimately worth risking to restrict Japanese immigration. Mahan warned the President that the Japanese had caught the Russian fleet while it was divided and had crushed each part in turn. The U.S. Navy should remain massed in case of attack by Japan, so that the same thing would not happen to them.

Excerpted from BY ORDER OF THE PRESIDENT by GREG ROBINSON. Copyright © 2001 by Greg Robinson. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

What People are Saying About This

It was not FDR's finest hour, and Greg Robinson shows why in this incisive, fair-minded and solidly researched account of the politics of Japanese-American internment.
Arthur Schlesinger
It was not FDR's finest hour, and Greg Robinson shows why in this incisive, fair-minded and solidly researched account of the politics of Japanese-American internment.
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., author of A Life in the Twentieth Century: Innocent Beginnings, 1917 - 1950

Meet the Author

Greg Robinson is Assistant Professor of History, Université du Québec à Montréal.

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