URC

General John DeWitt: The Scapegoat

Steven Arango

Newberry College

Keywords: World War II, Japanese Internment Camps, Colonel Karl R. Bendetsen, General John Dewitt, General Allen Gullion, Western Defense Command

Introduction

During World War II one of the most atrocious events in United States history happened. This was the internment of the Japanese people on the West Coast of the U.S. Over 110,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans were interned in camps all over America for several years during the War due to the suspicion of the U.S. Government of these people. After the war was over someone had to take responsibility for this repulsive act and that someone was General John DeWitt, the commander of the Western Defense Command for the United States Army. Obviously, there was more than one person involved in this situation but General DeWitt has always been looked upon as the man who orchestrated the internment. Drawing from scholarly research I have come to the conclusion that General DeWitt was merely an officer following orders and a puppet for Lt. Colonel Karl R. Bendetsen and several other key members close to the President.

The chain of command, within the United States Military, is respected and followed by all military personnel. The Secretary of War Henry Stimson, Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy, and General Allen Gullion were the main high-ranking officials who played a role in the internment. The Secretary of War was obviously first in command but after that it was complicated. The Assistant Secretary of War, John McCloy, and General DeWitt both reported to Stimson but because DeWitt was a military officer and McCloy was a civilian, DeWitt was the higher ranked official in the grand scheme of things.1 General Gullion reported to General DeWitt and Lt. Colonel Bendetsen reported directly to Gullion and to DeWitt when he was not in Washington D.C.2 Lt. Colonel Bendetsen, even though lower on the chain of command in military standings compared to General Dewitt, found ways to misconstrue facts, manipulate officers to promote the idea of internment, and basically lay the foundation for the internment of the Japanese. Despite these rankings, Bendetsen somehow convinced General DeWitt to submit a recommendation for internment to the President of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt. Without Lt. Colonel Bendetsen it is not likely that over 100,000 Japanese would have been incarcerated. Instead these enemy aliens, not citizens, could have been moved inland and relocated.

In Personal Justice Denied, Tetsuden Kashima used rhetoric to show that DeWitt was the main architect of the internment.3 Kashima said that "DeWitt submits his final report to the Sec. Of War Stimson" but he did not talk about how much his final report was influenced by the War Department or Lt. Colonel Karl R. Bendetsen.4 Another example of DeWitt being the "scapegoat" was when Kashima used the quote "a Jap is a Jap," which General DeWitt stated when he testified to the United States Congress about the reasons for the internment of the Japanese and the Japanese-Americans. This showed that DeWitt held racist views towards the Japanese. This created the mindset that DeWitt was racist, which may be true but does not mean that DeWitt wished to intern solely the Japanese, especially Japanese-Americans. If the question of whether DeWitt was racist or not was being asked by Kashima, DeWitt's racist remarks would be relevant. But because Kashima was trying to figure out why the internment of the Japanese happened, this quote did not help. In my opinion, the reason that DeWitt approved the final recommendation was lack of character, not because of racism. Kashima's assessment revealed that other authors were inclined to blame DeWitt for the incarceration as well.

The pressure that led to this blame came from several other key advisors who pressured DeWitt into recommending the incarceration. Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy, Secretary of War Henry Stimson, and General Allen Gullion all played significant roles in convincing General Dewitt to submit a recommendation for internment to the President of the United States. DeWitt's recommendation was needed because he was the highest-ranking officer on the West Coast and his opinion was the most credible. This evidence points to a lack of character and backbone in DeWitt but this does not mean that DeWitt was in any way in favor of the internment of the Japanese and Japanese-Americans. General DeWitt's first recommendation was to "collect all alien subjects fourteen years of age and over of enemy nations and remove them to the interior," away from the West Coast of the U.S.5 The most significant descriptor in this quote is "enemy nations." Dewitt did not specify whom he wanted specifically (such as the Japanese); he wanted all enemy nations, which included the Germans and Italians. On January 21, 1942 Dewitt sent a memo to President Roosevelt recommending the evacuation of aliens and movement of them inland, not incarcerate them. The majority of these enemy aliens were Italian.6 This shows that DeWitt wanted no preferential treatment and thought that all enemy aliens were a threat to the West Coast. The General never wanted to remove citizens of the United States and "only wanted the removal of all enemy aliens."7 General DeWitt recommended that 89,000 enemy aliens be evacuated inland; only 25,000 of these people were Japanese, the rest German and Italian. In reality, about 110,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans were interned.8 Even though this plan was never carried out, General Dewitt pushed this idea for several weeks until his plans started to change due to the pressures and manipulation from other advisors. Several of these advisors had key roles that led to the overall internment of the Japanese and Japanese Americans of the United States. However, the key figure in this manipulation was Lt. Colonel Karl R. Bendetsen.9

Lt. Colonel Karl Bendetsen was not only a lawyer for the United States military but he was also a liaison between the War Department and the Western Defense Command, which was General Dewitt's headquarters.10 Bendetsen's training as a lawyer was significant because he adopted the idea of military necessity "as the legal foundation for forcibly evacuating Japanese-Americans and provided General Dewitt with this as a reasonable basis to intern the Japanese and Japanese-Americans."11 Due to Lt. Colonel Bendetsen's knowledge of the discussion in the War Department and the Western Defense Command he had "considerable influence over his superiors."12 Bendetsen could manipulate facts and people "to produce the effects that he desired."13 "General Dewitt and General Gullion depended on the Lieutenant Colonel for information regarding alien enemies on the West Coast."14 Even General Gullion admitted that he did not understand some on the aspects of Alien Control and asked Bendetsen to explain these ideas.15

This desire to be in control, by Bendetsen, can be seen in his attempt to provoke DeWitt and Congress. Bendetsen told DeWitt that Congress wanted the Western Defense Command to act swiftly on the West Coast situation. 16 After Lt. Colonel. Bendetsen returned to Congress he reported that "the Army was willing to take over" the plans of the West Coast from the Justice Department.17 Bendetsen told his superiors, including General DeWitt, that Congress was calling for an "immediate evacuation of the Japanese" even though a statement was made by the Justice and War Departments days later saying that there was no need for the removal of American citizens "of Japanese race" in the United States.18 This report sadly never made it to the public because Colonel Bendetsen, General Gullion, and Assistant Secretary of War McCloy kept this statement out of the press release, so no one in America knew about this quote.19

This was just the beginning of how Bendetsen was trying to manipulate officials and figure out a way to intern the Japanese. Lt. Colonel Karl Bendetsen informed the "Chief of Staff of the United States Army, George Marshall, that General DeWitt favored evacuation of the whole Japanese population."20 Even though this was not true, Bendetsen was telling his superiors that DeWitt was ready to submit a recommendation and that the General had been favoring evacuation for weeks.21 Not only did Bendetsen favor evacuation, but the key advisors previously mentioned backed Lt. Colonel Bendetsen's proposal and also had opinions of there own.22 Colonel Archer thought that General Dewitt was being too soft on the Japanese and that his plan of resettlement "overlooked the necessary cold bloodedness of the war."23 After most of these men were either convinced or had already made up their mind on the internment, it was then time for them to convince General Dewitt to join their cause. Secretary of War Stimson "felt it was best to evacuate both citizen and enemy Japanese as quickly as possible."24 Assistant Secretary of War McCloy told Dewitt that the Army favored a "wholesale withdrawal of all Japanese citizens and aliens from the coast."25 "Between February 18th and 20th of 1942 McCloy, General Gullion, and Lt. Colonel Bendetsen drafted instructions for General DeWitt to guide the execution of the evacuation plan."26

Lt. Colonel Bendetsen needed more than these men to convince DeWitt or to provide support for his plan; Bendetsen needed a way to make the internment constitutional. The Lt. Colonel's background in military law allowed him to develop a plan to avoid the problem of Habeas Corpus.27 Habeas Corpus is the legal action that a prisoner cannot be held under unlawful detention.28 "Bendetsen realized that if the military really wanted to intern the Japanese-Americans, the military would have to have a solid reason."29 Luckily, for Bendetsen, he soon "developed an idea of using military necessity and used this idea to convince DeWitt that the army could legally exclude citizens of America that were Japanese from military areas."30 By suspending the writ of Habeas Corpus, Bendetsen said this was a legal ground the military could use if accused of ignoring the Constitution.31 Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy had no problem with this idea and was even quoted as saying "if it is a question of safety of this country . . . the constitution is just a scrap of paper to me."32 McCloy also told Bendetsen that they had "carte blanche" in this situation and that they were given permission by President Roosevelt to do whatever they felt necessary.33 Obviously, after all of these manipulations and pressures from Bendetsen, at some point General DeWitt would cave in and start to change his plans for the evacuation.

Dewitt's recommendations started to change and he accepted the idea that Japanese-American citizens were to be evacuated and interned along with other enemy aliens.34 As DeWitt changed his opinion he still was adamant that all enemy aliens were to be evacuated to make sure of the safety of the West Coast.35 DeWitt faced a problem with this because "there were to be no evacuation of Italians without express permission from Sec. of War Stimson."36 This shows how intent Bendetsen and other high ranking members were of interning the Japanese and Japanese-Americans and no one else. DeWitt was not concerned with interning a certain race of people, he was merely a concerned army official trying to keep the West Coast safe. DeWitt's new plan had changed but only about 69,000 Japanese (enemies and citizens) were to be evacuated along with 44,000 Italians and 20,000 Germans.37 The War Department did not estimate how many people they were going to evacuate in total but they roughly estimated 110,000 Japanese (enemies and citizens) and singled them out specifically.38 DeWitt reluctantly consented to these plans but again tried to get his opinion across to members in the War Department. "Dewitt favored voluntary evacuation for Japanese Americans."39 This shows how General DeWitt was trying to give the Japanese-American citizens a chance to move themselves out without being forced by the military. Again, this idea was stymied by the War Department when Lt. Colonel Bendetsen recommended that they terminate the voluntary evacuation.40 Every time that DeWitt recommended an idea for the evacuation he was "faced with strong opposition."41

Scholars like Stetson Conn, Hyun Woong Hong, and Audrie Girdner tried to figure out why Lt. Colonel Bendetsen wanted to intern the Japanese, but it was hard to pinpoint the reason. The most "reasonable explanation" seemed to be that Bendetsen thought that the Japanese race was more loyal to their home country than the United States.42 The problem with this argument is that Bendetsen not only wanted to intern the Japanese but also the Japanese-Americans who had been citizens in the United States for years. After considering all the facts about manipulation by Bendetsen and his perseverance to pass internment, it seems to me that racism has to play a large part. If it was the security of the nation he was worried about then Bendetsen would have pushed for the internment of all enemy aliens. The fact of the matter is that he did not do this and that he was only concerned about the Japanese.

The taking of freedoms that the United States Constitution promises enemy aliens or citizens of this country is wrong in every aspect. Not only should it be illegal to reconsider what the Constitution means but especially at a time of war when people's tempers flare and rash choices are made. Research about this terrible event in our history indicates that the true architect behind the incarceration was Lt. Colonel Karl R. Bendetsen. The final recommendation for the incarceration did come from General DeWitt but it appears that it would have never been concocted without Bendetsen. Without the Lt. Colonel's input the whole situation might have been avoided, and General DeWitt's original plan could have been implemented. However, some of the blame does have to go to General DeWitt. DeWitt showed the lack of leadership and command a General needs to show during a time of war. He not only relied too heavily on Bendetsen for information but he even asked for his advice in key situations upon which DeWitt should have come to his own conclusions. DeWitt did have the power to stop Bendetsen but one must sympathize with his situation. Under extreme pressure from several high-ranking officers, such as Secretary of War Stimson or General Gullion, he wanted to make a decision that pleased his superiors and peers. He also had a lack of correct information from Bendetsen whom he was trusting for intel and advice. DeWitt crumbled in a time of extreme significance and pressure, but "Bendetsen was the ultimate source of the exact plan to remove Japanese Americans from the West Coast."43 By not identifying the true developer of the internment plan some scholars allow Lt. Colonel Bendetsen to escape the judgment of history.

References

Conn, S., Engleman, R. C., & Fairchild, B. (1964). Guarding The United States and Its Outposts. Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Girdner, A., & Loftis, A. (1969). The Great Betrayal: The Evacuation of the Japanese- Americans During World War II. New York: The MacMillan Company.

Hong Woong, H. (2008). The Decision-Making Process of Japanese-Americans Evacuation: The Role and Influence of Major Karl R. Bendetsen. Miguk-sa Yongu, EBSCO. 27: 73-98.

Kashima, T. (1996). Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Kennedy, B. R. (1948). United States Government Manual-1948. Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

1 B.R. Kennedy, United States Government Manual-1948 (Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1948), 583.

2 B.R. Kennedy, United States Government Manual-1948 (Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1948), 583.

3 Tetsuden, Kashima, Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996), 84.

4 Kashima, Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, 82.

5 Stetson Conn and Rose C Engleman and Byron Fairchild, Guarding The United States and Its Outposts. (Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1964), 117.

6 Stetson Conn and Rose C Engleman and Byron Fairchild, Guarding The United States and Its Outposts. (Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1964), 119.

7 Stetson Conn and Rose C Engleman and Byron Fairchild, Guarding The United States and Its Outposts, 120.

8 Ibid., 130.

9 Hyun Woong Hong , "The Decision-Making Process of Japanese-Americans Evacuation: The Role and Influence of Major Karl R. Bendetsen," Miguk-sa Yongu 27, (2008): 75, EBSCO.

10 Hyun Woong Hong, Miguk-sa Yongu, 78.

11 Hyun Woong Hong , "The Decision-Making Process of Japanese-Americans Evacuation: The Role and Influence of Major Karl R. Bendetsen," Miguk-sa Yongu 27, (2008): 76, EBSCO.

12 Hyun Woong Hong, Miguk-sa Yongu, 76.

13 Ibid., 78.

14 Ibid., 78.

15 Ibid., 78.

16 Stetson Conn and Rose C Engleman and Byron Fairchild, Guarding The United States and Its Outposts. (Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1964), 121.

17 Stetson Conn and Rose C Engleman and Byron Fairchild, Guarding The United States and Its Outposts, 122.

18 Stetson Conn and Rose C Engleman and Byron Fairchild, Guarding The United States and Its Outposts. (Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1964), 124.

19 Stetson Conn and Rose C Engleman and Byron Fairchild, Guarding The United States and Its Outposts, 124.

20 Ibid., 124.

21 Ibid., 124.

22 Ibid., 128.

23 Ibid., 129.

24 Stetson Conn and Rose C Engleman and Byron Fairchild, Guarding The United States and Its Outposts. (Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1964), 132.

25 Hyun Woong Hong , "The Decision-Making Process of Japanese-Americans Evacuation: The Role and Influence of Major Karl R. Bendetsen," Miguk-sa Yongu 27, (2008): 86, EBSCO.

26 Stetson Conn and Rose C Engleman and Byron Fairchild, Guarding The United States and Its Outposts. (Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1964), 135.

27 Hyun Woong Hong , "The Decision-Making Process of Japanese-Americans Evacuation: The Role and Influence of Major Karl R. Bendetsen," Miguk-sa Yongu 27, (2008): 81, EBSCO.

28 Audrie Girdner and Anne Loftis, The Great Betrayal: The Evacuation of the Japanese- Americans During World War II.( New York: The MacMillan Company, 1969), 284.

29 Hyun Woong Hong , "The Decision-Making Process of Japanese-Americans Evacuation: The Role and Influence of Major Karl R. Bendetsen," Miguk-sa Yongu 27, (2008): 81, EBSCO.

30 Hyun Woong Hong , "The Decision-Making Process of Japanese-Americans Evacuation: The Role and Influence of Major Karl R. Bendetsen," Miguk-sa Yongu 27, (2008): 84, EBSCO.

31 Hyun Woong Hong, Miguk-sa Yongu, 84.

32 Ibid., 82.

33 Stetson Conn and Rose C Engleman and Byron Fairchild, Guarding The United States and Its Outposts. (Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1964), 132.

34 Stetson Conn and Rose C Engleman and Byron Fairchild, Guarding The United States and Its Outposts, 132.

35 Ibid., 135.

36 Ibid., 136.

37 Stetson Conn and Rose C Engleman and Byron Fairchild, Guarding The United States and Its Outposts. (Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1964), 137.

38 Stetson Conn and Rose C Engleman and Byron Fairchild, Guarding The United States and Its Outposts, 138.

39 Ibid., 139.

40 Audrie Girdner and Anne Loftis, The Great Betrayal: The Evacuation of the Japanese- Americans During World War II.( New York: The MacMillan Company, 1969), 287.

41 Stetson Conn and Rose C Engleman and Byron Fairchild, Guarding The United States and Its Outposts. (Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1964), 144.

42 Hyun Woong Hong , "The Decision-Making Process of Japanese-Americans Evacuation: The Role and Influence of Major Karl R. Bendetsen," Miguk-sa Yongu 27, (2008): 87, EBSCO.

43 Hyun Woong Hong , "The Decision-Making Process of Japanese-Americans Evacuation: The Role and Influence of Major Karl R. Bendetsen," Miguk-sa Yongu 27, (2008): 88, EBSCO.


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