Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 20, 2018

FDR made Donald Trump look “woke” by comparison

Filed under: New Deal,racism — louisproyect @ 12:39 am

Greg Robinson:

In contrast, the President lent credence to the wildest and most unsubstantiated anti-Japanese rumors. A few weeks after Executive Order 9066 was signed, for example, Roosevelt told his Cabinet that “friends of his” who had explored the lower California region of Mexico some time previously had uncovered numerous secret Japanese air bases, which could be mobilized for work in concert with Japanese aircraft carriers on bombing raids into southern California.’ Thus, if the President believed unsubstantiated reports of fifth column activity by Japanese Americans, it was not simply because he lacked hard information but also because he was prepared to believe the worst, and expected the worst, from them.

Roosevelt’s view that the character of different ethnic and racial groups was biologically inherited, and the influence of such ideas on his policy decisions, expanded during the war years, even though such Social Darwinist racial theories had begun to be discredited by the anthropological writings of Franz Boas, Ruth Benedict, and others. In mid-1942 the President commissioned Dr. Ales Hrdlicka, an anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution, Dr. Isiah Bowman, president of Johns Hopkins University, and Dr. Henry Field of the Field Museum of Natural History to direct a massive secret series of anthropological studies by experts on postwar migration and resettlement of Jews and other groups, with an emphasis on “problems arising out of racial admixtures and . . . the scientific principles involved in the process of miscegenation as contrasted with the opposing policies of so-called racialism.”

The President stated that he wanted the scientists to determine the optimum racial mixture of postwar refugee populations: “The President wishes to be advised what will happen when various kinds of Europeans—Scandinavian, Germanic, French-Belgian, North Italian, etc.—are mixed with the South American base stock. The President specifically asked the [research] committee to consider such questions as the following: Is the South Italian stock—say, Sicilian—as good as the North Italian stock—say, Milanese—if given equal social and economic opportunity? Thus, in a given case, where 10,000 Italians were to be offered settlement facilities, what proportion of the 10,000 should be Northern Italians and what Southern Italians?”‘ Similarly, Roosevelt commented at different times about the possibility of imposing eugenicist policies against troublesome groups. He joked in 1945 that Puerto Rico’s high birthrate could be curbed through mass sterilization, using “the methods which Hitler used effectively.” Similarly, in August 1944 the President discussed with his Cabinet “the advisability of sterilizing about 50,000 Junkers and officers of the German Army. [FDR] said that science had done wonderful things and that sterilization could now be accomplished by the use of rays which were practically painless.” Although these remarks may also have been facetious, at least in part, Roosevelt told Treasury Secretary Morgenthau a few days earlier, “You either have to castrate the German people or you have got to treat them in such a manner so they can’t go on reproducing people who want to continue the way they have in the past.” Other administration officials, notably Navy Secretary Knox, discussed sterilizing Germans in earnest.”

Throughout the period of evacuation, Roosevelt’s ideas about people of Japanese ancestry remained dominated by his belief in innate biological character. In spring 1942 FDR maintained a correspondence with Hrdlicka on the source of the nefarious and warlike Japanese character, which Hrdlicka attributed to the less developed skulls of the Japanese.” Roosevelt’s view of the Japanese as inherently savage was likewise reflected in his private conversations. He stated in 1935 that aggression “was in the blood” of Japanese leaders. In January 1942 he told Quentin Reynolds that the Japanese were “treacherous people,” and hissed through his teeth while quoting Japanese leaders in imitation of stereotypical Japanese speech patterns.” FDR’s assistant, William Hassett, recounted in August 1942 that “the President related an old Chinese myth about the origin of the Japanese. A wayward daughter of an ancient Chinese emperor left her native land in a sampan and finally reached Japan, then inhabited by baboons. The inevitable happened and in due course the Japanese made their appearance.

Roosevelt’s words and actions both before and after Pearl Harbor, when taken in their entirety, point to his acceptance of the idea that Japanese Americans, whether citizens or longtime resident aliens, were still Japanese at the core. He regarded them as presumptively dangerous and disloyal on racial grounds. There might well be some loyal individuals: Roosevelt was willing to make exceptions for Japanese Americans of demonstrated loyalty once they were properly vouched for, and he had approved John Franklin Carter’s plan during fall 1941 to organize protection for “the loyal Japanese” in case of war. However, in the absence (and sometimes in the presence) of evidence of loyalty, the presumption remained, and in an extreme situation it overshadowed all other considerations. When Carter’s “Roosevelt” character is asked about the feelings of Japanese Americans who were deported “because they had slant eyes and yellow skins,” he remarks coolly, “Their patriotism was suspect.” Roosevelt’s decision to approve the race-based exclusion of West Coast Japanese Americans followed logically from this view that they were incapable of being true Americans. Already in his 192os articles, FDR justified discriminatory legislation by ‘Americans” toward a group he gratuitously referred to as “unassimilable aliens.” His refusal to admit discriminatory intent in the race-based exclusion of Japanese immigrants during the 192os logically precedes his willful blindness toward the role of racial bigotry in catalyzing Californians with longtime nativist grudges to press for the evacuation of Japanese Americans from the West Coast.

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