December 18, 2005


THE STAIN ON AMERICAN LIBERAL DEMOCRACY: A Review Of By Order Of The President: FDR And The Internment Of Japanese Americans By Greg Robinson (DAVID C. LUNDSGAARD, Oct. 26, 2001, Writ Law)

Robinson’s evaluation of FDR’s motivation is complex, referencing a variety of critical factors that affected FDR’s decision-making. These factors included public pressure from politically powerful anti-Japanese interest groups, bad advice from senior staffers, FDR’s free-wheeling administrative style, and outright dishonesty on the part of key administration officials. Ultimately, however, there are two factors that seem to bear most of the weight of Robinson’s answer to his fundamental question of how FDR could have sponsored his administration’s evacuation and internment policy.

The first is the impact on the young FDR of then-common views of "scientific racism." Today, we are prone to ascribe such Social Darwinist thinking to the losers in World War II (Nazis and Fascists), rather than to the winners. Yet Robinson correctly points out how prevalent those views were throughout the Western world during FDR’s life.

Most importantly (and most effectively for his thesis), Robinson goes beyond simply identifying and quoting from the popular Social Darwinist texts of the time, he connects those texts specifically to FDR’s own early writings and speeches. We read FDR echoing enthusiastically the conclusions of American militarists that the Japanese were genetically predisposed to oppose "Western" values and thought; that Japanese American citizens were essentially "inassimilable" into American society; and that Anglo-Saxon racial purity should be maintained through preventing intermarriage between the races.

According to Robinson, this view conditioned FDR to think of the Japanese as fundamentally alien. Thus, when the military suggested that all Japanese be evacuated from the West Coast on the grounds that it was impossible to distinguish between loyal and disloyal Japanese, FDR was prepared to believe that the military view was correct.

Later, FDR was insensitive to the constitutional fact that the government was indefinitely imprisoning American citizens without charge, and Robinson persuasively explains why. It was because, at some level, FDR did not appreciate that Japanese Americans could be true American citizens in the first place.

Oh, well, as long as it was scientific....

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 18, 2005 6:12 AM

You still want to call Roosevelt a Nazi. What is with you on this subject? Peter is right, you are a leftist.

Posted by: Brandon at December 18, 2005 10:00 AM

FDR wasn't a Nazi, he was anti-fascist--though he was a statist, a racist and an anti-Semite. That just made him a man of his times though. Belief in Darwinism has certain consequences.

Posted by: oj at December 18, 2005 10:15 AM

Hopeless. Hopeless confusion.

Because racialism, following d'Gobineau and Houston Stewart Chamberlain was such a large part of how people looked at human variation, there is a tendency to carry ancient errors forward to the present and to mix up social evolution with biological evolution.

Evolutionary sociology merely describes how institutions and customs change by processes of experimentation competition and diffusion. 19th Century racist thought imagined that racial groups, and they thought that French and Germans were different races, had genetic differences which determined their cultures.

The term "social Darwinism" is thus so confused as to social versus biological evolution as to be almost useless. It is quite true that many speakers and writers, including both Roosevelts, Theodore much more than Franklin, used racial terms when they meant culture.

We know better now. We know that we can make civilized human beings of all sorts of little brown monkeys by a process of education. It's all a matter of terminology.

Posted by: Lou Gots at December 18, 2005 10:27 AM

As they say at the Fetus Factory, "He was blended by Science!"

Posted by: Noel at December 18, 2005 11:17 AM


I'm quite sure I have never called Orrin a leftist. I'm still slogging through my dictionary trying to find the right adjective. The Shorter Oxford was no help, so I'm tackling the full twelve volume set to see if there is anything in obsolete Old English that will fit.

Posted by: Peter B at December 18, 2005 5:27 PM


He's a throwback, a crunchy pseudo-Luddite, but he does have a wonderful blog.


Howard Cosell once got into a lot of trouble by calling a smallish Redskins wide receiver a 'little monkey'.

Posted by: jim hamlen at December 18, 2005 8:08 PM

I guess it didn't come off the right way. There were such nasty racial references to the Japanese during the war. After the war we more of less transformed their culture, and that sort of name-calling became unthinkable.

The process illustrates how our thinking about human variation matured from the Darwinist race/culture confusion to a more mature approach. The people in New Guinea wear pants now, and use metal tools, having moved culturally the equivalent of a couple of millenia in a few generations. Racially, they are unchanged.

The only ones who still believe in all that Blut-und-Boden business are some American blacks, with all that nonsense about "soul."

Posted by: Lou Gots at December 18, 2005 8:41 PM

I don't see why you need to bring in FDR's racialism to explain his contempt for the Constitution with regard to the internment.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at December 19, 2005 12:18 AM


Where were the camps for German-Americans? Italo? Franco?

Posted by: oj at December 19, 2005 7:17 AM

There actually were German and Italian internees, just as there were Japanese Americans who were judged to be loyal and released from the camps. The actual legal problem with the camps was that, for the Japanese alone, the government assumed that they were disloyal and put the burden on them to prove their loyalty.

Posted by: David Cohen at December 19, 2005 12:39 PM