The XYZ Affair

How Michelle Malkin learned to stop worrying and defend the internment

Far from flaunting his allegiance to the Chrysanthemum Throne, Kotoshirodo comes off as a clock-punching slacker: "Okuda said that . . . as long as you remain legally outside from any place where people cannot get in, just see what you can see from the outside, there is not anything that anyone can do. It is a natural thing that every country is doing. Okuda said that in Japan the American Consulate is gathering information." He denies knowledge of a possible war. As for loyalty, he answers that, while prior to the war he might have classed himself as "100% Japanese," he never took an oath of allegiance to Japan and "did not have any particular hate for the United States or particular favor for the Japanese Government."

A pattern of twisted interpretation runs through the book. Malkin cites the MAGIC decrypts as outlining plans to solicit saboteurs among Japanese "Second Generations" and "resident nationals" in the U.S., while clouding the fact that the cables clearly propose this as an inferior backup option to utilizing "U.S. citizens of foreign extraction (other than Japanese), aliens (other than Japanese), communists, Negroes, labor union members, and anti-Semites." She also invokes the specter of nisei dual citizenship as a sign of divided loyalty, while noting only in passing that this status was automatically awarded to all children born to Japanese fathers before 1924; because the process of repudiating this status was difficult, many nisei didn't go through the trouble of unwinding it. (Amusingly, Malkin herself is a dual citizen, as the Philippines bestows this status on the children of Filipino immigrants.)

The book's most brazen aspects relate to its very rationale for existence. Though titled In Defense of Internment, it isn't so much a defense of internment in general as a defense of the Japanese American internment—and indeed, Malkin is "not advocating rounding up all Arabs or Muslims and tossing them into camps," but rather the use of "racial profiling" in an era "when we are under attack." She never explains why a successful defense of the Japanese American internment would provide a case for racial profiling today. The unpleasant fact is that terrorists are not easily denominated by race or nation of origin, and one need only look back to Oklahoma City to remember that there are violent factions who share a mind-set with Al Qaeda, if not a common faith.

Evacuees of Japanese ancestry attend Memorial Day services at Manzanar, California, in May 1942.
photo: Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
Evacuees of Japanese ancestry attend Memorial Day services at Manzanar, California, in May 1942.

Given that Malkin doesn't have the will to propose wholesale detention, what remains isn't "myth-shattering," or even new; as she acknowledges, the gist of her thesis and evidence come from a 2000 title by former NSA official David Lowman. Ultimately, the book's only real value is as a sign that Malkin, who in 2000 wrote that she believed the internment to be "abhorrent and wrong," has sold off another sliver of her soul.

Jeff Yang runs the production company Cultural DNA. His most recent book is Once Upon a Time in China: A Guide to Hong Kong, Mainland, and Taiwanese Cinema.

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