Halfheartedly defending the defenseless

Clayton Cramer, one of the gentlemen who did excellent work uncovering the Michael Bellesiles fraud – well done, Mr. Cramer, I did not know that – reluctantly offers a meager defense for Me So Michelle:

Over at Vox Popoli, there is a strong argument that there was no reason for the U.S. to be afraid of a Japanese invasion, hence no need to worry about Japanese-Americans.

All very good in hindsight. After a number of years of assuming that the Japanese were too nearsighted to fly airplanes, and holding their military in considerable contempt, the United States was scared witless by the success of Japanese operations against the British and the Dutch. The success of Japanese troops bicycling in from the north to take “impregnable” Singapore, for example, was a real shocker. From “how can they fight white people” to “They are rolling all over Asia” may have caused an overreaction.

I have never said that there weren’t real, if misguided, fears on the part of the populace or on the part of ignorant bureaucrats more concerned with looking as if they were doing something to calm those fears than they were with strategic realities. But perception is not reality, and this only demonstrates how important it is to prevent the people or the government from using fear as a basis for trading freedom for “security”. Not all unlikely events are created equal. Circling around Singapore and hitting it from the north is hardly the equivalent of figuring out how to resupply your beachhead when your entire navy has to travel 11,000 miles round-trip. Again, this is not hindsight, this is pointing out the facts known at the time. And in any event, Malkin is still insisting that the danger was real, not that those fears were misguided.

The U.S. built air bases on the east side of the Sierras to fight off Japanese forces. If this was strictly a matter of naval battles, why build them hundreds of miles from the coast? It would take more than an hour for fighter planes to get out over the water. It seems pretty clear to me that our government, perhaps overcautiously, believed that it was going to be fighting Japanese troops on the ground in California, Oregon, and Washington.

Why build them there? I imagine that Congressmen hoping for massive Federal expenditures in their district during difficult economic times might have had something to do with that. More to the point, where were the coastal defenses, the cleared beaches, the machine gun emplacements, our own Pacific Wall? As I have repeatedly stated, it’s NOT a question of naval battles. Even if the landings had been permitted to go relatively unscathed, as at Anzio, any Japanese landing force was absolutely doomed. Again, the six-nation Anzio landings were almost twice the size that the IJN could have mustered using every ship at its disposal, the Allies were able to keep 3,920 tons supplies flowing directly to the front lines from Napoli on a daily basis,the British Eighth Army and the other half of the US Fifth Army were only fifty miles away on the other side of the Gustav Line, they were fighting in what was essentially neutral ground, and it was all they could do to keep from being wiped out. As it turned out, all the 6th Corps were able to do was hold their little beachhead until the Gustav line fell and the German Fourtheenth Army was forced to retreat.

I don’t really buy Malkin’s argument completely, and I don’t agree that the circumstances justified this mass arrest. I do think it is important to recognize the fear that Americans were operating under at the time. The fifth column actions of Japanese residents in China were probably known to the American government. It is possible that these similar actions by Japanese residents in the Philipines at the start of the war were known to our government as well. Perhaps a bit more willingness to acknowledge these issues–instead of portraying the internment in simplistic, moralistic terms, as many people have done over the years, myself included–might have prevented Malkin’s book.

To me, this half-hearted attempt at a defense – which really strikes me more as Mr. Cramer attempting to be fair than anything else – seems to indicate that Mr. Cramer doesn’t buy Malkin’s argument at all. Nor should he. It’s a long, long way to go from saying that the Japanese just maybe, perhaps, could have come up with a way to pull off the impossible, to stating authoritatively that invasion was imminent, the survival of the nation was seriously at risk and the anti-constitutional internments were therefore justified.

I repeat: Malkin’s hypothesis is both absurd and ignorant. I’ve yet to hear a defense of it on military grounds that holds any water whatsoever. The fact that people with no serious interest in history should know nothing and think less about military logistics is not surprising, but a willingness to ignore such issues once they’ve been raised would be downright contemptible. Logistics may not be the most exciting aspect of military history, but they definitely are not post-WWII hindsight as they have been the primary factor considered by professional military strategists since Hannibal was fighting Rome.