Today’s post is written by Alan Walker, a processing archivist at Archives II in College Park.
Lt. General John L. DeWitt was in charge of the U.S. Army’s Western Defense Command in 1942 and was instrumental in the development of Executive Order 9066, which directed the internment of all Japanese Americans living on the West Coast.
[Click on any image to enlarge.]
By the spring of 1943, Japanese Americans were volunteering to serve in the armed forces, and there was growing sentiment to allow them and their families to return home. When asked his views on these developments during testimony before a subcommittee of the House Naval Affairs Committee, DeWitt is reported to have said “A Jap’s a Jap – it makes no difference whether he is an American citizen or not.”
Here is an extract of DeWitt’s testimony before the subcommittee (which his staff apparently prepared):
DeWitt’s word hit the newspapers and radio, and everything blew up. DeWitt was immediately directed to explain himself. Here is a transcript of a telephone conversation between DeWitt and Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy:
Two days after his testimony, DeWitt gets a call from Gen. George Veazey Strong, the U.S. Army Chief for Intelligence (G-2):
Later that same day, DeWitt speaks again with Secretary McCloy:
Aside from these mild rebukes, DeWitt was never censured for his remarks, and his career did not suffer as a result; he later became commandant of the Army and Navy Staff College.
In 1963 DeWitt’s son donated his papers relating to military service to the National Archives. These documents are found in a file labeled “Evacuation of Japanese”, along with this self-serving tally of public opinion (again prepared by his staff) regarding DeWitt’s stance against Japanese Americans:
It’s interesting to consider how we decide what to keep and what to discard that represents our life, our work, and our legacy. In his later years, did John DeWitt ever voice regrets over his actions during the war? Were Japanese Americans to be always and forevermore “Japs”?
All records from “Gen. John L. DeWitt Personal Papers – Records Relating to Military Service, 1921-1926”, National Archives Identifier 7432140 [coming in OPA soon]