Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 27, 2018

The Dark Side of the New Deal: FDR and the Japanese-Americans

Filed under: Counterpunch,Japan,racism — louisproyect @ 1:36 pm

Boys Behind Barbed Wire (Norito Takamoto, Albert Masaichi, and Hisashi Sansui), 1944, Manzanar concentration camp


Not long ago, I had lunch with Arn Kawano, a friend and Marxmail subscriber whose parents had been interred during WWII for no other reason than being Japanese-Americans living in California. I was anxious to discuss a film with him that I had reviewed recently titled “Resistance at Tule Lake”, which described how Japanese-Americans stood up for their rights as citizens against FDR’s fascist-like Executive Order 9066 that gave the green light to the camps.

Arn, who has a law degree, told me that despite liberal obsessions with constitutional rights, there is very little to protect such citizens when a government acts in the name of a national emergency. If anything, FDR’s willingness to shred the constitution should alert those invoking the New Deal as some kind of golden era for democracy and human rights to look more closely and objectively at American history. To give you an idea of the inability of American liberals to comprehend the depravity of FDR’s internment camps, Herbert Wechsler, an attorney who was part of the Nuremberg prosecution team, was also the government’s lawyer in a case defending the legality of Executive Order 9066. Later on, when Wechsler was teaching at the Columbia University law school, a student named Arn Kawano asked him if he had to do it all over again, would he have defended 9066? When he answered yes, Arn gathered up his books and walked out of the classroom.

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  1. […] via The Dark Side of the New Deal: FDR and the Japanese-Americans — Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Mar… […]

    Pingback by The Dark Side of the New Deal: FDR and the Japanese-Americans — Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist | James' Ramblings — November 27, 2018 @ 5:25 pm

  2. May I suggest this- if you don’t know it already: FDR had an interesting life prior to being POTUS… read this ( and your followers may get some insight)

    Click to access Sutton_Wall_Street_and_FDR-3.pdf

    Comment by nickweechblog — November 28, 2018 @ 6:29 pm

  3. Nick, your link is awfully long. Do you care to summarize in 150 words or less? After reading your summary I will decide whether or not I want to read the whole thing.

    Comment by Curt Kastens — November 28, 2018 @ 8:57 pm

  4. A great article. Here in Northern California, the internment remains a historically powerful experience as you can imagine. As with Japanese Americans in the Bay Area, Japanese Americans in Sacramento were forced to sell off nearly everything and abandon their homes, businesses and properties.

    The Northern California Chapter of the ACLU opposed the national ACLU’s refusal to challenge Roosevelt’s executive order. Threatened with discipline, the Northern California chapter developed a separate, independent stream of funding, which endures to this day.

    But, to your point, liberals will abandon their fidelity to constitutional principles and the rule of law under the pressure of political expediency, especially during a national crisis like wartime. I think that we will see this happen fairly rapidly in regard to Trump’s anti-immigration policies at the border.

    Comment by Richard Estes — November 29, 2018 @ 1:21 am

  5. At least as important, if not more, was the way the New Deal work programmes were explicitly designed not to benefit African-Americans

    NB: this is a copy of a comment I have left on the Counterpunch Facebook page:

    The title of this article suggests that there was only one “dark side” to the New Deal. However a book by Ira Katznelson, “Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time”, points to at least one other, which should be just as much of concern to Marxists as the internment of the Japanese.
    This was an explicit agreement sealed with the Southern Democrats (who were of course almost all white racists at that time), explicitly excluding almost all black workers from the many benefits of the New Deal’s work programmes.

    I haven’t yet read the Katznelson book, which came out in 2013, but it was very well reviewed in the London Review of Books at this address: https://www.lrb.co.uk/…/david-runciman/destiny-v-democracy.
    I’m surprised that this side of the New Deal is so little known about, particularly at this time when the indisputable advantages gained at the time by white workers are being trumpeted as an example to follow.

    An extract from David Runciman’s LRB article :
    The National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) of 1933 passed through Congress with emphatic majorities in both Houses; Southern representatives intervened only to strengthen its provisions where they felt that insufficient attention was being paid to the desperate hardships faced by their constituents. But the Southerners were playing a double game. They wanted to maximise the help the federal government provided to the worst hit parts of the country, while at the same time minimising the amount of control the federal government could exercise over the way the help was distributed within individual states. In calculating the scale of the emergency in the South, they saw to it that everyone’s misfortune was included. But in calculating how the South could benefit from government assistance, they made sure that it was only whites who counted….

    When it came to drawing up the legislation that underpinned the New Deal, Southern members of Congress made sure that segregation was not simply recognised: it was reinforced. So the NIRA codes that established minimum wages and maximum hours for workers explicitly excluded domestic and farm labour, thus ensuring that the vast majority of African Americans in the South would not be covered by their provisions. Roosevelt also agreed to exemptions for various Southern industries, including citrus packing and cotton ginning. He knew what he was doing. ‘It is not the purpose of the administration,’ he announced in 1934, ‘by sudden or explosive change, to impair Southern industry by refusing to recognise traditional differentials.’ In order to count as ‘Southern’, an industry needed only to show that the majority of its workers in a given state were black. This produced strange anomalies. Fertiliser production in Delaware, where nine out of ten workers were black, fell under a Southern code, whereas other industries in the same state that employed mainly white workers were included in the NIRA provisions.

    Comment by sharpparis — November 29, 2018 @ 9:14 am

  6. sharpparis: I was vaguley aware of this aspect of the New Deal, but appreciate the depth of your presentation of it.

    Comment by Richard Estes — November 29, 2018 @ 7:20 pm

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