By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans

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9780674006393: By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans

On February 19, 1942, following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and Japanese Army successes in the Pacific, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed a fateful order. In the name of security, Executive Order 9066 allowed for the summary removal of Japanese aliens and American citizens of Japanese descent from their West Coast homes and their incarceration under guard in camps. Amid the numerous histories and memoirs devoted to this shameful event, FDR's contributions have been seen as negligible. Now, using Roosevelt's own writings, his advisors' letters and diaries, and internal government documents, Greg Robinson reveals the president's central role in making and implementing the internment and examines not only what the president did but why.

Robinson traces FDR's outlook back to his formative years, and to the early twentieth century's racialist view of ethnic Japanese in America as immutably "foreign" and threatening. These prejudicial sentiments, along with his constitutional philosophy and leadership style, contributed to Roosevelt's approval of the unprecedented mistreatment of American citizens. His hands-on participation and interventions were critical in determining the nature, duration, and consequences of the administration's internment policy.

By Order of the President attempts to explain how a great humanitarian leader and his advisors, who were fighting a war to preserve democracy, could have implemented such a profoundly unjust and undemocratic policy toward their own people. It reminds us of the power of a president's beliefs to influence and determine public policy and of the need for citizen vigilance to protect the rights of all against potential abuses.

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About the Author:

Greg Robinson is Assistant Professor of History, Université du Québec à Montréal.

Review:

Robinson...focuses on one aspect of Roosevelt's presidency during World War II, the internment of Japanese Americans. Two recent books, Kenneth S. Davis's FDR: The War President, 1940-43...and Thomas Fleming's The New Dealers' War: F.D.R. and the War within World War II...only briefly mention the internment. Using memos, reports, diary entries, letters, and other documents written by FDR and his staff, this book offers the first in-depth look at the role of Roosevelt and his advisers in making the decision to intern. While racist attitudes were widespread and many people influenced the final decision to issue Executive Order 9066, Robinson also cites Roosevelt's long-held belief that the Japanese were innately different and therefore did not deserve citizenship. This refusal to accept them as citizens along with considerable war hysteria allowed him to strip them of their rights for the duration of the war. The book sheds some light on a dark episode in our history. (Katharine L. Kan Library Journal)

A thorough, scholarly, and troubling analysis of FDR's decision in the early days of WWII to hold in internment camps more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans...According to Robinson, FDR viewed Japanese-Americans as Japanese first, American second. Despite virulent rumors to the contrary, there was no sabotage of US facilities by Japanese-Americans (as J. Edgar Hoover repeatedly informed FDR), but wartime paranoia (especially after Pearl Harbor) soon held sway. The author also believes political pressures from the West Coast influenced FDR, as did his unenlightened racial views (views not shared by his wife, who crusaded for the release of those interned). The president seems to have been uninterested in hearing contrary opinions--even when his principal advisers were urging him to rescind Executive Order 9066, the internment authorization, which he signed on February 19, 1942. It wasn't until late summer of 1944 that the releases began. Splendid scholarship shines a harsh light on one of the darkest episodes in American history. (Kirkus Reviews)

What Greg Robinson shows, in this careful and fair-minded study, is that Roosevelt himself, far from being the scourge of racism portrayed in New-Deal hagiography, had a long history of racial prejudice against the Japanese, which had been exacerbated by the Japanese attack on China...Robinson indulges Roosevelt somewhat when he absolves him of the charge of racism, and convicts him only of a blend of weak administration and deadly indifference, which, he says, was informed by racial hostility but not synonymous with it. (The Economist 2001-09-22)

Greg Robinson's By Order of the President provides a thoughtful analysis and adapts a psycho-historical approach to help unlock the clues to an ostensibly inexplicable act by FDR, an ardent defender of human liberty. By delving first into FDR's early years, Robinson proceeds to other experiences that may have shaped his thinking and led FDR to ultimately ink Executive Order 9066...In the end, with his lucid writing style, Robinson's gift is an ability to cogently present the dilemmas of the time and show how FDR erred: "Two closely interrelated elements stand out strongly as determinative in the President's decision and his subsequent actions. One of these was undoubtedly Roosevelt's own negative beliefs about Japanese Americans, while the other was a failure of political and moral leadership that resulted from weaknesses in his presidential style and administrative organization." This analysis is particularly thought-provoking in light of recent events, and it echoes George Santayana's warning for those who forget history. (Mark T. Fung Christian Science Monitor 2001-10-04)

In this lucid, comprehensive and balanced examination, Robinson maintains that Roosevelt's decision was, in fact, "not fundamentally inconsistent with his overall political philosophy and world view." Rather, a deep-seated belief that Japanese-Americans were biologically "incapable of being true Americans" enabled FDR, though he "deplored open prejudice," to be "willingly misled" by bad counsel and misinformation about the perceived Japanese-American threat, despite reliable reports, including one by J. Edgar Hoover, to the contrary...Robinson's conscientious arguments and meticulous documentation movingly clarify a little-understood failure of American democracy. (Charlotte Sheedy Publishers Weekly 2001-09-24)

By Order of the President by Greg Robinson is a harsh but well-documented indictment of a great president, Franklin Roosevelt, for moral and administrative failures in "the most tragic act of his administration." The book's strength is that it doesn't excuse Roosevelt, but places his actions in the context of their times and his background. Long before Pearl Harbor, racist views of Asians were widely accepted. (Bob Minzesheimer USA Today 2001-10-23)

By Order of the President is a fascinating and powerful examination of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's involvement in (and responsibility for) the military orders that led to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Lucidly organized, well written, fair minded, and extensively researched, Greg Robinson's work was a pleasure to read. (David C. Lundsgaard Find Law's Book Reviews 2001-10-26)

Robinson argues persuasively that Roosevelt, who shared the anti-Japanese prejudices of his age and class, played a vital role, sometimes actively, more often passively, in the sorry affair. He went along with the War Department and west coast politicians who favoured internment; took very little interest in the way that the policy was carried out and failed to take a lead in bringing the policy to an early end or in defending Japanese-Americans against the charge of disloyalty at a time when only he could offer such a lead. The very qualities, Robinson suggests, that made Roosevelt a great president--his pragmatism, devotion to compromise and interest in results--in this instance proved disastrous. This is a thorough, persuasive and, as it turned out, extremely timely book. (Ben Rogers Financial Times 2001-12-01)

An outstanding new book by historian Greg Robinson...By Order of the President...revisits this disturbing period and the President's role in it...Robinson sees a complex intersection of economic and social forces behind the President's decision to intern Japanese-Americans. Feeding these forces was racism...The author avoids the trap of branding FDR as an out-and-out racist. Instead, his portrait of Roosevelt is carefully nuanced...This is an extremely valuable book. It is well written, balanced--and disturbing. (S. Scott Rohrer National Journal 2001-12-08)

Robinson focuses not on the internees but on the president who signed Executive Order 9066 that put them in internment camps. If internment is now seen as a blot on the Roosevelt era, the president himself has generally been viewed as above the fray. Robinson's judicious exploration of the record shows that Roosevelt was, in fact, deeply involved, his racial attitudes helping to determine the fates of nearly 120,000 Japanese American internees. (Tom Engelhardt Los Angeles Times 2002-01-13)

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