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A Slap’s a Slap: General John L. DeWitt and Four Little Words

by on November 22, 2013


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.]

File Evacuation of Japanese - March 6 1942 Press Release page 1

March 6, 1942 Press Release – Page 1

File Evacuation of Japanese - March 6 1942 Press Release page 2

March 6, 1942 Press Release – Page 2

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.”

File Photographs Folder 3 - DeWitt Gives Testimony April 13 1943

Dewitt Gives Testimony. April 13, 1943

Here is an extract of DeWitt’s testimony before the subcommittee (which his staff apparently prepared):

File Evacuation of Japanese - Extract of Testimony Page 1

Extract of DeWitt Testimony – Page 1

 

File Evacuation of Japanese - Extract of Testimony Page 2

Extract of DeWitt Testimony – Page 2

 

File Evacuation of Japanese - Extract of Testimony Page 3

Extract of DeWitt Testimony – Page 3

 

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:

File Evacuation of Japanese - Phone Transcript with McCloy Page 1 April 14 1943

Phone Transcript with McCloy – April 14, 1943 – Page 1

 

File Evacuation of Japanese - Phone Transcript with McCloy Page 2 April 14 1943

Phone Transcript with McCloy – April 14, 1943 – Page 2

Two days after his testimony, DeWitt gets a call from Gen. George Veazey Strong, the U.S. Army Chief for Intelligence (G-2):

File Evacuation of Japanese - Phone Transcript with Gen. Strong Page 1 April 15 1943

Phone Transcript with General Strong – April 15, 1943 – Page 1

 

File Evacuation of Japanese - Phone Transcript with Gen. Strong  Page 2 April 15 1943

Phone Transcript with General Strong – April 15, 1943 – Page 2

Later that same day, DeWitt speaks again with Secretary McCloy:

File Evacuation of Japanese - Phone Transcript with McCloy Page 1 April 15 1943

Phone Transcript with McCloy – April 15, 1943 – Page 1

File Evacuation of Japanese - Phone Transcript with McCloy Page 2 April 15 1943

Phone Transcript with McCloy – April 15, 1943 – Page 2

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:

File Evacuation of Japanese - Public Opinion Memo July 1 1943 Page 1

Public Opinion Memo – July 1, 1943 – Page 1

 

File Evacuation of Japanese - Public Opinion Memo July 1 1943 Page 2

Public Opinion Memo – July 1, 1943 – Page 2

 

File Evacuation of Japanese - Public Opinion Memo July 1 1943 Page 3

Public Opinion Memo – July 1, 1943 – Page 3

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]


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