FDR’s Granddaughter: Japanese Internment “Terrible Political Decision Driven by Fear” and Eleanor “Spoke out Against” Internment

December 11th, 2015

Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, the granddaughter of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt has issued a statement in response to Donald Trump’s invocation of FDR’s internment of Japanese-Americans as a defense for his recently-announced policies.

“For Donald Trump to cite my grandfather and internment as a defense of his own intolerant and divisive agenda is reprehensible. The internment of thousands of Japanese Americans during World War II is a sad part of our history and, as a part of my grandfather’s administration, a terrible political decision driven by fear. Japanese Americans, who were loyal citizens and who served bravely in the U.S. military, were scarred not only by the physical deprivation of internment but by the denial of the dignity and respect of their own country. As a nation, internment weakened us all. It is a tragic reminder of what happens when we allow fear and hysteria to trump our values.

Is that how she excuses any culpability by her Grandfather? In other words, “FDR was just afraid, and made a terrible decision.” That’s all. (So much for “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” I don’t think it is ever appropriate for children, and especially grandchildren, to be accountable for the actions of their ancestors. But here, I think describing internment as a “terrible political decision driven by fear” serves the purpose of excusing FDR’s actions.

Anna also offers a limited defense of her grandmother, with whom she shares a middle name.

“Historians and leaders across the political spectrum agree internment was a grievous mistake and a violation of basic human rights. It detracts from the amazing efforts by my grandfather to rescue our economy and build the foundation of America’s great middle class. My grandmother, Eleanor, spoke out publicly against the policy immediately and during its implementation. Internment was wrong then and any effort to discriminate against a group of people based on their race or religion is wrong today.”

I think the statement that Eleanor was an advocate against internment is tough to swallow. While she may have initially had some misgivings about it, she became a willing participant in the propaganda pitch to sell the internment camps to the American people In October 1943, after visiting the Gila River “Relocation Center” in Arizona, Mrs. Roosevelt published a letter in Collier’s Magazine defending the policy, reproduced by the National Parks Service.  The first sentence could be from the mouth of Donald Trump if you replace “Japanese” with “Muslim.”

We are at war with Japan, and yet we have American citizens, born and brought up in this country whose parents are Japanese. This is the essential problem.

Eleanor explains how Japanese immigrants–including their children who gained citizenship by dint of the 14th Amendment– did not assimilate.

This large group of Japanese on the West Coast preserved those family traditions, because since they were feared they were also discriminated against. Japanese were not always welcome buyers of real estate. They were not always welcome neighbors, or participators in community undertakings. As always happens with groups that are discriminated against, they gather together and live among their own racial group. The younger ones made friends in school and college and became a part of the community life, and prejudices lessened against them. Their elders were not always sympathetic to the changes thus brought about in manners and customs.

But then there are the Japanese-Americans who maintain their loyalty to Japan

There is another group in this number of American born Japanese called the Kibei. The parents of this group had kept complete loyalty to Japan and some of them were acting as agents of that government in this country. Some of them longed for the day when they could return and live at home in Japan, so they sent their children, born in this country, back to Japan for their education. Some of these young people returned to this country in 1938 and 1939. They saw war coming in Japan and apparently were not loyal enough to Japan to want to go to war on the Japanese side, and neither did they have enough loyalty to the United States, since they did not grow up here, to serve this country. They form a group which is given scant respect either by their elders who are loyal to Japan or from the Japanese who are loyal to the United States.

After Pearl Harbor, there was “no time to investigate”:

Now we come to Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. We see the problems which faced the Pacific coast from this date on. There was no time to investigate families, or to adhere strictly to the American rule that a man is innocent until he is proven guilty. These people were not convicted of any crime, but emotions ran too high, too many people wanted to reek vengeance on Oriental-looking people.

So what did they do? To “live up to the American idea of justice,” they were rounded up in internment camps:

In an effort to live up to the American idea of justice as far as possible, the Army laid down the rules for what they considered the safety of our West Coast. They demanded and they supervised the evacuation. A civil authority was set up, the War Relocation Authority, to establish permanent camps and take over the custody and maintenance of these people, both for their own safety and for the safety of the country.

The First Lady dismisses concerns about this “strange treatment,” as this was a “safety measure.”

To many young people this must have seemed strange treatment of American citizens, and one cannot be surprised at the reaction which manifests itself not only in young Japanese American, but in others who had known them well and been educated with them, and who bitterly ask: “What price American citizenship?” Nevertheless most of them recognized the fact that this was a safety measure.

Roosevelt even defends the War Relocation Authority for not providing the detainees with enough food, explaining that there was a nationwide ration in effect.

When I read the accusations against the Authority for acquiring quantities of canned goods, and laying in stocks of food, I realized there was a lack of understanding of one basic fact, namely, that government authorities such as this have to live up to the law, and if it is the law of the land that we are rationed, we are rationed everywhere — in prisons, in hospitals, in camps, wherever we may be, individuals are rationed and even the War Relocation Authority cannot buy more than is allowed for the number of people they have to feed.

In this 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, it is sickening to even see the phrase “law of the land” in such an putrid piece of propaganda.

The First Lady then describes how everyone at the camps was able to work, which is important.

We can be grateful that everyone has work, for work is a great panacea in all difficult human relationships.

I think this is a loose translation of Arbeit Macht Frei.

Roosevelt also laments our immigration policy for admitting Japanese–as well as Germans and Scandinavians–as a “mistake.”

We needed people to develop our country, but we should never have allowed any groups to settle as groups where they created a little German or Japanese or Scandinavian island and did not melt into our general community pattern. Some of the South American countries have learned from our mistakes and are now planning to scatter their needed immigration.

To undo a mistake is always harder than not to create one originally but we seldom have the foresight. Therefore we have no choice but to try to correct our past mistakes and I hope that the recommendations of the staff of the War Relocation Authority, who have come to know individually most of the Japanese Americans in these various camps, will be accepted.

Here are some propaganda photographs of the First Lady touring the internment camp.




“My grandmother, Eleanor, spoke out publicly against the policy immediately and during its implementation.” But after a while, she came around to being a willing participant.