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Against the tide

In the midst of war hysteria, the Register's R.C. Hoiles, almost alone among newspaper publishers, challenged the internment of Japanese-Americans in 1942

R.C. Hoiles


One of the reasons I so despise political correctness is that the politically correct are notoriously haughty about their own morality when they denounce things that happened many moons ago and push ahead reparations for this or that injustice.

One wonders, as the PCers bask in the glow of modern approval, what they might actually have done while the said evil was flourishing. Really, it doesn't take much moral courage to denounce, for instance, 19th century slavery from the vantage point of the United States circa 2005.

If you're looking for courage, then you've got to look for those individuals who denounced injustice whileit was happening.

That's why the story of this newspaper's early publisher, R.C. Hoiles, and his near-singular voice in denouncing the internment of Japanese-Americans (and residents of Japanese descent living legally in the United States) during World War II has become the stuff of legend in this company and in the newspaper industry.

I write about it this week, because this is the week our company celebrates Founder's Day, which commemorates the birth of the late Mr. Hoiles on Nov. 24, 1878. He acquired the Santa Ana Register in 1935 and founded Freedom Communications, which now owns 70 daily and weekly news publications and eight television stations.

Author Michelle Malkin wrote a recent book justifying the internment of Japanese-Americans in the name of national security. But most people now believe it was wrong - a violation of the civil liberties guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution and a moral affront.

About 110,000 people of Japanese descent living in California, Washington, Oregon and southern Arizona were forcibly moved starting in 1942 into 10 camps located from Arkansas to the California desert.

"At that time, with the invasion of the West Coast looming as an imminent possibility, the Western Defense Command of the United States Army decided that the military situation required the removal of all persons of Japanese ancestry from a broad coastal strip," the War Relocation Authority explained in a 1943 document.

What were newspapers saying?

An editorial in the March 6, 1942, San Francisco News argued: "Japanese leaders in California who are counseling their people, both aliens and native-born, to cooperate with the Army in carrying out the evacuation plans are, in effect, offering the best possible way for all Japanese to demonstrate their loyalty to the United States."

By contrast, here was Hoiles on Feb. 5, 1942, before the internment order was announced: "The recommendation of the grand jury to have all alien enemies removed from Orange County calls for a difficult undertaking. Every bit of wealth that these workers are prevented from creating, which we so badly need during the war, will have to be created by the labor of some other worker.

"Of course, there is no such thing as absolute security. We must run some risks in every move. Risks are life itself.

"It would seem that we should not become too skeptical of the loyalty of those people who were born in a foreign country and have lived in the country as good citizens for many years. It is very hard to believe that they are dangerous."

Throughout the year, the Register printed columns that worried, in general, about the state of civil liberties in the nation. By October, Hoiles stepped up the criticism of the internment specifically, calling for a rollback of the order and a rethinking of the evacuation process.

In an Oct. 14, 1942, editorial, the Register argued, "Few, if any, people ever believed that evacuation of the Japanese was constitutional. It was a result of emotion and fright rather than being in harmony with the Constitution and the inherent rights that belong to all citizens."

The paper quoted Harry Emerson Fosdick: "Liberty is always dangerous, but it is the safest thing we have." The Register then argued: "We cannot help but believe that we would shorten the war and lose fewer lives and less property if we would rescind the order and let the Japanese return and go to work, until such time as we have reason to suspect any individuals of being guilty of being disloyal to America."

Hoiles reprinted a long column by the Christian Advocateon Oct. 14, which was highly critical of the internment. It argued that the evacuation was based largely on fictional stories of sabotage by Japanese people in Honolulu during the attack on Pearl Harbor. It blamed civilian authorities for allowing such reports to generate anti-Japanese hysteria.

The Register followed up with another stinging column the next day, Oct. 15, in which writer Clarence Hall argued:

"It seems that we are remembering, belatedly, that more than two thirds of them are citizens ... against whom no charge of disloyalty has been brought. ... It seems that throughout the land there is a mounting suspicion that their removal en masse became a 'military necessity' only after a carefully managed campaign of hysteria - promoted by elements long eager to rid the coast of the Japanese and by opportunist politicians anxious to maintain their places at the public feeding trough ... ."

On Oct. 26, 1942, the Register printed another long column by Hall, which attested to the great patriotism and sacrifice of Japanese-Americans, despite their evacuation and internment. Hoiles later took up the cause of Japanese-Americans who were seeking a return of their property after the evacuation was over.

Decades later, here's what the Japanese-American Citizens League said regarding Hoiles' induction into the California Newspaper Hall of Fame: "Mr. Hoiles was the only one with the courage of his convictions in taking a strong editorial stand against evacuation and relocation ... . In his editorials in the Register and other Freedom newspapers, Mr. Hoiles challenged the government's right to forcibly relocate American citizens."

As I perused the Santa Ana Register's 1942 archives, I realized how hard this must have been. Only fringe elements seemed to oppose what were widely viewed as important security measures.

We were at war - a big world war. It was by no means certain that we would win the war. Headlines broadcast attacks on American troops by the Japanese. Pearl Harbor had already been attacked. During the summer of 1942, Japanese forces attacked Dutch Harbor, Alaska. In the fall, they set fires in the Oregon forests. The internment debate came amid concerns that the Japanese would be taking the war to U.S. soil.

On April 2, 1942, the military announced the construction of a new shipyard in Newport Beach. In March, the newspaper reported plans to prevent sabotage at Huntington Beach oil fields. Plans were announced March 19 to build a dirigible base south of Santa Ana to conduct patrols of the Pacific Ocean for the enemy. The war was not some distant concern.

Talk of sacrifice, scarcity, need for workers was everywhere. Newspapers printed lists of names of those drafted to fight, and often to die, in Europe and Asia. The news pages were filled with discussions about rationing, wage and price controls. The evacuation was viewed as a secondary issue, a minor sacrifice in the context of death, destruction and deprivation.

It took a peculiarly principled publisher to criticize the evacuation during these wartime events.

Most news coverage was uncritical of the evacuation. A May 21, 1942, news story in the San Francisco Chronicle headlined, "S.F. Clear of All but 6 Sick Japs," reported that "[q]uickly, painlessly, protected by military police from any conceivable 'incident,' they climbed into the six waiting special Greyhound buses. There were tears - but not from the Japanese. They came from those who stayed behind ... . By noon, all 274 were at Tanforan [race track], registered, assigned to their temporary new homes and sitting down to lunch."

I also read a column in the Chronicle denouncing the internment, arguing that "[f]ears and prejudices directed against minority communities are too easy to evoke and exaggerate."

That was in 1998. I'm pleased that the Register's publisher said similar things when it mattered, in 1942.

CONTACT US: (714) 796-7823or sgreenhut@ocregister.com
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