"sublime insanity" and the defense of internmentDuring the Cold War, and in the unstable geopolitical climate since the Cold War came to an end, scholars of military strategy have studied an important question regarding deterrence and weapons of mass destruction: a rational actor can be prevented from an attack by the threat of massive retaliation -- but how do you deter a non-rational actor?
Looking for examples of recklessly irrational military behavior, analysts turn to an interesting example. Here are the opening paragraphs of an essay by Scott D. Sagan, "The Origins of the Pacific War," which appeared in the Journal of Interdisciplinary History in the Spring of 1988 (available through JSTOR):
"Whom the Gods would destroy they first make mad," declared Congressman Hamilton Fish on December 8, 1941, the day after infamy. Minutes before, Franklin D. Roosevelt had asked Congress to declare war on the nation that had just launched the "unprovoked and dastardly" attack on Pearl Harbor, and Fish, an ardent isolationist, rose to support the president's request. "The Japanese," he said, "have gone stark, raving mad, and have, by their unprovoked attack[,] committed military, naval, and national suicide."Here's a little more detail from the New York Times editorial that ran on page 22 of that newspaper on December 8, 1941:
Although others did not quote the classics, this madness theme was echoed throughout American newspapers that day: "sublime insanity," declared the New York Times; "the act of a mad dog," the Los Angeles Times announced; "an insane adventure that for fatalistic abandon is unsurpassed in the history of the world," argued the Philadelphia Inquirer. In December 1941, most observers agreed with Winston Churchill's statement that, since American military potential vastly outweighed Japan's, the Tokyo government's decision to go to war was "difficult to reconcile...with prudence, or even sanity." (ellipsis Sagan's)
Whether Japan has yielded at last to pressure from Hitler, who has obviously wished for many months to deflect American power from the Atlantic to the Pacific, or whether this is primarily and essentially an independent Japanese adventure, launched by a military clique in Tokyo whose powers of self-deception now rise to a state of sublime insanity, we cannot know until events have given more perspective. It is possible that the second hypothesis is the more credible one -- since Hitler, much as he may wish to direct our attention to the Pacific, can scarcely desire at this time the open and formal entrance of the United States into a war which will certainly and automatically find us openly and formally at war with Germany as well before that war is finished. These are conjectures of great interest and importance. But they do not count in the face of explosive facts. The only thing that matters now is that a deliberate attempt has been made by an enemy Power to destroy the defenses of America.So how much of a threat did Japan, with its terrifying fifth column of Japanese-Americans (who didn't actually attack anything or anyone, and later reported dutifully for removal and internment), threaten the country?
To that we will reply. We will reply with our full force, without panic and without losing sight of our objectives. We will make war upon Japan and we will put an end to these interminable and unbearable threats of Japanese aggression. But in making war on Japan we will not overestimate the ability of Japan to do us harm; we will not mistake the lesser danger for the greater danger, and we will not forget that Hitler, and not Tokyo, is the greatest threat to our security. The real battle of our times will not be fought in the Far East. It will be fought on the English Channel. We can count on our government to recognize this fact. We can count on it to plan a strategy of war which takes account of the imperative necessity of maintaining an uninterrupted flow of strength to the main battlefront in Europe. If Hitler is smashed, the situation in the Far East will take care of itself automatically. But if Hitler wins in Europe, we shall be in deadly danger, even if we have crushed Japan.
Here's a final hint. The historian Roger McGrath has written about the internment in terms that would be well familiar to Michelle Malkin; six months before her book came out, McGrath published an essay that may as well have been the Reader's Digest version: "What MAGIC reveals is stunning: hundreds of resident Japanese were acting as spies, feeding information to Japan."
But McGrath has also written about his own World War II childhood on the coast of California:
Unless somebody was alive at the time and old enough to appreciate the event, or knows someone who was, it is difficult for anyone today to understand the fury and rage that swept through America after the initial shock wore off. On the Pacific Coast, fear of a Japanese invasion was widespread. For many Californians, during the early months of 1942, it was not if but when and where. In Pacific Palisades, where my family lived, men and boys, carrying deer rifles and shotguns, patrolled the bluffs, night and day, and scanned the beaches and the sea for Japanese submarines and landing craft. Other men patrolled the streets at night, checking for light leaking from blackout curtains.Nations that expect to be attacked on the coast don't send kids out to the bluffs with dad's rabbit gun. If the government had genuinely expected, based upon MAGIC decrypts, that "submarines and landing craft" were coming in an invasion that would be supported by a fifth column, then real soldiers, with real weapons of war, would have been dug in along the coast -- supported by artillery, above beaches clogged with heavy obstacles. McGrath, an internment defender, tells us that everybody knew the Japanese were coming, and the MAGIC decrypts told top officials that the Japanese were preparing a fifth column attack in support, and boys with shotguns stood ready to keep the Japanese from taking Brentwood. Birdshot does wonders against landing craft.
There was, in short, fear in the streets. Popular sentiment -- popular hysteria, wholly understandable and wholly unsupported -- was that the Japanese were a threat to California and the entire western coast. I'll take McGrath at his word: fury and rage swept through America.
The government knew better. And Michelle Malkin should have known better.
Perhaps historians should also be studying how they can deter non-rational actors.