Excerpts from an
Oral History Interview with
Karl R. Bendetsen

October 24, 1972

Before concluding this interview, perhaps a summary would be in order.

The brief summation I have in mind is, I believe, historically important. It may serve as a bridge between where we now are and that which I will relate having to do with my sudden and surprising return to the continental United States.

I was temporarily detached from duty in London to deal with a severe problem which had developed in the Relocation Centers following the assumption by the War Relocation Authority of responsibility for supervision of the centers and for accountability for the Japanese themselves. The summary will serve, I would hope, to clarify a widely held misimpression and refute numerous unfounded assertions concerning the entire episode sometimes described as the Japanese Evacuation.

First, about their assets, their lands (Nisei could own land), their possessions, their bank accounts and other assets, their household goods, their growing crops--nothing was confiscated. Their accounts were left intact. Their household goods were inventoried and stored. Warehouse receipts were issued to the owners. Much of it was later shipped to them at Government expense, particularly in the case of those families who relocated themselves in the interior, accepted employment and established new homes.

Lands were farmed, crops harvested, accounts kept of sales at market and proceeds deposited to the respective accounts of the owners.

Whenever desired, Shinto and other religious shrines were moved to the centers.

Second, it was never intended by Executive Order 9066 and certainly not by the Army that the Japanese themselves be held in Relocation Centers. The sole objective was to bring relocation anywhere in the interior--east of the Cascades and Sierras Nevada and north of the southern halves of Arizona and New Mexico. Japanese were urged to relocate voluntarily on their own recognizance and extensive steps were taken to this end. The desire was to relocate them so that they could usefully and gainfully continue raising their families and educate their children while heads of families and young adults became gainfully employed. They were to be free to lease or buy land, raise and harvest crops, go into businesses. They were not to be restricted for the "duration" so long as they did not seek to remain or seek to return to the war "frontier" during hostilities.

In furtherance, from the very beginning I initiated diligent measures to urge the Japanese families to leave with the help and funding (whenever needed) of the WCCA (Wartime Civil Control Administration) on their own recognizance and resettle east of the mountains. To this end, I conferred with the Governors of the seven contiguous states east of the mountains. I called a Governors’ Conference at Salt Lake City. I invited them to urge attendance by members of their cabinets, by members of their legislatures and by the mayors of their communities. It was a large and successful conference. I advised them in full, sought their full cooperation, asked them to inform their citizens and to welcome and help the evacuees to feel welcome without restrictions, to become members of their inland communities and schools and to help them find employment and housing. I told them that these people would become a most constructive segment of their respective populations. These who resettled certainly did. Where needed I told them that the WCCA would provide financial support for a limited period.

Further to this end, I conferred with the elders of each major Japanese community along the Pacific Coast, wherever they were and, as well, in Arizona and New Mexico. I carefully explained all this to them. I urged them to persuade their fellow Japanese to leave before the evacuation to assembly centers began and while it was proceeding. I assured them that the WCCA would provide escort, if requested, by those who felt insecure. We organized convoys and shipped to those, who had resettled, their stored possessions.

This phase of resettlement from the temporary assembly centers came to a regrettable and necessary halt. Hostility toward the Japanese, at first, either nonexistent or minimal, developed quite suddenly and intensively in the western states of the interior, east of the Sierras and the Cascades.

The protection of the evacuees mandated that such a measure be instituted. I visited each assembly center and discussed the reasons for this with leaders among the evacuees. They fully understood. Assurances were given that unremitting efforts would be taken with state and city officials and with community leaders to deal with and to defuse these attitudes. Further assurances were given that resettlement from the ten Relocation Centers would resume in due course. Fortunately, within ninety days or so, these hostile feelings were substantially diminished due to the good offices of officials, community leaders and the press of these interior states. As the process of relocation from the Assembly Centers to the Relocation Centers progressed, so also did the WCCA resume its actions to foster relocation or more properly "resettlement" directly from the Relocation Centers.

All of these promises were fulfilled except for one; a very important one was not. That this became so is for me an eternal mystery.

Over four thousand took advantage of the opportunity to leave on their own recognizance with WCCA help.

What promise was unfulfilled? The War Relocation Authority did nothing whatever to release or to resettle those who had reached the Relocation Centers over which the WRA accepted supervision. This led to smoldering resentment within the centers and later to defiance by organized groups within the centers. The WRA was unable to deal with the problem. I was ordered back from London temporarily to restore tractable conditions.

HESS: It was intended to be a straight relocation.

BENDETSEN: Exactly. Internment was never intended. The intention and purpose was to resettle these persons east of the mountain ranges of the Cascades and Sierra Nevada, away from the sea frontier and away from the relatively open boundaries between Mexico and the states of Arizona and New Mexico.

Some readers may find it useful for reference purposes to here describe the coverage of the official Report dated June 5, 1943 which I prepared for General DeWitt.

The Library of Congress card catalogue reference under the letter "U" is officially titled:

United States Army, Western Defense Command and Fourth Army, Japanese Evacuation from the West Coast

The letter of transmittal to the Chief of Staff of the Army consisted of ten paragraphs, in itself a brief summary.

The Report is in nine parts consisting of 28 chapters with extensive reference materials and special reports appended. These reference materials included the reports of many Federal civilian agencies which had been placed under General DeWitt’s direction by order of the President. In addition, various primary source materials were selected and bound together. Two of these special reports, for example, were from the Farm Security Administration of the Department of Agriculture and the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, a part of the Federal Reserve System. The Special Reports numbered twelve in all.

The official Report, together with all of its appended and supplemental materials, was filed in the Library of Congress and remains there. Other sets were filed in the War Department, in the custody of the Adjutant General (now the Department of Army).

General DeWitt recommended that his Report and all of its supplements be declassified and published immediately. His recommendation was adopted. At the same time, he also recommended that the type which had been set for the printing of the Report, special reports and appendixes remain intact for additional printings, so that distribution of the Report and its associated material could be quickly made available to Federal and state agencies, public libraries, colleges and universities. This was done.

In the concluding paragraphs of, the Report, General DeWitt states that the agencies under his Command, military and civilian alike, as well as the efforts of the cooperating Federal agencies which have been placed under his direction "responded to the difficult assignment devolving upon them with unselfish devotion to duty." The paragraph (8) goes on to state: "To the Japanese themselves great credit is due for the manner in which they * * * responded to and complied with the orders of exclusion."

Executive Order No. 9066 did not relate exclusively to persons of Japanese ancestry. It established wartime civil control over the Western Sea Frontier on a broad basis. The Western Sea Frontier here described consisted of the Pacific Coastal regions lying west of the Cascade and Sierra Nevada Mountains as well as of Alaska. The Executive Order dealt with German and Italian aliens, as well as with persons of Japanese ancestry.

The Executive Order also provided for the designation of "military areas" from which all persons would be excluded other than those expressly authorized to enter. The principal "military area" so designated was Alaska. An agency entitled "Alaska Travel Control" governed all travel to and from Alaska.

Chapter Two of the Report discusses the need for military control and for evacuation. Chapter Three discusses the establishment of wartime civil control under Executive Order 9066. Chapter Four discusses the emergence of controlled evacuation. Chapter Five discusses the separation of jurisdiction over the evacuation on the one hand and the relocation on the other.

Subsequent chapters discuss the evacuation methods, the organization and functions of the cooperating Federal agencies.

Source: http://www.trumanlibrary.org/oralhist/bendet1.htm
Main page: http://www.trumanlibrary.org/oralhist/bendet.htm
Oral History Interview with Karl R. Bendetsen
General counsel, Department of the Army, 1949; Assistant Secretary of the Army, 1950-52; Under Secretary of the Army, 1952.
New York City, New York; October 24, 1972; by Jerry N. Hess
For complete interview on evacuation and relocation:


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