Submitted by Dick Martin
In 1942, shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and at the peak of American paranoia about a Japanese spy network existing among the Japanese population living mostly on the West Coast of America, FDR made the controversial decision to inter over 120,000 Japanese, many American citizens, in internment camps throughout America. Over the years since, we have all been told and accepted that this act by FDR was racist and a sad chapter in America’s history. Like most questions of decisions made by past leaders, in hindsight, it is easy to condemn FDR’s action as racist. Would you still believe that if you were told that FDR’s policy might have saved many American lives if it had been instituted on the Hawaiian Islands in addition to the continental United States?
A Japanese spy network did exist on the Hawaiian Islands where FDR’s edict did not apply. The network may have been instrumental in the successful Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Leading one of the spy networks was Takeo Yoshikawa, who thought his collection of facts about Pearl Harbor anywhere he could find them, even from the air, were instrumental in the Japanese success in its attack of Pearl Harbor. The information they collected gave attacking Japanese pilots an excellent idea of what they were up against.
Because of Yoshikawa’s tendency to embellish his accomplishments, his effectiveness is difficult to determine. However, it really does not matter, because other more effective and secretive Japanese spies at Pearl Harbor probably did exist. If they had been in an internment camp, they could not have collected all the information on Pearl Harbor and passed it on to the attacking Japanese force. How many American lives could have been saved if Yoshikawa and other Japanese spies had not been allowed to roam freely at Pearl Harbor? Would saving American lives justify the internment camps? It is a slippery slope question that is not easily answered. If you lost a loved one in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, you would be forgiven for having even a more difficult time answering the question.
Yoshikawa’s story is taken from the December 2017 WWII magazine.