Forty years ago last spring -- and more than 30 years before Watergate took the wraps off FBI and CIA break-ins -- my father burglarized the Japanese consulate in Los Angeles for the U.S. government.
He was a naval intelligence officer at the time, directing counterespionage efforts on the West Coast in the years before Pearl Harbor, and "the Tachibana affair," as he referred to it later, remained for the rest of his life a source of quiet pride.
It was not only an exercise in cloak-and-dagger counterintelligence, he reasoned. It was an effort to prove people innocent as well as guilty.
For the break-in, in addition to yielding detailed evidence of the Japanese spy network on the West Coast, also produced evidence supporting one of my father's most fiercely held beliefs: that the overwhelming majority of Japanese-Americans in the nation would prove loyal American citizens in any war with Japan -- loyal despite racial discrimination against them as cruel as any this nation has produced.
Few others held that opinion then, and not many were willing to listen.
Four months after Pearl Harbor, in a combination of racial paranoia, political scapegoating and economic piracy, more than 111,000 Japanese-Americans -- more than 78,000 of them American citizens -- were stripped of their rights and property and imprisoned without a hearing in concentration camps.
In an era when intelligence tactics are often suspect and all civil rights defenders smugly tagged, it may be instructive to remember that the many voices raised against the nisei included those of Earl Warren, later Chief Justice of the United States -- who accelerated a California political career with his Yellow Peril speeches -- and Justice William O. Douglas, who justified the jailing for the U.S. Supreme Court. Among the handful supporting the rights of the nisei was J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI.
And lest all this history seem too ancient, some of the players are still on the stage. Karl R. Bendetsen, who Dr. A.M. Beck, one of the Army's chief historians, says was the central figure in the relocation and internment of Japanese Americans, lives in wealth and prestige today in Washington, his war role largely forgotten. He said earlier this year he still thinks the camps weren't a bad idea. According to 1980 testimony before a House Judiciary subcommittee, Bendetsen devised a decree that anyone with one-sixteenth Japanese blood was transportable as a public enemy. In Nazi Germany it took twice as much Jewish blood to so qualify.
The U.S. Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, which last July began a year of hearings into the wartime treatment of the American Japanese, will run across some of those names, together with that of Lt. Cdr. Kenneth Duval Ringle, whose lonely, unheeded pleas for a policy based on reason instead of racism remain little-known archival documents in the White House papers of that time.
The story behind those documents has never been told. Perhaps it's time.
My father's role in the lives of Japanese-Americans was, in some ways, an accident. He had graduated from the Naval Academy in 1923 to command warships, a career he had dreamed of as a boy on the plains of Kansas.
Four years later, however, intrigued by the idea of extended time abroad, he had parlayed his gift for languages into a special three-year assignment in Tokyo learning the little-known tongue and culture of Japan.
Like Victor Henry, the protagonist of Herman Wouk's novel Winds of War, whose resemblance to my father is almost eerie, he found occasional intelligence work as intellectually challenging shore duty -- something worthwhile to fill the months until he was once again at sea.
Unlike the British, whose upper class traditions and empire nourished countless Kiplingesque ventures in secrecy and disguise, prewar America generally regarded espionage with the suspicion and distaste of the plain-spoken New World for the costumed deceptions of the Old.
Information-gathering was the business of straight-talking diplomats. The beginnings of a covert foreign service -- a cryptographic unit called "The Black Chamber" -- had been disbanded in the 1920s under Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson's admonition, "Gentlemen don't read each other's mail."
Army intelligence in 1941 was almost nonexistent. The Navy, with its wider global responsibilities, kept a small network of attaches abroad, but they remained a tiny force. When war broke out with Japan, my father was one of only 12 in the Navy who could speak Japanese.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose thirst for information was legendary, function in those pre-CIA days with his own personal intelligence network -- a crazy-quilt of New Deal advisers, businessman-emissaries and gilt-edged amateurs who covertly roamed the globe on the president's business. Some of them -- like Harry Hopkins -- were well known. Others have remained shrouded with mystery through the decades. Researching papers from the Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park, N.Y., I found out why.
According to a large file of presidential memos, Roosevelt's personal CIA operated not from the White House but out of the National Press Building. There, in room 1210, a syndicated columnist named John Franklin Carter, who wrote for The Washington Post and other papers under the name "Jay Franklin," simultaneously directed a dozen agents whose salaries and travels were financed by a secret fund controlled by Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles and Assistant Secretary of State Adolph Berle.
One such agent was Curtis B. Munson a wealthy Chicago businessman with coal and lumber interests who lives today in Georgetown.
Munson, traveling as a special representative of the Department of Agriculture, was assigned by FDR just before Pearl Harbor to make a secret independent assessment of Japanese-American loyalties on the West Coast. My father, at the time, was doing the same thing for the Navy.
Until 1940, subversion had been a concern primarily of the FBI, but in July of that year, the Navy, concerned about the security of its West Coast bases, assigned him to organize a wide range of counterespionage efforts throughout Southern California.
Though fresh from two years as gunnery officer aboard the aircraft carrier Ranger, he had worked for the Office of Naval Intelligence in Hawaii and qualified as a Japanese expert. His California assignment, in addition to catching spies, was to gauge the danger, if any, of Fifth Column activity among California's American-born Japanese. It was a unique "special duty" and though technically reporting to the ONI district director in San Diego, he was given a virtual free hand.
By the outbreak of the war 18 months later, he would personally command five branch offices and some 75 men stretching from Sacramento to the Mexican border and from the Pacific Coast eastward into Nevada. In the beginning, however, he worked almost alone out of a small office in the San Pedro YMCA building, moving among the vegetable farmers, tuna fishermen and small businessmen of Southern California, asking questions and observing the Japanese way of life.
He very quickly encountered two essential facts:
First, the West Coast Japanese were vastly different from the Japanese he had known a decade earlier in Japan. While retaining much of their culture, they were increasingly Americanized and, like most immigrant groups, believed intensely in the United States and its vision of a better life.
Second, in spite of their eagerness to be identified as Americans and their record of industry and responsibility, the Japanese on the West Coast were continually subjected to every sort of discrimination -- and discrimination as brutal and mindless as anything the South ever inflicted on the Negro.
First welcomed as "docile" farm laborers in the 1890s, the Japanese had startled California landowners by saving their money, buying land and becoming competitors. Alarmed by their growing numbers, fearful of their alien culture and jealous of their success, white Californians clamored for and won (in 1924) an end to Japanese immigration and began striking out at those already there.
The Japanese were legally barred from white schools and housing, prevented in many cases from buying land, discriminated against in employment and housing, often beaten and occasionally lynched. Jingoistic politicians and editorial writers kept up a drumfire of scapegoating racism.
As late as 1935 a group called the Southern California Committee of One Thousand was stating that "wherever the Japanese have settled, their nests pollute the communities like the running sores of leprosy. They exist like the yellowed butts in an over-full ashtray, vilifying the air with their loathsome smells, filling all who . . . look upon them with a wholesome disgust and a desire to wash."
MORE THAN 111,000 JAPANESE-AMERICANS WERE IMPRISONED IN CONCENTRATION CAMPS.
In this atmosphere of suspicion, my father functioned with the disarming candor of a prairie-born rationalist. Although he wrote civilian clothes and drove an inconspicuous rumble-seat coupe, he always made it perfectly clear who he was and, in most cases, what he was doing.
To knots of wharfside fishermen and to civic association dinners he voiced his concern as an intelligence officer at the militarist ambitions of Japan's current rulers. He said he knew his listeners, as loyal Americans, shared his concern, and he asked for their help.
Grateful for such trust from a representative of the government, Japanese-Americans invited him to their homes and meetings to spread his message.
They told him which organizations in the community were pro-American and which were militarist Japanese. They alerted him to suspicious new arrivals.
Once he asked for help obtaining a membership list for the "Black Dragon Society," a fiercely right-wing organization espousing loyalty to the Japanese emperor. Three days later he was given the society's complete books for the western half of the United States.
They asked him to ceremonies where they proudly took oaths of loyalty to the United States and to patriotic send-off dinners for sons drafted into the American Army.
There were, of course, hundreds of genuine spies in the Japanese community -- some resident aliens, and some American citizens. My father later estimated the total at less than 3 percent of the U.S. Japanese population or some 3,500 in the nation as a whole.
It was to expand his knowledge of these that my father decided, sometime in the spring of 1941, to break into the Japanese consulate.
He first told me of the operation in 1958. I was not yet three when Pearl Harbor was attacked and I idly asked him one day what sort of things he had done as an intelligence officer before the war.
"Well," he said, "one thing we did was burgle the Japanese consulate in Los Angeles."
Few of us see our fathers as second-story men and I was no exception. "My God," I said. "What if you'd been caught?"
"We couldn't possibly have been caught," he said, with a small smile of satisfaction. "We had the police outside watching. We had the FBI. We even had our own safecracker. We checked him out of prison for the job."
The actual break-in, he said, involved only a few men, one of whom guarded the elevator downstairs. They entered the consulate offices with skeleton keys and made their way to a safe in the back which they opened with the help of the safecracker, a felon they had somehow borrowed.
They removed and photographed everything in the safe, he said, then replaced each items as it had been. They they left, undetected.
The processed films, he said, yielded lists of agents, codes and contact points for Japan's entire West Coast spy network "a network headed by a Japanese naval officer named Itaru Tachibana. Tachibana, ostensibly an English language student in the U.S., had been under suspicion by ONI and the FBI, but had been protected by quasi-diplomatic status and a lack of hard evidence against him.
Information obtained in the break-in later helped my father, two other ONI officers and the FBI trap Tachibana and deport him for attempting to purchase military secrets. Seized with him was another Japanese spy, Toraichi Kono, who once had worked as a valet for Charlie Chaplin, plus a truckload of documents that effectively dismantled Japan's entire espionage effort on the U.S. West Coast.
The consulate break-in, however, yielded something my father considered even more valuable: repeated evidence that Tachibana and other official agents of Imperial Japan looked upon most American Japanese -- both resident aliens (isei) and American-born (nisei) -- not as potential allies but as cultural traitors not to be trusted.
It remains unclear, despite references to the Tachibana affair in my father's papers, exactly when the break-in occurred, who ordered it or how many people knew about it after the fact. Pre-Pearl harbor files of the Los Angeles ONI officer appear to have been a casualty of the war. The FBI claims to have no record of the break-in, but 1,200-odd pages of its Tachibana file, forwarded to me a year after my Freedom of Information Act request, remain censored despite the passage of 40 years.
Events documented in the file, however, suggest it occurred some time around March 1941, three months before Tachibana's highly publicized arrest. Likewise, evidence of the wide discretion delegated to my father suggests he acted largely on his own initiative. A 1944 letter to a former ONI colleague states that "while there are many things I'm proud of . . . the Tachibana affair and the nisei work are two that are peculiarly my own."
On the other hand, a 1944 inquiry to the secretary of the navy says "in the course of my investigations into (Tachibana) . . . I was . . . informed that Secretary (of the Navy Frank) Knox had full knowledge of and was personally interested in this case . . ."
Likewise, a July 18, 1941, letter informed him that Knox had sent a commendation about the Tachibana case "for your record."
Munson met my father that summer before Pearl Harbor while surveying defense points on the Pacific Coast for the president and stayed twice at our house to pick his brain.
His first West Coast report to FDR, dated Oct. 19, 1941, says "the almost unanimous verdict" on the Japanese-Americans is that in case of war "they will keep very, very quiet . . . There will probably be some sabotage by paid Japanese agents and the odd fanatical jap . . . but 90 per cent like our way of life best" and are "straining every nerve to show their loyalty . . . The Jap is an extremely good citizen and it is only because he is a stranger to us that we mistrust him."
The second report, received in Washington Nov. 7 -- one month before Pearl Harbor -- adds: what sabotage will occur will depend "largely . . . on imported Japanese as (those in Japan) are afraid of and do not trust the nisei."
Roosevelt referred Munson's report to Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson on Nov. 8 for attention to several points on the guarding of bridges and reservoirs, but noted in a typewritten memo that "there is nothing much new" in the report on the loyalty of the American Japanese.
Japan's Dec. 7 attack on Pearl Harbor, however, changed everything. My father, at home at the time, learned of the attack in a call from the office. He made several phone calls and left the house immediately. We didn't see him for two days.
Utilizing names and addresses obtained in the consulate break-in, together with previous FBI and ONI files, he and his men worked with the FBI for 48 hours straight rounding up some 450 known agents of Imperial Japan in Southern California. Since they were working from the enemy's own lists, both he and the FBI knew when the roundup was complete.
Other less informed forces, however, were at work. The "sneak attack" on Pearl Harbor had unleashed a storm of anti-Japanese hysteria that combined cultural ignorance and racial paranoia with simple irrational fear.
Asked about the loyalty of Japanese-Americans, Lt. Gen. J.L. Dewitt, the 61-year-old Army officer charged with defending the West Coast, replied: "A Jap is a Jap".
Issei and nisei alike found themselves fired from their jobs, evicted from homes and farms and attacked in the streets. California authorities revoked their licenses for markets, produce houses and stores. They were barred from travel and commercial fishing.
On Dec. 19, 1941 John Franklin Carter wrote a memo to Roosevelt stating:
"Curtis Munson reports from Los Angeles that already five L.A. Japanese-Americans have committed suicide because their honor could not stand suspicion of their loyalty. He is rushing to Washington a program based largely on ONi (Cdr. Ringle) proposals for maintaining the loyalty of Japanese-Americans and establishing wholesome race relations."
The chief points of the program included:
1) A statement from the president or someone high in authority telling American Japanese that the nation wanted and needed their loyalty.
2) Accepting offers of patriotic cooperation from nisei organizations through such agencies as the Red Cross.
3) Accepting investigated nisei workers in such defense industries as shipbuilding and aircraft plants.
4) Putting responsibility for the behavior of the issei and nisei on the leaders of nisei groups such as the japanese Americans Citizens League, which zealously policed their own ranks.
Roosevelt referred Munson's recommendations to J. Edgar Hoover and Attorney General Francis Biddle who, according to a Carter memo of Dec. 23, "were enthusiastic and offered full cooperation."
The Army, however, had other plans. In July 1941, the War Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation had agreed to leave to the FBI control of all aliens if war came. Shortly after Pearl harbor, however, the Army's provost marshal, Maj. Gen. Allen V. Gullion, began demanding that the Army be given authority over all aliens on the pacific Coast. To accomplish this, he sent to San Francisco in early January 1942, Maj. Karl R. Bendetsen, an ambitious, 35-year-old lawyer who at the time had been on active duty less than a year.
Technically, Bendetsen was assigned to coordinate efforts between the War and Justice departments for the control of enemy aliens within the boundaries of Dewitt's West Coast command.
In fact, by devising a system of 99 prohibited military zones with a complex system of passes and permits which the FBI said it couldn't begin to handle, he engineered the military takeover of an extraordinarily sensitive legal and diplomatic area of the government: the authority over non-U.S. citizens within a portion of the continental U.S.
So appreciative was the Army that it promoted Bendetsen, who had entered the service as a lieutenant less than a year before, from major to lieutenant colonel and from lieutenant colonel to colonel in less than three months. Later in 1942, for his work forcing Japanese-Americans off their land, a grateful nation would award him the Distinguished Service Medal.
The tug of war between the Army, charged by law with the defense of the continental UNited States, and the Justice Department over control of America's Japanese caught my father in the middle.
A Dec. 16, 1941, situation report from Carter to FDR reported "Army intelligence poor or nonexistent on WEst Coast," yet Gen. Dewitt quickly began ordering alien Japanese out of a series of "prohibited military zones" which in time would grow to encompass the entire Pacific Coast. When he discovered that two-thirds of the West Coast Japanese population were American citizens and not subject to alien enemy regulations, he "had no alternative but to conclude," he later wrote, "that military necessity required their immediate evacuation to the interior."
Despite our simultaneous war against Hitler and Mussolini, few German-Americans and almost no Italians were ever evacuated, but to Dewitt, that was different.
"That continued presence of a large, unassimilated, tightly knit racial group, bound to the enemy by strong ties of race, culture, custom and religion . . . constituted a menace which had to be dealt with," he later wrote. "Their loyalties were unknown and time was of the essence."
My father, who knew something about those loyalties, was not consulted by the Army and found himself, if not abandoned by the Navy, at least left to voice his views in near-isolation.
"I was assured at the time," he wrote later to an inquiring historian, "that while the Office of naval Intelligence looked with sympathy upon my views and opinions, the Navy Department . . . did not desire to invade the Army's field of responsibility and stir up any dissension at home in the early stages of the most serious war ever faced by this country . . ."
He traveled twice to San Francisco to acquaint Bendetsen with the realities of the Japanese situation. Both times Bendetsen refused to see him. Munson, however, fought for him, writing Roosevelt Dec. 22 that "99 per cent of the most intelligent views on the Japanese, by military, official and civil contacts on the West Coast and Hawaii . . . were crystallized by Lt. Cdr. K.D. Ringle."
Eight days later the chief of naval operations asked for "a report from Lt. Cdr. Ringle concerning his views . . . referred to in Mr. Munson's report."
This was the first of the "Ringle reports," a 10-page analysis of the West Coast Japanese question written during the first weeks of 1942 as the forces of Imperial Japan swept southward through Southeast Asia and eastward across the Pacific.
Japanese submarines sank two steamers just off the California coast and damaged seven more. Gray barrage balloons floated like fat, airborne sausages above the oil fields of Southern California. An attack on the coast itself was expected any time.
Public hysteria mounted against Japanese-Americans, and my father pounded out his report while trying simultaneously to keep his nisei friends from turning against their own government, which was forcing them from their hard-won land. But their faith in America was stronger than even he realized.
My mother remembers his returning home depressed to marvel at the spiritual resilence of "the enemy": two nisei baby sitters in saddle shoes and bobby socks rehearsing, with laughter and unconscious irony, Gilbert and Sullivan arias from The Mikado in our kitchen.
The nisei, he knew, were not the problem; they were the solution.
"Within the last eight or 10 years," he wrote, "the entire `Japanese Question` in the United States has reversed itself . . . as the original alien immigrants grow older and die and more and more of their American-born children reach maturity.
"THe primary present and future problem is that of dealing with these American-born United States citizens of Japanese ancestry . . . at least 75 percent (of whom) are loyal to the United States. (Their) ratio . . . to alien-born Japanese in the United States is at present almost three to one and rapidly increasing . . .
"The United States recognizes these American-born Orientals as citizens, extends the franchise to them, drafts them for military service, forces them to pay taxes, perform jury duty . . . and . . . yet at the same time has viewed them with considerable suspicion and distrust . . .
"They are segregated . . . by zoning laws, discriminated against in employment and wages and rebuffed in nearly all their efforts to prove their loyalty to the United States . . . yet those who grow to the age of 16 in the United States and go to Japan for a few years find themselves viewed with even more suspicion and distrust in that country and . . . the majority . . . return . . . thoroughly disillusioned and more than ever loyal to the United States."
"THe only ultimate solution . . . is to deliberately and officially encourage the American citizen of Japanese ancestry in his efforts to be a loyal citizen and to help him be so accepted by the general public."
He emphasized the many repeated acts of loyalty and assistance by nisei organizations and individuals, and in his only reference to the Tachibana break-in noted:
"The Japanese consular staff, leaders of the Central Japanese Association and others known to have been sympathetic to the Japanese cause do not themselves trust the nisei . . . it is well-known to the writer that his acquaintance with and encouragement of nisei leaders in their efforts toward Americanization was a matter of considerable concern to the former Japanese consul at Los Angeles."
Even among the foreign-born Japanese, he wrote, a majority were "at least passively loyal" to the United States. A large number, though technically aliens, had entered the United States as infants, grown up here and "are at heart American citizens," barred by discriminatory laws from naturalization.
Neither the issei nor the nisei as a group posed any threat, he said. The most "potentially dangerous element," largely ignored by Army and Justice Department alien control policies, were the "kibei" -- "Those American citizens of Japanese ancestry who have spent the formative years of their lives, from age 10 to 20, in Japan and have returned to the United States . . . within the last few years.
"THese people are essentially and inherently Japanese," he wrote, "and may have been deliberately sent back to the United States by the Japanese government to act as agents. In spite of their legal citizenship . . . they should be looked upon as enemy aliens and many of them placed in custodial detention."
Special review boards should be set up to pass on cases of suspected individual disloyalty, he said. But he warned that the then-budding proposal "for the removal and internment in concentration camps of all . . . residents of Japanese extraction . . . is not only unwarranted but very unwise, since it would undoubtedly alienate the loyalty of many thousands of persons who would otherwise be entirely loyal to the United States.
"In short, the entire `Japanese problem` has been magnified out of its true proportions, largely because of the physical characteristics of its people . . . It is no more serious than the problems of the German, Italian and Communistic portions of the U.S. population . . . and should be handled on the basis of the individual . . . and not on a racial basis."
But time was running out. On Feb. 14, as my father's Jan. 26 report was working its way through government channels, Dewitt petitioned the War Department for a presidential order empowering him to exclude American citizens as well as aliens from the West Coast. By Feb. 19, when the Ringle report finally reached the WHite House, he had it, complete with reluctant Justice Department approval and the signature of President Roosevelt who, swayed by claims of wartime necessity, assented with the caution: "Be as reasonable as you can."
Every person of Japanese ancestry was ordered to be off the Pacific Coast and east of the Sierra by April. But, my father protested, they had no place to go.
"THe federal government has not provided any areas into which aliens and their families forced to evacuate . . may move," he wrote in a Feb. 25 supplement to the first Ringle report. "THey) cannot obtain housing or employment . . . and are rapidly becoming destitute, resentful and ripe for any sort of subversive behavior."
He wasn't the only one upset by the policy. An undated memo to the president from Munson -- apparently written in late February -- warned that "we are drifting into a treatment of the Japanese corresponding to Hitler's treatment of the Jjews."
To my father, the losses at home seemed were approaching those overseas. He counseled his nisei friends not to lose heart, but in a March 3 report on a three-day trip through Orange, San Diego, Imperial, Riverside and San Bernardino counties he reported "a deep-seated feeling of resentment and anger toward all persons of the Japanese race . . . rapidly growing toward violent expression . . ."
Citing the helplessness and homelessness of the displaced Japanese and the agitation for vigilante action against them, he reluctantly concluded that the most drastic and distasteful solution was now the only one left.
"Unless the federal government (takes) adequate steps, by the evacuation of all persons of the Japanese race to areas outside . . . California where they are under federal supervision -- in other words, internment -- there will be mob violence, culminating in shootings and lynchings in some of these areas, particularly Imperial County, within the next 30 days."
The following day he applied for sea duty.
Drained, depressed and feeling somehow an inadvertant accomplice to the betrayal of America's Japanese, he began to realize that his years in Japan, coupled with his nisei work, had removed him from the mainstream of a Navy career and delayed his promotion.
"I have already been informed by the grapevine that I'm an old man . . . and can't have my destroyer because I'm over 40," he wrote a Navy friend in Washington. "But what ocean I'm headed for, I'd like to know.
Ironically, however, his influence on behalf of the Japanese was just beginning.
On May 6, Milton Eisenhower, whose War Relocation Authority had been set up to administer the Japanese internment camps, wrote the director of naval intelligence citing Cdr. K.D. Ringle's "deep understanding" of the Japanese problem. "It would be of great service . . . if you could . . . call Cdr. Ringle to Washington . . . for three or four weeks . . . to help us in planning our educational work among the Japanese . . . in planning project self-government and in many other ways."
Thus from May 21 through June 15, 1942, my father worked in a small office in Room 829 of the Barr Building at 910 17th St. NW, where he expanded the original 10-page Ringle report into 57 pages entitled "The Japanese Question in the United States."
The document was designed to raise the cultural consciousness of those working with Japanese-Americans for the first time as well as to suggest specific approaches and programs within the camps."
The most important of the latter were provisions for separating the kibei and clearly suspicious aliens from the main body of pro-U.S. aliens, and nisei, and provisions permitting U.S. citizens of proven loyalty to leave the camps altogether.
The camps were primarily holding zones for the Japanese who had nowhere to go but the coastal zones from which they had been banned. THose who could find employment and sponsorship elsewhere in the country were fairly speedily released and some were never interned at all. But 111,155 were, the majority for most of the war. or until the War Department tired of awarding Medals of Honor inside the camps to the widows and parents of nisei soldiers fighting for the U.S. Army in Italy.
Many of my father's recommendations were put into effect in the camps. They may have ameliorated, to some small degree, the injustice of their existence in the first place. I am confident, at least, that his efforts helped -- probably more than he ever knew -- to provoke second thoughts about the internment.
In September 1942, as he cruised the waters of Guadalcanal in the cruiser Honolulu where he was division chief of staff, he received a letter from Harper's Magazine. Several editors had seen a copy of the expanded Ringle report, and "It seemed to us it would help clear a confused public mind if these memoranda could be published."
Thus as edited version appeared in the October 1942 issue of Harper's at "The Japanese in America -- The Problem and the Solution" by "An Intelligence officer." Although publication had been cleared in advance with the Navy, acknowledgement of my father's authorship was forbidden for security reasons.
Similar censorship marched on zombielike long after the war, when public officials who had engineered the Japanese internment weren't anxious to have it remembered.
Bendetsen, for example, had by 1950 climbed to assistant secretary of the army. An official biography sent out by his office at that time details his medals and promotions but makes no mention of his successful efforts to have American citizens transported by racial decree.
A few years earlier, his own autobiographical statement in WHo's WHo in America said he "conceived the method, formulated the details and directed the evacuation," of Japanese-Americans to the relocation camps. But he said recently he was only following orders. "I didn't ask for that job and I didn't profit by it," he said. Histories of the era which describe his role he said are "all overdone, exaggerated or just plain false."
Although my father saw action throughout the South Pacific, won the Legion of Merit in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, commanded his own ship and, after the war, a division of transports in China, his naval career never fully recovered the momentum lost through his time in intelligence.
His 1944 letters from the South Pacific chart a frustrating long-distance struggle to discover the reason for a delayed promotion: much of his work with the Japanese had been deemed too secret to be mentioned in his personnel folder. His commendation from the secretary of the navy for the Tachibana affair, he was told when he inquired, could not be found.
He retired as a rear admiral in 1953. But he didn't make flag rank with his class and he never got back to see. Ten years later he was dead.
His letters and papers, however, live on. One letter, dated Feb. 7, 1942, came from a member of a nisei delegation refused help by the governor of California.
The writer, however, had not turned against the United States, in part, he said, because of "your humane attitude and intelligent direction . . . you have been a real inspiration, Mr. ringle . . . Your name is on the lips of all of us . . . We'll not fail you . . ."
Another letter, dated June 13, comes from Fred Tayama, chairman of the Japanese American Citizens League branch then operating out of "block 6, Bldg. 11," in the internment camp at Manzanar, Calif.
"Word has been received that you'll be leaving for sea in a few weeks . . . I feel so weak and helpless to find words . . . for all you have done for the nisei. As long as we have persons like you, we feel our cause is worth fighting for. You can be assured we won't fail you."
We won't fail you. There it was again. But to my father the question was, had he and the nation failed them?
When I first signed in three years ago at the National Archives to research this article I expected an anomymous search for records of little interest to anyone but myself.
I was startled when the clerk asked if I was "related to the Lt. Cdr. Ringle who wrote about the Japanese." The "Ringle reports," I was told, are a much-requested item, and to a small band of historians, my father, with his lonely, little-known effort to halt injustice, has become a minor sort of hero.
I'm not certain what he'd think of that.
For to him, the only heros of those imes were the Japanese-Americans themselves.
Whenever in the postwar years the mail would bring pictures of a nisei valedictorian, or news of a Japanese-American physicist, or the election of a nisei senator, he would remind us how much each had overcome and his jaws would tighten with pride.
"The nisei are what America is all about," he would say. "They teach us that very day."
The lessons have been personal as well.
"After your father died," my mother remembers, "I knew I had to face reality by myself but Ii wasn't sure I could. Driving back from the airport after putting you children on the plane, I felt more alone than I had in all my life.
"But when I got to the house I found a wealth of flowers. And when I opened the card it was from California. It said, "With deepest sympathy from your Japanese-American friends in Los Angeles.` Somehow all the way across the country they had heard he was gone and they cared. Think of it! Twenty years later, and they still remembered."