State Department Duplicity
—by Angus Lorenzen
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was a huge surprise to most Americans; but for some time, those expatriates living in Asia were aware of the probability that Japan was about to attack American interests. In 1941, military and diplomatic dependents were shipped home from the Philippines, and by the end of that year American businessmen and their families started an exodus from other Asian countries, though by in large they remained in the Philippines. Some critics have stated that they had no one but themselves to blame for winding up in Japanese prison camps. However correspondence between the offices of Philippine High Commissioner Sayre and Secretary of State Cordell Hull, not declassified until 60 years after the fact, gives a clearer picture of the reasons.
Sayre to Hull, October 9, 1940
“... the State Department has instructed our Far Eastern consulates to advise Americans living in the Japanese Empire, China, Hong Kong, and French Indochina to return to the United States. So far as the Philippines are concerned ... there is no reason for anxiety ... Manila is one of the safest places in the Far East today.”
Sayre to Hull, January 7, 1941
“I am of the opinion that at the proper time the Department should consider whether American civilians are to be evacuated either from Manila area or the Philippines ...”
State Department memo, Brandt, March 17, 1941
”If the Philippines are threatened by an enemy power, are we going to tell and assist Americans there to depart, and thus to subject ourselves to the accusation by Filipinos ... that we are fleeing from our own soil and leaving our wards ... to face the danger alone? ... we should tell the High Commissioner that we do not contemplate an evacuation of Americans from the Philippines ...”
State Department Memorandum of Conversation, Hiss, April 21, 1941
“The United States Army has moved up to May 15 its deadline for the removal of dependents of army personnel from the Philippines. ... American citizens including women and children ... are not being urged to return to the United States at this time.”
Congressional Legislation, June 21, 1941 (22 U.S.C. 228-229)
“U.S. citizens in the Philippines were barred from departing from or entering any territory of the United States without a valid Passport.” (U.S. passports for citizens in the Philippines were ordered to be turned in on September 9, 1939.)
Hull to Ambassadors, November 22, 1941
“... American diplomatic and consular officers call to the attention of American Citizens in the Japanese Empire, Japanese-occupied areas of China, Hong Kong, Macao, and French Indo China the advice previously given in regard to withdrawal ...”
Correspondence of Lucia B. Kidder, secretary in High Commissioner office in Manila
“... I rekcon that 5,000 letters were written denying passports.”
Tracing through these declassified records makes it clear, that while it was U.S. policy to encourage Americans to evacuate East Asia before the war broke out, the State Department was equally adamant that Americans were not to leave the Philippines, thus sealing their fate when the Japanese invaded. 7,300 Americans civilians were in the Philippines in 1941, and 770 of them never returned home because they died of deprivation in the prison camps, executions, and massacres.
The State Department’s anti-civilian program continued after the liberation of the civilian POW camps when it demanded that these people must either pay for transportation back to the U.S. or sign a promissory note to that effect. General MacArthur flatly refused the order from State. He took the position that many of the American civilians concerned were not able to pay their way home because they had lost everything during the Japanese occupation.
When State repeated its instructions, MacArthur repeated his position, implying that if necessary, he would advance the sum for passage from his own funds, and then request Congress to reimburse him. The State Department realized that if the issue was taken to Congress there would be widespread sympathy for the victims of Japanese aggression, and backed down.
And so by 1945 our government had struck twice at its own citizens, and now started the 20-year battle for those who lost everything to obtain compensation for their losses out of the reparations our government extracted from Japan.
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