The history curriculum in Bainbridge Island’s middle school dealing with the so-called Japanese-American internment has come under fire, according to this article in the Bremerton Sun. An excerpt:
A special social studies program for Sakai Intermediate School sixth-graders called “Leaving Our Island” is missing context and rises to the level of “propaganda,” some parents say.
Their complaints will result in changes to the curriculum, but the class won’t back away from its central idea that Japanese-American internment was a mistake.
The internment of Japanese-Americans, about two-thirds of whom were born in the United States, has generally become regarded as a U.S. overreaction to wartime hysteria, but there are notable dissenters from that belief. Newspaper columnist Michelle Malkin recently wrote “In Defense of Internment,” a book that collects some of the reasons the internment decision was made.
Bainbridge Island’s historic significance as the first place Japanese-Americans left their homes on their way to internment camps makes it a logical place to draw upon the event to teach history.
Social studies teacher Marie Marrs developed the curriculum and netted a $17,000 grant from the Washington Civil Liberties Education Program to offer the program to Sakai sixth-graders. It was taught during February as part of a U.S. history curriculum.
On Thursday, the Bainbridge Island School District’s board of commissioners met to discuss the internment curriculum after parents complained about how it was being taught.
Mary Dombrowski, an island resident, shared letters she exchanged with Superintendent Ken Crawford and Sakai Principal Jo Vander Stoep. She argued the curriculum didn’t provide the historical context surrounding President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, which resulted in a war zone with a boundary line running through the middle of Washington and Oregon, along California’s eastern boundary and into the southern part of Arizona….
Dombrowski took issue with the curriculum’s attempt to link Japanese internment with today’s Patriot Act, saying it “rises to the level of propaganda.”
Good for Dombrowski.
A group of historians calling itself the “Historians’ Committee for Fairness” has denounced my book. An excerpt from their complaint:
Michelle Malkin’s appearance on numerous television and radio shows and her comments during these appearances regarding her book IN DEFENSE OF INTERNMENT represent a blatant violation of professional standards of objectivity and fairness. Malkin is not a historian, and she states that she relied almost exclusively on research conducted or collected by others.
Not a historian! Relied on research collected by others! Shocking!
The statement goes on:
This work presents a version of history that is contradicted by several decades of scholarly research, including works by the official historian of the United States Army and an official U.S. government commission.
A book that contradicts established thought. The horror! The horror!
In typical fashion, the historians end their statement with a demand for an apology. The ultimatum is addressed to anyone in the media who has had me on to talk about the book:
It is irresponsible of your producers to permit Michelle Malkin’s biased presentation of events to go unchallenged as a factual historical presentation. We therefore respectfully demand that you formally apologize to the Japanese Americans who have been slandered by Ms. Malkin’s reckless presentation and invite a reputable historian to present a more even-handed view of the evidence.
One of the members of the “Historians’ Committee for Fairness” is Greg Robinson. Another is Eric Muller, who posted Robinson’s error-riddled critiques on his web site and at The Volokh Conspiracy. Neither Robinson nor Muller has acknowledged numerous factual inaccuracies and mischaracterizations in Robinson’s critiques, which I pointed out here.
As readers of this blog, listeners on talk radio, and attendees of my book-related speeches all know, I have encouraged my audience vigorously to weigh all sides in this debate. I have directed both readers and listeners to Eric Muller’s blog and The Volokh Conspiracy, where Muller and Robinson first critiqued my book; encouraged attendees of my Seattle speech to read the work of University of Washington professor Tetsuden Kashima, who graciously came to the event; and recommend in my book that readers consider the work of several scholars and researchers who do not agree with my conclusions.
I join the “Historians’ Committee for Fairness” in their call for TV/radio producers to put the committee’s members on the air. Let everyone see who is being “even-handed” and who is not.
In a post titled “How to make substantive criticism look like guarding professional turf,” Eugene Volokh dissects the committee’s statement here.
Update: Clayton Cramer weighs in here. An excerpt:
I suppose that I could take the “professional standards” argument a bit more seriously if we didn’t have the recent memory of the Bellesiles scandal, where many professional historians did their best to prevent any serious examination of massive and obvious fraud from working its way into popular newspapers and court decisions.
Bob Felton of Civil Commotion comments too:
I haven’t read the book, but have been following the firestorm it has provoked, and Malkin has been a class act in the face of relentless viciousness. Her critics have carped about the book-jacket, made allegations of sloppiness which reduce to “I can’t research a book in a year,” and even made fun of her hair. They have not dunked her facts. Malkin, on the other hand, has errata online, and has done just as she said: encouraged readers of her book to read the others, too.
Roger Schlafly, the son of Phyllis, left the following comment on Muller’s site:
Eric complains that Malkin is not a historian?! Eric isn’t either! He doesn’t have a PhD or any History credentials….
(Just realized that Roger has a blog, which I’ve now added to my blogroll. His work on vaccine policy sparked my interest in the topic. If you have an open mind, check it out. Otherwise don’t bother.)
Update II: Hei Lun asks a good question: What the heck is the Historians’ Committee For Fairness?:
I Googled the Historians’ Committee for Fairness to get more information about this group. Well, okay, I actually Googled them trying to play gotcha, looking to see whether they said anything about disgraced historian Michael Bellesiles. I didn’t get a single result for “Historians’ Committee for Fairness” “Michael Bellesiles”. And curiously, I did not get a single result for “Historians’ Committee for Fairness” either. Do they even exist? Did they just spelt their own name wrong in their letter? Or is this an ad hoc group that exists solely to oppose Malkin’s book? It seems to me that if it were, they really have no business trying to present themselves as a disinterested group and calling themselves a committee for fairness. I emailed Prof. Muller about this, will report back if I get a reply.
According to this Denver Post article by Doug Brown, my book has stirred up quite a bit of controversy in the Denver area.
An excellent Q&A by Burl Burlingame appears in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin here. It’s more than two weeks old but I didn’t see it until today. Burlingame asserts that an estimated 38,000 Japanese Americans served in the Imperial Army or Navy during the war. That figure is much higher than others I’ve seen. (The upper-bound estimate reported in my book is 7,000.) If Burlingame’s figure is right, the number of Japanese-Americans serving in the Japanese military was approximately equal to one-third the number of ethnic Japanese evacuated from the West Coast. (I’ll e-mail Burlingame and ask him for his source; if it is reputable I’ll make a note of it on my Errata page.)