In October 1941, with war with Japan appearing inevitable, Special Representative of the United States, Curtis B. Munson, was sent to the West Coast and Hawai'i to compile a report on the “loyalty” of individuals of Japanese descent. Munson's assignment was part of over a decade's worth of surveillance and spying by the U.S. government that included efforts by Army Intelligence, Navy Intelligence, and the Commerce, Justice, and State Departments. Ultimately, the report stressed the loyalty of an overwhelming number of Japanese Americans, and stated that even the “disloyal” would pose little danger to the national security because they hoped to avoid concentration camps or mob action. But Munson was also horrified at the potential for subversion among Japanese Americans.
Munson carried out his investigations in October and the first few weeks of November 1941; he covered the three naval districts that included California, Washington, and Oregon as well as Hawai'i. Munson indentified four divisions among Japanese Americans: the issei or first-generation Japanese Americans; nisei or second-generation Japanese Americans born and educated in the United States; the kibei, a subgroup of nisei who were educated in Japan; and the sansei or third-generation Japanese Americans. Munson's report focused primarily on the issei and nisei, and he found that those generational groups retained strong cultural ties to Japan and the United States. Importantly, Munson found that Japanese ancestry did not automatically translate into anti-American sentiment as was maintained by most anti-Japanese forces. Further, the report documented that there was no “Japanese problem” in terms of national security. Munson pointed to the number of nisei who joined the U.S. Army as evidence of their loyalty and commitment to the United States. Munson went on to predict that in the event of war between Japan and the United States, there was no evidence to suggest that Japanese Americans would rebel against the United States. Instead, they would support the U.S. war effort, he believed. Further, the report claimed, the threat posed by Japanese Americans to the national security was so low that those “disloyal” individuals could be easily identified from the “loyal” majority. Significantly, Munson's findings were in keeping with the reports of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Naval and Army intelligence that gathered and catalogued information on the “loyalty” of Japanese Americans on the West Coast and in Hawai'i.
At the same time, Munson found that “dams, bridges, harbors, power stations etc., are wholly unguarded. The harbor of San Pedro [Los Angeles port] could be razed by fire completely by four men with hand grenades and a little study in one night. Dams could be blown and half of lower California could actually die of thirst…. One railway bridge at the exit from the mountains in some cases could tie up three or four main railroads.” So despite the large number of “loyal” Japanese Americans, Munson believed, “there are still Japanese in the United States who will tie dynamite around their waist and make a human bomb out of themselves” (Daniels, 28).
In early November 1941, the 25-page, secret Munson Report arrived on President Franklin Roosevelt's desk. The president was so disturbed by the report he
immediately sent a memorandum to Secretary of War Henry Stimson, calling his attention to the investigator's concern over sabotage. In December 1941 before the Pearl Harbor attack, Army Intelligence drafted a reply, which was never sent in the confusion set off by the war. In it, the army's response correctly maintained, “widespread sabotage by Japanese is not expected … identification of dangerous Japanese on the West Coast is reasonably complete” (Daniels, 28).
Following December 7, 1941, and the hurried round up of both aliens and citizens in Hawai'i and on the West Coast, Munson submitted a second set of recommendations to the president. Munson suggested the government authorities should make a public statement encouraging an attitude of tolerance toward Japanese Americans and their integration into the nation's war effort. Such a statement, Munson contended, would both secure the loyalty of the Japanese American community and diffuse the fanatic, anti-Japanese sentiment that was sweeping over the United States. More particularly, Munson suggested that agencies like the Red Cross and Civilian Defense should incorporate the nisei into their war efforts, that defense industries should hire nisei workers, and that the United States should boost nisei as community leaders. The strategy was to split the generations between issei and nisei, which was generally followed by governmental agencies in their dealings with Japanese Americans during the war. In the end, Munson's suggestions were largely ignored, and Japanese Americans, issei and nisei alike in Hawai'i and the West Coast, were stripped of their civil liberties and placed in internment and concentration camps.
Daniels, Roger. Concentration Camps: North America: Japanese in the United States and Canada during World War II. Malabar, FL: Robert E. Krieger, 1981.