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Alan Cranston


Name Alan Cranston
Born June 19 1914
Died December 31 2000
Birth Location Palo Alto, CA

Writer and government official who worked to avert mass removal and later supported redress.

Early Life and Career

Born in Palo Alto, California, Alan MacGregor Cranston (1914–2000) grew up in neighboring Los Altos. After graduating from Mountain View High School, he attended Pomona College and also spent a summer studying in Mexico. He ultimately transferred to Stanford University, where he was a member of the track team. Following his graduation from Stanford in 1936, Cranston worked as a journalist for the International News Service. He gained nationwide attention when he published an unexpurgated English translation of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf , one that more clearly revealed Hitler's anti-Semitic and authoritarian ideas than the sanitized edition offered by Hitler's American publisher. After being sued for copyright infringement, Cranston was forced to withdraw his pirated edition, but the controversy helped inform the American public about Nazism.

In 1940, Cranston was hired as an assistant by Reed Lewis, director of the Common Council for American Unity, a New York-based group that defended immigrants and promoted American pluralism. Cranston collected data on the legal and social status of immigrants, and assisted in particular an information and lobbying campaign for repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act . In 1941 the Council began producing a new quarterly magazine, Common Ground . Cranston published several articles in its pages, including analyses of public sentiment regarding immigrants.

In December 1941, the United States entered World War II. Cranston expected to be drafted for military service, and therefore resigned from the Council and handed over his job to his wife, Geneva Cranston. Instead, Cranston was recruited for government service by poet-statesman Archibald MacLeish . MacLeish, librarian of congress and a speechwriter to President Franklin Roosevelt , had been named director of a new agency, the Office of Facts and Figures (OFF), which was charged with disseminating wartime news and propaganda, monitoring media, and controlling information. In mid-January 1942 Cranston was named assistant director of OFF (which soon afterwards folded into a larger group, the Office of War Information ), with the task of managing immigrant and foreign-language groups. In the months that followed, he and his team, which included writer Bradford Smith and cartoonist Lee Falk, designed and executed policies to permit the foreign-language press to continue publishing under government supervision, and disseminated information behind enemy lines and to Axis soldiers.

Aiding Japanese Americans

From the beginning of his tenure at OFF, Cranston and his fellow staffer Ulric Bell recognized the dangers of growing anti-Japanese American sentiment on the Pacific Coast. They considered anti-Nikkei campaigns to be both undemocratic and a threat to public morale, and accordingly rushed to defuse the situation. With approval from MacLeish, Cranston and Bell rushed to Los Angeles in the third week of January to meet with Mayor Fletcher Bowron and other city officials and asked newspaper editors to tone down sensational stories of arrests and saboteurs. Joining together with liberal groups such as the Hollywood Writers Mobilization, Cranston worked to form coalitions and encourage positive coverage of Japanese American loyalty. In mid-February 1942, Eleanor Roosevelt agreed to meet with MacLeish and his assistants to discuss helping Japanese Americans. As Cranston later described it, because he was a native-born Californian, he was invited to give Mrs. Roosevelt arguments against removal that she could use as ammunition in protesting to the president. However, according one report, when Mrs. Roosevelt tried to speak to her husband about the matter, he told her it was not open for discussion.

In early March 1942, soon after Executive Order 9066 was signed, Cranston submitted a report on "The Japanese Situation in California." He deplored the "mounting confusion and hysteria" that was energizing white supremacists and leading to beatings and killings. Cranston proposed forming an interdepartmental committee for enemy alien control, both to manage in humane fashion whatever "evacuation" of enemy aliens needed to occur, and then to assist their social integration into the areas where they would be resettled.

At the same time, Cranston concentrated his efforts on aiding Nisei. Cranston wrote letters on behalf of Isamu Noguchi and Larry Tajiri , who sought to make a documentary film covering the removal process. He also spoke to his old boss Reed Lewis about ways to support the New York antifascist group Japanese American Committee for Democracy , whose members had been barred from marching in an official victory parade. In late 1942, he toured two of the camps, Tule Lake and Heart Mountain .

Perhaps Cranston's most significant contribution to assisting Japanese Americans was his role as godfather to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team . In August 1942, he learned that the War Department was considering reinstituting conscription for Nisei, which had been suspended after Pearl Harbor. Picking up on a suggestion by Alfred Jaretzki, aide to Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy , Cranston proposed to OWI director Milton Eisenhower that he send McCloy a letter in support of military service for Japanese Americans, and drafted a proposed text. It is not clear whether Eisenhower simply adopted Cranston's language or substituted his own, but his letter proved decisive in the War Department's eventual decision to recruit a volunteer Nisei combat unit.

During 1943, Cranston made more sporadic efforts on behalf of Japanese Americans. For example, he worked with former U.S. Ambassador to Japan Joseph Grew on a proposal (blocked by the State Department) that a select group of twenty Nisei be recruited from camp and trained for postwar service in East Asia. In speeches and articles during that year, he praised the efforts of Japanese Americans, both in the camps and in farms, fields and orchards outside, to produce food for the war effort. Meanwhile, he corresponded with his Nisei friends and offered encouragement.

Postwar Career and Redress

In 1944, Alan Cranston left the government to join the army. The following year, he published the book The Killing of the Peace , a study of the failure of the United States Senate to ratify the Versailles Peace Treaty in 1919. In the first years after the war he became a prominent advocate of world government, and in 1948 became president of the World Federalist Association and began a successful career in business.

In later life, Cranston embarked on a political career. In 1964, he was elected California State Comptroller. In 1968, running on an anti-Vietnam War ticket, he won the race for U.S Senator from California. In 1984, he sought the Democratic nomination for president, and presented as his main issue a call for a nuclear freeze with the Soviet Union.

One of the causes for which Cranston became notable in the Senate was his outspoken support for Japanese American redress . In 1983, when S. 1520, a bill to provide an official apology and a $20,000 payment to each individual survivor, was introduced in the Senate, Cranston served as sponsor. As he stated to The New York Times , Monetary compensation here is a symbolic effort to provide redress." The following year, he testified in support of the bill before a government affairs subcommittee on legislation. He recalled his wartime visit to Heart Mountain, where he spent four days visiting boyhood friends from Los Altos, walking around in the freezing weather, playing poker, and cheering at a football rally.

Cranston remained in the Senate until 1992, when he was forced by age, prostate cancer, and fallout from the Charles Keating Savings and Loan scandal to retire. After his retirement, he founded the Global Security Institute. He died in December 2000.

Authored by Greg Robinson , Université du Québec À Montréal

For More Information

Cranston, Alan. The Killing of the Peace . New York, Viking Press, 1945.

———. The Sovereignty Revolution . Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2004.

Robinson, Judith, and Alan Cranston. Senator from California: Making a 'Dent in the World' . Two Volumes. San Francisco: Telegraph Hill Press, 2008.

Robinson, Greg. The Great Unknown: Japanese American Sketches . Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2016.