Chandler Committee


Subcommittee of the Senate Military Affairs Committee that investigated the War Relocation Authority (WRA) in 1943. Chaired by Senator A. B. "Happy" Chandler (1898–1991) of Kentucky, the body was one of several legislative committees at the state or federal level to investigate the WRA. Generally characterized as a publicity seeking endeavor that sought to expose supposed "coddling" of the incarcerated Japanese Americans by the WRA and to place administration of the concentration camps in the hands of the army, what became popularly known as the Chandler Committee ended up issuing relatively mild recommendations that largely validated WRA actions.

The origins of the Chandler Committee can no doubt be traced to the highly publicized unrest at Poston and Manzanar at the end of 1942. In January of 1943, Senators Monrad C. Wallgren of Washington and Rufus C. Holman of Oregon introduced legislation calling for the army to take control of the incarceration from the WRA, fueled by distrust of the WRA's general approach to incarceration as what its detractors referred to as a "social experiment" rather than punishment. This proposal was referred to the Senate Committee on Military Affairs, which formed a subcommittee to investigate the issue. Along with Chandler, Wallgren, and Holman, the subcommittee included John Chandler Gurney (R–South Dakota), and Joseph C. O'Mahoney (D–Wyoming).

Hearings took place in the first three months of 1943. Hearings began in Washington, D.C. on January 20 and featured WRA Director Dillon Myer, who downplayed the troubles in the concentration camps and explained the WRA philosophy of reestablishing Japanese Americans outside the camps, as well as former Ambassador to Japan Joseph Grew. Col. William P. Scoby of the U.S. Army General Staff reiterated the army's opposition to the legislation since it would give them "a responsibility which it is not particularly qualified to handle, because the objective to be accomplished is of a social nature rather than a military nature."[1] Among the others who testified was Tokutaro "Tokie" Slocum, who recounted his version of the events at Manzanar. Though the bulk of the committee were hostile to the WRA, O'Mahoney was sympathetic and has been characterized as "a voice of moderation."[2]

Subsequently, Chandler and some of the commission members took to the road to "investigate" conditions at the camps, visiting the California, Arizona, and Arkansas camps. In addition to brief visits to the camps—according to contemporary chronicler Carey McWiliams, "Observers noted that his technique was to breeze into a center, ask a few questions with the rapidity of a quarterback calling football signals, and then depart"—Chandler held hearings in Phoenix, Arizona and McGehee, Arkansas, while the committee's Special Consultant George W. Malone held hearings at Gila River and Poston.[3] During his tour, Chandler issued inflammatory remarks, claiming for instance that 60% of inmates were disloyal and stating that "in my mind there is no question that thousands of these fellows were armed and prepared to help Japanese troops invade the West Coast right after Pearl Harbor."[4] He was also quoted as advocating proposals to strip Nisei of their U.S. citizenship, though he later claimed he was misquoted.[5]

The committee issued its report in April, advocating a three point plan that Chandler claimed would save $50 million: (a) the segregation of the "disloyal" in concentration camps, (b) the drafting of the "loyal" of military age into the armed forces, and (c) the employment of other "loyal" inmates so that they could support themselves. These recommendations did not differ greatly in principle from what the WRA had planned. The committee did not recommend army management of the camps given the army's objection, but, as Chandler stated, "If the army cannot conduct the relocation centers, it can at least take over those Japanese men of military age."[6] The committee also grudgingly concluded that the WRA had done a good job of feeding and housing the inmates, but criticized it for not being quicker to segregate.[7] Committee member O'Mahoney's moderation—which was further encouraged by a call from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who objected to attacks on the WRA—as well as pushback from Wallgren's constituents have been noted as possible reasons for the relatively mild report and recommendations.[8] As historian Phil Roberts concluded, "Nothing of consequence resulted from the committee's investigations except 'junkets' for members."[9]

In 1945, Chandler left the Senate to become the commissioner of baseball. Ironically, he supported the integration of baseball and welcomed Jackie Robinson into the league under his tenure in 1947.

Other bodies that investigated the WRA included the Dies Committee (the House Committee on Un-American Activities) and the Tenney Committee (the Joint Committee on Un-American Activities of the California State Legislature).

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

For More Information

Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1982. Foreword by Tetsuden Kashima. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997.

Coombs, F. Alan. "Congressional Opinion and War Relocation." In Japanese Americans: From Relocation to Redress. Edited by Roger Daniels, Sandra C. Taylor, and Harry H. L. Kitano. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1986. Revised edition. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1991. 88-91.

Chandler Committee Washington, DC hearing transcripts, http://home.comcast.net/~eo9066/1943/43-01/TL06-1.html.

McWilliams, Carey. Prejudice: Japanese-Americans; Symbol of Racial Intolerance. Boston: Little, Brown, & Co., 1944.

Murray, Alice Yang. Historical Memories of the Japanese American Internment and the Struggle for Redress. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008.

Robinson, Greg. By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001.

Footnotes

  1. Cited in F. Alan Coombs, "Congressional Opinion and War Relocation," in Japanese Americans: From Relocation to Redress, edited by Roger Daniels, Sandra C. Taylor, and Harry H. L. Kitano (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1991), 90.
  2. Coombs, "Congressional Opinion," 90.
  3. Carey McWilliams, Prejudice: Japanese-Americans; Symbol of Racial Intolerance (Boston: Little, Brown, & Co., 1944), 249; Pacific Citizen, March 11, 1943, p. 1, accessed on June 26, 2013 at http://pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19430311_001.jpg; Pacific Citizen, March 18, 1943, p. 1, 8, accessed on June 26, 2013 at http://pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19430318_001.jpg and http://pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19430318_008.jpg; Pacific Citizen, March 25, 1943, p. 8, accessed on June 26, 2013 at http://pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19430325_008.jpg.
  4. McWilliams, Prejudice, 248–49.
  5. Pacific Citizen, March 18, 1943, p. 7, accessed on June 26, 2013 at http://pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19430318_007.jpg.
  6. Pacific Citizen, April 1, 1943, p. 2, accessed on June 26, 2013 at http://pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19430401_002.jpg
  7. Pacific Citizen, April 15, 1943, p. 3, accessed on June 26, 2013 at http://pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19430415_003.jpg
  8. Greg Robinson, By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001), 194; Coombs, "Congressional Opinion," 90; McWilliams, Prejudice, 249.
  9. Phil Roberts, "'Temporarily Side-Tracked by Emotionalism': Wyoming Residents Respond to Relocation," in Remembering Heart Mountain: Essays on Japanese American Internment in Wyoming, edited by Mike Mackey (Powell, Wyoming: Western History Publications, 1998), accessed on June 26, 2013 at http://uwacadweb.uwyo.edu/robertshistory/heart_mountain_omahoney.htm.