Dies Committee


The House Committee on Un-American Activities—popularly known as the Dies Committee after its founder Martin Dies, Jr., a Texas congressman—was one of two congressional committees that investigated the War Relocation Authority (WRA) in 1943. Testimony highlighted supposed Japanese American disloyalty and was harshly critical of the WRA. However an aggressive counterattack by the WRA forced a retraction of some of the more spectacular charges and a muted set of recommendations.

Background[edit]

The House Committee on Un-American Activities was organized in 1938 by Texas Congressman Martin Dies, Jr. The committee was the latest in a line of similar groupings dating back to 1918 formed to investigate supposed subversive activity by communist or fascist groups and individuals inside and outside of the federal government. Dies' proposal enjoyed support from both the left, which was interested in Nazi and far-right movements, and the right, which wanted to target communism and aspects of the New Deal. Though it would enjoy its greatest prominence during the Cold War, working in tandem with a similar Senate committee led by Joseph McCarthy, the Dies Committee was active during World War II as well. One of its investigations focused on Japanese American incarceration in 1943.

The first notice the commission took of the Japanese American situation came in the summer of 1941, when Dies threatened to call hearings to investigate espionage among the Japanese on the West Coast, claiming he had evidence of a plot involving Japanese naval personnel collaborating with Japanese American fishermen on Terminal Island. However nothing ended up coming out of this threat. Later, in February 1942, Dies called for all Japanese Americans to be moved 500 miles inland

Popular discontent against the WRA rose in late 1942 with the highly publicized unrest at Manzanar and Poston and into 1943 when the WRA announced plans to release "loyal" inmates to areas outside the West Coast. The call for the investigation of Japanese Americans came in April, after the announcement that the Western Defense Command would start allowing Nisei soldiers on furlough to return to the coast. The Dies Committee investigation followed a Senate investigation led by Senator A. B. Chander of Kentucky.

Dies appointed a three-man subcommittee to investigate the Japanese Americans. They included John Costello (D–California) as the chair, Karl E. Mundt (R–South Dakota), and Herman P. Eberharter (D–Pennsylvania). This group visited several of the camps in May. Hearings before the committee began in June 8 in Los Angeles. But even before the hearings, Dies Committee member (but not part of the subcommittee) J. Parnell Thomas (R–New Jersey) held a press conference in Los Angeles claiming Japanese Americans on the West Coast had been part of an organized division of the Japanese army and that wine was served with meals in the camps, among other charges.

Hearings[edit]

The hearings were mostly a forum for a variety of attacks on the WRA. The star witness was H. H. Townsend, a former Poston WRA employee who had been fired for leaving the camp without authorization during the Poston Strike of 1942. His testimony included the charge the "over 1,000 Japanese soldiers and officers" were in Poston and claims of food stocks having been hidden in the desert, presumably to aid an escape plot by would-be saboteurs.[1]

WRA director Dillon Myer insisted on responding to these charges. He had Poston director W. Wade Head cross examine Townsend, revealing Townsend's "irregular" behavior as an employee. In his own testimony, Myer railed against the "sensational statements based on half-truths, exaggerations, and falsehoods" that could undermine national unity.[2] He also submitted a point-by-point refutation of Townsend's testimony, citing forty-two inaccuracies; ultimately Chairman Costello was forced to admit that Townsend's testimony did contain thirty-nine "lies or half-truths."

The committee's subsequent report in September was anti-climactic and dubbed "tepid" and "extremely mild" by historians.[3] Its recommendations included calls for expediting the segregation program, establishing a board to investigate those who requested leave, and strengthening the Americanization program, all items that fit the WRA agenda. After the hearings, Myer pushed to remove overtly "racist" WRA employees to prevent other Townsend-like episodes and also replaced several camp directors who had come from other federal agencies with trusted people from the WRA headquarters.[4]

Committee Members in 1943–44[edit]

Chairman, Martin Dies, Texas

Herman P. Eberharter, Pennsylvania

Wirt Courtney, Tennessee

Joe Starnes, Alabama

John M. Costello, California

Noah M. Mason, Illinois (replaced in 2nd Session by Fred E. Busbey, Illinois)

J. Parnell Thomas, New Jersey

Karl E. Mundt, South Dakota

Secretary, Robert E. Stripling

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

For More Information[edit]

Drinnon, Richard. Keeper of Concentration Camps: Dillon S. Myer and American Racism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.

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

Myer, Dillon S. Uprooted Americans: The Japanese Americans and the War Relocation Authority during World War II. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1971.

O'Reilly, Kenneth. Hoover and the Un-Americans: The FBI, HUAC, and the Red Menace. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1983.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. Cited in Alice Yang Murray, Historical Memories of the Japanese American Internment and the Struggle for Redress (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008), 83 and Dillon S. Myer, Uprooted Americans: The Japanese Americans and the War Relocation Authority during World War II (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1971), 96–97.
  2. Cited in Murray, Historical Memories, 83.
  3. Murray, Historical Memories, 84 and Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1982), 226.
  4. Brian Masaru Hayashi, Democratizing the Enemy: The Japanese American Internment (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), 148–49.