|April 28 1944
Journalist, war hero, vice-presidential candidate, and wartime secretary of the navy. As secretary of the navy during World War II, Frank Knox's (1874–1944) wild and unfounded remarks on Japanese American fifth column activity in the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor are often cited in the lead up to Executive Order 9066 . In internal discussions on the fate of Japanese Americans, Knox was a staunch advocate for mass exclusion and detention, not only for the West Coast but for Hawai'i as well.
William Franklin Knox was born on New Year's Day, 1874, in Boston to William Edwin Knox and Sarah Collins Barnard Knox. Though his grandfather became a successful builder in Boston, his father's lobster canning factory in Nova Scotia went under, and the family moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where Frank was raised under modest circumstances. He quit high school at age fifteen and worked as a shipping clerk's helper and traveling salesman before losing his job in the 1890s depression. At that point, he began working himself through nearby Alma College.
While a senior, the Spanish American War broke out, and Knox enlisted. He ended up win the famed Rough Riders, serving in Cuba with Theodore Roosevelt and returning to Grand Rapids a hero in 1898, the local paper having printed some of his letters home. On the basis of those letters, he was hired as a reporter for the Grand Rapids Herald , where he went from cub reporter to city editor in a year. He also began his first foray into politics, being asked to speak on behalf of the congressional campaign of William Alden Smith. He married Annie Reid on December 29, 1898.
He moved to the business side of the paper in 1900, then two years later, he and a partner purchased the Lake Superior Journal , which he transformed into the daily Evening Journal . Within a year, he had taken over his chief rival to become the Evening News . He later became the state Republican Party chairman and was the 1910 campaign manager for Chase S. Osborn, the first ever to be elected from Michigan's upper peninsula.
In 1912, he left Michigan to start the Leader , a new paper in Manchester, New Hampshire, with the financial backing of governor Robert Perkins Bass. A year later, he bought out the rival Daily Union , and the paper became the Manchester Union-Leader . With the onset of World War I, he enlisted again in 1916 at age 43, assuming command of the ammunition train in the 78th division and being promoted to major while serving in France.
He continued to run the Union-Leader until 1927, when he was appointed general manager of the Hearst newspaper chain, a post he held for four years, resigning in December 1930. In 1931, he became publisher of the Chicago Daily News , where he contributed editorials harshly critical of the New Deal. In 1936, he was the Republican nominee for vice-president as the running mate for Alf Landon; the ticket lost in a landslide.
In June of 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed the 67 year old Knox as the secretary of the navy and Henry Stimson as secretary of war. Both were interventionist Republicans, and the appointment was widely seen as move secure bipartisan support on the issue of the war in Europe. In addition to working for the notoriously anti-Japanese Hearst newspaper chain, he had publicly advocated in 1933 for the internment of all Japanese in Hawai'i "before the beginning of hostilities threatens." 
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Knox requested that he be allowed to go to Hawai'i to investigate personally. After spending 36 hours in Hawai'i, he stated at a Los Angeles press conference, "I think the most effective Fifth Column work of the entire war was done in Hawaii with the exception of Norway."  In his December 14 report to the President, he repeated his Fifth Column accusations and charged local Japanese with deliberately misleading defenders at Pearl Harbor. He continued to repeat these charges even after the FBI and Army Intelligence agreed that there had been no sabotage during or after the attack. His motive for repeating such false information may have had to do with wanting to deflect attention from the lack of preparation of the military in Hawai'i.
Later in the war, Knox also pushed for mass confinement for the more than 160,000 Japanese Americans in Hawai'i on Molokai or one of the neighbor islands. In subsequent weeks, he continued to press this issue with the President almost alone among administration officials, before ultimately losing this battle to Delos Emmons , the military commander of Hawai'i under martial law, whose selective detention strategy won out. Ultimately, less than 2,000 Japanese Americans from Hawai'i, less than one percent of the population, ended up in camps. Knox was also influential in Japanese Americans being kept out of the navy throughout the war.
Knox died in office on April 28, 1944, after a series of heart attacks. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. His widow, Annie Reid Knox established the Frank Knox Memorial Scholarship in his name at Harvard University to support educational exchange between the U.S. and countries in the former British Commonwealth.
For More Information
Beasley, Norman. Frank Knox American: A Short Biography . Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1936.
Harvard University, Frank Knox Memorial Fellowship. "Who Was Frank Knox?" http://www.frankknox.harvard.edu/who.html .
Robinson, Greg. By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans . Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001.
———. A Tragedy of Democracy: Japanese Confinement in North America . New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.
- Cited in Greg Robinson, By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001), 77.
- Cited in Robinson, A Tragedy of Democracy: Japanese Confinement in North America (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), 63.
Last updated April 27, 2021, 12:55 a.m..