Morton Grodzins

Name Morton Grodzins
Born August 11 1917
Died March 7 1964
Birth Location Chicago

Morton Grodzins (1917–64), professor of political science at the University of Chicago, was the author of Americans Betrayed (1949), the first scholarly study of the mass removal of Japanese Americans and its causes.

Early Life and Education

Born in Chicago, Grodzins also lived in Winthrop, Massachusetts, as a child. He did his undergraduate work at the University of Louisville. After receiving his B.A. in political science there, Grodzins remained at Louisville for three further years as director of public relations and student publications. During this time, he studied for an M.A. degree in political science. His master's thesis, "Pan-American Solidarity, 1932-1940," was completed in 1941. It made the case that even though Franklin Roosevelt was celebrated for proclaiming his "good neighbor policy" towards Latin America, the largest part of the reforms that it represented had already been implemented during the preceding Hoover administration. During his years at Louisville, Grodzins married Ruth Maimon, and the couple later had two daughters.

In 1941 Grodzins moved to the University of California at Berkeley, where he studied for a Ph.D. in political science. In summer 1942, he was employed by Professor Dorothy Swaine Thomas as part of the Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Study (JERS). Since he had a teaching fellowship, he was not at first sent into the field, but did clerical chores. Beginning in the fall 1942, he let his teaching fellowship lapse, and instead began full-time work with JERS, with the title of "research assistant." Grodzins assumed control over day-to-day budget and administrative chores, hired personnel and wrote grant applications. Thomas was sufficiently pleased with his work that in 1943 she raised his salary and tried to have him named research associate, though the application was rejected on the ground that the university reserved such status for holders of Ph.Ds.

Grodzins was given the task of assembling material on the political and administrative background to mass removal. He collected newspaper and magazine articles and texts of speeches advocating punitive actions directed at Japanese Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In addition, Grodzins traveled to Washington to interview government officials about their decisions. While War Department representatives refused to be interviewed, he secured interviews with U.S. Attorney General Francis Biddle and other Department of Justice officials. He also gained access to constituent letters sent to U.S. congressmen. He took a leave of absence from the project in order to complete a dissertation on the subject, "Political Aspects of the Japanese Evacuation," which was submitted in 1944. Dorothy Swaine Thomas was a member of his thesis committee. After completing work on the dissertation, Grodzins returned to work on the JERS project. He formed part of the team that worked on Thomas and Richard Nishimoto's study of "disloyals" at Tule Lake . The project ultimately resulted in the 1946 book The Spoilage .

Americans Betrayed

Grodzins earned his Ph.D. in 1945. That same year, he moved to Chicago, where he was initially hired as research director of the State-Local Relations project of the Council of State Governments. He was the principal author of a report, State-Local Relations , published by the Council in 1946. He was offered a part-time appointment by the University of Chicago, which soon evolved into a full-time position in the University's college (then called Hutchins College). From 1947 to 1951 he served as chairman of one of the undergraduate social science general education sequences.

Even after the war, he remained interested in the treatment of Japanese Americans and the matter of loyalty. In 1946, around the time that The Spoilage was published, he gave a lecture at the University of Louisville entitled "The Erosion of Patriotism." In the lecture, Grodzins affirmed that repeated abuses would weaken and destroy the allegiance of individuals. Charging that the government's wartime policy had led to a disruption of the home and family life of Japanese Americans, he warned of the implications for African Americans: "We cannot, in the end, expect Negroes to be devoted to this nation if democracy denies them political freedom, decent homes and full economic opportunity." [1] Grodzins's lecture attracted widespread coverage in the African American press.

During this period, Grodzins transformed his dissertation into a book. He initially offered it to University of California Press for publication in the same series as The Spoilage . (As the preface to that volume noted the editors intended publishing in their series a monograph on "political and administrative aspects of evacuation and resettlement," they seem to have been contemplating some version of Grodzins's work). However, following opposition by Thomas, permission to publish was refused.

Grodzins decided to seek publication elsewhere, and in 1948 William T. Couch, the director of University of Chicago Press, agreed to put out his work. Despite efforts by Thomas—backed by University of California Chancellor Robert Sproul and University of Chicago Chancellor Robert Maynard Hutchins—to influence Couch to withdraw the promise of publication, the University of Chicago Press published Grodzins's book in 1949 under the title Americans Betrayed . Grodzins's thesis was that wartime removal was a disastrous decision made by the Western Defense Command in response to the demands of opportunistic politicians and economic, racist and political pressure groups in California to remove all ethnic Japanese from the state. (See the separate article on Americans Betrayed for more on its road to publication and its content, impact, and legacy.)

Later Work and Career

In 1951 Grodzins took a leave from his teaching position to become director of the University of Chicago Press. He was appointed dean of the university's social sciences division in 1953, but was forced to resign after a single year due to illness—he would be plagued by periods of poor health for the rest of his life. In 1955, following his recovery, Grodzins returned to the Department of Political Science, where he served as chair for a three-year term. In 1958. He spent a one-year leave as a research fellow in the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Science.

During this time, his work elaborated in more theoretical terms on the questions of loyalty and patriotism that he had discussed in terms of Japanese Americans. His book Making un-Americans (1955) looked at Cold War paranoia. The Loyal and the Disloyal: Social Boundaries of Patriotism and Treason (1956) investigated the concept of treason amid the McCarthy era and the loyalty test.

Another significant contribution by Grodzins drew from his interest in studying the sociology (and psychology) of race relations and housing, which also followed, if indirectly, from his work on Japanese Americans. In works such as the article "Metropolitan Segregation" (1957) and the pamphlet The Metropolitan Area as a Racial Problem (1958), Grodzins explored the capacity of white Americans to accept racial diversity in their neighborhoods, and inquired why some had a low tolerance for the presence of racial minorities while others were ready to live with fairly significant amounts of diversity. In the process, he introduced the concept of the "tipping point" in terms of neighborhood integration—that is, the limit in the level of racial diversity that white residents of an area would tolerate—and the related idea of "white flight." Initially, as a neighborhood became racially integrated, only the most racist families would leave. Yet as each did, the balance of white and black families would shift toward blacks. More white families would then leave the area, until a tipping point was reached and the slow movement of whites accelerated until there were few or no white families left. His concentration on the question of race relations and housing led him to coedit, along with Edward Banfield, an anthology entitled Government and Housing in Metropolitan Areas (1958).

A third axis of research for Grodzins was the question of federalism, which drew from his former work on state-local relations as well as on the light thrown on questions of states' rights and federalism by the civil rights movement. He produced a chapter on "The Federal System" in Goals for Americans , the 1960 report of President Eisenhower's Commission on National Goals. Grodzins further developed his ideas in his last book, the posthumously published The American System: A New View of the Government of the United States (1966). In it, Grodzins proposed that strict separation of national and state functions has never really existed. Rather, national and state governments operated like a "marble cake," with highly intertwined missions and blurred boundary lines between federal, state, and local authority.

Grodzins also was active during this period as a public intellectual. He served as a consultant to the Public Administration Clearing House, the Hoover Commission and the National Manpower Council. His major outside contribution came in the field of science and arms control. In 1957 Grodzins joined the editorial board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (for which his wife served as administrator) and in 1963 coedited The Atomic Age , an anthology of papers from the Bulletin . He played a leading role in the annual Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs.

Grodzins suffered from poor health in later years, with increasing periods of illness and forced inactivity. He died in Chicago on March 7, 1964. Despite his early passing, not only did Grodzins make a name for himself through his timely and enlightening research on Japanese Americans, but his theories on "tipping points" heavily influenced later writers such as Malcolm Gladwell.

Authored by Greg Robinson , Université du Québec À Montréal

For More Information

"Morton Grodzins: In Memoriam." The American Political Science Review 58.2 (June 1964): 504–05.

Grodzins, Morton. Americans Betrayed: Politics and the Japanese Evacuation . Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1949.


  1. "Status Compared with Japanese," Jackson Advocate , Feb. 3, 1946.

Last updated Jan. 25, 2024, 7:14 p.m..