Provost Marshal General's Office, Army

The unit of the War Department responsible for military policing during World War II. The role of the Provost Marshal in matters of military discipline stretches back to the Revolutionary War, although the formal office has been deactivated and reactivated many times throughout American history. Its World War II incarnation came into being in July of 1941 under the auspices of the War Department's chief of staff, with Major General Allen W. Gullion at its helm. The office's initial responsibility was the control of enemy aliens in the United States, but that quickly grew to include broader military policing duties, including the security of war production plants and military installations.

The Office of the Provost Marshal General had a significant impact on Japanese Americans during the war in two ways.

First, after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, Provost Marshal General Gullion was the earliest and most forceful advocate within the military for the complete removal from the West Coast of all people of Japanese ancestry regardless of their citizenship. He designated his assistant Karl R. Bendetsen to assist Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt , Commanding General of the Western Defense Command , in the development of a policy for controlling Japanese aliens and American citizens of Japanese ancestry along the West Coast in January and early February of 1942. In that position, Bendetsen was successful in guiding DeWitt to Gullion's preferred solution of mass exclusion and in outmaneuvering the objections to that solution from attorneys in the Department of Justice.

Second, in 1943 and 1944, the Office of the Provost Marshal General had a voting representative on, and provided major technical support for, the Japanese American Joint Board , which was responsible for recommending which Japanese Americans should be permitted to leave the War Relocation Authority's camps and which Japanese Americans should be permitted to work in jobs at plants doing work that was important to the war effort. In this setting, the Office of the Provost Marshal General invariably took the most negative view of the loyalty of Japanese Americans and attached the most detrimental meaning possible to any aspects of a Japanese American's life that indicated familiarity with or attachment to Japanese culture or religion. The office also viewed Japanese Americans' loyalties as family, not individual, matters, and driven almost entirely by the associations and supposed tendencies of Japanese alien fathers.

In October of 1943, the Office of the Provost Marshal General took over from the JAJB final authority over war plant employment for Japanese Americans. Its record of disapproving Japanese Americans on theories of ethnic suspicion and guilt by association led an officer in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of War to condemn the work of the Office of the Provost Marshal General for "paint[ing] th[e] case[s] about as black as they can and … draw[ing] the wildest of pictures."

Authored by Eric L. Muller , University of North Carolina

For More Information

Muller, Eric L. American Inquisition: The Hunt for Japanese American Disloyalty in World War II . Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.

Last updated June 15, 2020, 7:03 p.m..