Sent: Friday, March 17, 2000 5:16 PM
Subject: Another reason to burn your census form
I already tossed my census form in the garbage, but if I hadn't, this report
certainly would make me do so. Of course, reports like this are merely
indicitive of our government in less enlightened, less progressive times.
Nothing like this could ever happen now, right?
Census Bureau Role Reported in Internment of Japanese-Americans
By STEVEN A. HOLMES
WASHINGTON -- Two scholars say in a new research paper that despite earlier
denials, the Census Bureau was deeply involved in the roundup and internment
of Japanese-Americans at the onset of American entry into World War II.
The academics say the bureau's involvement included identifying
concentrations of people of Japanese ancestry in geographic units as small
as city blocks, lending a senior Census Bureau official to work with the War
Department on the relocation program and a willingness to disclose names and
addresses of Japanese-Americans.
While it is common today for the Census Bureau to publish reports that would
detail the number of people of a given race living in an area as small as a
city block, such information was generally not available in the 1940's. But
the authors of the paper contend that the Census Bureau provided such
detailed information as well as age, sex, citizenship and country of birth
to the War Department, now the Defense Department, on only one group,
The paper, "After Pearl Harbor: The Proper Role of Population Data Systems
in Time of War," was written by William Seltzer, a statistician and
demographer at Fordham University, and Margo Anderson, a history professor
at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee whose area of expertise is the
Mr. Seltzer and Professor Anderson plan to present the paper at the annual
meeting of the Population Association of America next week in Los Angeles.
Copies have been circulating in Washington, and one was made available to
The New York Times.
The practices described in the paper did not appear to have violated laws
governing the census, which prohibit the bureau from disclosing census
information on individuals. But the authors indicated that despite the law,
Census Bureau officials appeared to be willing to provide such data. What is
not clear is whether they were asked to do so.
"We're by law required to keep confidential information by individuals," the
paper quotes the bureau director, J. C. Capt, as saying at a meeting of the
Census Advisory Committee in January 1942.
the defense authorities found 200 Japanese-Americans missing and they wanted
the names of the Japanese-Americans in that area, Mr. Capt said, "I would
give them further means of checking individuals."
The Census Bureau often boasted that its conduct in the relocation of
Japanese-Americans had been its finest hour because it resisted pressure to
provide explicit data to the War and Justice Departments.
But bureau officials do not dispute the findings of the paper. They say,
however, that the strengthening of the laws protecting the confidentiality
of data on individuals and the environment today would make a repetition of
those abuses unlikely.
Japanese-Americans have long suspected that the Census Bureau played a
prominent role in the relocation of 120,000 residents of Japanese ancestry
to detention camps.
"We've always suspected this," said Norman Mineta, a former California
congressman who was removed with his family from San Jose and sent to a
detention camp in Wyoming.
"After all, they are the keeper of this kind of information."
On Dec. 9, 1941, two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Census
Bureau produced a report titled
"Japanese Population of the United States, Its Territories and Possessions."
The next day the bureau issued a report on the Japanese population by
citizenship and place of birth in selected cities across the country. The
next day it published another report, this one on the Japanese population by
counties in states on the West Coast.
Mr. Capt justified the speed with which the bureau produced these reports by
saying at meeting of the Census Advisory Committee in January 1942: "We
didn't want to wait for the declaration of war. On Monday morning we put our
people to work on the Japanese thing."
Subsequent reports became even more detailed.
In 1942, Tom Clark, a Justice Department official working with the War
Department, was quoted in the paper as saying that Census Bureau officials
would "lay out on tables [maps of] various city blocks where Japanese lived
and they would tell me how many were living in each block."
The paper's disclosures come at a ticklish time for the Census Bureau
because they coincide with the mailing this month of census forms to about
120 million households. Bureau officials say they fear that the scholars'
paper may frighten people into not returning the forms.
The only dangerous idea is the idea that there
are such things as dangerous ideas.
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