»  Chronicles

January 2000

  Thinking About Internment


I am going to ask what Churchill would have called some naughty questions and offer some impertinent answers. I apologize in advance for the extreme political incorrectness of what follows. In the hope of persuading the reader that I raise these issues with no pleasure at all, I shall preface them with some personal notes. I am a British citizen, lawfully resident in the United States. I became eligible to apply for naturalization six months ago, but have not yet done so — partly from sloth, partly from a dislike of dealing with government agencies, partly from a lingering sentimental attachment to my own country. My wife — who has applied for naturalization — is a citizen of mainland China; her father is a member of the Chinese Communist Party. Our two children are, as they are already tired of being told, half English coal miner, half Chinese peasant, 100 percent American. Most of our friends (along with my current boss and three of the people who report to me) are mainland Chinese or Taiwanese.

Now let us proceed. The questions I want to address are: in the increasingly thinkable event of a war between China and the United States, what can be said about the loyalties of (a) Chinese nationals in the United States, (b) Taiwanese nationals in the U.S. and (c) people of the Chinese race (I am translating here precisely from the commonplace Chinese term han-zu ) born and raised in the United States? Supposing it can fairly be said that some of those loyalties are doubtful, how should a responsible wartime government act? Which is of course equivalent to asking: How should a responsible peacetime government plan to act?

In the first place, I do not think it at all improper to pose questions of this sort, though I have no doubt many people do so think and that I shall meet heavy criticism for having posed them. War is a fierce and desperate business. At the least it is a matter of national prestige; at most, it is a matter of national survival. War between two nations with nuclear arsenals must always, I think, be regarded as in the "at most" category. In such a situation you do what you have to do, while trying to hold on to as much decency and legality as you can spare.

The reason why these questions are particularly acute in respect of the Chinese are, I think, fairly widely known. Modern war is very technological. You need good soldiers, of course; but you also need good engineers, physicists, chemists, mathematicians, computer scientists and — horrible to say, but surely true — biologists. In the United States today, Chinese nationals, Taiwanese nationals and ABCs (that is, American-born Chinese) are massively over-represented in these disciplines. In many fields, they dominate. An acquaintance who studied advanced physics at Florida Atlantic University tells me that the other two graduate students in her department were both mainland Chinese (and, incidentally, that both of them were funded by the U.S. taxpayer, via grants mainly from the Departments of Energy and Defense). In the event of a Sino-American war — and assuming that war lasted longer than the flight times of two ICBM barrages — these researchers would pose an acute problem for the authorities.

I myself live just four miles from Cold Spring Harbor lab, a major center of research in microbiology and genetics. My wife is an outgoing sort and makes friends with other Chinese people when she can — people she meets at mothers' groups, playgroups, the library and the supermarket. Most of them turn out to be, or to be married to, researchers at Cold Spring Harbor. Last summer we were invited to a picnic there (the lab has extensive grounds and is beautifully located on Long Island's north shore). Practically the only language much in evidence at the picnic was Mandarin. I would estimate that at least 60 percent of the participants — researchers and their families — were Chinese. The situation is the same at other labs — even those doing defense work. Where do the loyalties of these researchers lie?

So far as mainland nationals are concerned — including the tens of thousands working in government labs, or pursuing graduate studies on government grants — I think it can be said with fair certainty that practically all would favor a Chinese victory. Why should anyone think otherwise? Who would expect foreign nationals to support their host country over their homeland? Probing among Chinese colleagues and friends, I find zero spiritual attachment to America. As one of them put it: "America is not really a country. It's just a place people come to from all over to have a good life." Probably many of the Chinese would try to return to China — though a U.S. government at war would be foolish to allow them to do so, or to remain in their posts. Internment would be the only option. Chinese nationals who have taken out U.S. citizenship should also be regarded as security risks. This sounds very shocking, of course. As citizens, do they not have the same rights as all other citizens, with the single exception specified in the Constitution? Well, yes; but what is one to think of a Chinese national like John Huang, President Clinton's favorite fundraiser, who, after becoming naturalized, maintains close business and personal links with front companies for the Chinese military and intelligence communities? And what is one to do with such a person in the event of a war with China? To put the issue somewhat differently: Suppose you were running Chinese Intelligence and wished to plant a network of "sleepers" around the U.S.A. For really effective cover, would it not be smart to have them apply for citizenship as soon as they were eligible? Does anyone believe the Chinese Communist Party incapable of such a thing?

If you start asking these kinds of questions, someone soon raises the issue of the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II. This is generally regarded as a very disgraceful episode — the U.S. government interning U.S. citizens for reasons suspiciously racist (German-Americans and Italian-Americans were not interned in anything like such numbers, although many were interned). I must say, I have never thought it was a very deplorable thing to do. All those interned, including those with U.S. citizenship, were Japanese citizens (at that time, Japanese automatically inherited citizenship from their fathers). Only Japanese-Americans in likely infiltration areas were interned: those in New York, Nebraska and Hawaii (!) were not. Japan had attacked U.S. territory; Germany and Italy had not. The camps were rather comfortable — they contained beauty parlors, for example, and in at least one case a Kabuki theater — and were visited by all the major news organizations of the time. Some Japanese-Americans were given the choice of returning to Japan, and did so. The Japanese authorities regarded them with deep suspicion and put them to forced labor in concentration camps.

The interned Japanese-Americans argue that they were not security threats. I am sure that most of them were not; I am equally sure that some of them were. A friend currently teaching at a Japanese university tells me that the phrase Nihon ga kateba ii — "I hope Japan wins" — was commonly heard among older Japanese-Americans at the time.

I have spoken only of mainland Chinese people living in this country. The Taiwanese are a special case, the more so because the most probable cause of a war between China and the United States would be a Chinese attack on, or blockade of, Taiwan. My impression is that under this or any other casus belli most Taiwanese would support America. Many native Taiwanese dislike mainlanders in general. (I know one who objects to being called Chinese: "I am not Chinese, I am Taiwanese.") Descendants of those mainlanders who came to the island in Chiang Kai-shek's baggage train still fear and hate the Communists. It is, after all, Chiang's wife who owns the distinction of being the first person of importance in any nation to call for the use of nuclear weapons against her own countrymen.

What of those who call themselves "Chinese-Americans" — members of the Chinese race who were born here and passed through the American educational system? All those classes on "multiculturalism" and "diversity" they must have sat through: what lesson did they take from them? That their first loyalty is to their ethnic group? What, then, is their second loyalty? To their country of citizenship? Or to the homeland of their ethnic group? The situation is not improved by the fact of ABCs being over-represented in colleges and universities (a state of affairs that becomes even more pronounced as affirmative action in college admissions is outlawed). Our institutes of higher education are the engine-rooms of the multicultural enterprise. Four years at the average university is, as a survey by National Review has found, a most effective way to turn young Americans against their country, its history and traditions. Is it unreasonable to suppose that for some proportion of these people — five per cent? twenty? — racial loyalty will trump national allegiance?

(Once you start thinking about this stuff, even stranger and more daunting dilemmas present themselves. Suppose, for example, that a great power were to come up in black Africa. There is nothing very improbable about such a development. That continent has the highest rates of population growth in the world, by far the lowest labor costs, and more than its share of natural resources. All that is missing is an organizing principle; but organizing principles have often appeared suddenly out of nowhere, turning the most unlikely places into centers of historical dynamism — think of the rise of Islam. A militant and vigorous African power is not more unlikely now than the rise of Japan was in 1850, or that of China in 1950. Suppose, then, that such a power came into being; and suppose its interests clashed violently with those of the United States. Where would black Americans stand in such a conflict? The doctrines of — to borrow a useful phrase from Peter Salins' Assimilation, American Style — "ethnic federalism" that are now universal among our policy elites may seem like an interesting experiment in peacetime. In time of war, they may prove fatal.)

However shocking the things I am saying here may seem in this long tranquil time, I guarantee that when the first U.S. carrier is sunk by Chinese action, or the first American city is erased by a Chinese ICBM, Chinese nationals, including those who are U.S. Citizens, will be hustled into camps faster than you can say "executive order" and will stay there for the duration, whatever the ACLU — or even the Supreme Court — thinks about it. I hope the camps will not be very uncomfortable, for I shall be there too — the Derbyshires travel as a family. I also hope that I shall be able to maintain sufficient detachment to understand that a responsible U.S. government really has no choice in the matter.