WC supposes that every family has its mortifying member, the one we’d all like to pretend never existed. The one no one wants to talk about.
WC certainly has such a clump of mistletoe parasitizing his strange family tree: General John L. DeWitt. The General would be the man who was in charge of locking up the Japanese on the west coast at the start of World War II.
“The Japanese race is an enemy race and while many second and third generation Japanese born on American soil, possessed of American citizenship, have become ‘Americanized,’ the racial strains are undiluted.
…It, therefore, follows that along the vital Pacific Coast over 112,000 potential enemies, of Japanese extraction, are at large today. There are indications that these are organized and ready for concerted action at a favorable opportunity.
The very fact that no sabotage has taken place to date is a disturbing and confirming indication that such action will be taken.”
— General John L. DeWitt, head of the U.S. Army’s Western Defense Command
Happily, the General is a fairly distant relative. He was the oldest son of a younger brother of WC’s great-great grandfather. Still, that’s not really a distant enough relationship for WC’s comfort. The General was the man who authored the report recommending President Roosevelt lock up the Japanese. The report is an appalling piece of racist scapegoating, even by the standards of the time. And as the quotation above makes clear, the General was a racist as well as a champion of illogic: the absence of sabotage was proof there would be sabotage.
And he enforced the internment of thousands of innocent persons with a kind of lip-smacking glee. The great Dorthea Lange documented the internment, but her photos were to strong for the General, so he caused them to be seized for the duration of World War II, even writing “Impounded” across some of the prints. The photos were quietly deposited into the National Archives, where they remained largely unseen until 2006.
Racist, bigot, censor and serial liar. There are couple of horse thieves in WC’s family tree who look like saints in comparison to General John L. DeWitt. On behalf of his family, WC apologizes to all of the victims of exclusion and internment on the West coast. We cannot choose our ancestors.
WC’s bucket list includes a visit to Arlington National Cemetery, where the General is buried. The visit will involve, at the very least, hawking a loogy on his grave.
4 thoughts on “Epic Fails: The Extremely Embarrassing Relative”
Definitely not a relative to be proud of! I’ve got some of those myself. I hope you enjoy your visit to Arlington – it’s a very inspiring place. While there, make sure you see the sculpture “Raising the Flag at Iwo Jima”. It’s the best thing there, and every time I’ve seen it, it has caused me to break out in goosebumps.
Have you considered doing a scholarly biography of the general now that you have more time?
It could be instructive to learn how a person becomes that way, given his prominence and undisputed leadership attributes as recognized by achieving high rank. Such a study might be especially revealing as we head into an historical period that may be characterized by similar attitudes. “The Other” figures prominently in the incoming administration, surely to no one’s surprise since Trump parlayed his racist delegitimization of Pres. Obama into a successful run for the presidency.
Understanding how Gen. DeWitt became the person he became may help us to understand similar revelations by others as well as to understand how societal forces permit that to happen without successfully resisting.
Paul, WC truly loathes General DeWitt. Writing anything about him would be so painful and gut-wrenching it would verge on masochism. There are other writing projects under way that are more interesting and less self-flagellating. Bird photography is vastly more fun.
Besides, WC is still unsuccessfully retired.
One of the more satisfying aspects of claiming membership in the human race is being able to enjoy selective memory. We can juicily apply that process to enjoying selective ancestors: THIS guy was a real champ; I’ll claim him as my g-g-g-whatever. THAT one? What a loser. Off to the dustbin. And over THERE? Wow – a genuine pirate? Cool.
As you write, “not distant enough”. But if he had dripped his venom two, or three, or four generations further back, it would have been far less onerous to rationalize him, and to couch his unpleasantness as a feature of that age. True, false or misleading? It is a statistical dead certainty that were we able successfully to learn everything of our (exactly) 33,554,432 25*g-grandparents, every one of us would be able to find enough appalling ancestors to make your cuz the General a prime candidate for sainthood.
So sweep through the tree and find the nifty ones. Forget about the others. Written otherwise: I disagree. You CAN choose your ancestors.
PS: General John DeW was illegitimate. That no-good slattern who conned your great-great-great uncle into marrying her had a dalliance. He’s no relation of yours. You can tell by those shifty eyes. 😉
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