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Karl Bendetsen
United States Under Secretary of the Army
In office
May 1952 – October 1952
PresidentHarry S. Truman
Preceded byArchibald S. Alexander
Succeeded byEarl D. Johnson
Personal details
Born(1907-10-11)October 11, 1907
DiedJune 28, 1989(1989-06-28) (aged 81)
Known forInternment of Japanese Americans
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Army
Years of service1940-1945
Rank Colonel
UnitWashington Army National Guard

Karl Robin Bendetsen (October 11, 1907 – June 28, 1989) was an American politician and military officer who served in the Washington Army National Guard during World War II and later as the United States Under Secretary of the Army. Bendetsen is remembered primarily for his role as an architect of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, a role he tried to downplay in later years.

Early life

Karl Bendetsen was born into a Lithuanian Jewish family in Aberdeen, Washington.[1] His parents, Albert M. and Anna Bendetson, were first-generation American citizens.[1] Karl changed the spelling of his last name during early 1942, and would later make written claims to descent from Danish lumbermen who had come to America as early as 1670.

Military career

Prior to World War II

Bendetson (as he was then known) enlisted in the 248th Coast Artillery Battalion of the Washington National Guard, at the age of fourteen. While this was well below the legal age, the National Guard turned a blind eye to the many young men who desired to enlist while who were still in—or, as in Bendetsen's case, had yet to enter—high school.[2]

As he matured, Karl studied at Stanford University and participated in the Reserve Officers Training Corps, accepting a commission in the Officers Reserve Corps in 1929. He was ordered to active duty in 1940.[2]


Bendetson, now a major, was on the administrative staff of Judge Advocate General Major General Allen W. Guillion, in the Wartime Civil Control Administration.[1]

In early September 1941, Bendetson was sent to Hawaii to discuss the need to intern enemy aliens in case of war. He stated in his notes that there were 134,000 American citizens of Japanese descent in the islands, and worried that "good Americans" might "give Japs the benefit of the doubt" for economic reasons.[citation needed]

In November, Bendetson was sent to take over an aircraft plant in New Jersey, as part of a plan by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to boost production of factories making materiel needed by Great Britain.[citation needed]

Major Bendetson was given this assignment after having written the orders for seizure and strike-breaking at a North American Aviation plant, but the army had taken charge of the Air Associates plant in October, prior to his arrival. In later years, however, Bendetsen would describe a wild scene of standing on his overturned car to face down the "mass" of strikers who had blocked his way into the plant.

The strike settled, Bendetson was back at his own desk in early December.

Internment of Japanese Americans

Immediately following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested approximately 5,500 leaders in the Japanese American communities in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, and Hawaii.[3] While the government was worried that these leaders had been involved in anti-American activity on behalf of the Empire of Japan, eventually, all were cleared of any wrongdoing.[citation needed]

However, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 in early 1942, which authorized military commanders to designate "exclusion zones", "from which any or all persons may be excluded" for reasons of military security. Following that authorization, Bendetsen (he had changed his name by this time)[citation needed] developed a plan by which all persons of Japanese ancestry, whether foreign-born or American-born, were forcibly interned in concentration camps. He then pressured Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt to accept his plan, rather than the less-restrictive one which DeWitt had originally intended.

Initially, only southern Arizona and the western parts of Washington, Oregon and California were designated as "Military Area No. 1," and many Japanese Americans simply moved to the eastern portions of their home states, while several thousand moved to other states.[4] Bendetsen would later call this "voluntary relocation," though the moves were done at the orders of the government. The Western Defense Command then announced that the exclusion zone would be expanded to include all of California and created "Military Area No. 2," at the same time prohibiting Japanese Americans from leaving either military area. Only those who had moved outside California escaped being rounded up and confined in makeshift "assembly centers" (often horse stalls at racetracks and fairgrounds),[5] and then later incarceration in "relocation centers."

While Bendetsen and other supporters of internment cited military necessity (and continue to do so), reports by the FBI and by the Office of Naval Intelligence had stated that not only were vast majority of Americans of Japanese ancestry loyal, but likewise their parents (who had been denied American citizenship) were loyal to the United States and held no allegiance to Japan.

Bendetsen also ordered that any person, no matter their age, who had "one drop of Japanese blood" were to be confined.[6] This included the removal of infants and children from orphanages and the transportation of hospital patients, a number of whom died when their care was cut off.[citation needed] He would later claim that the orders were not so broad-sweeping, though even Military Intelligence Service officers of Japanese ancestry were forced to leave California.

Throughout the rest of the war, Bendetsen and DeWitt opposed army orders that soldiers of Japanese ancestry be allowed to re-enter the coastal states while on leave or military assignment.[citation needed] The reason for opposition was primarily political along with the fear of ridicule because the soldiers had proven patriotic Americans while the government had spent millions of dollars to put those soldiers' families behind barbed wire.

Opposition to Japanese American redress

Bendetsen joined others who had been involved in the exclusion and incarceration to oppose the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians hearings, which in 1983 determined that there had been no just cause for the actions taken against Japanese American communities during World War II. He was adamantly opposed to calls for reparations to be paid to former camp inmates and their relatives.[2][1]

Embellishments and lies

After the war, Bendetsen's claims of his importance to the army and role in the war grew, while admissions of his role in the internment shrank.

Pearl Harbor

One of the greatest of these claims was given when interviewed in 1972 for the Harry S. Truman library. Speaking to historian Jerry Hess, Bendetsen claimed to have spent "late 1941" carrying "the title of Special Representative of the Secretary of War" to have conferences with Major General Douglas MacArthur in the Philippines. He also claimed to have stopped to meet with Lieutenant General Walter C. Short (the military commander in charge of Hawaiian defenses) and Rear Admiral Husband E. Kimmel (commander of the Pacific Fleet), leaving only days before the Pearl Harbor attacks.[citation needed]

In this oral history, Bendetsen tells in great detail that the United Airlines plane returning him from Hawaii had landed in Washington at 9 a.m. on December 7, with Bendetsen carrying "a personal and important message" from General Short to Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall. Bendetsen claims he had been told that Marshall was out riding his horse, "so why don't you go home, kiss your wife ... be here by 10 a.m." Then, Bendetsen continues, upon reaching the house an urgent phone call summoned him back to the office and he was told of the Pearl Harbor attacks "twenty minutes later."[citation needed]

Bendetson also served in the ETO late in the war in the Control Division of the Army Service Forces, European Theater, under COL Charles R. Broshous. In the latter's oral history searchable at the Eisenhower Library, Bendetson was sent over in Spring 1945 to aid in the work of minimizing shipment of new materiel to the ETO in order to maximize shipments to GEN MacArthur in the PTO. Bendetson worked with Mark Cresap, later a successful Westinghouse executive in Pittsburgh, on predicting an end-date for combat in the ETO; they were off by one day. But they turned away as many as 80 Liberty Ship-loads that could then be redirected to the Pacific. When combat in Germany ended, they worked on the packing, loading and shipping of ordnance and supplies that could be used in the PTO.

Family histories

Bendetsen's grandparents had emigrated from Lithuania and Poland in the 1860s. His father was born in New York, and was co-owner of a clothing store. However:

See also


  1. ^ a b c d de Nevers, Klancy. "Karl Bendetsen" Densho Encyclopedia (accessed 23 May 2014).
  2. ^ a b c Oral history interview with Karl R. Bendetsen for Harry S. Truman Library, New York City, 1972.
  3. ^ Densho. "About the Incarceration" (accessed 23 May 2014).
  4. ^ Niiya, Brian. "Voluntary evacuation" Densho Encyclopedia (accessed 23 May 2014).
  5. ^ Linke, Konrad. "Assembly Centers" Densho Encyclopedia (accessed 23 May 2014).
  6. ^ Weglyn 1976, pp. 76–77.




External links

Government offices Preceded byNew Office General Counsel of the Army 1949 Succeeded byFrancis Shackelford Preceded byNew Office Assistant Secretary of the Army (General Management) February 2, 1950 – May 6, 1952 Succeeded byFrancis Shackelford Preceded byArchibald S. Alexander United States Under Secretary of the Army May 1952 – January 1954 Succeeded byEarl D. Johnson