Monday, July 21, 2014

The Real Lillian Baker: Historical Revisionism in Our Times

From the Tsang Archives, a 1996 article:


"I HOPE SHE DIES A SLOW DEATH," Chicago Shimpo newspaper English-language editor Arthur Morimitsu told the Chicago Tribune three years before her death. He was referring to revisionist writer Lillian Baker, who died in Gardena on October 21, 1996 of natural causes at age 75.

Baker was the nemesis of Japanese Americans everywhere, a purveyor through her Orange County foundation of misinformation about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. But you would have thought she was a great American from the laudatory obituary the Orange County edition of the Los Angeles Times ran October 29, 1996.

My original article appeared in OC Weekly 29 November-5 December 1996, pages 9-10

Here's our correction:

Baker founded the now-defunct, Anaheim-based Americans for Historical Accuracy (AFHA), a group that, not unlike the O.C.based Institute for Historical Review (the Holocaust-is-myth folks), argues that what the history books tell us about the U.S.' treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II is a lie. AFHA, founded by Baker in 1972 in Lawndale, became a "public benefit" California corporation in 1992 in Anaheim, but it lost its corporate status on Oct. 3, 1994, when it was suspended by the Franchise Tax Board. The most likely reason, according to a source at the California secretary of state's office, was failure to pay corporate taxes.

In the last two decades of her life, Baker became the darling of the Right, campaigning (without success) against congressional legislation to pay reparations to the 60,000 surviving Japanese Americans rounded up by the U.S. in World War II. In her four books, she touted her revisionist thesis: that the internees owed allegiance to Japan's emperor, that military necessity justified the "relocations," that internment was constitutional, and that Japanese American camps like California's Manzanar were not concentration camps. The barbed wire was there to keep cattle out, not to keep people in, she insisted, arguing that there were no machine guns in guard towers. Internees, park historians and photos say there were; Baker insisted that the photos had been doctored  and the internees and park historians had lied to advance the cause of Japanese American internees.

Baker aroused emotions wherever she spoke. When she testified in August 1981 against reparations before the U.S. Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians in Los Angeles, more than 200 Japanese Americans walked out in silent protest of her "hysterical diatribes against evacuees,"according to an account in the Santa Ana Wind, the newsletter of the Orange County Japanese Americans Citizens League. That same article noted that the next day, "Baker was ejected from the hearing room by the state police for attempting to snatch written testimony from James Kawanami, president of the Southern California 100th/442nd Veterans Association, while he was giving his testimony." The 442nd, composed entirely of Japanese Americans freed from the camps, was one of the most decorated U.S. units in World War II.

But right-wing groups embraced Baker's cause. The Valley Forge, Pennsylvania-based Freedoms Foundation awarded her a certificate for "promoting a better understanding of America and Americans." The Stanford-based conservative think tank Hoover Institution started a Lillian Baker collection (The Lillian Baker Papers now comprise some 113 boxes of her "research" materials) and paid for the National Archives photographs used in one of her books.

Those books, published by an obscure press in Medford, Oregon, Webb Research Group, included Dishonoring America: The Falsification of World War II History (a 1994 revision of her 1988 work). The publisher's introduction to that book claims that another Baker compilation, American and Japanese Relocation in World War II: Fact, Fiction & Fallacy, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1990. The tome, which was actually nominated in 1991 by the Freedoms Foundation, never received any awards.

In Baker's case, it's pretty safe to judge her books by their covers. Her first was 1983's The Concentration Camp Conspiracy: A Second Pearl Harbor, her last, The Japanning of America: Redress & Reparations Demands by Japanese Americans (l991). "Japanning," according to the publisher, refers to the covering up of historical fact and the "blackening of America's honor by persons of Japanese ancestry in the USA. "Baker gave copies of three of her books to the Anaheim Public Library, including one signed, "Compliments of Lillian Baker in the interest of historical accuracy." But her supporters, mistakenly thinking the books would not be circulated, staged a small demonstration (replete with picket signs) outside the library in December 1991. Jane Newell, the library's local-history curator, said the books are shelved in the local-history reading room because they are "revisionist history not based on fact" and thus more appropriate for a special
collection. Only one person (besides me) has asked to see them since Baker died, Newell said.

Baker's revisionist L.A. Times obituary was penned by staffer Myrna Oliver, who cited-without qualification-Baker's view that Japanese-Americans were "voluntary guests" free to leave the camps as soon as they proved their loyalty. Oliver wrote that Baker believed the internees "benefited from the education and free food they received at Manzanar." Baker continued to wage unsuccessful battles against Manzanar being designated a national historical site until her death.

Oliver's apologist obituary even invited readers to send donations to the Lillian Baker Memorial Fund for scholarships for history srudents. But the post-office box the Times listed is not registered to AFHA. An Anaheim Hills postal employee who manages box rentals said that the box has been rented since 1985 by H .D. Garber and his family members. That would be Howard D. Garber, a retired Anaheim Hills optometrist, Baker clone and a one-time controversial KUCI talk host. Garber used the same box in his campaign literature to raise money for his unsuccessful 1992 Assembly campaign. Garber also uses it for the plethora of other front groups he heads, including the anti-ACLU American Civil Responsibilities Union, the California Coalition for Capital Punishment and Advocates of Penal Euthanasia. Garber, AFHA's registered agent according to records on file with the secretary of state's
office, admitted that its corporate status had been suspended but said he couldn't tell us why. He would only say that they'd never had secretarial help with the paperwork. He also said Republican politico Gil Ferguson (a fellow AFHA board member) is "leading the effort" to decide what to do with the donations.

"Since the L.A. Times article,  I've received various checks," Garber added, saying that they will probably be used for a bronze plaque and an annual scholarship for students doing historical research into "inaccuracies" about the "relocation" camps. Garber did not recognize my voice or name in 1996; nor did he remember challenging me months earlier to a debate on World War II after calling me a liar for describing the internment camps as "concentration camps." When we talked, he questioned my ethnicity again {for the record, I'm Chinese American) and inquired why I wasn't concerned about the Nanking massacre of Chinese by Japanese troops in 1937. He also said that his group is planning to sue some Japanese Americans (whom he wouldn't name) for linking Baker and AFHA with the Institute for Historical Review. He added that, as a Jew, he had fled the smokestacks of Europe. "Do you know what  smokestacks are?" he asked. "Those were the real concentration camps."

 - Daniel C. Tsang.


Revised  and hyperlinks added 21 July 2014 for this blog from the original article, "The Real Lillian Baker" that appeared in the OC Weekly 29 November- 9 December 1996, pages 9-10.  OC Weekly editor Will Swaim had commissioned that article, and as I recall it was my first for the publication.

See also: Robert Ito, "Summer Camp or Concentration Camp: A New Generation of Revisionists Tries to Put a Happy Face on the Japanese American Relocation Camps," Mother Jones, 15 September 1998.


TruthWillBeTold said...

It's fairly clear that you are just a blogger and not an historian with any desire for accuracy. I never met Lillian Baker. Perhaps she was as irrascible and over-the-top as Phyllis Schlafly. I don't know.

But, to characterize ALL of her work as "misinformation" seems to suggest that you have simply swallowed and internalized the entire Japanese pity-party narrative that's been the "revealed wisdom" in academia since the early 80s.

I have been to the National Archives to verify her primary sources. I have been to Manzanar to do likewise.

Regardless of whether she stated it in a manner agreeable to some, her statement that those in the Relocation Centers were free to leave is NOT misinformation. If anyone actually left of their own accord during the war, her contention is correct, no matter how it was stated.

The Japanese professor who wrote the forward to her book clearly stated that he left of his own free will. The historical record shows that at least 30,000 others also did so.

The records at Manzanar show that there was an uprising in December 1942 among the Nesei. A number of them were transferred to Tule Lake and requested repatriation to Japan.

These may be inconvenient facts to those who seek to direct students to a preconceived conclusion. But, it is NOT history.

Kimberley Evans said...

My Uncle is Howard Garber, Father Stephen L.Garber 33-76.My Father was went to UC Berkeley, was in Army Corp Of Engineers,4 yrs.then worked on the famous oil well islands off Long Beach Harbor near the Queen Mary one of the Islands is mamed after him.the Santa Ana River bed, helped to close in Anaheim Stadium,from 3/4 to all the way around. I used to run up and down the stairs as a child. The aqueduct system in Huntington Beach.I did not no this about my Uncle.but I do know a lot of thing about my Jewish family. Like My great Aunt(Dad Aunt) Married Carl Cohen Ceo of The Sands, and MGM tell he Died his Son Was Corey Allen Movie Producer, of last Movie James Dean made. My Dads (Mom & Dad) came from occupied Europe in the twenties, when Stalin was killing the Jews.USMCMOMWIFE TWITTER