Prologue Magazine

Return to Sender

U.S. Censorship of Enemy Alien Mail in World War II

Spring 2001, Vol. 33, No. 1

By Louis Fiset

© 2001 by Louis Fiset

Censoring a letter A wartime censor excises text from a letter with a sharp knife. (NARA, 216-FS-6176B-82)


As the Japanese censor is away again I write this in English.
Iwao Matsushita1


On December 19, 1939, the thirty-three-thousand-ton German cruise ship SS Columbus, six days out of Vera Cruz, Mexico, was challenged by a British man-of-war while attempting to escape a naval blockade in international waters off Cape May, New Jersey. Unable to outdistance its pursuer, the Columbus's crew received orders from Berlin to scuttle the ship. The U.S. naval cruiser Tuscaloosa, on neutrality patrol, was trailing the two ships and picked up the life-jacketed seamen. It deposited the 574 survivors at the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) immigration station on Ellis Island, New York, for temporary detention until deportation procedures could be undertaken to repatriate them.2

Other ships flying Axis colors in territorial waters were also seized and their crews detained. The Italian passenger liner Il Conte Biancamano, for example, was homeward bound from Valparaiso on a scheduled Latin America route when it found itself trapped in the Panama Canal Zone at the outbreak of war in Europe. The U.S. neutrality patrol impounded the ship and confined its crew on board for the next eighteen months before finally transferring the seamen to Ellis Island in early 1941. The Italians joined a large group of German seamen, including the Columbus crew, as well as a group of Italian Pavilion employees from the 1939 New York World's Fair. In all, nearly 1,700 Axis noncombatants faced an uncertain future on Ellis Island in a country not yet at war.

These episodes preceded U.S. entry into World War II by more than two years and marked the beginning of its involvement in the detention and internment of noncombatants in the global conflict. They also led to an elaborate program to censor the personal and business mail of detainees and internees of war. Censorship would eventually involve the INS, the Office of Censorship, and the Provost Marshal General's office.

Numerous attempts to repatriate the "distressed seamen" from the Columbus failed when safe shipping could not be secured. Ellis Island was becoming overcrowded. In January 1941 the INS took over a former Civilian Conservation Corps site adjacent to the U.S. Marine Hospital on the Public Health Service reservation at Fort Stanton, in southern New Mexico, and converted it into an enclosed detention encampment for the Columbus crew.3 Later in the year, the INS acquired two military installations from the War Department: Fort Lincoln, near Bismarck, North Dakota, and Fort Missoula, four miles southeast of Missoula, Montana. It expanded them into detention stations that, with double bunking, could each hold more than two thousand prisoners. Should the United States go to war, these enlarged encampments would provide facilities for the internment of enemy alien residents whose records showed allegiance to the enemy. In May 1941 Fort Lincoln began to take on German crews, while the Italian crews and the former World's Fair workers headed for the high desert country in Montana under armed guard.4

INS Chief Patrol Inspector A. S. Hudson, administrator of the Fort Lincoln Detention Station, was soon chafing at the pro-Nazi sentiments of his new charges and had concerns over the strong pro-German views of many immigrant and second-generation German Americans residing in the area. Consequently, he sought authorization to bring in a full-time German-speaking intelligence officer to eavesdrop on the detainees and to gather information on the nearby populace. Some of the citizenry, he feared, might assist in escape attempts. Intelligence work, he argued, should also include examination of the detainees' incoming and outgoing mail in order to determine their attitudes.5

Two weeks later, Hudson's new intelligence officer arrived, INS employee M. A. Gerspacher. A naturalized German, he was under orders to open, read, and if necessary, censor detainee mail in a "discreet" manner.6 Discretion was important because of the flimsy authority the INS drew upon to justify this illegal activity. According to Lemuel B. Schofield, special assistant to the attorney general,

The Post Office Department takes the position that once a letter addressed to aliens in the legal custody of the INS is delivered to the proper representative of this Service it is "out of the mails," and that in so far as the postal laws and regulations are concerned what this Service does with such mail is a matter for this Service to determine. The same holds true of outgoing mail.7

On the basis of this opinion, Hudson and his staff set up index cards for each detainee, recording on them the names and addresses on all outgoing mail and the writers' names, addresses, and dates of arrival on all incoming mail. This practice would soon become standard procedure at all the INS camps. A sampling of mail was to be opened and read. In addition, the chief patrol inspector ordered incoming packages inspected for unspecified contraband prior to delivery to the Germans.

Despite Hudson's eagerness to gather intelligence on his charges, by the end of August Inspector Gerspacher was opening the incoming mail of only four detainees and the outgoing mail of four others.8 Hudson's superiors determined this level of activity to be inadequate and on August 29 sent orders for him to increase the percentage of mail to be examined. Specifically, Gerspacher was to read as much mail as he could manage and to sample each detainee's mail. Hudson directed him to pass on translations of letters appearing to contain information in connection with espionage, sabotage, and related neutrality matters. The yield from this trial would determine whether the INS should hire additional German-speaking censors to undertake reading all the correspondence.9

Hudson's counterparts at Fort Missoula and Fort Stanton did not share his suspicions because nearby Missouleans expressed less pro-Axis sympathy, and the area surrounding the former CCC compound was sparsely populated. Evidence has yet to surface to suggest that detainee mail at these INS camps was monitored or opened prior to U.S. entry into the war.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), however, was in the mail-monitoring business. Director J. Edgar Hoover authorized his agents, in cooperation with the Post Office Department, to quietly go through the personal mail of a select group of resident aliens on whom it was building dossiers because of their potential threat to national security. As early as the fall of 1940, local agents were recording the names and addresses of individuals corresponding with immigrant Japanese leaders.10 The likely purpose of this activity, for which administrative but no statutory authority existed, was to uncover a suspected network of espionage agents operating outside the country with whom members of the alien community in the United States were believed to be cooperating.

In one case, the FBI placed a thirty-day cover on the personal mail of Iwao Matsushita, a scholarly immigrant Seattle leader with alleged ties to the Japanese Chamber of Commerce. This business organization was listed as one of more than three hundred potentially subversive Japanese groups then operating in the United States.11 When surveillance, beginning February 27, netted a single letter from Japan, the order was renewed for an additional thirty days. During this period Matsushita received five letters from family members in Japan and one domestic letter from a male with a Japanese surname. Follow-up field reports on the unsuspecting Matsushita provide no indication that the bureau was aware what personal, business, or political relationship the writers had with him.12 It appears the FBI, unlike inspectors at Fort Lincoln, was not opening and reading this correspondence.

Snooping into the private affairs of resident aliens through their mail was one of many means by which U.S. intelligence agencies collected information on potential enemy aliens prior to the war. Outright censorship of enemy alien mail and seamen's mail would begin in earnest following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, with the INS taking the lead.

Within an hour after Congress's declaration of war on Japan on December 8, 1941, Attorney General Francis Biddle brought to President Franklin Roosevelt a proclamation declaring that "an invasion has been perpetuated upon the territory of the United States by the Empire of Japan." Further, all resident Japanese nationals over the age of fourteen in the United States and its possessions were immediately "liable to restraint, or to give security, or to remove and depart from the United States." This and companion restraint and removal proclamations declaring Japanese, German, and Italian nationals to be enemy aliens derived their authority from the first Alien Enemy Act of 1798, as amended in 1918, which gave the President absolute power over enemy aliens in time of war. With the President's three signatures, 314,105 German, 690,551 Italian, and 47,305 Japanese nationals residing on the U.S. mainland became enemy aliens.13 In addition, the German and Italian seamen, whose official status was "excluded aliens awaiting repatriation," now became enemy aliens subject to internment for the duration of the war. The FBI's emergency arrests of enemy aliens began before sundown on December 7 and were carried out under authority of a blanket presidential warrant signed by Biddle.14

By the last day of 1941, 2,405 enemy aliens were in INS custody. In addition to the Fort Stanton contingent, 633 Japanese and 28 Italian nationals shared the Fort Missoula grounds with nearly 1,000 Italian seamen and World's Fair workers, while 104 German resident aliens joined 300 German seamen behind barbed wire on a bleak North Dakota winter landscape at Fort Lincoln.15 Arrest and detention and eventual internment orders for many others continued well into the next year. The growing numbers placed multiple strains on INS personnel, not the least of whom included a cadre of Japanese, German, Italian, and Spanish language censors who were under orders to examine 100 percent of the detainees' incoming and outgoing mail.16

No statutory authority to open and censor enemy alien mail existed in the opening days of the war because the First War Powers Act, authorizing a censorship program, was not in effect until December 18. Executive Order 8985, signed by Roosevelt on December 19, authorized creation of the Office of Censorship. From this day on every letter that crossed international or U.S. territorial borders from December 1941 to August 1945 was subject to being opened and scoured for details.

Censorship predates America's independence. The First Amendment, guaranteeing freedom of the press, arose in part from censorship imposed by the British. Subsequent interpretations by the courts resulted in the protection of most forms of communication, including the mail; nevertheless, threats to the first amendment have periodically occurred throughout the nation's history. In the antebellum South, for example, a number of postmasters contributed to press censorship by refusing to deliver antislavery material, preferring the risk of federal penalties over mob attack. During the Civil War, Secretary of State William Seward refused to permit journals criticizing the administration into the mail stream, and some states banned mail delivery of newspapers such as the New York World, the Chicago Times, and the Cincinnati Enquirer.

The first systematic program to censor the mail in the twentieth century was developed by the British during the Boer War in South Africa (1899 - 1902). The lessons learned in that war led to widespread censorship of international mail during World War I. By the time the U.S. Army Expeditionary Forces finally arrived on the European continent in 1918, the British had evolved a highly effective system of mail censorship, as well as cable and telephone censorship, which they passed on to their American allies.

Two decades later, after declaring a national state of emergency when Hitler's forces rolled into Poland on September 1, 1939, Roosevelt was presented with several proposals of civilian and military plans for wartime censorship based uupon thework of the architects of censorship in the previous world war. On June 4, 1941, he approved a plan for national censorship of international communications and ordered the U.S. Army to develop a modern program for censoring the mails entering and leaving the United States. He also charged both the FBI and the Office of the Postmaster General with concurrent planning and directed the U.S. Navy to begin formulating a plan for censoring cable, radiotelegraph, and radiotelephone circuits.

Wartime censorship creates a multiple advantage for nations that engage in it. One objective seeks to deprive the enemy of information, as well as tangibles such as funds and commodities. A second aims to collect myriad intelligence that can be turned against the enemy.17 Censorship also engages the populace; every letter is an exercise in good citizenship, and acquiescence to its regulations represents a contribution to the war effort. In World War II, postal, cable, broadcast, and press censorship affected the lives of civilians and military personnel in virtually every country of the world, both belligerent and neutral. World War II produced the world's largest censorship operation— one that has not yet been matched.

On December 8, 1941, the secretary of war ordered corps area commanders to inaugurate censorship of telephone and telegraph wires crossing international borders. Three days later, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, on presidential authority, helped set up a postal censorship program to be carried out by the War Department. He was ordered to hold this temporary position until his civilian replacement could be chosen.

The First War Powers Act granted the President broad powers in prosecuting the war and specifically addressed censorship:

Whenever, during the present war, the President shall deem . . . public safety demands it, he may cause to be censored under such rules and regulations as he may, from time to time establish, communications by mail, cable, radio, or other means of transmission passing between the United States and any foreign country.18

In creating the Office of Censorship, the President conferred upon its director the power to censor international communications in "his absolute discretion." This individual was to be given absolute control over cable traffic, the mail, broadcasting, and the press. His choice for director was Byron Price, a fifty-year-old newspaperman from an Indiana farming family who had served more than twenty years in the nation's capital and, subsequently, as executive news editor and acting general manager of the Associated Press. The wire service was his passion. In a 1942 interview he admitted that the AP was a religion for him.19 Well known among Washington officials, Washington correspondents, and newspaper publishers and editors throughout the country, he was, nevertheless, a political nonpartisan.20

Following his appointment, Price expressed his personal view on the task he was about to undertake:

Any approach to censorship in a democratic country is fraught with serious difficulties and grave risks. . . . The word itself arouses instant resentment, distrust and fear among free men. Everything the censor does is contrary to the fundamentals of liberty. He invades privacy ruthlessly, delays and mutilates the mails and cables, and lays restrictions on public expression in the press. All of this he can continue to do only so long as an always-skeptical public is convinced that such extraordinary measures are essential to national survival. The censor's house is built on sand, no matter what statutes may be enacted, or what the courts may declare.21

News management under Price's watch was voluntary, as American editors and broadcasters were encouraged to impose self-censorship.22 Postal and cable communications, however, were to be rigidly censored. Postal censorship operations had begun on December 12, 1941, prior to Price's appointment, with army personnel and a few civilians slitting open handfuls of letters. One week later, now having statutory authority, the staff included 349 individuals employed in censorship field stations stretching from New York City to Honolulu. From then on, postal operations expanded rapidly, reaching 3,547 censors on March 15, 1942.23 At its peak, in September 1942, more than 10,000 civil service employees opened and examined nearly one million pieces of incoming and outgoing overseas mail each week at eighteen censor stations and substations throughout the United States and its territories.24

While the Office of Censorship was gearing up operations, U.S. civilians abroad were being rounded up and interned in increasing numbers by enemy forces throughout Asia and Europe. Seeking guarantees for their safety and security, Secretary of State Cordell Hull proposed to Germany, Italy, and Japan through their protecting powers that interned civilians on both sides of the conflict should come under the same protections to be provided prisoners of war according to the guidelines set forth in the Geneva Convention of 1929.25 In time, all the warring nations agreed to the proposal. The war convention spelled out the rights, privileges, and obligations of soldiers in captivity, which were now to be applied to civilian detainees and internees. With respect to contact with the outside world during their captivity, individuals must be allowed to send and receive letters and postcards in their native language. Further, censorship of their outgoing letters and postcards, which could be limited, should be carried out expeditiously. These few principles provided the basis for sets of rules and regulations later written by the INS censorship division, the Office of Censorship, and the Provost Marshal General's staff.

The INS had a keen interest in gaining access to its detainees' correspondence because it might help monitor inmate morale. Bert Fraser, the INS officer in charge at Fort Missoula, was no doubt relieved to learn that spirits were high among his issei (immigrant Japanese) charges at the close of 1941, who communicated changes in their situations to family members left behind. The statements of four detainees are typical of those Fraser's staff compiled:

We have radios, newspapers, entertainments, stores and hospital.
Your daddy is a captive of Uncle Sam but is not complaining.
Everyone has spring mattresses and the dining room is like Seattle Civic Auditorium and food is real good.
It is cold here but everything is nice and sanitary . . . clean sheets, mattresses, ample food, treatment generous and courteous.26

Such optimism might be unexpected from a group of individuals having just lost their civil liberties and many their livelihoods. Perhaps these statements were merely attempts to reassure their anxiety-ridden families at home. But they may also provide examples of self-censorship. Letter writers knew from the outset that their outgoing letters, submitted to headquarters in unsealed envelopes, would be read by their captors. Fear that their only connection to the outer world could easily be cut off no doubt contributed to conformity with the rules.

Camp administrators initially required that all outgoing letters be written in English because of the unavailability of staff censors proficient in Japanese, German, and Italian. Thus, many issei who could communicate only in Japanese or who could not find a scribe to write in English on their behalf found themselves completely isolated. Since this was a violation of war convention guidelines, the INS scrambled to find censors for its ethnically diverse population even as FBI raids continued to augment existing populations of detained enemy aliens attempting to communicate back home. In addition, interpreters would soon be needed for upcoming loyalty hearings, which would determine whether detainees were to be released or ordered interned for the duration of the war.

The INS sought people with bilingual skills, including German, Italian, Spanish, and Japanese. Many citizens and loyal aliens were fluent in the European languages, and recruiters had less difficulty filling these slots than those requiring Japanese. Individuals fluent in Japanese were largely the immigrant generation who, as enemy aliens, were ineligible to serve. Soon, INS, Office of Censorship, and army recruiters learned how few children of the issei, the citizen nisei, could speak or write the language. In time, civil service salaries paid to linguists would reflect the scarcity of Japanese censors. In the meantime, the government turned to resident aliens of Korean ancestry to fill most of the slots. The Korean populace had been required to learn Japanese under duress by their occupiers, who had been suppressing Korean culture since 1905.27

Incoming mail for Fort Missoula's Japanese population was accumulating rapidly as 1942 dawned, with string-bound bundles approaching the ceiling in a ten-by-fourteen foot storage room. The task of clearing this backlog while attempting to stay current with the daily inflow and outflow would produce long workdays.28 The censor arrived on January 21, one of the few Japanese Americans recruited early in the war. While awaiting his arrival, INS administrators, with assistance from the fledgling Office of Censorship, wrote a preliminary set of rules and regulations to guide censors and letter writers, which they planned to modify over time. Each of the detention stations received copies, and key portions relevant to letter writers were translated into Japanese and Italian and posted on bulletin boards.29

Initially, detainees were allowed to send two letters a week, one of which had to be in English. In addition, camp officials allowed four postcards if written in English, or two in a language other than English. The length of letters was limited to twenty-four lines, postcards to seven. These restrictions, which changed from time to time, were imposed to buffer censors from overwhelming volumes of outgoing mail. However, as the censors soon learned, no restrictions were imposed upon the frequency and length of incoming correspondence, nor did such restrictions apply to correspondence with attorneys or business associates. When censors fell behind with their work, tighter limits were temporarily imposed. In one case, writers were permitted two outgoing letters a week in any language, but their weekly quota of postcards was reduced to one.

The censors were trained to eliminate objectionable matter from correspondence and to glean information that might be useful to the war effort. The regulations distributed on January 7, 1942, listed twenty-two subjects that would lead to deletions or condemnation of the letter. For example, writers were forbidden to complain about camp conditions or the individual treatment they received, including medical care. Numbers of detainees in camp, guard strength, detainee transfers, and other aspects involving camp policies could not be communicated. Criticism of any government was forbidden, and enemy propaganda and outright false statements about any aspect of writers' circumstances would not be allowed to pass out of camp. Writers were threatened with loss of writing privileges or worse for repeat violations of the rules.30

The censors had at least three methods at their disposal of preventing objectionable information from reaching their targets. They were applied both to incoming and outgoing mail. First, scuffing the paper, then running a bead of impenetrable black ink could obliterate forbidden text. A second technique involved cut outs with a sharp blade. A letter heavily censored by this method might resemble a piece of crude lace. Finally, when letter writers pushed censorship regulations to the limit, examiners were authorized to condemn the entire letter and return it to the sender.

Despite the rigid regulations, INS censors passed into the mail stream more than 98 percent of the letters they examined either with no excisions or with minor cutouts involving a single word, phrase, or sentence. The following passage from a letter written by an issei internee at the Fort Missoula camp is typical of minor infractions of the rules, which would not threaten a writer's privileges:

The other day we had an evening of entertainment by fellow detainees in a recreation hall, which is large enough for over 1,000 people. [CENSORED] did a comic dance, wearing a gorgeous costume painted by Mr. [CENSORED]. He is enjoying himself & others by painting pictures.31

A small fraction of letters, however, contained information of sufficient interest to pass along for analysis. A wife writing to her husband about a measles epidemic at the Puyallup Assembly Center for former Seattle residents of Japanese ancestry, for example, included statements that were inflammatory toward medical care being provided there and were later proven false. The censor excised the whole passage and prepared a report (submission slip), which included the offending text. Authorities then followed up by investigating the charges.

Aware that heavy restrictions were being placed on their communications, some writers devised means to evade censorship. Perhaps the most motivated to do so were German nationals from Latin America, where Third Reich sympathies ran high. Common methods of evasion involved placing messages on the backs of postage stamps affixed to the envelope and writing with invisible ink on the insides of envelopes that had been steamed open, unfolded, then resealed. The ancient device of invisible inks could be employed by using common organic fluids available to the inmates such as milk, starch, citrus juices, or urine. Each could be applied with a toothpick quill. An addressee in the know could char the message into visibility with heat or expose it by dipping the paper into appropriate water-soluble chemicals.32 Since attempts to evade the censors were common, a special laboratory was set up in Washington, D.C., and manned by Office of Censorship personnel, Here they applied chemical, x-ray, and other analyses designed to maintain the embargo on contraband words.

Such chemical dragnets were porous, however, since only a sampling of the enormous volumes of mail could possibly be analyzed. At most, the entire correspondence of a few individuals trafficking in forbidden text could be analyzed because of personnel and laboratory space limitations. Other efforts to make messages difficult to conceal proved more successful. The Provost Marshal General's office created a letterform for international correspondence in early 1942, modeled after POW stationery it had helped design earlier. Being stationery as well as its own envelope, it employed a sensitized, glazed paper designed to make writing impossible to hide. The 6-by-14-inch sheet of lined greenish paper was designed to be folded into quarters, with a tuck-in-tab flap, thus requiring no gummed seams. Postage stamps were prohibited. The letterforms provided for twenty-four lines of text. When properly folded, the address side of the unit displayed large, bold letters spelling out INTERNEE OF WAR. This was designed to help mail handlers spot internee mail more easily.

The first internee of war letterforms went into production in mid-1942. In December the INS placed an order for 100,000 copies, to be distributed to its various camps and immigration stations.33 The letterforms soon found widespread use, both in INS and army internment camps, and special permission had to come from camp officers in charge to use alternative stationery for business letters or for authorized enclosures. This stationery frustrated some attempts to evade censorship, and by providing space for exactly twenty-four lines, fewer communications were returned to the writer because of failure to comply with length restrictions.

As the Office of Censorship gained efficiency and its civil service employees took on increasing volumes of international mail, correspondence of enemy aliens under INS custody was diverted to the postal censor operating closest to the INS facility. Outbound Fort Missoula mail, for example, was forwarded in sealed packets to San Francisco; Fort Lincoln mail went to Chicago; and Fort Stanton mail to the postal censor at San Antonio.34 There, mail was subject to a second round of censorship. Internee mail began to pose special problems not encountered with ordinary international mail. They were permitted to send and receive letters from Germany, Italy, and Japan in conformance with war convention guidelines, whereas postal service through regular channels had been suspended. Routing of POW and internee mail into and out of enemy-occupied territory posed both a threat to national security and an opportunity to gain important intelligence from the homeland.

To address these unique concerns, the Office of Censorship hosted a conference in Washington, D.C., on February 27, 1942. The agenda was set to discuss the handling of POW and internee mail and to set up a special censorship unit at one of the district field stations for handling the international mail of prisoners of war and enemy aliens. Attendees included military intelligence officials and representatives of the Post Office Department, the International and American Red Cross, and the Provost Marshal General's office. Conferees agreed that the new POW unit, subsequently set up at the Chicago censor station, should examine 100 percent of the international mail of both POWs and detained and interned civilians. The Provost Marshal General's representative strongly suggested that POW unit censors also examine both incoming and outgoing domestic mail of enemy alien civilians in the army internment camps. This suggestion was tabled, however, because the Office of Censorship, at this stage of operations, had neither the statutory authority to censor domestic mail of any kind, nor sufficient personnel and adequate floor space to handle the increased workload that would eventually result.35

The new prisoner-of-war unit began operations in May 1942. Office of Censorship censor stations were ordered to forward all POW mail, as well as the international mail of detainees and internees, to the Chicago station. INS officers in charge received instructions from the central office in Philadelphia to forward to the POW unit under locked pouch all international mail of civilians under its jurisdiction. Its censors could open and read the mail prior to sending it on but were to avoid making deletions or excisions that might elicit an international complaint of double censorship and lead to reprisals against interned U.S. nationals in enemy territories. In June the Office of Censorship distributed the first edition of its regulations governing censorship and disposition of POW and enemy alien mail, regulations that differed in small but significant details from the INS regulations issued the previous January. The differences produced many interagency headaches and would soon affect the transmission of the mails and hence the morale of the internees of war.36

The populations at the Fort Lincoln and Fort Missoula detention stations, as well as at a newly opened camp located at Santa Fe, New Mexico for issei from the Los Angeles area, began to decline in the spring of 1942. Detainees were released, paroled, or handed over to the army for internment following their loyalty hearings. By the end of 1942, 1,186 German, 2,033 Japanese, and 227 Italian resident enemy aliens were in army custody, fenced off in remote corners of military reservations. The enemy seamen, on the other hand, totaling about 2,000, stayed put under INS control.37 The army internees found their new daily routines more restricted than the less formal regimens they enjoyed in the INS camps. One change for the worse arose from yet a third set of mail rules and regulations issued by the Provost Marshal General's office.38

Until mid-November 1942, local army base personnel examined the outgoing domestic English-language mail, then forwarded it in bags to local post offices for placement into the mail stream. Examiners were ordered to make no deletions or excisions. If suspicious information of intelligence value was uncovered, censors were to forward individual letters to the Provost Marshal General's office in Washington, D.C., for further examination.39 Foreign language domestic mail and, of course, all mail addressed abroad, had to go to the POW unit for censorship. During peak periods or when higher priorities took headquarters personnel away from censorship duties, English-language domestic mail was to be forwarded there as well.

With domestic mail now pouring in to the POW unit, which by now had moved from Chicago into bigger quarters in the New York censor station, the Office of Censorship was now engaging in activities for which it had no statutory authority. Nevertheless, the Geneva Convention permitted censorship of all POW and internee mail without regard for its destination. This new policy, therefore, raised few questions. Emboldened, in November 1942 Director Price arrogated to his office the handling of all internee mail originating in army internment camps and invited the INS commissioner's office to submit the domestic mail of detainees and internees under his jurisdiction, as well.40

This change in protocol pleased Price because it would help reduce inevitable gaps in useful intelligence that resulted when multiple examiners, working under three sets of guidelines, culled information of varying perceived importance and that may or may not have been passed on to appropriate intelligence specialists. For the internees, however, the change in policy led to increased delays in transmission of their domestic mail. Moreover, because POW unit censors had to absorb the new workload without an increase in staffing, their international mail no doubt slowed, as well.

Return to Sender, Part 2

Louis Fiset is an independent researcher whose special interest is the World War II experience of Japanese Americans. He is the author of Imprisoned Apart: The World War II Correspondence of an Issei Couple, and numerous articles.


Articles published in Prologue do not necessarily represent the views of NARA or of any other agency of the United States Government.