A while ago I was wondering about who you could trust to work in a modern equivalent of the Manhattan project. Thinking about it again, one problem is that people, if for example you consider the typical recent Ivy League graduate to be a human being, are bound and determined to be stupid about this question.
Imagine how we would have dealt with Japanese-Americans in 1942 if we had been informed by modern sensibilities.
Our stated and enforced policy would have been based on the notion that both Issei and Nisei were perfectly trustworthy, no more likely to aid the Empire of Japan than the Dutch in Grand Rapids
So we would have drafted them into the armed forces just like anyone else, and employed them where their skills seemed useful. We would have had them translating Japanese navy intercepts: we were short on Japanese-language translators, so why not? There would have been a bunch of them working with Hypo, down in the basement. Some would have worked in the Manhattan Project. They would have had jobs in the OSS, in the FBI. What could possibly have gone wrong?
Well, some of them were in fact disloyal: not most, but a far higher percentage than in most other ethnic groups in the US. There is nothing magical about this: it often happens. Were the Anglos that moved into Texas loyal to Mexico? Were the Sudeten Germans loyal to Czechoslovakia – was Conrad Henlein just misunderstood? Consider the Niihau incident.
If many Japanese Americans had been privy to the breaking of the Japanese fleet code – plausible, because of the large Japanese population in Hawaii and the need for people with Japanese language skills – the American Magic would have gone away. No Midway, not as we knew it. I figure that we would have lost tens of thousands more KIA in the Pacific than we did in this timeline. Also, probably hundreds of thousands of extra casualties in occupied Asia. Japan would have still have lost, though.
Detailed knowledge of the results from the Manhattan Project wouldn’t have done the Japanese any good, because they didn’t have the industrial muscle and sophistication to make anything of it.
I’m sure there wouldn’t have been any problems with Japanese Secret Service members, any more than Indira Gandhi ever had trouble with her Sikh bodyguards. Besides, in a democracy, no one is indispensable – I’m sure that Henry Wallace would have been a good President, for a gullible, superstitious pinko. While Sam Rayburn was a fine man!
The funniest part would been the many examples of people making excuses for terrorism and treason. When some young Japanese pilot talked about how he should perhaps crash his plane into the White House, his colleagues would have sedulously ignored those ravings, just as our contemporaries did with Major Nidal Hasan. At least they wouldn’t have had to constantly make excuses for his incompetence, as they did with Hasan – Japanese aren’t stupid. After the crash, the new President would have said that no one really knows what motivated the pilot, although back in those days, there really was a way of knowing what evil lay in the hearts of men.
After enough crap, one presumes that the press would have been instructed not to publish the faces of the miscreants, lest the general public get the wrong idea.
Our actual response was suboptimal: people who knew the score (J. Edgar Hoover) thought that putting the Japanese into camps was a mistake. Watching and infiltrating known pro-Nippon groups, punishing those that actually committed crimes was perfectly feasible; combined with reasonable discretion in assigning Japanese to useful but nonclassified jobs, you would have a policy that was more effective than the one we actually pursued.
Locking them up (except in Hawaii !), wasn’t the best course, but it was a million times more sensible than what we would do today. Because in 1942, Americans weren’t crazy: today, they are.