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Karl Bendetsen file photo [32070]

Karl Bendetsen

Given NameKarl
Born11 Oct 1907
Died28 Jun 1989
CountryUnited States


ww2dbaseKarl Robin Bendetson was born to shopkeepers Albert and Anna Bendetson, both recently immigrated Lithuanian Jewish families, in Aberdeen, Washington, United States in Oct 1907. He attended Weatherwax High School in Aberdeen; while at Weatherwax, he enlisted in the Washington National Guard in 1921 at the age of 14, under the minimum age requirement of the organization. He then attended Stanford University in Stanford, California, United States to study political science and law, earning an bachelor of arts degree in 1929 and a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1932. While studying, he joined the Reserve Officers Training Corps, moving on to become an infantry officer in the US Army Reserve.

ww2dbaseBendetson practiced general law until May 1940 when he was recalled to active service in the regular army at he rank of captain. He was assigned to the Military Affairs Section of the Judge Advocate General's staff due to his background in law. In Apr 1941, he was promoted to the rank of major and was made the assistant to Major General Allen Gullion, the Judge Advocate General. Under Gullion, he and four other officers assisted in the reactivation of the office of Provost Marshal General, a law enforcement arm of the US Army, and he also organized and headed the Aliens Division, which handled the imprisonment of prisoners of war and enemy aliens living in the United States. Shortly after the US entry into war, Gullion sent him to the west coast of the United States to help Lieutenant General John DeWitt devise a plan to control Japanese-Americans, whom Bendetson deemed as potential enemies. The position papers he had drafted during this period heavily influenced DeWitt's ultimate recommendation for forcibly relocating Japanese-Americans, regardless of citizenship, away from the west coast. In early 1942, he changed the spelling of Bendetson to Bendetsen to sound Danish. Now known as Bendetsen, he wrote in his 1942 military record that he had "conceived the executive order", referring to Executive Order 9066 issued by President Franklin Roosevelt to intern Japanese-Americans, and "conceived the method, formulated the detailed plans for, and directed the evacuation of 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry from military areas of the West Coast." Receiving a promotion to the rank of colonel, skipping the rank of lieutenant colonel, Bendetsen was named the assistant chief of staff to DeWitt and given charge of the Wartime Civil Control Administration. In this role, with headquarters established at the Whitcomb Hotel in San Francisco, California, United States, he was placed in charge of rounding up and interning Japanese-Americans. After the successful forceful removal of Japanese-Americans into hastily-built transit and permanent internment camps, the Wartime Civil Control Administration was dissolved in Mar 1943. In Nov 1942, he was awarded a Distinguished Service Medal for his leadership in the effort to relocate Japanese-Americans into imprisonment. He remained DeWitt's assistant chief of staff and head of the Civil Affairs Division of the Western Defense Command until Oct 1943. In 1944, he served as a civil affairs officer in the planning of the invasion of Europe. Later in the war, he was made the deputy chief of staff of 12th Army Group, led by Lieutenant General Omar Bradley. He was inactivated after the end of the war in Dec 1945.

ww2dbaseBetween May and Oct 1952, Bendetsen served as Assistant Secretary of the Army under Secretary Gordon Grey and Under Secretary of the Army under Frank Pace, Jr.; these appointments were heavily opposed, without success, by the Japanese-American community. In late 1952, he joined the Champion Paper & Fibre Company, later rising to the top position of chief executive officer and chairman of the board of the parent company Champion International. He retired from Champion in 1972. While he had previously refused to speak about his war time career, he began to allow interviews in the 1970s, during which he downplayed the sufferings he had caused. In an interview with Jerry N. Hess of the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, he claimed that he had protected the properties of the interned Japanese-Americans, and that he had not originally intended to imprison Japanese-Americans in internment camps. His attempts to rewrite history was not limited to his military career, but also his ancestry. In 1970, for the National Cyclopedia of American Biography, he claimed to be "grandson of Benedict and Dora Robbins Bendetsen, and great-grandson of Benedict Benediktssen, who came to this country from Denmark about 1815". In actuality, his paternal grandfather was Samuel Bendetson, a Lithuanian Jew born in Germany in 1830, and his paternal grandmother was Catherine Rabbin, born in Poland in 1838; his father Albert Bendetson, was born in the state of New York. His story was further embellished in 1983, when he mentioned that his Danish ancestor "came over here in 1670, decided he didn't want to be a sailor, he wanted to be a farmer... my family has been in timber ever since." In 1981, during the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians hearings, he refused to acknowledge his own previous claimed to have "conceived" various aspects of internment policies, noting that he was a mere major and thus could not have played any part in high level decision making processes; during the hearings, he also claimed that the Japanese-Americans internees were free to leave at any time, which was untrue. When the US Congress began considering paying reparations for the former internees and their families, Bendetsen commented that the Japanese-Americans only wished to make a "raid on the Treasury". In 1984, before the House (of Representatives) Judiciary Subcommittee, he claimed, without evidence, that the successful US Magic decryption program "revealed that there were hundreds of espionage nets among persons of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast", but later in the same session he contradicted himself in noting that he did not learn about the existence of Magic until 1945. In late 1988, he became known for his even more outrageous embellishments on his military career, including his claim that he was sent to Philippines in late 1941 as a Special Representative of the Secretary of War to meet with Douglas MacArthur, stopping over in Hawaii two days before the Japanese raid to meet with Walter Short and Husband Kimmel, and that he was entrusted by the War Department to oversee civilian aircraft production before being assigned to DeWitt. In 1988, his wife reported that Bendetsen had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He passed away in Washington, DC in 1989.

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Last Major Revision: Nov 2022

Karl Bendetsen Interactive Map

Karl Bendetsen Timeline

11 Oct 1907 Karl Bendetson was born in Aberdeen, Washington, United States.
3 May 1940 Karl Bendetson was recalled to active duty in the US regular army at the rank of captain.
21 Jun 1942 Karl Bendetsen toured the Portland Assembly Center in Oregon, United States.
28 Jun 1989 Karl Bendetsen passed away in Washington, DC, United States.

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